Jesus Christ died from the medical condition now known as shock, according to an Austrian pathologist who has written a book re-examining the deaths of 10 historical figures in the light of modern research.

Professor Hans Bankl says in his book "How They Really Died" that traditional paintings of the crucifixion have led to misconceptions as to how people actually died."Suffering on the cross was really a complex affair which ended in irreversible shock," he says.

Crucifixion victims were really nailed to the cross through the wrist, not through the palm of the hand, he says. Nor did they die of thirst or loss of blood as was previously believed.

What really killed them, according to Bankl, is the syndrome known today as shock - cell damage caused by an interruption of blood supply to the brain and other organs.

Modern experiments in which medical students volunteered to simulate crucifixion on the wall bars of a gymnasium showed a rush of blood away from the upper body, which together with breathing problems caused by the hanging position, would cause irreparable cell damage after two hours.

"That's not to say the victim would die immediately - he might survive for as long as two days," Bankl told an audience at a book promotion in Vienna. "But after two hours hanging, a person would never recover."

He added that modern research, which included a detailed study of crucified remains from 70 A.D., fitted Biblical accounts of the way in which Christ suffered on the cross and the fact that he died after only three hours.

Among other deaths dealt with by Bankl, a lecturer in medicine at Vienna University, is that of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker as the war in Europe drew to its close in 1945.

Bankl seeks to refute theories that the German dictator did not commit suicide. The charred remains of a man and a woman were found in the bunker by allied liberation forces. Both had swallowed cyanide and the man had been shot.

A subsequent autopsy identified the bodies as those of Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun.

Although doctors at the time concluded that Hitler had committed suicide, some historians have claimed he would not have taken his own life.

According to Bankl, however, not only were there overwhelming similarities between the Berlin corpse and Hitler's medical and dental rec-ords, but the bunker also contained evidence suggesting the psychological probability of Hitler's suicide.

Bankl points to the fact that the corpses of Hitler's pet dogs were also found near the remains. One had been poisoned, the other shot.

"It is a typical characteristic of a suicidal person to test the effectiveness of his weapon or his poison," he says.

Bankl's investigations into the physical and mental history of his subjects reveal some facts omitted by many historians.

Beethoven suffered from appalling indigestion and piles, and Lenin's brain was posthumously cut into thousands of slices by Soviet scientists trying to pinpoint the source of his genius.

Accurate re-examination of the death of German dramatist Friedrich Schiller proved less straightforward.

Enthusiastic citizens of Schiller's home town of Weimar twice delved into the catacombs where his bones had been placed, each time piecing together two skeletons purported to belong to the author.

According to Bankl, however, modern investigations found no similarities between medical records and the skeletons.

"One of them could not have belonged to Schiller - the other was actually female," Bankl says.