Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Romans NEVER CRUCIFIED the Way We Think They Did! 8 - Crown of Thorns

El Greco, Christ Carrying the Cross, ca. 1580
Source: Wikipedia

Part 7 - Crucifixion and Priapus.
Part 6 - From Wax Image to Exposed Body.
Part 5 - The First Crucifix.
Part 4 - The Tropaeum and the Furca.
Part 3 - Crux - Modern English Use and Ancient Quotidian Meanings.
Part 2 - Crux.
Part 1.

Part 8 - The Crown of Thorns.

A. Introduction.

In the previous post here I made some remarks concerning John Thomas Didymus' chain of comments about the connection between crucifixion, that is, standard Roman Crucifixion and not in the limited sense of the English word "crucify" (= nail to a tropaeum) , and the ancient Roman god Priapus. One of the points he drew on was the use of a crown of thorns, similar to a scarecrow's wreath that was placed on Priapus' head as noted in Q Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 BCE) Satyrarum libri 1.8.1-7.

Well here is where the tradition of Jesus' Crown of Thorns comes from:
In Christianity, the Crown of Thorns, one of the instruments of the Passion, was woven of thorn branches and placed on Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. It is mentioned in the Canonical gospels of Matthew (27:29), Mark (15:17), and John (19:2, 5) and is often alluded to by the early Church Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others.

John the Evangelist describes it thus (KJV, ch. 19):

"Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said,"Hail, King of the Jews!" and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!"

Wikipedia, Crown of Thorns.
Indeed, the Crown of Thorns of Jesus, when it was discovered (or invented), was venerated by early post-Nicene Christians:
A few writers of the first six centuries A.D. speak of a relic known to be still in existence and venerated by the faithful. St. Paulinus of Nola, writing after 409, refers to "the thorns with which Our Saviour was crowned" as relics held in honour along with the Cross to which he was nailed and the pillar at which he was scourged (Epistle Macarius in Migne, Patrologia Latina, LXI, 407). Cassiodorus (c. 570), when commenting on Psalm lxxxvi, speaks of the Crown of Thorns among the other relics which are the glory of the earthly Jerusalem. "There", he says, "we may behold the thorny crown, which was only set upon the head of Our Redeemer in order that all the thorns of the world might be gathered together and broken" (Migne, LXX, 621). When Gregory of Tours in De gloria martyri[1] avers that the thorns in the Crown still looked green, a freshness which was miraculously renewed each day, he does not much strengthen the historical authenticity of a relic he had not seen, but the Breviarius, and the itinerary of Antoninus of Piacenza (6th century) clearly state that the Crown of Thorns was currently shown in the church on Mount Zion.[2] From these fragments of evidence and others of later date (the "Pilgrimage" of the monk Bernard shows that the relic was still at Mount Sion in 870), it is likely that a purported Crown of Thorns was venerated at Jerusalem from the fifth century for several hundred years.
Wikipedia, Crown of Thorns - Jerusalem

The best way to figure that out is to go by the ancient writings and epigraphy to see whether to determine whether Romans bothered to place crowns of thorns on crucified convicts' heads, and whether early Christians believed Jesus wore his Crown of Thorns whilst hanging on his Cross.

B. Non-Christian Sources.

B.1. Epigraphy.

The first known epigraph, dated to the 1st C. CE, showing someone on a cross is the Pozzuoli Graffito. Note there is no crown of thorns on the person's head.

Next is the Alexamenos Graffito. late 2nd, early 3rd C. CE. It is commonly believed to represent the mockery of a certain Christian by the name of Alexamenos. [3] Note, too, there is no crown of thorns depicted here.

Source: Jesus Granskad weblog.

The above is an ancient magical amulet from Gaza, Syria-Palestina in the late 100s or early 200s CE. This is probably the oldest picture of Jesus on the cross. It is also non-Christian! At least how we moderns define "Christian," for in addition to:
ΥIE – - – ΠAT – - – HPIH – - – COΥX – - – PICTE
which becomes ΥIE ΠATHP IHCOΥ XPICTE, which reads as "Yie Pater Iesou Christe" on the obverse, there is also on the gemstone engraved the Egyptian names Badetophoth and Satraperkmephthe, amongst others. [4] Notice, there is no crown of thorns.
Source: Jesus Granskad weblog.

Orpheos Bakkikos amulet. Although scholarly consensus since Joh. Reil, Rob. Zahn and Otto Kern have considered it a forgery, a minority hold that is a genuine artifact from as early as the 2nd C. CE. [5][6][7] In favor of a possible authenticity, is an apparent horizontal element at crotch height that mimics the projection of a sedile behind the cross or tropaeum, and the fact that the stakes meant to secure the cross in the ground and upright look suspiciously phallic, judging by their top ends. Nota bene again, no crown of thorns.

B.2. Writings.

The ancient non-Christian writers left behind literary evidence whether they applied a scarecrow wreath on crucified criminals' heads or not. Here's what I could find:

Catullus (84-54 BCE) has this to say:
Si, Comini, populi arbitrio tua cana senectus
spurcata impurus moribus intereat,
Non equidem dubito quin primum inimica bonorum
lingua exsecta audio sit data vulturio,
Effosos oculos uoret atro gutture cornuus,
intestina canes, cetera membra lupi.

If, by the will of the people, your old age Cominius,
fouled by indecent behavior, came to be ended,
I no doubt that your tongue -- such a good friend of evil!
would be uprooted and fed to the greedy vulture,
Nor that your gouged-out eyes glide down the raven's black gullet
whilst dogs took your bowels and wolves had the rest of you.

Catullus, Carmina 108
So does Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 BCE):
'nec furtum feci nec fugi' si mihi dicit
servus, 'habes pretium, loris non ureris,' aio.
'non hominem occidi.' 'non pasces in crucem corvos'.

If a slave were to say to me, "I never stole or ran away,"
my reply would be, "You have your reward, you are not flogged."
"I never killed anyone." "You will not feed crows on the cross."

Q. Horatius Flaccus, Epistles, 1.16.46-48
And --,
vic turba vicatim hinc et hinc saxis petens
contundet obscaenos anus,
post insepulta membra different lupi
et Esquiline alites
neque hoc parentes, heu mihi superstites,
effugerit spectaculum.

The rabble, pelying you with stones on every side along every street, shall crush you, filthy hags. Then by then the wolves and the birds that haunt the esquiline shall scatter far and wide your unburied limbs, nor shall this sight escape my parents --- surviving me, alas!

Q Horatius Flaccus Epode 5.101-106
Lucan (39-65 CE) tells of a witch guarding against birds and predator animals from her spoils of those crucified:
Et quodcumque iacet nuda tellure cadaver,
Ante feras volucresque sedet: nec carpere membra
Vult ferro manibusque suis, mosusque luporum
Exspectat, siccis raptura a faucibus artus.

Where lay a corpse upon the naked earth,
on ravening birds and beasts of prey the hag kept watch,
not marred by knife or hand her spoil, till on his victim seized some hungry wolf,
then dragged the morsel from his hungry fangs.

Lucan, Pharsalia (Civil War) 6.550-553
Juvenal (late 1st - early 2nd C. CE) noted the vulture fed on dead people hanging on the cross:
vultur iumanto et canibus relictis
ad fetus properat partemque cadaveris adfert:
hic est ergo cibus magni quoque vulturis et se
pascentis, propria cum iam facit arbore nidos.

The vulture hurries from dead cattle and dogs and crosses
to bring some of the carrion of her offspring.
So this becomes the food of the vulture when he is full-grown
and feeds himself, making his nest in a tree of his own.
Juvenal, Satires 14.77-80
Suetonius (69/75 - 130+ CE) noted an entreaty of a condemned, defeated soldier to Octavian Caesar the end of a conclusive battle in Phillipi thusly:
ut quidem uni suppliciter sepulturam precanti respondisse dicitur iam istum volucrum fore potestatem.

For instance, to one man who begged humbly for burial, he is said to have replied, "The birds will soon settle that question."

Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Augustus 13.2
There is a confirmation from ancient Hellenic astrological literature (possibly 2nd C. CE?) that crucified persons were exposed to birds:
ό Κρόνος ύπαγείω 'Αρης μεσουρανων νυκτός ποιουσιν εσταυρωμένους καί υπό όρνεων βεβρωμένους

Kronos at his nadir and Aries in mid heaven by night indicate those who are crucified and eaten by birds
Catalogus Codicum Graecorum VIII.4.p. 201, 22f [8]
Artemidorus (138-160 CE) had this to say about crucified people's exposure to birds:
γυμνοί γάρ σταυροϋνται καί τάς σάρκας άπολύουσιν οί σταυρωθέντας

For those crucified are crucified naked and lose their flesh to flesh-eating birds.

Artemidorus, Oneirocriticon 2.53.7
Lucius Apuleius (125-180 CE) had this to say of the torture of the patibulum (gibbet or crux) to which they were debating whether to nail a young woman of high born status: patibuli cruciatum, cum canes et vultures protrahent viscera.

...and the torture of the patibulum, where dogs and vultures draw out her inmost parts.

Lucius Apuleius, Metamorphoses, or, The Golden Asse. 6:32 fin.
An inscription from the 2nd C. CE [9], an epitah of a master murdered by his slave, from Amysos in Caria, (in western Anatolia, now a part of Turkey) posits it this way:
άλλά πολϊται έμοί τόν έμέ ρεξαντα τοι αυτα θηρσί καί οίωνοϊς ζωόν άνεκρέμασαν.

But for me the citizenry hanged up that one alive for the wild beasts and birds of prey because of what was done to me.'

Collection of Ancient Greek Inscriptions in the British Museum IV, 2, no. 1036
Pseudo-Manetho (3rd C. CE) writes of the fate of those nailed up:
στρεβλά κολαζόμενοι σκολοπηίδα μοίραν όρωσιν,
πικροτάτοις κέντροισι προσαρτηθέντες εν ήλοις,
οίωνων κακά δειπνα, κυνων δ' ελκύσματα δεινά

Punished with limbs outstretched, they see the thorned stake as their lot,
To the sharpest 'pegs' they are attached, with nails.
Evil meals for birds, grim pickings for dogs.

Pseudo Mantheo, Apotelesmatica 4.198
B.3. Conclusions.

So from what I could find, there is zero evidence in the ancient non-Christian epigraphy or writings for a common practice of placing a crown of thorns on top of a crucified person's head. In fact, one of the purposes was to have the corpse exposed to the birds and two of the sources above explicitly state that one species of birds that will feast on the corpse (or even the living person!) are the crows, who Catullus said went for the eyes. Now for the crows to get at the eyes, the head has to tip back when the person no longer has energy to keep it upright, so that the crow can land on his forehead or his face and gouge out his eyes which would be "gazing" at the sky. This means a frequent part of the typical Roman crucifixion would be a positioning of the body so that the head would turn back toward the earth (Seneca, Dialogue 6 = De Consolatione 20.3). A crown of thorns would in that case be contrary to exposure to crows. Therefore we must assume that such a crown was an exception, not a rule.

C. Christian Sources.

C.1. Epigraphy.

The above-cited Wikipedia article notes that some archaeologists have claimed to have seen a figure of the Crown of Thorns in the circle that surrounds the chresimon (chi-rho emblem) on early Christian sarcophagi, but the compliers considered that it was just as likely to have been a laurel wreath, as in the Sarcophagus Domatilla.

The following are early christian jewels, stones and imagery will show whether there was an early tradition whether Jesus wore his crown of thorns to the cross or not.

Source: Jesus Granskad weblog.

This is a piece of jewellery from the Eastern Roman Empire, possibly a brooch, Crucifixion with Apostles, ca. 4th C. CE. [10] Christ, referred to here as ECHO XRESTOS, is standing on a pedestal and the twelve disciples on a lower level, six on each side. Note the nimbus but no crown of thorns.
Source: Jesus Granskad weblog.

Another jewellery piece from the Eastern Roman Empire, this time a ring, Crucifixion with Apostles, possibly Syrian, mid-4th C. CE., Carnelian. [10] [11] The Christ figure is attached to a cross that appears to be made out of nails. He is standing on a lower strut on the same level as the Twelve Apostles. There is damage to the top of the jewel inside the circumferential band, so it is impossible to tell if he was wearing the crown of thorns or not.

Possible Earliest Christus Patiens on Red Jasper

The jasper strongly suggests a realistic crucifixion here on Earth, except no structure is present. The Christ figure is hanging, nude and contorted, wearing only what looks like a double band around his head and a nimbus. The kneeling figure on the right looks suspiciously like an Orthodox Priest. The British Museum has dated it to the 4th or 5th C. CE. [12] Two scholars have forwarded their opinion that the gem is most likely to be Middle Byzantine in date. [13]

The figure has been dated to as I'd say it's dated to the first half of the 300's CE (beginning of Byzantine Period), despite the obviously Medieval-looking nature of the suspension from the hands or wrists. Reason? The nudity of the Christ figure and the fact that his legs are slightly apart, wide enough for each foot to be nailed on either side of the pole.

Sta Sabina's Chapel, Ravenna, Italy, ca. 420-430 CE. [14] Christ and the two thieves (latrones -λῃσταί - armed robbers) who look like small children in comparison. All three have orant poses from Roman antiquity and replicated in the imagery of the Three Hebrew Youths in the Fiery Furnace in the catacombs of Santa Priscilla. [15] Note the Christ figure has no crown of thorns.

Ivory Sarcaphagus, British Museum, ca. 450 CE. No crown of thorns here, either.

Crucifixion, Rabbula, ca. 6th C. (586) CE. [16] Christ is wearing a colobium but has no crown of thorns.

Reliquarium, Lateran Crucifixion, ca. 600 CE. Note the short hair, full-length colobium, and no crown of thorns.

Santa Maria, Antiqua Roma, Crocifissione Fresco, ca. 741-52 CE. Again, a full-length colobium and no crown of thorns, maybe a single strand of thorns instead (see detail immediately above).

Meister des Kroenungsakramentars ca. 950-1000 CE. Again, the crown of thorns is missing. And what appears to be an erect penis of a muscular Christ, is a just knot in the loin-skirt to keep him covered. The almost perfect resemblance in my opinion is strictly unintentional.

Bamberg Apocalypse Crucifixion / Entombment, Early Medieval period. Note the Roman crimson loincloth. Again, no crown of thorns.

All these epigraphs show no crown of thorns. in fact, according to the noted Wikipedia article, the crown of thorns on the head of the crucified Christ did not show up in post-325 CE artwork until the time of St Louis IX of France (1214-1270) and the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle (1239-1248). The only possible exception would be the Possible Earliest Christus Patiens on Red Jasper, above.

C.2. Early Christian Writings.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, scholars were in agreement that ecclesiastical patristic sources prior to Tertullian did not mantion the crown of thorns. For example, Dr Adam Clarke "considers it improbable that any additional torture except mockery was imposed upon the wearer, and that what was translated as a crown of thorns, was in reality a chaplet of some soft plant, acanthus or bear's-foot. He thinks that the silence of early writers, before Tertullian, on the severity of this part of Christ's Passion bears him out, and quotes Michaelis and Bishop Pearce as that of opinion. But it is not likely that soldiers of such a stern, cruel nation as the Romans would have been merciful in their mockery. Besides the measure of the curse must be filled up. Thorns and thistles were the sword of the "First Adam," and they must not be absent when the "Second" is fulfilling his mission." [17]

C.2.1. Ignatius of Antioch (Catholic) (35 or 50 to 98 or 117 CE)

He actually mentions the crown of thorns and he is accepted by consensus to be one of the 'apostolic' fathers, i.e., some of the earliest.
He who was Himself the Judge was judged by the Jews, falsely so called, and by Pilate the governor; was scourged, was smitten on the cheek, was spit upon; He wore a crown of thorns and a purple robe; He was condemned; He was crucified in reality, and not in appearance, not in imagination, not in deceit. He really died, and was buried, and rose from the dead, …”

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Trallians 10
One cannot tell one way or another whether or not Jesus wore the crown of thorns during his crucifixion. The mention of the wearing of the thorny crown is too brief... although early iconography does show Jesus wearing the purple robe while crucified!

C.2.2. Basilides (Gnostic) (fl. 117-138 CE)

Simon of Cyrene, a minor character in the Synoptic Gospels who bears Jesus' cross therein, apparently appears in the Basilidian Second Treatise of the Great Seth, where Jesus reportedly says [18][19]:
"For my death, which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death...It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. [I]t was another upon [w]hom they placed the crown of thorns... And I was laughing at their ignorance."
Here, the Gnostic Basilides indicates that it was Simon of Cyrene who wore the crown of thorns while hanging on the cross.

C.2.3. Gospel of Peter (Noncanonical) (approx. 150-200 CE)

Herein the writer states that the Jews and the soldiers under Herod made Jesus wear the crown of thorns. There is no mention of it being taken off, ever.
6. But having taken the Lord, running, they were pushing him and saying, 'Let us drag along the Son of God now that we have power over him.' 7. And they clothed him with purple and sat him on a chair of judgment, saying: 'Judge justly, King of Israel.' 8. And a certain one of them, having brought a thorny crown (στεφανον ακανθινον), put it on the head of the Lord. 9. And others who were standing there were spitting in his face, and others slapped his cheeks. Others were jabbing him with a reed; and some scourged him, saying, 'With such honor let us honor the Son of God.'

Gospel of Peter 3:6-9
Like the canonical gospels of Mark, Matthew and John, there is no indication whatsoever that they took the thorny crown off when the crucified him.

C.2.4. Clement of Alexandria (Catholic) (150-215 CE)

This Clement flourished at about the same time as Tertullian, perhaps slightly before; although unlike tertullian, he did not leave the Catholic branch of Christianity to join the Montanist sect.

From Clement of Alexandria's The Instructor, Bk 2 Ch. 8:
On perfumes and garlands.
Further, it were irrational in us, who have heard that the Lord was crowned with thorns, (Matthew 27:29) to crown ourselves with flowers, insulting thus the sacred passion of the Lord. For the Lord's crown prophetically pointed to us, who once were barren, but are placed around Him through the Church of which He is the Head. But it is also a type of faith, of life in respect of the substance of the wood, of joy in respect of the appellation of crown, of danger in respect of the thorn, for there is no approaching to the Word without blood.

...And they crowned Jesus raised aloft, testifying to their own ignorance. For being hard of heart, they understood not that this very thing, which they called the disgrace of the Lord, was a prophecy wisely uttered: “The Lord was not known by the people” (Isaiah 1:3) which erred, which was not circumcised in understanding, whose darkness was not enlightened, which knew not God, denied the Lord, forfeited the place of the true Israel, persecuted God, hoped to reduce the Word to disgrace; and Him whom they crucified as a malefactor they crowned as a king. Wherefore the Man on whom they believed not, they shall know to be the loving God the Lord, the Just. Whom they provoked to show Himself to be the Lord, to Him when lifted up they bore witness, by encircling Him, who is exalted above every name, with the diadem of righteousness by the ever-blooming thorn. This diadem, being hostile to those who plot against Him, coerces them; and friendly to those who form the Church, defends them. This crown is the flower of those who have believed on the glorified One, but covers with blood and chastises those who have not believed. It is a symbol, too, of the Lord's successful work, He having borne on His head, the princely part of His body, all our iniquities by which we were pierced.

For He by His own passion rescued us from offenses, and sins, and such like thorns; and having destroyed the devil, deservedly said in triumph, “O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) And we eat grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles; while those to whom He stretched forth His hands— the disobedient and unfruitful people— He lacerates into wounds. I can also show you another mystic meaning in it. For when the Almighty Lord of the universe began to legislate by the Word, and wished His power to be manifested to Moses, a godlike vision of light that had assumed a shape was shown him in the burning bush (the bush is a thorny plant); but when the Word ended the giving of the law and His stay with men, the Lord was again mystically crowned with thorn. On His departure from this world to the place whence He came, He repeated the beginning of His old descent, in order that the Word beheld at first in the bush, and afterwards taken up crowned by the thorn, might show the whole to be the work of one power, He Himself being one, the Son of the Father, who is truly one, the beginning and the end of time.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor II.8 [20]
John Ferguson makes a summary [21]:
...So with garlands; they are associated with revelling and drunkenness. Crowns of flowers strip the countryside and are bad for the head. Clement gives us a bit of ancient physiology about the coldness of the head. Flowers are lovely and in enjoying them we honor the Creator. ...To use flowers for garlands is to exploit them.; the flower and its beauty wither. ...The earliest Greeks, says Clement following Erasthenes, didn't use garlands; it was a degenerate practice which came in after the wars with Persia. The wreath sybolized freedom from care; hence its use for the dead. Further, to make wreaths of flowers for our living is to mock the Saviour's crown of thorns. The first revelation of God to Moses was in a burning thorn-bush. The revelation in Jesus is through a crown of thorns. The power is the one and the same. [21]
Here, Clement of Alexandria seems to hold the opinion that the crucifiers crowned him with the crown of thorns after they lifted him aloft on the cross. And not only that he wore the thorny crown throughout the time he hung on the cross, but that he also kept wearing it even after he ascended into heaven.

C.2.5. Tertullian (Catholic) (160-225 CE)

The following are from his voluminous writings from the time he was a Catholic apologist:
This “wood,” again, Isaac the son of Abraham personally carried for his own sacrifice, when God had enjoined that he should be made a victim to Himself. But, because these had been mysteries which were being kept for perfect fulfilment in the times of Christ, Isaac, on the one hand, with his “wood,” was reserved, the ram being offered which was caught by the horns in the bramble; Christ, on the other hand, in His times, carried His “wood” on His own shoulders, adhering to the horns of the cross, with a thorny crown encircling His head.

Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeorum 13.21
And “the clouds were commanded not to rain a shower upon the vineyard of Sorek,” — the clouds being celestial benefits, which were commanded not to be forthcoming to the house of Israel; for it “had borne thorns”— whereof that house of Israel had wrought a crown for Christ— and not “ righteousness, but a clamour,”— the clamour whereby it had extorted His surrender to the cross.

Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeorum 13.26
In short, what patriarch, what prophet, what Levite, or priest, or ruler, or at a later period what apostle, or preacher of the gospel, or bishop, do you ever find the wearer of a crown? I think not even the temple of God itself was crowned; as neither was the ark of the testament, nor the tabernacle of witness, nor the altar, nor the candlestick crowned though certainly, both on that first solemnity of the dedication, and in that second rejoicing for the restoration, crowning would have been most suitable if it were worthy of God. But if these things were figures of us (for we are temples of God, and altars, and lights, and sacred vessels), this too they in figure set forth, that the people of God ought not to be crowned. The reality must always correspond with the image. If, perhaps, you object that Christ Himself was crowned, to that you will get the brief reply: Be you too crowned, as He was; you have full permission. Yet even that crown of insolent ungodliness was not of any decree of the Jewish people. It was a device of the Roman soldiers, taken from the practice of the world—a practice which the people of God never allowed either on the occasion of public rejoicing or to gratify innate luxury: so they returned from the Babylonish captivity with timbrels, and flutes, and psalteries, more suitably than with crowns; and after eating and drinking, uncrowned, they rose up to play. Neither would the account of the rejoicing nor the exposure of the luxury have been silent touching the honour or dishonour of the crown. Thus too Isaiah, as he says, “With timbrels, and psalteries, and flutes they drink wine,” (Isaiah 5:12) would have added “with crowns,” if this practice had ever had place in the things of God.

But He that is both the Head of the man, and the Beauty of the woman, the Husband of the Church, Christ Jesus, what sort of crown, I pray thee, did He put on for both man and woman? 'Twas one, methinks, of thorns and briers, as a figure of those sins, which the earth of our flesh hath brought forth unto us, but the power of the Cross hath taken away, overcoming the sharpness of every sting of death, in the sufferings of the head of the Lord. Surely, setting aside the figure, there is on the face of it mockery, and debasement, and dishonour, and mixed with these cruelty, which then defiled and tore the brow of the Lord, that thou mayest now be crowned with thy laurel, and thy myrtle, and thy olive, and every famous branch, and what is of more frequent use, with roses also of an hundred leaves culled from the garden of Midas, and lilies of either kind, and every sort of violets, even with jewels perchance and gold, that thou mayest rival also that crown of Christ, which came unto Him afterwards, because it was after the gall that He tasted the honey also, nor was He saluted as the King of Glory by the hosts of Heaven, before He had been proscribed upon the cross as the King of the Jews. Being first made by the Father a little lower than the angels, and so crowned with glory and worship. If for these things thou owest thy head to Him, pay Him if thou canst with such an head as His own was, when He offered it up for thine: or wear not a crown of flowers, if thou art not able to wear one of thorns; for thou art able not to wear one of flowers.

Tertullian is the first to openly state that the crown of thorns Jesus wore was a Roman device (although he [Tertullian] wasn't above saying the Jews made it for him!) and that Jesus wore it whilst bearing the patibulum --- crossarm on the way to his crucifixion.

C.2.6. Origen (Catholic) (185-254 CE)

Origen's comments on the crown of thorns appeared to have come from his Commentary on the Gospel according to St Matthew. I found two secondary sources:
306. The Lord, in putting on the "scarlet robe," took the blood of the world on himself; and in that "crown of thorns" he received the thorns of our sins woven into his head (cf. Mt 27:28-29). Of the scarlet robe, it is written that "they stripped him of the robe" (Mt 27:31), but of the crown of thorns, the evangelists wrote no such thing because they wanted us to ask what happened with the crown of thorns which was placed on him at one point and never removed. It is my opinion that the crown of thorns was consumed by the head of Jesus so that they are now no longer our old thorns, once Jesus has taken them from us and put them on his sacred head. [22]
The Crowning with Thorns:

Origen writes that this crown of thorns was not taken from the head of the Lord until he had expired upon the cross. (Corona spinea, semel imposita, et nunquam detracta) [23]
His two opinions on the final disposition of the crown of thorns are contradictory but he does affirm both times that jesus wore it throughout his Crucifixion.

C.3. Conclusions.

The epigraphy shows that before the 13th C. CE there was no depiction of Christ that we know of wearing the crown of thorns while hanging on the cross, with the sole exception of the Possible Earliest Christus Patiens on Red Jasper and even that jewel shows the crown as just a double band. And there is a tradition of Christ wearing that crown whilst hanging on the cross back to Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd C. CE). Earlier than that the evidence appears contradictory and murky. But we do know for a fact, there was an early Christian tradition that got lost post 325 CE and later was recovered in the early to mid 1200's.

D. Wrap-up.

What I have just shown is that it would have been a rare exception, not the rule, for Romans to make the people they crucify wear a crown of thorns while hanging on the cross. So rare, in fact, that they never mention it.

The traditions of the Christian Church, too, have all the marks of an evolution of a mythos, for the earliest writers, the Gospel of Peter, and the canonical Gospels never say explicitly that Christ wore the crown of thorns while on the cross, and neither do they say that the executioners ever took the crown off. Assuming The Crucifixion was historical, it is very much possible that the One hanged wore the Crown whilst suspended.

E. Footnotes.

[1] Published in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores Merovingenses", I, 492.

[2] Geyer, Itinera Hierosolymitana, 154 and 174.

[3] "Marcus Cornelius Fronto, an orator and rhetorician who was the tutor of Marcus Aurelius and later his correspondent, condemned the Christians in a lost speech, fragments of which are preserved by Minucius Felix in the Octavius, a dialogue between the pagan Caecilius and the Christian Octavius that sought to refute [several] charges.... Fronto asserted that 'the religion of the Christians is foolish, inasmuch as they worship a crucified man, and even the instrument itself of his punishment. They are said to worship the head of an ass, and even the nature of their father'." University of Chicago Penelope website, "Alexamenos graffito"

[4] Allyson Everingham Scheckler and Mary Joan Winn Leith, "The Crucifixion Conundrum and the Santa Sabina Doors", Harvard Theological Review, 103:1 (2010), pp. 67–88: pp. 70-72. Observe within the text on p. 71: "The catalog entry concludes that the amulet could reflect the activity of a pagan magician who, like the family of Jewish exorcists in Acts 19: 13-17, included Jesus' name in his repertory of magical powers. The amulet might equally come from a Jewish or -- given the period's fluid religious boundaries -- Jewish-Christian occult practitioner." Note also from p. 72, f/n. 19: "The point is that the image, like other apotropaic amulet figures, was frightening and dangerous, not that the image reflected the Christology of the early church writers.... Contrary to the observation of Harley and Spier [....] that Jesus' nudity affirms 'Jesus' spiritual power,' the legs of the frontal nude figure splay painfully over the vertical upright of the cross and call to mind emasculation by impalement; this "Jesus" has more of horror than triumph about him.... [this image] reflect[s] the contemproary attitude of revulsion associated with crucifixion ." Let me add that this "Jesus" is also portrayed with an erection; as noted in the last post, phalli ~ that is, erect penises ~ were considered to be apotropaic in antiquity.

[5] James Hannan, The Orpheus Amulet from the Cover of the Jesus Mysteries, Bede's Library weblog. The following is attributed to Mr. Kern: "It evidently escaped [Guthrie’s] notice that the amulet with the image of the crucifix and the inscription ΟΡΦΕΟΣ ΒΑΚΚΙΚΟΣ in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin is almost certainly a fake. One must grant credibility to such outstanding connoisseurs of this material as Joh. Reil and Rob. Zahn, who asserted this [i.e. that the amulet is a fake] in Aγγελος 2, 1926, 62ff., and one must not be put off by the fact that this Italian counterfeiter, like so many--the amulet is from Italy and came from E. Gerhard's estate to the museum in Berlin--possessed some learning and knew of the connection of Orpheus to Bacchus." (translated from the German here.) Mr. Hannan had an email correspondence with Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries, (1999) New York, Three Rivers Press) over this and Mr. Gandy acknowledged seeing Kern's comments but considered irrelevant and promptly ignored them (see end of weblog article). Gandy and Freke still maintain the amulet has not been proven a forgery.

[6] Andrew Criddle, More About Early Christian Gems, 25th March 2008, "What was particularly interesting was Spier’s comments (also on p 178*) on the controversial Orpheus Amulet Spier regards it as a (probably 18th century) forgery on the grounds that the pose of the crucified figure is anachronistic and typical of medieval times and later. He cites a detailed review article by P. Maser in Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 52 (1976) pps 257-75 , and a recent article by A. Mastrocinque “Orpheos Bakchikos” in Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 97 (1993) pps 16-24 which argues for authenticity." *(Jeffrey Spier, Late Antique and Early Christian Gems', Wiesbaden, p. 178.)

[7] Francesco Carotta with Arne Eickenberg, Orpheos Bakkikos - the Missing Cross, PDF, p. 1. (This was republished by Revista de Arqueologia.) "Initially it had been embraced as one of the earliest representations of the Crucifixion of Christ -- if not as the very first, because the stone had occasionally been dated to the second century." f/n 1: "Leclerq 1907-53, 12.2754 (9249) s.v. "Orphée", 6.840 (177) s.v. "Gemmes". Cf. Dölger 1910, 1.324." Moreover, in this article Carotta and Eickenberg "examine previous arguments for and against the artefact’s authenticity and conclude that the aporia can be solved not by regarding the stone unilaterally as either Orphic or Christian, but by placing it back into its original historical context. The supporting argumentation leads from the Roman imperial cult via the Athenian Iobakchoi of the second century A.D. as well as the Roman poets and Cultores Liberi of the Augustan era back to the funeral of Julius Caesar, where his wax effigy, which closely resembled the ‘crucified figure’ in the Orpheos Bakkikos engraving, was affixed to a cruciform tropaeum and shown to the people."

[8] Catalogus Codicum Graecorum VIII.4, ed. P. Boudreaux-F. Cumont, 1922, p. 201, 22f, ap. Hengel, Crucifixion, p.78, n. 26.

[9] Martin Hengel, Tr. John Bowden, Crucifixion, 1977, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, p. 76, n. 19; and, Craig A. Evans, Hanged Alive, p. 12, website. The phrase ζωόν άνεκρέμασαν is obviously a euphemism for crucified.

[10] Roger Viklund, The early Christians' understanding of the design of the tools Jesus should have been hung on. 3rd April 2011, Jesus Granskad weblog. (translated from Swedish).

[11] Scheckler and Leith , p. 71

[12] Andrew Criddle, Earliest Christus Patiens Image? 13th August 2006,

[13] Two scholars have forwarded this date: Felicity Harley, in an unpublished PhD Dissertation (University of Adelaide, 2001); and Jeffrey Spier (Late Antique and Early Christian Gems, Wiesbaden: 2007 p. 178., ap. Andrew Criddle, More About Early Christian Gems, 25th March 2008,

[14] Scheckler and Leith, p. 68

[15] Scheckler and Leith, pp. 81-85

[16] Scheckler and Leith, p. 70

[17] William Wood Seymour, The Cross in Tradition, History and Art, (republished 2003) Kessinger Publishing, p. 468.

[18] Wikipedia, Basilideans, accessed 11th February 2012. Link

[19] Wikipedia, Second Treatise of the Great Seth, accessed 11th February 2012. Link

[20] New - Church fathers - Clement of Alexandria - The Instructor

[21] John Ferguson, Clement of Alexandria, (1974) Twayne Publishers, Inc. pp. 84,85

[22] Origen, Ed. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Tr. Robert J. daly, S.J. Origen, Spirit and Fire: A Thematic Anthology of his Writings. (1985) Washington DC, Catholic University of America Press, pp. 130-131

[23] St Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, The Passion and the Death of Jesus Christ, p. 258 (ap. Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo weblog.)

F. Previous Series.

Crucifixion – The Bodily Support - Part 1.
Crucifixion – The Bodily Support - Part 2 - Archaeological Evidence.
Crucifixion – The Bodily Support - Part 4 - Physics of Crucifixion.

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