Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - "Biblical Evidence" – Installment 3.

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


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

I am treating the four gospels as separate, and then will harmonise the whole lot, to see what differences come up.

Previously I looked at the “Biblical Evidences” in Mark and Matthew, and came to the conclusion that the instrument of Jesus’ execution could not be determined because four possible types could match its functions as described in predictions beforehand and by the prior meaning of the Greek verb that was used to denote “crucify”.

C. Luke.

There are several passages in this “history” in which the author admits to a certain Theophilus (friend of God) that he is not an eyewitness (Luke 1:1-4) that give us clues as to what the gear of Jesus' execution was imagined to be.

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

The first passage occurs in Luke chapter 9 verses 18-27, as Jesus questions his disciples who and what the crowds thought him to be, and who and what they the disciples themselves though him to be. Peter replies, “The Christ of God.” Then he warns them not to tell anybody because:
…“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross (σταυρὸν) daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:22-27 NIV
Here again, as in Mark and Matthew, σταυρὸν would probably mean "pole" as in the patibulum or crossarm of a two-pole cross, simple or single-horned, or of an impaling stake, or of a simple pole, to which one is nailed or otherwise fixed and left to die. Except here Luke inserts the words daily (καθ' ἡμέραν "each day") which symbolizes something far more symbolic: the figurative “crucifying (or hanging or impaling)” the flesh and killing the desires thereof (Galatians 5:24, 6:14). And it is viewed as a positive thing! It is entirely without parallel outside the New Testament and Christian writings expounding on the subject; in some ancient Jewish and Pagan sources like Cicero, Seneca Minor and Philo, a figurative crucifixion was seen as a bad thing, for example., the “fixing” of the soul to the body or a person to his desires like a cruciarius literally fixed and/or fastened onto his instrument of execution.

C.2. No request by the Sons of Zebedee or their mum.

The passages about the twelve sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and about those who would be the greatest has been surgically removed from this passage and deftly spliced into the narration of the Last Passover Seder or Last Supper (Luke 22:24-30). This of course, obviates the need to address the request of James and John the sons of Zebedee with a foreshadowing of the Crucifiction. (Mark 10:40, 45; Matthew 20:23,28).

Which means, of course, that the author of Luke appears to be avoiding the subject of sitting (καθίζω "to sit, cause to sit, take one's seat, settle, sink down") on the cross or pole.

C.3. "And then they fenced him with pales"

Some scholars like Martin Hengel (Crucifixion, p.25) state 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.

And Luke is no exception. We start again in the Prefect Pontius Pilate’s court:
He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke 23:25-34 NIV
Again there is a lot of detail about what went on before. Delivering the prisoner over to the will of the Jews, and now the Jews (!) leading him out to be crucified, making Simon of Cyrene carry his cross (σταυρὸν - pole), Jesus preaching to and prophesying at the masses of the city including weeping women (shades of women weeping for Tammuz!), arriving at Golgotha with two other criminals to be executed (ἀναιρεθῆναι) and then there they crucify him (ἐκεῖ ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν). And they crucify the two others, one on his right, and one one his left, meaning Jesus is most conspicuous in the middle. And after that they gambled over his clothes. Now here, the author openly calls Jesus a criminal! Or at least that is how the sentence comes off. The Greek reads: Ἤγοντο δὲ καὶ ἕτεροι κακοῦργοι δύο σὺν αὐτῷ ἀναιρεθῆναι” (And were led with him two other criminals to be put to death / to be lifted up). The verb ἀναιρεθῆναι is in the aorist tense, infinitive case, passive voice, and could just as easily or more easily mean, “to be raised, taken up, lifted.” So we have here the first detail besides the definitions of the verb σταυρόω itself and it indicates that crucifixion (inexplicaply this time by the Jews instead of the Romans as we expect) involves lifting, hoisting. 

And again, the basic meaning of the verb σταυρόω applies here: "impale on [a] cross", according to the Greek-English Lexicon in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. A pole or pale will do as well. And of course, we have the LSJ which defines σταυρόω as: "to fence with pales" and Thucydides The Peloponnesian War 7.25.7 defining the verb as: "to drive piles". So despite the lifting, these meanings cannot be ruled out. 

Luke does not have the Roman soldiers offer Jesus vinegar – yet!

Now one would think the soldiers would have been the ones doing the sorry business of crucifixion, except Luke indicates the Jews did it, by carelessly or cleverly using a chain relative pronouns back to their antecedent clearly identified as “the chief priests, the rulers and the people” (Luke 23:13 NIV).

Now despite not repeating the Sons of Zebedee incident and the foreshadowing of the Crucifiction therein, the author of Luke does include the two robbers. Now ‘Luke’ doesn’t say this, but if they were "seated" on poles (σταυρούς) under lesser charges (armed robbery) as they would have been in Mark and Matthew what about the one crucified under the charge of crimen maiestatis (high treason) as "The King of the Jews?" He would have to sit, too. Remember, the acuta crux that Tertullian called a sedilis excessu was there not to alleviate the suffering of the crucified, but to introduce horrible pain… and completely humiliate the condemned, utterly.

Jumping ahead to verse 39:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Luke 23:39 NIV
Now Luke confirms the clue that condemned persons to be crucified were lifted up, by showing once the job was done, the criminals were hanged (κρεμασθέντων “having been hanged”, from κρεμάννυμι, “hang”). The verb ordinarily includes ἀποτυμπανισμός (apotympanismos) (Artayctes: Herodotus Histories 7.33.1, 9.120.4, 9.122.1) crucifixion as practiced in the late 70s BCE (a Roman POW and 6,000 captive rebellious slaves: Appian Bella Civilia 1.119,120) and impalement (Polycrates: Herodotus Histories 3.125.3,4; Onomarchus: Diodorus Siculus Library of History, 16.35.6, 16.61.2) as valid means of hanging.

C.4. The Mockery.

Now here the mockery is far different from that in Mark and Matthew. Here, no one dares Jesus to “Come down from the cross!” It is as if the author of Luke knows that ordinarily, or at least according to mark and Matthew, to come down of the cross or pole, the cruciarius has to lift himself off of the sedilis excessu in order to dismount himself, and come down to the ground, and he does not wish to acknowledge this. But he already let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, by using a conjugate of σταυρόω. And so the nature of the mockery is very different:
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Luke 23:35-39 NIV
Now here the mockery is far different and rather astounding! The masses were looking on while their rulers, who surely have better things to do, were now mocking him, saying, “let him save himself!” (σωσάτω ἑαυτόν). Then the soldiers finally show up, coming up to him and mocking him. And what do they offer him? Vinegar. And what do they challenge him to do? They challenge him “to save yourself!” (σῶσον σεαυτόν). Now let us jump ahead to the two others hanging with him. The dare one of them calls out is, “Save yourself and us!” (σῶσον σεαυτὸν καὶ ἡμᾶς). In the Greek, σωσάτω and σῶσον are derived from σῴζω, “save from death, keep alive, keep safe, preserve”. Luke's verb choice still shows the gear of Jesus' execution was lethal and impossible to remove one's self from, but it appears to be more vague than Mark and Matthew's chosen verb καταβαίνω "step down, dismount" would be, regarding the existence of a seat on the cross.

And of course this is just a set piece for the well-known penitent thief on the cross, shown slightly above to the left.

C.5. Where was the Sign?

Now after they crucified Jesus, where did the Roman soldiers the Jews install the sign bearing his name and charge of crimen maiestas?
There was a written notice above him: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Luke 23:38 NIV
The Greek for verse 38 is: "ἦν δὲ καὶ ἐπιγραφὴ ἐπ' αὐτῷ Ο ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΤΩΝ ΙΟΥΔΑΙΩΝ ΟΥΤΟΣ." Transliterated as: "Moreover there was also an inscription (on / at / near / over / against / upon / behind / in dependence on) him, THIS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Now according to the author Luke, the titulus could have been placed (Gk. ἐπί) upon, above, behind, against, in dependence on him (the last with a chain), It does not define clearly the structure of the gear of Jesus’ execution, if you ask me.

C.6. The Deposition.

Again, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus, and Pilate agrees. Josephus takes down the body, wraps it and lays it in an unused tomb just like in the other three gospels. The removal of the body from the execution gear is as follows:

Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

Luke 23:53 NIV
The Greek for “took” is καθελὼν, a conjugate of καθαιρέω, “take down, put down bring down, depose, dethrone, fetch down as a reward or prize, take and carry off.” Again, Joseph may be doing this for the Sanhedrin in this Gospel, but we don’t have a Roman guard from the cohort that guards the Temple (Josephus Antiquities 20.5.3, Wars of the Jews 2.12.1) guard the tomb! And the Luke may be acknowledging a common Christian view that the gear of Jesus’ execution may also have been his “throne.”

C.7. "It is I, myself!"

This scene is after the Resurrection in Luke's story, after he appeared on a highway to and had supper (lit,: broke bread) with two others, Jesus appears to the whole assembled eleven in a room right after the two told the other nine the news:
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Luke 24: 36-44
Now here he shows them his hands and feet to prove that he was a living human with flesh and bones, and then he eats some broiled fish.

What do we make of this, unless this story's purpose was wholly theological?

First, there is no evidence of nails. Second, there is no evidence of a wound from an impalement stake (those things would transfix the body like fish on spits, or a roast lamb on a spit. It also shows that in this case any acuta crux (sedilis excessu) attached to the pole, cross, or frame did not do lethal damage to any internal organs, particularly the lower G.I. tract.

C.8. Conclusions.

And so here is where I draw my conclusions on what Mark is saying about the gear of Jesus' crucifixion:

1. It might have been or included a pole one wore on one’s death march.
2. It was designed so one could lifted up, either onto it or by it, or by one of its constituent parts.
3. It was designed so one could hang on it.
4. It might have been designed so that a sign could be placed on top or alternatively the sign was placed on a separate pole near it.
5. The use of σταυρόω indicates that a "fencing with pales", or a "pile driving (impalement)" is going on, or both.
6. There was no mention of wounds.
7. Lethal damage from an impaling stake is not plausible. If the gear of Jesus' execution had an acuta crux typical of Roman devices, the point was blunted and the spike itself smoothed.

It appears the gear of Jesus' execution would be:

1. An ordinary pole with a blunted, smoothed spike the condemned had to sit on.
2. A two-beam or two-pole cross with the same kind of spike.
3. An overhead beam supported on two poles, from which the condemned hanged, with or without a stake in the middle on which the condemned was impaled (but without internal damage).

Next up: Acts.

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