Friday, January 25, 2013

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - The Acuta Crux in Patristic Writings (13)

Miles Teves' Ancient Crucifixion.
Larger size viewable at his website.
This gallows is portrayed as having some kind of sedile.
It can be plainly seen  en silhouette in the larger size.

(Part 7m 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
Part 7a    Part 7b    Part 7c    Part 7d
Part 7e    Part 7f     Part 7g    Part 7h
Part 7i     Part 7j     
Part 7k      Part 7l

Melito of Sardis.

Not much of Melito of Sardis is known these days. You won't find his writings at New Advent, for example. And it's very impossible to find them in the extant Greek text, or at least in Latin. He flourished around 170 CE and died (allegedly was martyred) about 177 CE. Of course, his On the Passover holds the Jews or at least their leadership responsible for the nailing up of Jesus--- but still Melito does not regard the Jews as "other" 1.

But I did find some different translations...

First the P. B. Bratten translation of the Remains of the Second and Third Centuries: Melito the Philosopher (, although the below is in an untitled fragment, called Part V by the translator. (Also at Early Christian Writings) (corresponding line numbers mine)
(95) Thou slewest thy Lord, and He was lifted up upon the tree; and an inscription was fixed above, to show who He was that was slain. And who was this? (that which we shall not say is too shocking to hear, and that which we shall say is very dreadful: nevertheless hearken, and tremble.) It was He because of whom the earth quaked.
(96) He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was borne up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body—God put to death! The King of Israel slain with Israel’s right hand! 
(97) Alas for the new wickedness of the new murder! The Lord was exposed with naked body: He was not deemed worthy even of covering; and, in order that He might not be seen, the luminaries turned away, and the day became darkened because they slew God, who hung naked on the tree.
A different translation of the above at The Tertullian Project: 2 (numbering mine)
(95) Thou slewest thy Lord, and he was lifted upon the tree; and a tablet was fixed up to denote who he was that was put to death. And who was this?----what we would not speak harsh, and what we would speak very terrible, nevertheless still listen while ye tremble:---- He, on whose account the earth quaked:
(96) He that suspended the earth, was hanged up; he that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; he that supported the earth was supported upon a tree: the Lord was exposed to ignominy with a naked body; God put to death; the king of Israel slain by an Israelitish right hand.
(97) Ah! the fresh wickedness of the fresh murder! The Lord was exposed with a naked body: he was not deemed worthy even of covering; but in order that he may not be seen, the lights were turned away, and the day became dark, because they were slaying God, who was naked upon the tree.
A translation by O. Perler / Gerard Stephen Sloyan: 3
96 He that suspended the earth was himself suspended.
     He that fixed the heavens was fixed [with nails].
     He that supported the Earth was supported on a tree.
     The Master was exposed to shame,
     God put to death!
An unaccredited translation at Errant Skeptics4 (line numbering mine)
96 He who hung the Earth [in its place] hangs there,
     He who fixed the heavens is fixed there,
     He who made all things fast is made fast upon the tree,
     The master has been insulted,
     God has been murdered,
     The King of Israel was slain by an Israelitish hand,
97 O Strange murder, strange crime!
     The Master has been in an unseemly fashion,
     His body naked, and not even deemed worthy of a covering,
     That his nakedness might not be seen.
     Therefore the lights [of heaven] turned away, and the day darkened,
     That it might hide him who was stripped upon the cross.
Translation from 5

94. Pay attention, all families of the nations, and observe! An extraordinary murder has taken place in the center of Jerusalem, in the city devoted to God's law, in the city of the Hebrews, in the city of the prophets, in the city thought of as just. And who has been murdered? And who is the murderer? I am ashamed to give the answer, but give it I must. For if this murder had taken place at night, or if he had been slain in a desert place, it would be well to keep silent; but it was in the middle of the main street, even in the center of the city, 6 while all were looking on, that the unjust murder of this just person took place. 
95. And thus he was lifted up upon the tree, and an inscription was affixed identifying the one who had been murdered. Who was he? It is painful to tell, but it is more dreadful not to tell. Therefore, hear and tremble because of him for whom the earth trembled.
96. The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.
97. O frightful murder! O unheard of injustice! The Lord is disfigured and he is not deemed worthy of a cloak for his naked body, so that he might not be seen exposed. For this reason the stars turned and fled, and the day grew quite dark, in order to hide the naked person hanging on the tree, darkening not the body of the Lord, but the eyes of men.

1.) What is peculiar to Melito's homily is that he placed the slaying of Jesus before his lifting up upon the tree. Usually in the typical Roman execution on a pole, crossarmed or not, the person is attached and suspended, and left to die: which is the sequence in the Gospels. Furthermore, in Part IV of his Remains (On Faith), found here, here and here, Melito says that after he was condemned by Pilate, Jesus was "pierced" or "transfixed in the flesh" and then "hanged on the tree."  

2.) Our canonical Gospels has Jesus routed outside the City and then nailed up at Golgotha (which is traditionally ascribed to the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, alternatively at Gordon's Calvary, but is actually, apparently, Capitoline Hill in Rome, and its Hadrian-designated avatar in Aelia Capotilina: Jerusalem's Temple Mount!). Melito has Him put to death and suspended in the middle of the high street, in the middle of town 6 -- possibly a central square used as the city's market place OR the Temple Mount. 

3.) After his suspension an inscription is placed on the tree, identifying the one who had (already) been put to death.

4.) He was hanged up, was suspended, or hanged; all of which are consistent with an act of suspension. Compare with the description of the act of suspension prior to installing the inscription, which is described as "lifted up upon the tree" or "lifted upon the tree."

5.) How Jesus was attached to the tree is translated alternatively as fixed [with nails], fixed, and impaled. If Greek, the original word probably was derived from πήγνῦμι (pêgnumi), "fix, plant, impale" or προσπήγνυμι (prospêgnumi), "fix to or on, attach with nails, [impale]." Compare with Part III of his Remains (From his Discourse On the Crosshere, here and here, where Melito says Jesus was "nailed upon the tree."

6.) How he was kept up in the air is described as borne up on, supported upon or on, made fast upon, or firmly fixed to, a tree. What kind of tree? If Greek, it would be a ξυλον (xulon), "a piece of cut wood, tree trunk, post, perch, stick, club, plank, beam, gallows, impaling stake, tree." With a typical Roman execution pole, all are valid and said pole is the best fit for the "tree." In the context of this passage, the "tree" at any rate has to be three-dimensional, with something between Jesus' legs, since he is described as being lifted up upon the tree and suspended there after he was already killed, and Melito does not mention the use of ropes at all, which would be needed if no seat was provided  (dead men can't stand on footrests).

7.) Melito describes Jesus as being subjected or exposed to ignominy, exposed to shame, and insulted,. Furthermore he describes Jesus as being suspended completely naked: not deemed worthy of any covering (although one translator uses "cloak").


Although Melito of Sardis does not reveal whether he understands the Roman execution pole as having a penetrating sedile (acuta crux), he does seem to understand that the device was a three-dimensional wooden gallows that men were hanged naked thereon, were supported by something that at a minimum projected out between their legs, and insulted and exposed to shame and ignominy thereby.  


1. Todd Russell Hanneken, "A Completely Different Reading of Melito's Peri Pascha."
2. Spicilegium Syriacum (1855) : "Ps.-Melito -- Fragments"
3. O. Perler, trans., Sur La Pâque, quoted in: Gerard Stephen Sloyan, Crucifixion of Jesus: History, Myth, Faith. Minneapolis, Augsberg Fortress Press (1995), pp. 123-124.
4. Cf. O. Perler, "Méliton de Sardes, Sur la Pâque", Source Chrétiennes 123 (1996), 194f.
5. Kreux:Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 4/1 (May 1989) 5-35
6. Somewhere I found the Greek of these two short phrases: ἔπῖ μέσης Πλατείᾳ καί ἁ μέσω πόλεως (epi mésês Plateia kai a msô poleôs), "upon the middle of Broad Street, and in the middle of town"

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