Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - "Biblical Evidence"

(Part 5a of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)


What sort of gear was the instrument of Jesus' execution?

There was a big stink raised by the sensationalist press a few years ago when Gunnar Samuelsson's hypothesis that successfully defended before his peers at Gotheburg University in Sweden was released upon the world. As a result, most people think he believes

Conservative Christians scholars, professional and armchair alike, as for example, Martin Hengel, Leolaia and Stephen C. Jones have treated the gospels as complimentary. However, critical scholars -- and ancient critical philospohers like Porphyry -- have determined them not to be complimentary, and contradictory. Ancient Christians have found parallels between the Crucifixion and the sailing of Odysseus and his crew past the Sirens, with Odysseus himself lashed to the mast. Furthermore, critical modern scholars believe the accounts of the crucifixion itself  to be not based on eyewitness accounts at all, but midrashed out of the Septuagint and patterned after a triumph of a Caesar, perhaps that of Flavius Vespasian Caesar; the funeral of Julius Caesar, with his wax image crucified on a cruciform tropaeum; the capture, trial, scourging and release of Jesus ben Ananias in Josephus' Wars of the Jews 6.301-309 = 6.5.3 and even Josephus' account of the rescue of three of his friends from Roman execution poles in Life 420-421 = Life 75. In other words, they are saying that there wasn't a crucifixion (f, i, x, i, o, n), but a crucifiction! (f, i, c, t, i, o, n). And judging by internal evidences in the gospels, they are correct. But I will deal with that a later time.

So I am going to treat the four gospels as separate, and then harmonise the whole lot, to see what differences come up. So here we go.

A. Mark.

There are several passages in this tale that give us clues as to what the gear of Jesus' execution was imagined to be.

A.1. "He must take up his pole."

The first passage occurs in Mark chapter 8, right after Simon bar Jonah, now Simon Peter, confesses that he, Jesus, is the Christ. Jesus predicts his own death: that he must be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the Torah, be killed and after three days rise again. And then he calls to the crowd and also to his discpiles:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross (τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ) and follow me.

Mark 8:34 NIV
Now here, σταυρὸν would probably mean "pole" as in the patibulum or crossarm of a two-beam or two-pole cross, simple or monohorned, or of an impaling stake, or of a simple pole: to which one is nailed or otherwise fixed and left to die. Of course, the last type of pole would have to be of small enough of a thickness and short enough of a length, say, 3.5 m in length by 150 mm in diameter (11'8" x 6" dia) of Jerusalem Pine at say 510 kg / cu m (32 pcf). This, of course, would be no Jehovah's Witnesses' stake but something much lighter and very easy to carry. And obviously it would be no heavy two-beam cross made of 6 x 6 or larger dimensional timber.

A.2. "Grant that we may sit."

Again, Jesus makes his second prediction that he will be condemned to death, be handed over to the goyyim, who will mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. And then he will rise again on the third day.
And then we go right into the scene between Jesus and the James and John, the Sons of Zebedee.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Mark 10: 35-40 NIV

And then after this Jesus calls the other ten, who are indignant, together and told them if they wish to be great ones among themselves and their followers, they must be their subjects' servants, not the other way around. He then concludes this with another premonition of his death, "that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Now the reference to "the baptism that I am baptized with" and "the cup I shall drink" is an allusion to his up-coming sufferings. Otherwise, why does he ask, "Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” at Gethsemane? Because the cup is the cup of suffering that he must drink during his illegal trial before the Sanhedrin, his legal trial before Pilate, his floggings and tortures and even the crucifixion itself. And the baptism? It could very well be his death, for in Romans 6, we have Paul asking his readers if they knew that those "who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death." After all, baptism back then was complete immersion and if the person dunking you didn't lift you back up, you'd drown... and be immersed in death, not just water.

Now what about the ones sitting at his right and at his left when Jesus comes into his glory? Well notice he said if one wished to be great, one has to serve. Which means his ultimate service is "giving his life for many." Which means of course, he is forshadowing his crucifixion with two highwaymen, that is, two armed robbers, one on either side, so that when he comes into his glory, it will be on an Roman execution pole! (Hint: the pole won't look like the Jehovah's Witnesses' depiction with ordinary poles on the left, for the three are not "sitting.") 

And sure enough, the Antenicene Church fathers thought so, for starting with Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 73), they accused the Jews of doctoring the 96th Psalm from the Christians' copies of the Septuagint to remove the words, "from the wood!" (ἁπό του ξύλου) So that the sentence "Tell among the nations, the Lord has reigned!" was originally supposed to have been, "Tell among the nations, the Lord has reigned from the wood!" Christians actually believed this back then.

And what is this about sitting (καθίζω "to sit, cause to sit, take one's seat, settle, sink down") at his right and at his left? Well there is some interesting rhetorical literature back then that people did actually "sit" on their crosses. For the apparent normative Roman execution pole (at least from the turn of the second century on for the entire Empire, and earlier, perhaps much earlier, for Italy) had a crossarm and a central point called by various names including a sedile, a cornu, a palus, and a σκόλοψ. Indeed, Seneca (Epistles 101:10 through 14) who inveighed against Maeceneas for preferring to sit on a pointed crux over suicide. The two of them are openly explicit in line 12:

" 'One may nail me up and set underneath a pointed crux for sitting'* " (Suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas) "Is it so great to press down** on one's own wound and to hang stretched out tight from a patibulum?" (Est tanti vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum?)
*also "ride, sink down, settle on, subside, be fixed, stuck fast, etc." (Lewis and Short)
**also "bear down upon, press hard upon, press down, press into, force in, overwhelm, weigh down, etc." (Lewis and Short)

What makes it worse, is that in naughty Roman verse, the Latin vulnus refers to the "wound" opened by a man's entry into the back passage of his co-participant in anal sex. (Martial, Quintus Serenus and Priapeia 10, ap. The Priapeia, So Seneca is apparently using a euphemism here.

Well, back to the throne. What the two were asking of Jesus, and they don't know it, was for them to "sit on" or rather "ride"  the crosses, poles or pales the two armed robbers were going to "sit on!" For they were naively think they were going to take their seats on actual royal thrones in the Kingdom of God, i.e., the World to Come.

 A.3. "And then they fenced him with pales" (or is it "pile-drove him?") 

Some, including some scholars, believe that the Gospels contain the most detailed accounts of a crucifixion. They do not. All they have is a simple statement that they did, not how they did it.

Here is what Mark says, from when Pilate passes sentence:

Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

Mark 15:15-24

Notice they have a lot of detail about what went on before. Flogging, delivering the prisoner over to the soldiers, mocking him, leading him out to be crucified, making someone else, a certain Simon of Cyrene carry his cross (σταυρὸν - pole), arriving at Golgotha - Cranium Place - , the refused offering of a tincture of wine and myrrh, and then they crucify him (καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν). And after that they gambled over his clothes.

No details are given how jesus was crucified. Just the use of the verb σταυρόω "impale on [a] cross", according to the Greek-English Lexicon in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. And of course, we have the LSJ which defines σταυρόω as: "to fence with pales" and Tucydides 7.25.7 defining the verb as: "to drive piles".

So we have not a single clue as how the Roman Soldiers crucified Jesus, except the basic definition of the verb σταυρόω. Not one clue as to the nature of the structure of Jesus' execution.

What's worse, is the tincture of wine and myrrh. Historic scholars believe that in Judea, the Jewish womens' auxiliaries would minister to persons about to be crucified by offering them wine mixed with some kind of strong painkiller, that basically would knock them out or put them into a stupor. But the Jews would have used olibanum or libanum, called by the Hebrews libanah, to do this. They would not have used myrrh, for myrrh was and is a tonic and a stimulant. Now what did the Romans believe myrrh was good for? For one thing, they believed it was a sexual aphrodisiac -- and not necessarily only as an herbal scent! It is still used as such in Ayurvedic medicine today because it works.

And Mark has the Roman soldiers give Jesus the tincture of wine and myrrh! It is just as plain in the Greek as it is in the English; antecedents and relative pronouns work just the same in Greek as the do in English. So it is possible the soldiers intended to sexually stimulate Jesus, which would make the shame and humiliation of crucifixion even greater. Of course, for Jesus refuses to drink this stimulative tincture!

A.4. Where was the Sign?

Now after they crucified jesus, where did the Roman soldiers install the sign bearing his name and charge of crimen maiestasis, i.e., high treason?

It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Mark 15:25, 26
The Greek for verse 26 is: "καὶ ἦν ἡ ἐπιγραφὴ τῆς αἰτίας αὐτοῦ ἐπιγεγραμμένη Ο ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΤΩΝ ΙΟΥΔΑΙΩΝ." Transliterated as: "And was the epigraphy of the accusation of him: THE KING OF THE JEWS." Nothing about where the writing was posted, except it was on-site.

A.5. And Who Were with Him?

If you recall Mark 10: 35-40, James and John bar Zebedee came up to Jesus and asking that they get to sit beside him one at his right and the other at his left, naively think that he was speaking of the sitting on his throne in the World to Come. In reply, Jesus said it was outside of his power to grant their request, for the seats were reserved for those for whom it was prepared. This, of course, was an illusion to his crucifixion.
And who were the two to sit at his right and at his left, for whom it was prepared?

They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

Mark 15:27
That is right, the two robbers. And if they were "seated" on poles (σταυρούς) under lesser charges (armed robbery) what about the one crucified under the charge of high treason as "The King of the Jews?" If the acuta crux was just a horizontal dowel, beam, cleat or a plank, then it would have been added to the punishment for those with the greater charge as well as for those with the lesser, except when it made the crucifixion less torturous. When it was an upright stake designed for crucifixion by penetration, no way would have it been remitted for those with the highest charge when those with the lower charges were forced to "sit on it." 

A.6. The Mockery.

Then there are the insults heaped on Jesus.

They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Mark 15: 27-32 NIV
The part of the insults that I will focus on is the the taunts "come down from the cross and save yourself" (σῶσον σεαυτὸν καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ) in verse 30 and "Let this Christ... come down from the cross" (ὁ χριστὸς..  καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ) in verse 32.  In verse 30 the Greek transliterates as: - "save yourself, having come down from the pole." The relevant line in verse 32 transliterates from the Greek as: "The Christ...  let him come down now from the pole."

Now, in the Koine Greek the verbs, shown for "come down" are conjugated from καταβαίνω. Now, in the Scott-Liddell Greek-English Lexicon, if one were to replace "horse" (ἵππου), "carriage" (ἁρμαμάξης) or "chariot" (δίφρου or ἁρμάτων), the verb καταβαίνω means "dismount," meaning, of course, that there is a strong possibility that Jesus had to dismount his execution pole somehow so he can step down from it, because some how, he, too, is "sitting" or "sinking down" on it. When one compares this with Mark 10:35-40 and the remarks of Seneca on Maeceneas' preferences for the tortures of crucifixion over suicide, to me it is fairly obvious in this story that this is what Jesus has to do.

A.7. The Removal from the Cross.

Next, we have Joseph of Arimathea request the body of Jesus so he can bury it. Then he does so, right before the sun was to set. In Mark chapter 15 verse 44, Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead. The Greek for "was surprised" (ἐθαύμασεν) expresses a sense of amazement, with a suggestion of the beginning of speculation as to why it came about. Why? Because crucifixion was supposed to be a slow, lingering death that would take two days or more. Ditto for impalement, unless the executioner pierces any vital organs. Yet according to Mark, Jesus died after only six hours. Pilate then checks with the centurion and, after that was out of the way, permits Joseph to do so, and in verse 46, we see him taking Jesus' body down from the cross (καθελὼν αὐτὸν). Now here, καθελών (καθαιρέω) means "take down, bring down, depose, dethrone (see Justin Martyr Dialog. w/ Tryph. 73, above) take down as a reward or prize, take and carry off, etc."

Conclusions from this? First, Jesus died far too soon. Second, the body was suspended and needed to be taken down to the ground for Joseph of Arimathea to bury it. (What about the other two?)

A.8. Conclusions.

And so here is where I draw my conclusions on what Mark is saying about the gear of Jesus' crucifixion:
  1. It was a pole one could wear.
  2. It was designed so one could sit, sink, or settle onto.
  3. Consumption of a myrrh and wine tincture could make the sufferer sexually stimulated (as well as drunk).
  4. The use of  σταυρόω indicates that a "fencing with pales", or a "pile driving (impalement)" is going on, or both.
  5. Jesus died far too soon.
  6. The bodies of those hanged were suspended above the surface of the Earth. 
It appears the gear of Jesus' execution was one of four items:

  1. An impaling stake with a blunt point,
  2. A simgle vertical pole with a central point wherewith one sat, sank, settled, or "rode" when he hung in the down position, 
  3. It was a multiple pole frame with the same type of attachment to sit on, or
  4. A horizontal beam resting on two poles and suspending Jesus, who is impaled on a third, pointed pole in the middle.

Next at bat: Matthew.

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