18

Assuming Jesus was a real person, it is a generally accepted fact that he died on a cross. On the other hand, Jehovah's Witnesses are of the belief that the crucifixion of Jesus is a mistranslation and the word stauros shall be translated as "pole", not "cross".

But now there's seems to be some academic support for the pole interpretation. According to a doctoral thesis by Gunnar Samuelsson at the University of Gothenburg, there is actually no mention of a cross in the original or contemporary texts.

From the press release:

The thesis clearly shows that although the studied texts are full of references to suspension of objects and the equipment used to this end, no reference is made to 'crosses' or 'crucifixion'. Samuelsson therefore concludes that the predominant account of the destiny of Jesus is not based on the antique texts, but rather on for example the tradition of the Christian church and artistic illustrations.

From the Telegraph:

He claims the Bible has been misinterpreted as there are no explicit references the use of nails or to crucifixion - only that Jesus bore a "staurus" towards Calvary which is not necessarily a cross but can also mean a "pole".

From the Atlantic Wire (my emphasis):

Samuelsson did some serious research before advancing this provocative argument: "I spent almost three years," he says, "reading all the ancient texts I could find ... from about Homer until the first century of the Common Era." He says "some kind of suspension of a living or a dead person or a part of a person" was indeed common at the time, but crucifixion is not mentioned. In the Bible itself, all it says is that Jesus carried and then was executed on a staurus--"there is no other description beyond that."

Specifically, are there really no original sources that explicitly mention the practice of crucifixion in the sense generally understood today?

  • 5
    I think the problem starts at your first six words. :) In fiction, the characters do and encounter whatever the author decides. As for Romans using crucifiction, there does seem to be some evidence for it: google.com/… – JasonR Apr 27 '12 at 14:06
  • 12
    This sounds like a question that would be better at Hermeneutics.se. It seems more about interpreting ancient texts than scientific evidence. Would you consider asking there instead? – Oddthinking Apr 27 '12 at 14:13
  • 3
    Hermeneutics.SE deal only with biblical texts, the claim in the thesis is that no other texts support the crucifixion standpoint, in addition to that the biblical texts don't. – Zano Apr 27 '12 at 14:16
  • 2
    This is a matter on which there are varying opinions. Wikipedia gives a pretty good summary of the various views on the matter. – DJClayworth Apr 28 '12 at 16:13
  • 1
    I'd have thought the main point of inquiry would be to ask which methods the Romans generally used in that time and place. – Benjol Oct 8 '12 at 7:44
13

The history of crucifixion mentions several forms of crosses being used (the pole, T-shaped cross, and X-shaped cross), and mentions that the pole shape is associated with Jehovah's Witnesses who seem to believe that's what was used to execute Christ. This mimics part of the information at crucifixion which goes more into the social aspects of the punishment.

A biblical history site claims to present archeological evidence a T-shaped cross was used, rather than a stake, to crucify people in Judea around the time of Christ. I've no way to ascertain whether this is correct or not. It does seem to be backed up by this site; however they might reference the same underlying information.

NIH did publish a short article as well in their library which confirms crucifixion was used as a method of execution of non-citizens in the Roman Empire which Christ, being an inhabitant born of Judea, would not have been a Roman citizen.

Finally, this site also lists the various types of crosses used historically, as well as confirming the punishment was used in Roman times for non-citizens.

So we have several sources indicating that stakes and crosses of various shapes were used historically over space and time, with at least one seeming to confirm that a cross as portrayed in Christian imagery was used in Judea during the time of Christ.

1

If one leave aside the mention of "crucifixion" in Bible, we still have a solid evidence outside Bible that Jesus was in fact crucified on cross. Lucian (c.120–after 180 A.D. referred to Jesus as a crucified sophist (philosopher). Apart from Jesus' crucifixion, it also testifies- an earliest non Biblical record, about the deity of Jesus, indicating that Christian were already worshiping Jesus.

"The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains their contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property."

Lucian, The Passing of Peregrin

Another non Biblical reference is from Tacitus (c. 56–c.120 A.D.) who wrote,

“Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty … at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.”

  • 3
    Why would you describe the evidence as solid? None of it is by primary witnesses and neither of them talks about a cross (the whole point or the question is that crucifixions did sometimes happen on a pole, for example). – Sklivvz Dec 19 '13 at 14:34
  • @Sklivvz If you read the question in first few lines itself, it talks about the possibility of mistranslation in Bible leading to the interpretation as cross instead of pole. The sources quoted in answer above are insulated from such possibilities of mistranslation as doubted by #zano and hence the solid evidence for crucifixion. – user426 Dec 19 '13 at 16:14
  • You leave out the critical fact about the Lucian quote, which is which Greek word is uses for "crucifixion". The word anaskolopisthenta is not the same as stauroo used in the gosples, and is sometimes translated as "impaled" rather than "crucified". – JacquesB Jul 24 '15 at 9:24
  • I don't get the relevance of the Tacitus quote, since it doesn't even state how Jesus was executed. – JacquesB Jul 24 '15 at 9:24

You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Community Apr 30 '13 at 1:49

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .