Saturday, December 8, 2012

Crucifixion the Bodily Support – The Acuta Crux in Anti-Christian Discourse (4).

(Part 6e of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)

Part 1              Part 2              Part 3              Part 4 

Part 5a            Part 5b            Part 5c            Part 5d 

Part 5e            Part 5f             Part 5g            Part 6a 

Part 6b            Part 6c            Part 6d

D. Wrap-Up.

D.1. Introduction.

2nd/3rd century,
Limes Museum, Aalen, Germany

“In a Roman Triumph, captured weaponry would be mounted on a vertical stake or stauros, with a cross-member added to support shields, swords, etc.
“Long before Christianity emerged from the shadows, such a "crucifix" would be carried along the Sacred Way to the Forum.” (Source: Jesus Never

This “crucifix” was called a tropaeum by the Romans, τρόπαιον by the Greeks.

The first “crucifix” that actually was a crucifix was the wax image of Julius Caesar fastened to such a frame at his funeral on the 17th of March, 44 BCE. Roman Emperors who didn’t die in disgrace continued to be honored by such images up until the times of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, at least.

The execution cross, on the other hand, was something entirely different. And for the Greco-Roman polemicists against Christianity, this torture frame was or possessed something to an impaling stake (σκόλοψ) and the act of crucifixion was akin to impalement (ἀνασκολοπίζω, ἀνασταυρόω, σταυρόω, etc.). This would probably rule out the simple two-beam cross.

D.2. Recap.

D.2.1. Non-Christian Polemics.

We have seen how Celsus (here), Lucian (here and here), the Milesian Apollo and Porphyry (here) reacted to the Christian descriptions of crucifixion. They all appear to be describing something more than just a two-beam or two-pole cross.

Celsus described the gear of Jesus’ execution as a thorn (σκόλοψ), a pole (σταυρός) to which he was nailed (ένηλώθη) and implied that it was a board (τύμπανον) from which he was suspended (ἀποτυμπανισθέντα). He also said the gear had put Jesus to the full stretch, i.e., racked him (κατατείνοντες). He also the penalty to be most shameful (αίσχιστα) and a person so punished as most degraded (ατίμοτατον). Indeed, in response to Celsus’ criticisms of the gospel story Origen had to admit that Jesus himself endured suspension (lit.: to be suspended) on a thorn (ἐπί σκόλοπος κρεμασθῆναι), to maintain all that went with the character of an ordianary human being he had assumed. (Origen, Contra Celsum 2.69).

Lucian is familiar with all the terms the Greeks used for Roman crucifixion in the mid-to-late Second Sentury CE, including ἀνασκολοπίζω “impale, fix to a pole, suspend on a thorn, crucify” which he used most frequently in his writings, followed up by ἀνασταυρόω “suspend on a pole, impale, crucify”. The verbs ἀναβαίνω “go up, mount;” possibly ἀνάπτω “to fasten, attach, make fast;” κρεμάννυμι “hang, suspend;” προσηλόω “nail to;” σταυρόω “fence with pales, pile drive, impale, crucify;” καταπήγνυμι “plant firmly (although by this time the meaning could have morphed to ‘fasten down, i.e., nail’);” and προσπασσαλεύω “peg or nail to.” The last implying that at least one πάσσαλος (a wooden peg, stake, or tree-nail) was used. He uses all these verbs for the suspension of Prometheus in his dramatic play, showing he understands the different aspects / actions the Roman penalty of the σταυρός / crux the various verbs described. He also uses the noun σταυρὸς as not only as the pole on which the condemned was suspended, but also as the suspension penalty itself. The use of οἴκτιστος θέαμα “most pitiable sight or spectacle” indicates he was knowledgeable of the utterly repulsive sight of such a penalty. Clearly Lucian’s use of impalement verbs would make more sense if an acuta crux was typically used in the penalty.

The Milesian Apollo is familiar with the use of some kind of bolts and some kind or kinds of pointed things (γόμφοις καί σκολόπεσσι) inflicted on Jesus as part of his crucifixion. Now one may think that the σκολόπεσσι as the points of the nails and the crown of thorns, but Lactantius (fl. Ca. 300 CE) does not understand it that way: no, he understood γόμφοις καί σκολόπεσσι, “with bolts and pointed things” as clavisque et cruce, “with nails and with the crux,” which Justus Lipsius, thirteen centuries later, understood as claves et palis, “with nails and with pales,” assuming Lactantius thought the Roman crux was assembled out of pointed stakes, or maybe he had his hands on a different Latin document or manuscript.

Porphyry understood the person crucified as perditum: “done away with, destroyed, ruined, thrown away, wasted, lost (utterly and irrevocably).” He also understood Roman crucifixion to be mors pessima, “the worst death” and one that was ferro vincta, “bound with iron:” restrained to the wood with iron nails. Not necessarily supported by the nails as in the modern “understanding” of crucifixion. In fact in the one oracle he is on record as quoting the phrase pessima in speciosis ferro vincta mors interfecit appears to transliterate as “the worst death executed him in the prime of his life, bound with iron.”

Porphyry understands that the Romans executed the Apostle Peter in the following manner: Πέτρος ... σταυρῷ προσηλωθεὶς ἀνασκολοπίζεται, “Peter… having been nailed to a σταυρός / crux, is impaled [on it].” He gives no indication that he understood Peter as having been crucified upside-down, but he does employ the use of the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω “impale, fix to a pole, suspend on a thorn, crucify.” As we have seen with Celsus, “suspend on a thorn” and “crucify” are not mutually exclusive!

It appears these writers were familiar with the full-blown Roman crux, complete with stipes, patibulum and acuta-crux a.k.a. sedilis excessu (projection / transgression of a seat). And of course, nails. It is also apparent that the use of the acuta crux was widespread enough that that these writers could safely assume that it was applied to the living person of Jesus when he was suspended by the Romans (an historical Jesus is assumed). In other words, in their day it was typical.

D.2.2. Contrast with Christian use of the Term “Σκόλοψ.”

And non-Christians tended to use the noun σκόλοψ and the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω to refer to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, or of noted crucified Saints, according to the remains of the polemics against Christianity, or even rub it in the Christians’ faces. Christians would have preferred σκόλοψ to only refer to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” of 2 Cor. 12:7, or Moses’ “thorns in your eyes” of Num. 33:55.

The Bauer Lexicon, 1958 Edition, under the entry Σκόλοψ has this to say:

The fact that Celsus uses the word σκ. ([Origen, Contra Celsum] 2,55; 68) w. evident scorn (Origen has σταυρός elsewh[ere] (against [Celsus] Aschlatter, Pls, d Bote J. Chr. ’34, 666). Lucian also, in M. Peregr. 13 p. 337, speaks contemptuously of the ἀνεσκολοπισμένος ἐκεῖνος σοφιστής. Cf. 11 p. 334 ἄνθροπος ἀνασκολοπισθείς. A believer does not use that sort of language. [emphasis mine]1
Nota bene: ἀνεσκολοπισμένος ἐκεῖνος σοφιστής translates as: "[the] impaled sophist himself" and ἄνθροπος ἀνασκολοπισθείς, "[the] man who was impaled."

D.3. Epigraphy.

D.3.1. The Tropaeum, or Victory Cross.

The first epigraphy we will observe are models, statues and reliefs of Roman tropaea, as a reminder of what their appearance was. Some were obviously cruciform, others appear as if only a simple tree trunk or stauros was used for support.

Miniature tropaeum,
Charlottenberg Museum, Berlin, Germany.

The tropaeum above is obviously cruciform in appearance. Its internal frame is what Justus Lipsius coined as a crux immissa: a two-pole or two-beam cross with the transverse lowered from the top of the upright and interwoven on it with a lap joint. In this instance it appears to be dressed not with enemy armor, but Roman Armor!

Roman tropaeum with enemy armor,
Trajan’s Column, Rome, Italy.

Note this tropaeum is in the shape of a cross: the main upright through the armour, and the transverse holding the shields; the depicted internal frame appears to be a crux immissa.

The Goddess Victory with a bound slave
under a 

Note the tropaeum appears to have been depicted as having been constructed on what Justus Lipsius would have called a crux simplex.

Another tropaeum.

Again, this appears to be of the crux simplex variety.

Relief with two tropaea.

And this relief depicts two tropaea, each with a crux simplex for its internal frame.

Now compare with what Minucius Felix had to say about the Roman tropaeum; but first, we should observe what Cæcilius, who could have been Minucius Felix’s pagan sock-puppet or strawman rather than a real person, had this to say about Christians adoring the Holy Cross, or, back then, the Sanctam Crucem (or holy Priapus Stake):

I know not whether these things* are false (inepta nescio qua persuasione venerari); certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies (Et qui hominem… eorum caeremonias fabulatur,) by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness (hominem summo supplicio pro facinore punitum), and to the deadly wood of the crux (et crucis ligna feralia), appropriates fitting [congruent] altars for reprobate and wicked men (congruentia perditis sceleratisque tribuit altaria), that they may worship what they deserve (ut id colant quod merentur).
* calling each other brother and sister and engaging in indiscriminate sex parties which has been transformed into incestuous relations by their calling each other thus, worship of the genitals of their pontiff and priests, and adoring the head of a donkey. After mentioning the criminal and his crux, Cæcilius mentions the charge of the murdering infants in impious sacrifices and consuming them in Thystean banquets, to be followed up with the aforementioned shameless intercourse.
Minucius Felix, Octavius 9 (English) (Latin)
In chapter 9, “the deadly wood of the cross,” crucis ligna feralia, the Latin transliterates as “deadly, fatal, dangerous woods of the crux.” It was the timbers (poles, beams) or pieces of wood that killed. How? By racking, exposure, and on a tota crux (one complete with its acuta crux)6, blood loss from impaling, even though the impalement may not have been that deep. Similar to this hideous scene where a Polish prisoner of war was tortured with a stake while hanged upside-down by soldiers of the Red Army during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920.

Now later on in Chapter 29, Minucius Felix as Octavius denies everything! Never mind the header “Argument: Nor is It More True that a Man Fastened to a Cross on Account of His Crimes is Worshipped by Christians, for They Believe Not Only that He Was Innocent, But with Reason that He Was God” at the top of the chapter in the English translation, it is not there in the Latin. He even denies the worship of one crucified and impaled on a crux and the instrument of his execution, as one of a string of refutations of the multitudinous other charges Cæcilius brought against Octavius. Remember, this is a Christian playing the role of both characters, and including the opponent’s calumnies which would appear to discredit the very heart and centre of the Christian religion: the worship of a man crucified as a criminal (the crime was laesa maiestas, a crime against the majesty and safety of the people of Rome, as King of the Jews, thus opposed to Caesar’s jurisdiction over Judaea, and it’s all right there in the gospels) and his cross, or crux. And denying it all in the denial of a string of calumnies, perhaps based on urban rumours, certainly does not help.

These, and such as these infamous things, we are not at liberty even to hear (haec et hujusmodi nostrae propudia nobis non licet nec audire); it is even disgraceful with any more words to defend ourselves from such charges (etiam pluribus turpe defendere est). For you pretend that those things are done by chaste and modest persons (ea enim de castis fingitis et pudicis), which we should not believe to be done at all (quae fieri non crederemus), unless you proved that they were true concerning yourselves (nisi de vobis probaretis). For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his crux (Nam quod religioni nostrae hominem noxium et crucem ejus adscribitis), you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth (longe de vicinia veritatis erratis), in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God (qui putatis deum credi aut meruisse moxium aut potuisse terrenum). Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on mortal man (Ne ille miserabilis, cujus in homine mortali spes omni innititur), for all his help is put an end to with the extinction of the man (totum enim ejus auxilium cum extincto homine finitur!).
Minucius Felix, Octavius 29 (English) (Latin)
Notice what he says, as refutation of a string of charges possibly based on urban legends: Nam quod religioni nostrae hominem noxium et crucem ejus adscribitis, “for example you ascribe to our religion a noxious [criminal] man and his crux,” as one of many charges that have to be refuted. Indeed, his Octavius tells his Caecilius that longe de vicinia veritatis erratis “you wander / go astray a long ways from the vicinity of the truth.” In other words, through his Octavius he is flatly stating this charge is completely and utterly false by simply stating that Ne ille miserabilis, cujus in homine mortali spes omni innititur “Indeed miserable is the man whose hope for everything is entrusted in a mortal man,” totum enim ejus auxilium cum extincto homine finitur! “for all his support is done with the death of the man!”

Here he even declares the worship of a man to be a pointless exercise, heaping scorn on not just Egyptian worshippers of a Pharoah, but also by implication on the Imperial Cults of Caius Julius Caesar and of the other Caesars, not to mention on those Christians who did worship a man crucified and impaled as a criminal, and his crux!! If he was implying that they worshipped a crucified man because he really was God, well it’s an odd way to imply it. He offers no explicit saving defense that the man really was God In The Flesh (a good opportunity to mention the Resurrection was blown to Hell and gone), nor is there any defense about the assertion cast that the Christians worshipped cruces: impaling devices, that it was merely an adoration of the Cross, and a simple two-beam one at that, to take a turn of phrase from Catholic phraseology. Well to me, quibbling about the difference between worship and adoration is just splitting hairs over semantics; they’re basically one in the same.

He goes on to describe the Roman Religion as having been formed with respect to the same crux, thus throwing the charges of worshipping an instrument of torture, of a simulacrum of one and of a man affixed to it (shades of Julius Caesar!), back on poor Cæcilius:

Cruces, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for (Cruces etiam nec colimus nec optamus). You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood (Vos plane, qui ligneos deos consecrates), adore wooden cruces perhaps as parts of your gods (cruces ligneas ut deorum vestrorum partes forsitan adoratis). For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp (Nam et signa ipsa et cantabra et vexilla castrorum), what else are they but crosses glided and adorned (quid aliud quam inauratae cruces sunt et ornatae)? Your victorious tropaea not only imitate the appearance of a crux simplex, (Tropaea vestra victricia non tantum cruces simplicis tamen) but also that of a man affixed to it (verum et adfixi hominis imitantur).
Minucius Felix, Octavius 29
Now look at the above photos and the photo at the top: Minucius Felix through his character Octavius is not talking about the wax images of Julius Caesar and the other Caesars mounted on the front surfaces of funerary crosses, he is talking about the tropaea of their military victories, which were decorated with enemy armor, and by implication of those other tropaea dressed with their own Roman armor. And how were the tropaea dressed? The suit of armor surrounds the stake, and the stakes go through the suit! So then, the appearance of a man affixed to a crux is that of one impaled on it. So even though he talks about cruces simplices as including cruces immissae, according to the terms all coined and defined by Justus Lipsius centuries later, the sort of crux simplex indicated here by epigraphy seems to be an acuta crux simplex: an impaling stake.

D.3.2. The Crux, i.e., Execution Cross or Priapus Stake.

There are epigraphs which show what Non-Christians knew the Roman crux / σταυρός to be like. One gem engraver even included the gear of Jesus’ execution in the manner that he thought looked like.

“IN CRVCE FIGARVS” Graffito in the Stabian Baths
in Pompeii (CIL IV, § 2082 and Table VI § 3) 

The first epigraphs come from the area of Naples: specifically from the Roman cities of Pompeii and Puteoli. The two Pompeiian epigraphs and the Puteoli epigraph are graffiti. This first graffito is an obscene curse written out in words, the other is an equally obscene curse drawn pictorially. The one in words, “IN CRVCE FIGARVS” is a misspelling of in cruce figaris,3 “may you get fixed on a crux.” It does not necessarily mean, “may you get nailed to the cross.” This is because the construction is with the preposition in plus the ablative for crux, cruce. However, people recognize this construction as an instrumental ablative, as well as locational ablative, as in for example, in hoc signo vinces “with this sign you will conquer” and in nullo potest exire nisi in orationibus “By nothing can this come out except by prayer.” (Mark 9.29, Latin).4 So in cruce figaris becomes “may you be fixed by the crux,” which is not necessarily a cross. Some French speakers in the know call this va te faire crucifier; “fuck you with a crux”; some German speakers in the know call it lass dich ans kreuz schlagen “let yourself ‘beat’ on a crux!”5 In other words, “Go fuck yourself with a stake” (simple or Priapus type).

In cruce figaris,
va te faire crucifier,
lass dich ans kreuz schlagen!!

Yet Émile Thomas calls this one of the mildest in the whole collection of graffiti in Pompeii!!!6 Such is the ignorance shown when one thinks a crux is always a simple two-beam cross!

And this sort of crucifixion, of course, is either the acuta crux simplex crucifixion done Vlad Tepes style (i.e., impalement), or the tota crux7 crucifixion on a Priapus stake. Which brings us to our next epigraph.

The above is what the Vivat Crux looks like (the acuta crux of the thing, is highlighted in red and called out in green). John H. Roper and William C. Weinrich in The New Testament Age stated that originally, Mr. “della Corte, the excavator of Pompeii, took this graffito as proof of the existence of Christians in Pompeii” in 79 CE, “by reading: ‘VIV(at) crux V(ivat), which he thought was an acclamation of the cross.”8 They went on to state their opinion that there was “no reason for denying that the figure of the Vivat Crux refers simply to Christ’s death and resurrection.”9 The thing is, Mr. della Corte took the sketch of the acuta crux for a ‘V’.10

In reality, “on the stipes is a sign that looks like the sedile “(seat)” and which would also justify the writing VIV superimposed on the cross and which may be interpreted as a rebus VIV[AS IN CRUCE] (“That you may live a long time on a cross”)11 I prefer a variant translation inspired by an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live [in interesting times] on the crux [and by means of it].”

Which brings us to the next one:

Pozzuoli Graffito “Alcimilla,” derived sketch, and model for comparison.

This graffito, first discovered around 1978,12 clearly shows that the tota crux was a Priapus stake, which not only was designed to keep the genitals of the condemned prominent, even if only flaccid, but also in the arena the acuta crux was sometimes a some kind of assembly apparently designed to appear as an uncircumcized penis with its scrotal sac (in silhouette). There is a small “thorn” or σκόλοψ rising from the supported cantilever beam about halfway out. The subject of the graffito is apparently male, he is hanging off a patibulum (travsverse beam), with his arms almost completely stretched out, his heels have been attached to the stipes (main post) so that his legs are splayed wide with a divergence of the knees, he is riding the aforementioned thorn. The line showing the person’s undercarriage is projecting slightly upwards, but at a curvature that is more horizontal the farther the line is drawn “out” from the body, as can be seen at the link here. Together with the strong V-shape and relatively narrow hips, this suggests a male having an erection with the testicles drawn up, viewed from behind and below.

Above the subject the tagger had scrawled in the name “Alcimilla.” Now normally that may indicate a woman to be the subject, but since Romans were known to insult men by referring to them with feminine names, titles and insults (like Julius Caesar as the Queen of Bithynia), the subject, therefore, given the above, is more likely to be a male whom the tagger is referring to as a cinaedus / effeminati, i.e., a male who is a “bottom.”

Nota bene: the subject is portrayed with a smile on his face and looking off to the right and up into the sky. The direction the subject’s head is oriented can be the his only available expression of shame if crucified in an ampitheatre: to avoid eye contact, he must look off to the side and up at an angle. The smile would be an expression of felt pleasure, perhaps felt sexual pleasure. So he appears to be “living in interesting times,” so to speak, which probably says more about the tagger and his fantasies than it does about the subject.

Then there is the Alexamenos graffito.

Alexamenos Graffito, Palatine Hill, Rome.

This is a strange sketch concerning the belief system of one Alexamenos. It is dated by most scholars to about the turn of the Third Century CE, and is considered to be a mockery of Jesus Christ, although a minority of scholars consider the god depicted to be Typhon-Seth or another pagan diety.13, 14 It is a fairly straightworward interpretation that the deity Alexamenos is worshiping is attached to a T-cross. The figure has a donkey’s head, is wearing a colombium the length of a T-shirt (note the sleeve flap on the deity’s right shoulder). He is portrayed as naked from the waist down; those who were familiar with tota crux crucifixions would have recognized what would come next or second in line to complete the suspension. There is a large Y next to his head. His hands are attached to the crossarm with ropes tying his arms midway out also. He is standing on what looks like a cheap footrest, or suppedaneum. This could be indicative of a preliminary stage of the execution, possibly described in Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe 4.3.5-6 (here, here and here) where Chariton was describes as actively mounting or stepping up on (ἐπιβαίνοντα) and dismounting or stepping down from (κατέβαινε) his σταυρός, and in Lucian’s Prometheus on Caucasus 1, where Hermes and Hephaestus, as they locate a place to nail Prometheus up, describe a toe-hold just barely deep enough to permit Prometheus to stand on his tiptoes. And in the image the footrest is not even that far off the ground. If one were not attached to the gallows otherwise, one could easily step down and walk away.

And even though the acuta crux is not shown herein, since Alexamenos’ god is depicted as stark naked from the waist down and his feet on a (perhaps temporary) footrest, an ancient Roman could very well imagine that shortly the god’s feet will be nailed to the post and the acuta crux supplied for the god’s “sedile.”

As Seneca quotes Maceneas: (Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium 101.12):

‘Suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas.’ (“One may nail me up and set for my seat a sharpened stake.”)
Est tanti vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum? (Is it so great to sink down on one’s own “wound” and hang stretched out on a transverse beam!??)
In other words, the nailing or tying up may have been completed first.

And finally we have a bloodstone magical amulet from the Eastern Mediterranean, possibly Syria or Gaza.

Bloodstone amulet (British Museum)

This gem is one of the rare early portrayals of Jesus Christ crucified, and the earliest one extant.15 The figure is depicted as hanging from a transverse beam, but with the arms, bent and relaxed, attached with ropes, and the legs apparently suspended in mid-air and splayed as if impaled on a stake,16 although a naïve profile perspective of the legs is possible, since no sedile is discernible.17 Considering the gouges representing the lance wound to the chest and the apparent blood and water flow from it (John 19:34), such a naïve perspective in my opinion is not likely. There is zero evidence of any suppedaneum visible. The figure’s head is turned to the viewer’s left, as if in shame -- the crucified subject looking off to the side is a trait shared in common with the Alexamenos and even the Pozzuoli. This is not the sort of image that would be used devotionally by “conventional” Christians, but as an apotropaic image. The presence of the name of Jesus and of the Father, plus the Egyptian-derived names Badetophoth and Satraperkmepthe, among other non-Christian, presumably divine names, made the amulet more than doubly powerful and frightening to the demons.18

The fact that there is no sedile discernable, but instead a different coloration of the main upright, suggest something other than a traditional crucifixion here, or even one on a cross supplied with an acuta-crux. Rather, some kind of impalement is suggested.15 Yet the only parts of the gear of Jesus’ execution shown are the parts that form a ‘T’. Yet this ‘T’ is in a serif “typeface” or “font”, as if assembled from nails, which would hint that the vertical element may have been a vastly oversized tree-nail. The serif strokes each may be just ordinary with no significant purpose, but perhaps if the stroke at the bottom represented the support of the Earth, the strokes at the ends of the transverse patibulum could also indicate supports: supporting poles, σταυροί, on which the patibulum rests. Which means the central pole might be an upright pale: a σταυρός, or a σκόλοψ. Which would mean the engraver may have taken σταυρόω, the Greek verb that was typically used by Christians even then, to mean “pile-drive, fence with pales.” In other words, suspend upon three poles.

An alternative and more ancient
form of crucifixion?

D.4. Conclusion.

In the previous installments and the above recap, we have seen how Non-Christians sometimes referred to the gear of Roman crucifixion as having a thorn-like quality by referring to it as a σκόλοψ “impaling stake, thorn” and the referring to the action of crucifixion as ἀνασκολοπίζω. Origen’s response to Celsus shows us that he understood the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω etymologically: ἐπί σκόλοπος κρεμασθῆναι, “to be suspended on a thorn.” Lucian and porphyry sometimes used the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω with the noun σταυρός with Lucian remarking that a σταυρός was shaped like the Greek letter Tau, i.e., a ‘T’. It is also noted that believers as a rule would not use such terms (Origen appears to be the exception – and he was posthumously declared a heretic).

It is also noted that the epigraphy shown usually showed the Roman execution cross as a Priapus Stake or a simple ‘T’ (even if the image was showing only a preliminary stage of the fastening-up). The one image on a magical amulet is mysterious: it portrays Jesus as quite literally “stuck” in a particularly emasculating form of crucifixion by impalement, yet no sedile / cornu is visible in the etching.

And this last image, derived from an older version of the amulet image preceding it, shows that there may have been an outside chance that in some circles, the verb σταυρόω was understood differently than as “nail or tie [someone] to a cross” or “nail or tie [someone] to a cross and impale [him] on it.” And this different understanding could be indicative of an earlier form of crucifixion or impalement, said by scholars to have been practiced by the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Macedonian Greeks and their post-Macedonian empires, and the Carthaginians.

Needless to say, it was apparently widely understood in the early centuries, before Constantine, that the gear of Jesus’ execution included an acuta crux: a pointed stake meant to crucify (inflict severe torture on) a person by piercing the anus.


  1. Walter Bauer, A greek-English Lexicon of the new testament and other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition, revised and augmented by F. W. Gingrich and Frederick Danker, Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press (1958), entry “Σκόλοψ.”
  2. John Ranger Cook, Envisioning Crucifixion: Light from Several Inscriptions and the Palatine Graffito,” Novum Testamentum 50 (2008) 262-285, p. 277, available for purchase at
  3. Numen Latin Word Study Tool, figaris. Second person singular present passive subjunctive of figo, “fix, fasten, drive, thrust in, attach, affix, pierce through, transfix.”
  4. Paul-Louis Couchoud, “IV L'Évangile de Marc A É Écrit en Latin,” pp 85-127, p.121, PDF available at
  5. For the French, v.: Insultes in Latin; and; for German: Lateinübersetzung, 7 Antworten zu dieser Frage.
  6. Émile Thomas, Roman Life under the Caesars, London, T. Fisher Unwin (1899), p.41
  7. Tertullian, Ad Nationes I.12.3b-4: pars crucis, et quidem maior, est omne robur quod derecta statione defigitur. Sed nobis tota crux imputatur, cum antenna scilicet sua et cum illo sedilis excessu! “Part of a crux, and indeed the larger, is every timber that is planted in an upright station. But to us a complete crux is imputed, certainly with its own yardarm, and together with its projecting seat [lit.: the well-known projection (or transgression) of a seat].” (Link)
  8. John Herbert Roper, William C. Weinrich, The New Testament Age: Essays in Honor of Bo Reicke, Macon, GA, Mercer University Press (1984) pp. 24-26, also n. 29.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Gino Zaninotto, "The Shroud and Roman Crucifixion: A Historical Review," Piero Savarino and Silvano Scannerini (eds.), The Turin Shroud past, present and future, International Scientific Symposium Torino 2-5 March 2000, Torino, Effatà Editrice (2000) (webpage), pp. 285-324, also n. 35. Images in grayscale may be viewed in the Pozzuoli (p. 305) here and the Alexamenos (p. 308) here (except in Windows IE, which only shows the black).
  11. Ibid.
  12. Gino Zaninotto, “La Crocifissione Negli Spettacoli Latini Il Graffito della Taberna di Pozzuoli,” Collegamento pro Sindone, (1987 September / October), pp. 18-26. Link
  13. Wikipedia article, “Alexamenos Graffito.” Link
  14. Wünsch, Sethianische Verfluchungstafeln aus Rom, Leipsic, 1898, p. 112, as quoted in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia Article, “Ass-Worship.” Link Cf. A. Alföldi, “Der iranische Weltriese auf archäologischen Denkmälern”, in: Jahrbuch der schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte 40, Zurich 1949/50, 28, quoted in Francesco Carotta with Arne Eickenberg, Orpheos Bakkikos – The Missing Cross (PDF here) p. 7, n. 32.
  15. Allyson Everingham Sheckler and Mary Joan Linn Leith, “The Crucifixion Conundrum and the Santa Sabina Doors,” Harvard Theological Review 103:1 (2010) pp. 67-88, p. 70, fig.3, p.71 (available for purchase here). High-resolution images of the gem in question are available for view and purchase at the British Museum website (Link).
  16. Ibid, p. 72, n. 19: “Contrary to the observation of Harley and Spier (228) that Jesus’ nudity affirms ‘Jesus’ spiritual power,’ the legs of the frontal nude figure splay painfully open over the vertical upright of the cross and call to mind emasculation by impalement; this ‘Jesus’ has more of horror than triumph about him.” Exactly!
  17. Francesco Carotta with Arne Eickenberg, Orpheos Bakkikos – The Missing Cross (PDF here), pp. 9-10: “This [naïve] style can be recognised on the jasper from Gaza (fig. 11), which is not by chance from Egypt [sic], where the artisan arranged the Crucified’s legs into a profile view, analagous to the representation of the head, with each leg spread by 90 degrees to the left and right respectively…. The argument that the legs are spread, because the figure sits on a small seat, is a mere projection. No sedile is discernible, as the supporters of this hypothesis themselves had to admit.” See also p. 10, n. 36: “Ph. Derchain, ‘Die älteste Darstellung des gekreutzigten auf einer magischen Gemme des 3. (?) Jahrhunderts’, K. Wessel (ed.), Christentum am Nil, Recklinghausen 1964, 109-13; abridged translation: ‘The legs are spread, because he sits on a plate that is not depicted’ (sic!); A. Delatte and Ph. Derchain, Les intailles magiques gréco-égyptiennes, Paris 1964, 283 sqq., #408; Maser 1976, 266.”
  18. Scheckler and Leith, pp. 71-72, also n. 19. 

No comments: