Sunday, December 16, 2012

Acute Mistranslations.

Two years ago the Swedish theologian Gunnar Samuelsson published his doctorate thesis, Crucifixion in Antiquity, An Inquiry into the Background and Significance of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion. In his abstract 1 he writes:

This study investigates the philological aspects of how ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic texts, including the New Testament, depict the practice of punishment by crucifixion. A survey of the ancient text material shows that there has been a too narrow view of the “crucifixion” terminology. The various terms are not simply used in the sense of “crucify” and “cross,” if by “crucifixion” one means the punishment that Jesus was subjected to according to the main Christian traditions. The terminology is used much more diversely. Almost none of it can be elucidated beyond verbs referring vaguely to some form(s) of suspension, and nouns referring to tools used in such suspension. As a result, most of the crucifixion accounts that scholars cite in the ancient literature have to be rejected, leaving only a few. The New Testament is not spared from this terminological ambiguity. The accounts of the death of Jesus are strikingly sparse. Their chief contribution is usage of the unclear terminology in question. Over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every wordbook and dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary. The immense knowledge of the punishment of crucifixion in general, and the execution of Jesus in particular, cannot be supported by the studied texts.

In other words, because the traditional understanding of crucifixion means "to nail to a cross tropaeum," therefore was no such thing as crucifixion: crucifixion never happened. The Romans never used this sort of crucifixion as a means of torture. Why? It would be sacreligious, because that was how they deified their Lord and Saviour Gaius Iulius Caesar and the other (honourable) Caesars afterwards, as shown here, here, and here. What the Romans did, instead, was HANGED (with ropes, nails or direct on wooden constructions), NAILED (to plain poles, utility poles and other wooden constructions), and IMPALED (on sharpened or blunt-pointed pales, or Priapus Stakes). Indeed, the very word crux, when one gets away the Christian nonsense that has clouded the cruel, unusual and shameful act, essentially referred to a pole, or anything resembling a pole... like the membrum virile of Priapus.

This is Mercury. But you get the point.
And so I will show you some examples what happens when scholars or amateurs -- translators working with ancient texts -- blithely translate old Greek or Latin terms as "crucify" and "nail to a cross." Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it completely wrong. Here is what I found off the web:

Herodotus, Histories 7.33.1 and 9.120.4, 5th C. BCE
"afterwards the Athenians under the command of Xanthippos the son of Ariphron, having taken Artaÿctes a Persian, who was the governor of Sestos, nailed him alive to a board with hands and feet extended." 

The proper translation of ζῶντα πρός σανίδα διεπασσάλευσαν is "alive, they stretched out him out by nailing his extremities against a board."2
"They brought him therefore to that headland to which Xerxes made the passage across, or as some say to the hill which is over the town of Madytos, and there they nailed him to boards and hung him up." 
The proper translation of πρός σανίδας προσπασσαλεύσαντεςἀνεκρέμασαν is "having nailed him fast to boards, they hanged him up on [them]."3
This is as close as any ancient literary description of an execution by nailing and suspension is going to get to the traditional understanding of crucifixion. Congratulations. Savor it, Christians!

Xenophon, Anabasis 3.1.7, 4th C. BCE

"This man, who, when his own brother, the son of the same parents, was dead, was not content with that, but severed head and hand from the body, and nailed them to a cross." 

The proper translation of ὅς καί τοῦ ὁμομήτριον ἀδελφοῦ καί τεθνηκότος ἤδη ἀποτεμών τήν κεφαλήν καί τήν χεῖρα ἀνεσταύρωσεν is: And even in the case of his own brother -- born of the same mother! -- and, yet more, when he had already been killed, this man after cutting off his head and hand, impaled them."4
Now one must take caution when perusing the link on ἀνεσταύρωσεν. The Perseus Tufts short definition reads "affix to a cross, crucify" but a look in the LSJ for the pre-Roman meaning will yield: "identical with ἀνασκολοπίζω," and in the Middle Liddell, "to impale." And Herodotus actually gives the definition himself when in Histories 4.103 he describes the Taurians suspending heads on pole (τήν κεφαλήν ἀνασταυροῦσι) as each impaling one on a tall wooden stake (ἐπί ξύλου μεγάλου ἀναπείρας) next to the vent hole in his house.5 

Cicero, Against Piso 18.42, 1st C. BCE
" Should I, if I were to see you and Gabinius both nailed to a cross, feel greater rejoicing at the laceration of your bodies, than I do at the tearing to pieces of your reputations?"

The proper translation of the Latin, An ego, si te et Gabinum cruci suffixos viderem, maiore adficerer laetitia ex corporis vestri laceratione quam adficior ex famae?, should be: "Or I, if I were to see you and Gabinus stuck on a crux, should I feel a greater joy at the rending of your bodies than I do at that of your reputations?"6 Here, Cicero is suggesting an impalement for each of them: he is comparing the potential rending (laceratione) of their bodies to the utter destruction of their reputations. Just before he had described his own meteoric rise to good fortune while Piso and Gabinus found their lives met with the deepest infamy.
Also "suffixed" to a cross!
(Sri Lanka, woodcut, 18th C. CE)
And in his Against Verres, he notes that the well-known ends / extremes of punishment for the condemned, and the object of fear for the rest (illa extrema ad supplicium damnatorum, metum ceterorum), was a cruciatus "torture, instrument of torture, rack, a putting to the rack" and a crux "pole, impaling stake, 'cross', etc."7. When talking of the suspension of Sopater, chief magistrate of Tyndaris, Sicily, he describes a cruciatus that is similar to a hanging by the wrists from a gibbet-beam: the hanging of the magistrate Sopater from a statue of Caius Marcellus: quo cruciatus sit adfectus venire in mentum necesse est omnibus, cum esset vinctus nudus in aere, in imbri, in frigore. "With such torture he may be afflicted it is inevitable to come into mind for everybody, when he was bound stripped naked in the air, in the rain, in the cold."8 And indeed he compares the statue itself to a transverse gibbet, i.e., suspension beam: tibi Marcelli statua pro patibulo in clientis marcellorum fuit? "Was the statue of Marcellus for you [to use] for a gibbet beam for the clients of the Marcelli?"9 He does talk of cruciati as other kinds of tortures, and even preparation tortures for a suspension on a wooden frame, but it does appear that when it came to the actual suspension, the cruciatus appears to refer to the suspension on the frame, or even the frame itself.  

And when he describes Verres' 'crucifixion' of a one Publius Gavius, a Roman Citizen, he speaks of Verres' crux as something that overflowed (redundat) with the blood of that Citizen.10 If Cicero's not exaggerating, I believe we are looking at an impaling stake, covered with blood. This seems to be the direction where, when he talks of Gavius' final suspension where he accuses Verres of driving Gavius toward the well-known cruciatus and crux, which before he described in the plural and now describes in the uniplural (illam cruciatum et crucem), and impaling him on it, and not just him, but the whole cause of Roman liberty and community, too. (sed communem et libertas causam in illum cruciatum et crucem egisti: "but the cause of community and liberty you drove onto that torture frame and stake!") 11 And in the end he tells the unjust ending: "Italy may see her native son afflicted with the most extreme and highest penalty for slaves." (Italia autem alumnum suum servitutis extremo summoque supplicio adfixum videret.) The language is strange, servitutis extremo summoque supplicio adfixum, but effective: it can also be translated as "affixed to the end tip of and high point of the punishment of servitude."12 So what can best be described here is that Gavius has been suspended on a patibulum a.k.a. cruciatus that has been assembled into a unitary structure with an acuta crux (sharpened stake).

Philo, On Dreams 2.213, 1st C. CE
"Therefore, the mind, being deprived of those things which it had made for itself, having, as it were, its neck cut through, will be found headless and lifeless, and like those who are fixed to a cross, nailed as it were to the tree of hopeless and helpless ignorance."

This is another whopper that will lead people into thinking the Christian nonsense is true. I've gone over this before in my Impalement in Antiquity (3A) article. The Greek for the last part is: προσηλωμένος ώσπερ οι ανασκολοπισθέντες τω ξύλω της απόρου καί πενιχρας απαιδευσίας, and it translates as: "nailed like those 'crucified' to the tree [or impaled by the stake] of poor and needy lack of training."13
Philo's comparison could be referring to people impaled on stakes, or suspended on Roman execution poles, frames, etc. The words, τω ξύλω "the wood", are in the Greek dative case and could mean instrument of agent as well as indirect object. There is nothing that will give us any context except ancient Egyptian and Roman epigraphy, and Philo's knowledge of Roman suspension methods.

Josephus, War of the Jews 2.14.9 [308], 1st C. CE
Yehohanan ben Hagqwl - nailed by the Romans (21 CE).
Model and actual ankle at the left - cast at the right.
"And what made this calamity the heavier was this new method of Roman barbarity; for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal;"
Okay, what does the Greek say for the last part?  We have: ἄνδρας ἱππικοῦ τάγματος μαστιγῶσαί τε πρὸ τοῦ βήματοςκαὶ σταυρῷ προσηλῶσαι = "men of Equestrian Status to be torn up with scourges even before the Tribunal and nailed [riveted, fixed] to the σταυρός"14 What sort of stauros was it? Well in line 306 we have Gessius Florus first chastising with stripes (μάστιξιν προαικισάμενος = "he tore up with whips [i.e., scourged, flogged], having maltreated beforehand") and crucified (ἀνεσταύρωσεν = "suspended on / by a pole or pale, 'crucified', impaled"). There is not one clue whether any stauros used in this action had a crossarm or not. For all we know they could have been impaled with their ankles nailed to the very pale itself so their own legs would act as a brake. And if I just thought of it, then the Romans probably did it somewhere. Sick!

Plutarch, Timoleon 22.5, 1st C. CE
"having news brought them that Mago had killed himself, and that the Carthaginians, out of rage for his ill-conduct in the late expedition, had caused his body to be nailed upon a cross"

Caused his body to be nailed upon a cross, eh? Well Plutarch wrote, ἀνεσταυρωκέναι τὸ σῶμα διὰ τὴν στρατηγίαν ὀργισθέντας "they [the Carthaginians] impaled the body by reason of their having been provoked to rage at his conduct of the war."15 Why impaled? Well first of all, the event was 344 BCE. Second, ἀνασταυρόω, which meant "impale" in the pre-Roman texts, even in the Roman period could have referred to bodily impalement.16 We know in Dio Cassius (ca. 165-229 CE) the verb referred to impalement of severed heads on pikes. 17


1., Crucifixion in Antiquity, Dissertation. Link:
2. Herodotus, Histories, 7.33.1 (fin) Link.
3. Herodotus, Histories, 9.120.4 Link.
4. Xenophon, Anabasis, 3.1.7 Link.
5. Herodotus, Histories, 4.103.1-3 Line 1 Link, Line 2 Link, Line 3 Link.
6. Cicero, Against Piso 18.42, Link.
7. Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.14 Link.
8. Cicero, Against Verres 2.4.86-87 Line 86 Link, Line 87 Link.
9. Cicero, Against Verres 2.4.90 Link.
10. Cicero, Against Verres 2.4.26 Linknec prius illam crucem, quae etiam nunc civis Romani sanguine redundat "not first that crux, which even now overflows with the blood of a Roman Citizen."
11. Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.169 Link.
12. Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.169 Link. For adfixum (attached to, fixed or fasten upon) in this passage, the Naugerius reference to this passage has defixum (fastened down on, fixed down on, driven on, planted on) instead; Nonius has ea fixum (fixed, fastened, driven, thrust on, attached, affixed by it).
13. Philo, De Somniis (On Dreams) 2.213 Greek text Link available here (halfway down), English Link.
14. Josephus, War of the Jews 2.14.9 Link.
15. Plutarch, Timoleon 22.5 Link.
16. Seneca, Dialogus 6 (De Consolatione) 20.3:Video istic cruces non unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas: capite quidam conversos in terram suspendere, alii per obscena stipitem egerunt, alii brachia patibulo explicuerrunt = "I see cruces there, not just of one kind, but differently made out of wood by others. Some suspended [the body] turned back with the head towards the earth, some through the private parts have driven a stake, others extended the arms on an overhead beam."  Link.
17. For heads on pikes ref. to Cassius Dio, Rom. Hist. 75.8.3 (Grk Link, Engl Link): καὶ ταύτην [τὴν κεφαλήν] ὁ Σεουῆρος ἐς τὸ Βυζάντιον πέμψας ἀνεσταύρωσεν = "and this [the head] Severus had sent to Byzantium to be impaled on a pole"; 76.7.3 (Grk Link, Engl Link): τὸ μὲν ἄλλο ῥιφῆναι ἐκέλευσε, τὴν δὲ κεφαλὴν ἐς τὴν Ῥώμην πέμψας ἀνεσταύρωσεν = "ordered all but the head to be cast away, but sent the head to Rome to be exposed on a pole."

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