History of Good Friday


For centuries, pilgrims have walked the Via Dolorosa, “the way of sorrow” in Jerusalem, following Jesus’s path on Good Friday. Starting at the judgment seat of Pilate at the Antonia Fortress in the eastern part of the city immediately north of the Temple, the path follows fourteen “Stations of the Cross” to the ultimate location at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial. Several years ago, I walked this road. Though historically anachronistic – some of these roads did not exist during the time of Christ – nevertheless, the walk leaves one with a profound sense of historical gravitas.


Crucifixion on Good Friday

Following Pilate‘s sentence, Jesus was led away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution developed by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. and practiced by many ancient societies, including Carthage, India, Scythia, Assyria, and Germanic tribes. The Phoenicians were probably the first to use a transverse cross-beam rather than just an upright stake in the ground. From the Phoenicians, the Romans adopted this practice as the primary means of execution of rebellious slaves and provincials who were not Roman citizens.

Incidentally, this is why Jesus could be executed by crucifixion, but the Apostle Paul, who was a Roman citizen, could not and was instead beheaded. During the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66, the Romans crucified 3,600 Jews, many of them from the aristocracy.


The Cross on Good Friday

The victim was first scourged with a flagellum to weaken him before hanging him on the cross. Near the top of the cross was affixed the titulus or inscription identifying the criminal and the cause of his execution.




Above Jesus’ cross in Greek, Hebrew (Aramaic), and Latin were printed the words:

“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Latin acronym INRI comes from “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum.”


IHSContrary to popular belief, Jesus’ middle name was not “H,” as in “Jesus H. Christ.” Instead, this belief comes from a misunderstanding of the letters “IHS.“. This is not an acronym or monogram but an abbreviation of the word Jesus in Greek, Ἰησοῦς. It is capitalized IHSOUS and should properly be written with a line above the ‘h’ signifying an abbreviation.


Death by crucifixion was painful and protracted. It seldom occurred before thirty-six hours, sometimes taking as long as nine days, and resulted from hunger and traumatic exposure. If it was decided to hasten the victim’s death, his legs were smashed with a heavy club or hammer. However, Jesus died within just a few hours. The New Testament, rather than dwelling on this painful death, recounts that:

“they crucified him.”


Good Friday?

Why is it called Good Friday? What good was there — for a good man, who had done nothing wrong — to be hung on a cross?

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B.C. Comic strip, by Johnny Hart


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


Inspired in part by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. isaac on March 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

    very nice sir pls do contineu

  2. Elliot marowa on April 6, 2012 at 11:55 am

    God showed his love to human kind

  3. Ryan Witt on April 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Bill, this is very informative on the history of Good Friday. Thank you for posting this information!

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