In Jesus' case, this was after he had been chastised, or flayed, with whips that contained pieces of metal and bone.
If a victim didn't die of hypovolemic shock from the copious loss of blood, he would surely die of slow asphyxiation as a result of the crucifixion, which places the body in a position in which the victim has to lift himself up to breathe until he is exhausted and is able to breathe no more.
To make sure Jesus was dead, the Gospels tell us, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.
The water would have been fluid that built up around the heart and lungs as a result of his injuries - a medical condition known as periocardial and pleural effusion.
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus survived the chastisement, crucifixion and spear-thrust to his heart, that his disciples were able to remove him from the cross without the soldiers knowing it.
Why then would his followers hail him as a conquering hero if he had been utterly defeated?
If the story of the resurrection was a lie, why would 11 of the 12 apostles also submit to torture and death without recanting?
People believe all kinds of things that aren't true, and sometimes die for those beliefs, but they don't sacrifice their lives for things they know aren't true.
There is also the historical evidence that after Jesus' death, he was seen by hundreds of people, including those who knew him, and some of them wrote about it only a few years later. We have their texts in the form of the canons.
All of these arguments are included in a short book I read last week by Lee Strobel, a former investigative reporter for The Chicago Tribune who was an atheist until he was convinced of the truth of Christianity by interviewing some of the world's leading theologians, historians and scientists.
"The Case for Easter" is an excerpt from Strobel's earlier work and is as succinct and convincing an argument as I've encountered for Christianity's pivotal doctrine of the resurrection. I would encourage anyone who is a natural skeptic like I am to read it and draw his own conclusions.
Of course, the big question is: How could any reasonable person believe that a man could rise from the dead?
It would be incredible unless one believed in God.
New evidence in DNA research and cosmology have convinced some of the world's leading scientists, including outspoken former atheist Dr. Anthony Flew, that the odds against the universe and life being formed entirely by happenstance are simply too, well, astronomical.
The only explanation, Flew and others have concluded, is that there must be something beyond the material world: a spiritual mind, an Intelligent Designer, guiding creation and evolution.
OK, so let's say there is a God, and that Jesus, like Elijah, ascended into heaven. That doesn't mean he was God in human form, does it? Maybe he was just a favored prophet.
I like what another former atheist, C.S. Lewis, had to say about this in "Mere Christianity," that a man who went around saying the kinds of things Jesus said would be either a lunatic or a liar - unless those things were true.
"You must make your choice," Lewis said. "Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."
In the end, it comes down to faith. Despite evidence that Jesus is who he said he was, that the crucifixion and resurrection are real, and that they somehow put us right with God in a way we can't fully understand, people are going to believe what they want to believe.
Like Strobel and Lewis, I have had my doubts, but have made my choice.
Randall Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun.