Saturday, December 15, 2012

Crucifixion the Bodily Support – The Acuta Crux in Patristic Writings (1).

(Part 7a 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         Part 6e

A. 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, τροπαῖον 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.

Even so, early Christian writers, some of whom were prolific, described the gear of Jesus’ execution as some kind of crux compacta. Both “orthodox’ and “heterodox” writers claimed that the larger members of this frame were two pieces of wood (poles, beams, timbers). This is similar to the findings from the Greco-Roman polemicists against Christianity, who gave a sufficient amount for the torture frame that the most likely type was a tota crux comissa, that is, a T-shaped crossarmed stake that possessed an impaling stake (σκόλοψ), possibly short and stout, as its membrum virile, although there was an outside chance that a crossbeam between two posts was used to suspend him on a true impaling stake. This is totally unlike the gospels which, when each is taken analyzed singly, gave us a great deal of confusion except if the gospels are harmonized or the differing crux types were compared and the ones not mentioned in all four (five, counting Acts as separate from gLuke) are eliminated. Having done so, the same two types mentioned above conform to the requirements of gospels. So then, a review of pre-Nicene Fathers is in order: not all of them describe the architecture of the crux.

B. Pseudo-Barnabas (ca. 70-79 or 130 CE).

The following quotes are from the Epistle of Barnabas. The English translation is the J. B. Lightfoot Translation, available at Early Christian, except for those in quotes inside parentheses, in which case they are mine, using the Perseus Greek Word Study Tool.

1) “For this end the Lord endured to deliver his flesh unto corruption, (παραδουναι τήν σαρκα εις καταφθοράν = “surrender his flesh into destruction, death, ruin”) that by the remission of sins we might be cleansed.
(Ep. Barnabas 5.1a)
2) And it [Isaiah 53:5 LXX] speaketh thus; He was wounded for your transgressions (Ετραυματίσθη διά τάς ανομιας ημων = “He was traumatized for our lawlessness”) and he hath been bruised for our sins (καί μεμαλάκισται διά τάς αμαρτίας ημων = “and he was weakened, softened, tenderized for our sins”); by his stripes we are healed (τω μώλωπι αυτου ημεις ιάθημεν = “by his welts and lashmarks / stripes we are made well”).
(Ep. Barnabas 5.2)
These two lines pertain to the destruction of the body of a crucified person and the softening up of a person prior to the actual suspension. Now the words καταφθοράν and μεμαλάκισται could refer to sexual abuse or assault,because the respective alternate meanings are “(metaphorically) confusion, perturbation” for the first and “made effeminate” for the second. Except the second is taken direct from the Septuagint and is a translation into Greek from the Hebrew מְדֻכָּ֖א (meduka, Pu’al participle, “having been crushed”). The Hebrew for ετραυματίσθη, “traumatized” מְחֹלָ֣ל (meholal, Po’al participle, “having been pierced, wounded”) may connote a shameful piercing or wounding, but according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, a sense of defiling, not to mention a sexual connotation, is absent. So there might be a sexual turpitude indicated in the Greek, as would be expected with a Roman suspension,1 but it’s impossible to prove for certain, especially with the Hebrew connoting no sexual pollution whatsoever. And later on in chapter 5 we have a clear indication that nails were used: “fasten my flesh with nails” (Καθήλωσόν μου τς σάρκας, “nail down the flesh of me”). (Ep. Barnabas 5:13)

3)    But moreover when he was crucified he had vinegar and gall given Him to drink (Αλλά καί σταυρωθείς εποτίζετο όξει καί χολη = “And also having been paled [already] he was caused to drink vinegar and a disgust”). Attend carefully: And let all the priests alone eat the entrails unwashed with vinegar (Προσέχετε ακριβως. Καί φαγέτωσαν οι ιερις μόνοι πάντες το έντερον άπλυτον μετά όξους. = “Attend accurately: and the priests alone should eat the unwashed everything-that-should-be-otherwise [i.e., all the bad parts] along with vinegar.”) Wherefore? Since ye are to give Me, who am to offer My flesh for the sins of My new people, gall with vinegar to drink (μέλλετε ποτίζειν… χολήν μετά όξους = ye are to destine Me… a disgust amidst vinegar to drink), eat ye alone, while the people fasteth and waileth in sackcloth and ashes; that he might show that he must suffer at their hands.
(Ep. Barnabas 7:3-5)
Now this is strange. Here the writer is talking about the one suspended having to take vinegar polluted with a disgusting substance, and the writer equates it with an alleged command of Yahweh (it is nowhere found Leviticus or Numbers) that the priests consume the unwashed entrails of the sacrificed goat steeped in or washed down with vinegar on the Yom Kippur while the people without fast and wail in ashes and sackcloth. We know where this is leading to: the Filthy Roman sponge. There’s a video about this thing produced and narrated by a Mr. Mark Driscoll, who is Pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Garday-loo!
Alexamenos graffito.
Despite this portraying a crucifiction, the mythical person is suspended on a typical T-shaped crux commissa. Nota bene the suppedaneum, absent in literature prior to 400 CE. This may portray a preliminary stage of the Roman suspension.

4)   For the scripture saith, ‘And Abraham circumcised of his household eighteen males and three hundred.’ What then was the knowledge given unto him? Understand ye that he saith the eighteen first, and then after after an interval three hundred. In the eighteen ‘I’ stands for ten, ‘H’ stands for eight. Here thou hast Jesus (Ιησους). And because the cross in the ‘T’ was to have grace (ο σταυρός εν τω ταυ ήμελλεν έχειν τήν χάριν = “The stauros in the ‘T’ [he] destined to convey the grace”), he saith also ‘three hundred’. So he revealeth Jesus in the two letters, and in the remaining one the cross (σταυρόν).
(Ep. Barnabas 9:7)
Here the writer states that the number 300, which in Greek numerals is expressed by the Greek letter ‘Tau’ (Latin letter ‘T’), which in the passage signified the σταυρός: Roman execution pole. This is reverse gematria, as far as the number is concerned. But the ‘T’ signifying the execution pole, that can only be discerned by its usual shape as seen head-on, at the time of the letter’s writing. Which means the pole was generally in the shape of a ‘T’ ca. 70-79 or 130 CE.

Three execution poles each with a person suspended on it.
From the Roman Colosseum, constructed 80 CE.

5)   In like manner again he defineth concerning the cross (περί του σταυρου) in another prophet, who saith, “And when shall these things be accomplished?” saith the Lord, “whenever a tree shall be bent and stand upright (Οταν ξύλον κλιθη καί αναστη = “When a tree is made to slope and stand upright”), and whenever blood shall drip from a tree (καί όταν εκ ξύλου αιμα στάξη. = “and when a tree is dripping with blood”). Again thou art taught concerning the cross (περί του σταυρου), and Him who was to be crucified (σταυρουσθαι μέλλοντος = “being destined to be paled”).
(Ep. Barnabas 12:1)
A tree made to slope and stand upright reminds one of the Native Americans’ Trail Marker Trees! For when Native Americans, before the arrival of the European Americans in their area, and even for some time after until they were displaced, would bend over saplings and secure them down to indicate the direction of the trail, like this:

Bending a sapling.
The saplings, of course, would reorient their trunk so that they would grow up toward the light. The end result is a trail tree like this:

Trail trees.
Now a tree that is caused to bend and stand upright like this, when related to the σταυρός, can mean none other than the sedilis excessu / acuta crux of the pole: like the one shown in the Vivat Crux graffito, here:

Vivat Crux graffito, Pompeii, Insula 13 (Regio I).2
If you consider the above sketch as a crude three-dimensional drawing, one can see that in the sign of the sedile, the support beam will pass from back to front, and the vertical restraint, which is the acuta crux, cornu or σκόλοψ, will stand almost completely upright.
Of course, the writer is a Christian, so he may be thinking something more on the order of being nailed to the σταυρός while it’s lying assembled and flat on the ground, and then raised aloft. The modern Christian, of course, would assume a flat plane cross like a Roman tropaeum, but the ancient writer may not have assumed such a two-beam (only) structure.
Then he talks about a tree dripping with blood. That is easy enough. When the hands / forearms and feet are nailed to the σταυρός, there will be considerable bleeding, depending where on the foot and the hand or forearm is nailed.3 Of course, the Romans may not have nailed the extremities in order to draw blood, but to secure them with as little blood loss as possible.4 In which case, an acuta crux, sharpened or with a blunt point, would then be the ideal instrument to draw blood from the crucified person. And again, everyone knows that except for palm trunks and Spanish Dagger Plant trunks, trees are three-dimensional. So one would think the σταυρός would have been three-dimensional too. Those of the architecture indicated by the Vivat Crux were.

6)   And He saith again in Moses [Exodus 17:8-12], when war was waged against Israel by men of another nation, and that He might remind them when the war was waged against them that for their sins they were delivered unto death; the Spirit saith to the heart of Moses, that he should make a type of the cross (τυπον σταυρου) and of Him that was to suffer, that unless, saith He, they shall set their hope on Him, war shall be waged against them for ever. Moses therefore pileth arms one upon another in the midst of the encounter, and standing on higher ground than any he stretched out his hands (εξετεινεν τας ξειρας), and so Israel was again victorious. Then, whenever he lowered them, they were slain with the sword.
(Ep. Barnabas 12:2)
Now here we have a strange occurrence in Exodus. Moses’ piling arms one upon another is not found in the JPS Tanakh, but it does portray Moses as standing, then sitting, with his arms out to the sides.5 Ditto the LXX.6 Even so, the above piling of arms suggests a tropaeum, in this case, an appeal to the gods for a victory. This has been known to the Romans, too, at the very least in the Celts’ habit of standing erect with the arms extended out to the side, holding weapons of war in their hands.

Briton Celt Chariot and Rider.
Note how the rider is a human tropaeum.
The above painting and diorama are based on this Roman coin.

7)     And again in another prophet He saith; The whole day long have I stretched out My hands (ξεπέτασα τάς χερας μου “spread out the hands of me”) to a disobedient people that did gainsay My righteous way.
(Ep. Barnabas 12:4)
And the stretching out of the hands, of course, is the enforced spreading out of the hands on the crossarm of the execution pole, shown in the Alexamenos graffito and the epigraph from the Roman Colosseum, above.

So Barnabas’ understanding of Roman crucifixion procedures is this: (1) the body of the sufferer was destroyed, (2) one was pierced, wounded, and tenderised, and perhaps made effeminate (3) one had to consume a disgust with a drink of vinegar, possibly from a roman toilet sponge, (4) the larger structure was shaped like a T, (5)(a) something about the execution pole was similar to a tree being made to bend over and stand upright, i.e., a native American trail tree, (5)(b) the pole was a “tree” that dripped blood, no matter if the wounds in the hands and the feet bled much or not, or even if they were pierced or not, (6) the tropaeum of the σταυρός was prefigured by the legend of Moses holding out his arms and (7) the procedure of the suspension was spreading out the arms.

Of course, the similarity to a trail tree may only have been superficial: Barnabas may have thought Jesus was made to lay on a fully assembled cross lain on the ground and nailed to it, then raised on high.

So all in all, Barnabas knowledge of the the σταυρός was that it was in the shape of a T, one was suspended with one’s arms extended out to the side, one was wounded – pierced (with nails at the very least) and beaten or flogged beforehand, and bled enough to cause the pole itself, likely a two- or three-dimensional construction, drip blood. And the Christians even at this early date was confusing it with the tropaeum.


  1. Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucillium 101:13: quid sibi vult ista carminis effeminati turpitudo? “What does he wish for himself with such turpitude of effeminate verse?”
  2. Gino Zaninotto, [discussion on crucifixion graffiti], 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. ??-??, also n. 35. Images in grayscale of the Vivat Crux and explanatory text may be viewed in the Pozzuoli here and the Alexamenos here (except in Windows IE, which only shows the black).
  3. Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus, A Forensic Study. New York, M. Evans and Co. (2005), p. 54: “I recently corresponded with a missionary from Delhi, India, and had been visting in Nuba, Sudan, when he came across and observed several crucifixions. He informed me that a minister named Reverend Aroon from the Anglican Church appears to have been one of the victims, but Aroon’s bishop had fortunately absconded. He reported that the hands of the victims had been nailed through the forearms and concommitantly tied, and the feet were nailed to the upright. There was no suppadenum [sic] (foot rest) or sedile (saddle). They screamed in pain and there was much bleeding from the hands and feet until they died on the cross.” It appears to me that the Sudanese executioners knew enough not to depend solely on the nails to keep the person up on the cross: if the sedile or suppedaneum are not used, one had better use ropes.
  4. video, National Geographic Channel Mysteries of the Bible, The first Jesus? Note discussion at 34:40 to 38:40 of the nailed calcaneus (heel bone) of Jehohanan ben Hagqol (d. 21 CE). The University of Tel Aviv researcher, Dr. Israel Hershkovitz notes to Prof. Byron R. McCane of Wofford College, that this nail was located for minimal blood loss.
  5. Jewish Virtual Library, JPS 1917 Tanakh, Shemot (Exodus) 17:8-12: “[8] Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. [9] And Moses said unto Joshua: 'Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of G-d in my hand.' [10] So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. [11] And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. [12] But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
  6. E.C., English Translations of the Septuagint Bible, Exodus.

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