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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Did Jesus Die On A Cross?

One of the difficulties with religion is that it is based, in large part, on stories which are passed down over generations and not based upon concurrent written depictions of actual events.  And as with any story which is told and then retold time and time again, the stories often differ greatly from person to person.  And when stories have been told in one language (or several languages), translations are often imperfect.  So a new study which questions whether Jesus did in fact die by Crucifixion should not be all that surprising , should it?

However, the crucifix is the defining symbol of Christianity, a constant reminder to the faithful of the sacrifice and suffering endured by Jesus Christ for humanity. But an extensive study of ancient texts by a Swedish pastor and academic has revealed that Jesus may not have died on a cross, but instead been put to death on another gruesome execution device.

This iconic image of Christ dying on the cross may be misleading, according to theologian Gunnar Samuelsson, who says crucifixion was more rare than commonly thought.

Gunnar Samuelsson -- a theologian at the University of Gothenburg and author of a 400-page thesis on crucifixion in antiquity -- doesn't doubt that Jesus died on Calvary hill. But he argues that the New Testament is in fact far more ambiguous about the exact method of the Messiah's execution than many Christians are aware.

Before you simply dismiss him you should know that Samuelsson describes himself as "... a boring, conservative pastor and I start everyday reading the New Testament," and who believes that "the man who walked this earth was the Son of God, and that he will return to judge the living and the dead." 

"When the Gospels refer to the death of Jesus, they just say that he was forced to carry a "stauros" out to Calvary," he told AOL News. Many scholars have interpreted that ancient Greek noun as meaning "cross," and the verb derived from it, "anastauroun," as implying crucifixion. But during his three-and-a-half-year study of texts from around 800 BC to the end of the first century AD, Samuelsson realized the words had more than one defined meaning.

"'Stauros' is actually used to describe a lot of different poles and execution devices," he says. "So the device described in the Gospels could have been a cross, but it could also have been a spiked pole, or a tree trunk, or something entirely different." In turn, "anastauroun" was used to signify everything from the act of "raising hands to suspending a musical instrument."

The manner in which Jesus died is further thrown into question by Samuelsson's discovery that crucifixion may have been an unusual form of punishment in the Roman Empire. Descriptions of crucifixions contained in the thousands of Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Greek manuscripts he examined most commonly referred to dead prisoners being placed on some form of suspension device, or living captives skewered on stakes. The first century Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, for example, wrote about seeing a great many prisoners of war on "crosses" after one campaign. But the scribe then describes how a large number of the dead had been impaled.
The Swedish scholar isn't sure exactly why the crucifix went on to become the dominant Christian motif. But this symbol only seems to have become fixed in followers' minds long after Jesus' death, as the first T and X shaped crucifixes appear in Christian manuscripts around the 2nd century AD.  Much like I said, when a story is told and retold, it changes over time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Samuelsson's thesis has caused something of an unheavenly row. While fellow theologians have complimented his highly detailed research, many critics in the blogosphere have claimed that he wants to undermine Christianity. Samuelsson --  -- says this accusation is simply "stupid."  He belives that "... we should read the text as it is, not as we think it is."


  1. Why do you hate religion? God is real!

  2. Blasphemy. You will burn in hell.