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Faith and Facts

Holy Lance

The gospel by John mentions a Roman soldier piercing Jesus' side with a lance after his supposed death. The other three gospels do not mention this event.

The gospel after John was written some decades later than the versions by Luke, Matthew, and Marc. Today John's gospel is considered to be the most accurate from the historical point of view.

According to legend the soldier's name was Longinus. So the “Holy lance”is also known as the “Lance of Longinus”.

It is historically accurate that crucified people were stabbed to make sure they were actually dead.

According to John “blood and water” came from the wound. Dead people do not bleed because there is no pressure to pump the blood out and gravitation is usually insufficient. This caused esoterics to put up the theory that Jesus did not die at the cross. In my opinion this theory is not worth discussing in depth.
First, people usually do not survive an execution. After all, that is the sole purpose of this measure. There are very few exceptions when the executioners cannot verify the success of their work, e.g. with people at the bottom of trenches at mass shootings. This does not apply to crucifications.
Second, the Roman soldiers most probably knew their craft. Someone was crucified quite often in those days in Jerusalem.
Third, if by some lucky coincidence Jesus had survived the crucification he would not have disappeared without a trace. On the contrary, he would have continued to spread his convictions with further speeches. What could possibly strengthen his faith into his mission more than a survived execution? Nothing could possibly be more convincing to his contemporaries than a failed execution attempt by the Romans, the rulers of the world.

Like with most relics, the “Holy Lance” got its importance in medieval times. Karl the Great, who was coronated Kaiser in AD 800, had some sort of holy lance. However, it was not a Roman lance. It was an ordinary medieval lance into which a hand forged nail was incorporated. According to legend, this nail was among those used to crucify Jesus. Another pious legend without any historical substance. This lance can still be seen today in the Hofburg in Vienna. Hitler brought it to Nuremberg prior to World War 2. Occult circles created a lot of unfounded excitement around this fact. Hitler knew how to use symbols but his warfare was based on real armies. Allied soldiers brought it back to Vienna after the war.

After Karl the Great the next time a version of the holy lance emerged in history was during the first (and only successful) crusade in 1098. The crusaders had conquered Antiochia from the Muslims and refused to hand it over to Christian Byzantine as was previously agreed on. They broke the contract which shows that religious motivations were not as strong as material ones.
During the Islam counter strike the crusaders got into trouble. The city was besieged by a vastly superior army. Victory of the Muslims just seemed to be a matter of time. In this critical situation a monk within the besieged city announced that he had had a religious vision. According to this, the Holy Lance was buried in the church. Excited by the prospect of having this mighty relic on their side, the crusaders dug one day and one night in the church without finding anything. Then the monk went into the church alone to do a final check. And he found a lance and showed it to the crusaders. With renewed faith the crusaders left the city, attacked the Muslims and managed to scare them away.

I personally have no doubt the monk himself hid a contemporary, common lance. He knew about the power of motivation.

So much about its background.

Of course, even if the lance still exists and can be found, there is no way to verify the find was used at the crucification. From the scientific viewpoint, it will be just a Roman lance, like countless others in the museums.

(C) 2006-2011 Thorsten Straub, www.biblical-finds.com