Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - Philo of Alexandria

Philo Judaeus


Part 8d of Crucifixion the Bodily Support

I have noticed in my readings that various researchers with credentials or portfolios on the subject, such as David W. Chapman 1 and Gunnar Samuelsson 2 do not think that the Greek term ἀνασκολοπίζω is to be interpreted etymologically: ἀνα + σκολοπίζω, with ἀνα meaning "up, up through or into" and  σκολοπίζω reduced to its most basic meaning, "set up a stake (σκόλοψ)." Such scholarship as this got a rise out of Chris Cargounis, who quite emotionally but, alas,  not carefully reviewed Samuelsson's Crucifixion in Antiquity in June of 2010. But he does draw some blood in that he reports that some of the Greek words are still used by Greek everyday speech in the present day 3, such as ἀνασκολοπίζω whose gerundive, ανασκολοπισμός, headlines the Greek language Wikipedia article for impalement.

However, I have shown here that Philo could very well have understood the verb etymologically when interpreting the incident in Genesis 40:19-20 and the command in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, even though he apparently projected the usual Roman method of crucifixion (crucifigere) back to an earlier time in order to actualize for himself the narratives given by the Torah.

So I will show (again) what Philo knew what the Roman method of crucifixion entailed. 4 
Now the soul that subjects itself to bodily compunctions has the before mentioned inhabitants. Acheman, being interpreted, means, my brother, and Jesein means "outside of me," and Thalmein means, some one in suspense; for it follows of necessity, that the body must be thought akin to the souls that love the body, and that external good things must be exceedingly admired by them, and all the souls which have this kind of disposition depend on lifeless material and just as those being crucified, they are nailed to perishable [pieces of] wood until their death.
de Posteriate Caini 61 5
The Greek for "crucify" in this passage is ἀνασκολοπισθέντες (being impaled); for "nailed," προσήλωνται (nailed, pinned, riveted, fixed). Of course, this is an allegorical metaphor comparing those crucified or impaled to souls who love the body and those who put their trust on external things, and depend on them by emotional attachment.
The mind, in fact, stripped of what it fabricated, like one who was severed at the neck, nailed like those crucified to the tree of poor and needy lack of training.
De Somniis 2.213 6
The Greek Philo uses for "nailed just as those crucified to the tree" is οι προσηλωμένος ώσπερ ανασκολοπισθέντες τω ξύλω, which could also mean "fixed just as those impaled by the stake." The article τω and the noun ξύλω are in the dative; they could refer to either an indirect object (nailed to the tree) or instrumental of means like the Latin ablative (fixed with the stake).
For an end of life follows the lack of bread-food, on account of which the one who errs greatly concerning these things also properly dies by being hanged, a similar evil to which he treated the sufferer, for indeed he had hung up and stretched the famished man with hunger.
De Josepho 156 7
In the above texts, he uses Greek following words: κρεμάννυμι, "hang (by any means including impalement and crucifixion);" ἀνακρεμάννυμι, "hang up (on something);" παρατείνω, "stretch out along, beside (like along a beam), stretch out on a rack." Now without the stretching verb, Philo could have been referring to simple direct impalement. But the stretching-along verb can only be referring to the sense racking someone by gravity after his initial suspension with his arms attached to and outstretched along a patibulum!

151 ...but, since this is not possible, He ordained besides another punishment, commanding those who took human life to be crucified. 152...and he says, "Do not let the sun set upon those who have been crucified, but let them be concealed in the earth, having been taken down before sunset."
De Specialibus Legibus 3.151, 152 8
The verb Philo uses is ἀνασκολοπίζω (impale) in the conjugations ανασκολοπίζεσθαι (to be impaled) and ανεσκολοπισμενοις (having been impaled).  Philo's interpretation of the actual ordinance on hanging people is, for we moderns, especially the Jewish ones, shocking and strange. He applies the ordinance to murderers, not blasphemers, and simply says they should be impaled. Or is it crucified?  It seems quite plain that he meant either impalement or some kind of penetrative crucifixion in this verse. Not necessarily post-mortem, either: it appears he is indicating that hanging him in order to kill him is the meaning of the text.

Additional information of Philo's understanding of the Roman crucifixion methods can be gleaned from his accounts of the pogroms instigated against the Jews of Alexandria in 32-38 CE by the Roman prefect of Egypt, Flaccus Avillus.

For a few days afterwards he issued a notice in which he called us all foreigners and aliens, without giving us an opportunity of being heard in our own defence, but condemning us without trial, and what command can be more full of tyranny than this? He himself being everything--accuser, enemy, witness, judge, and executioner, added then to the two former appellations a third also, allowing any one who was inclined to proceed to exterminate the Jews as prisoners of war.
In Flaccum 54 9

In this pogrom, various and sundry cruel and unusual deaths were meted out on many of the jews of Alexandria. One of the torments that the Non-Jewish Alexandrines visted upon their Jewish neighbors was to destroy a person by dragging him beyond the point of death through the streets, with one foot bound, perhaps to a tow-pole, and the other foot presumably free.  Now when the Jewish relatives of the deceased were to mourn the victims, were punished and killed without trial as if they were convicted armed robbers, murderers, seditionists or traitors.
And those who did these things, mimicked the sufferers, like people employed in the representation of theatrical farces; but the relations and friends of those who were the real victims, merely because they sympathized with the misery of their relations, were led away to prison, were scourged, were tortured, and after all the ill treatment which their living bodies could endure, found the cross the end of all, and the punishment from which they could not escape.
In Flaccum 72 10
The phrase "and after all the ill treatement which their living bodies could endure" (καὶ μετὰ πάσας τὰς αἰκίας, ὅσας ἐδύνατο χωρῆσαι τὰ σώματα αὐτοῖς) indicates that possibly some of those arrested and tortured had perished under the torture. And Philo follows up with, as translated "[they] found the cross the end of all, and the punishment from which they could not escape." The Greek is actually, ἡ τελευταία καὶ ἔφεδρος τιμωρία σταυρὸς ἦν (where the final and reserved punishment was the σταυρὸς). By mention of the word punishment (τιμωρία), Philo is using the noun σταυρὸς not as the physical instrument of torture and execution itself, but rather the Roman act of crucifixion, the σταυρὸς-punishment. And ἔφεδρος could mean not only "from which they could not escape, reserved, lurking, at hand," etc., but also "sitting, seated," and as a noun, "seat." Interpreting ἔφεδρος according to later epigraphy yields an interesting parallel with the request of the Roman poet Maceneas 11, because it reveals that the punishment of the σταυρὸς meant the condemned had to sit on the 'cross.'

Incidentally, not all perished before their rendezvous with the σταυρὸς. In fact, many or most were still alive when they were affixed to the execution pole:
83 I have known instances before now of men who had been crucified when this festival and holiday was at hand, being taken down and given up to their relations, in order to receive the honours of sepulture, and to enjoy such observances as are due to the dead; for it used to be considered, that even the dead ought to derive some enjoyment from the natal festival of a good emperor, and also that the sacred character of the festival ought to be regarded. 84 But this man did not order men who had already perished on crosses to be taken down, but he commanded living men to be crucified, men to whom the very time itself gave, if not entire forgiveness, still, at all events, a brief and temporary respite from punishment; and he did this after they had been beaten by scourgings in the middle of the theatre; and after he had tortured them with fire and sword; 85 and the spectacle of their sufferings was divided; for the first part of the exhibition lasted from the morning to the third or fourth hour, in which the Jews were scourged, were hung up, were tortured on the wheel, were condemned, and were dragged to execution through the middle of the orchestra; and after this beautiful exhibition came the dancers, and the buffoons, and the flute-players, and all the other diversions of the theatrical contests.
In Flaccum 83-85 12
In this section, Philo again uses the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω, first as τῶν ἀνεσκολοπισμένων (of those having been impaled) in section 83, and again as ζῶντας δ’ ἀνασκολοπίζεσθαι (but living [men] to be crucified) in section 84. Philo understands that those crucified in the Roman manner were suspended, because in advance of an important Roman holiday such as the Emperor's Birthday, some who were so suspended the soldiers or executioners took them down (καθαιρεθέντας) and handed them over to their relations for burial (καὶ τοῖς συγγενέσιν ἐπὶ τῷ ταφῆς... ἀποδοθέντας). But when Flaccus started his pogrom, he forbade the families to take down the bodies of those who had not "completed" their sentences upon the poles (ὁ δ’ οὐ τετελευτηκότας ἐπὶ σταυρῶν καθαιρεῖν). Now the phrase ἐπὶ σταυρῶν indicates that the condemned were firmly supported by the poles themselves, nut just by the nails driven through them and into the wood, given that ἐπὶ when constructed with a genitive impersonal noun indicates "on, upon." This is consistent with the σταυρὸς as the ἔφεδρος τιμωρία (seated punishment).


It appears Philo understands the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω etymologically, even as a part of Roman crucifixion despite the fact that it also a stretching along the beams of the gibbet, and a nailing to transitory timbers. One should note that Philo interprets the σταυρὸς not just as a pole or utility pole, but also a penalty; in fact, a ἔφεδρος τιμωρία: a 'sitting' penalty, which is borne out in the fact that most criminals completed their [end of lethal torture] upon a pole (τετελευτηκότας ἐπὶ σταυρῶν), i.e., stoutly supported by it.  


1. David W. Chapman, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion, Grand rapids, MI, baker Academic (2008), pp. 10-11, " A σκόλοψ likewise generally refers to “anything pointed” (Liddell & Scott, s.v.), including pales, stakes, thorns, a point of a fishhook, and (in the plural) a palisade. And similarly, the cognate verb ἀνασκολοπίζω need not exclusively refer to 'fix on a pole or a stake, impale.'
"However, the “fundamental” references to an upright pole in σταυρός and its cognates, and to pointy objects in σκόλοψ and its cognates, does not rightly imply such that terminology in antiquity, when applied to crucifixion, invariably referred to a single upright beam. This is a common word study fallacy in some populist literature. In fact, such terminology often referred in antiquity to cross-shaped crucifixion devices."

2. Gunnar Samuelsson, Crucifixion in AntiquityTübingen, Germany, Siebeck, (2010), p. 303: 
"(ἀνα)σταυρουν and ἀνασκολοπίζειν are used more or less interchangeably. There might have been a distinction between them occasionally -- as Herodotus' usage shows -- but that distinction is now in essence lost. The only clear difference is that the verbs are used in a way which contradicts their etymology. (ἀνα)σταυρουν has a clearer tendency to be connected with pointed poles than ἀνασκολοπίζειν, which is peculiar in the light of the usage of σκόλοψ."

3. Chris Cargounis, "Was Jesus Crucified?" online PDF article posted June 12, 2010, augmented June 30, 2012: "Everything that has been written on crucifixion during the past 2000 years is wrong, according to Samuelsson. This must include also the Greeks, who though using the relevant words continuously from ancient times till today, do not know what is meant by them.... The relevant words for such a study in Greek literature are mainly:σταυρός, (ἀνα)σταυρῶ, σκόλοψ, ἀνασκολοπίζω, κρεμάννυμι, κρεμῶ, κρεμαννύω, ἀγχόνη, ἀπαγχονίζω, ἦλος, προσηλῶ, πάσσαλος (Attic: πάτταλ.), πασσαλεύω, προσπασσαλεύω, and ἐμπήγνυμι [e.g. ἧλον]. They occur down to the XVIth century A.D. many thousand times. They continue to occur till today."

4. In the FdVR blog article "Impalements in Antiquity (3A)" the Philonian passages De Josepho 96, 98, 156; De Somniis 2.213; and De Specialibus Legibus 3.151, 152 have already been discussed. The last three are also included above.

5. De Posteriate Caini 61 (fin), Greet text: ἀψύχων ἐκκρέμανται καὶ καθάπερ οἱ ἀνασκολοπισθέντες ἄχρι θανάτου φθαρταῖς ὕλαις προσήλωνται. (they [the souls] hang on lifeless material and just as those being impaled they are nailed (riveted, pinned, fixed) to perishable woods until their death)

6. De Somniis 2.213, Greek text: περισυληθεις ουν ο νους ων εδημιούργησεν, ώσπερ τόν αυχένα αποτμηθείς αχέφαλος καί νεκρός ανευρεθήσεται, προσηλωμένος ώσπερ οι ανασκολοπισθέντες τω ξύλω της απόρου καί πενιχρας απαιδευσίας.

7. De Josepho 156, Greek text: τελευτή γάρ έπεται σιτίων σπάνει ου χάριν καί ό περί ταυτ' έξαυαρτών είκότως θνήσκει κρεμασθεις, όμοιν κακόν ω διέθηκε παθών καί γάρ αυτός άνεκρέμασε καί παρέτεινε τόν πεινωντα λιμω.

8. De Specialibus Legibus 3.151-2, Greek text:  151 ... επεί δέ τουτ' ουκ ενεδέχτο, τιμωριαν άλλην προσδιατάττεται κελεύων τούς ανελόντας ανασκολοπίζεσθαι. 152 ...καί φησι. μν επιδυέτω ό ήλιος ανεσκολοπισμενις αλλ' επικρυπτέσθωσαν γη πρό δύσεως καθαιρεθέντες.

9. In Flaccum 54, Greek text: ὀλίγαις γὰρ ὕστερον ἡμέραις τίθησι πρόγραμμα, δι’ οὗ ξένους καὶ ἐπήλυδας ἡμᾶς ἀπεκάλει μηδὲ λόγου μεταδούς, ἀλλ’ ἀκρίτως καταδικάζων. οὗ τί ἂν εἴη τυραννίδος ἐπάγγελμα μεῖζον; αὐτὸς γενόμενος τὰ πάντα, κατήγορος, ἐχθρός, μάρτυς, δικαστής, κολαστής, εἶτα δυσὶ τοῖς προτέροις καὶ τρίτον προσέθηκεν ἐφεὶς ὡς ἐν ἁλώσει τοῖς ἐθέλουσι πορθεῖν Ἰουδαίους.

10. In Flaccum 72, Greek text: καὶ οἱ μὲν ταῦτα δρῶντες ὥσπερ ἐν τοῖς θεατρικοῖς μίμοις καθυπεκρίνοντο τοὺς πάσχοντας· τῶν δ’ ὡς ἀληθῶς πεπονθότων φίλοι καὶ συγγενεῖς, ὅτι μόνον ταῖς τῶν προσηκόντων συμφοραῖς συνήλγησαν, ἀπήγοντο, ἐμαστιγοῦντο, ἐτροχίζοντο, καὶ μετὰ πάσας τὰς αἰκίας, ὅσας ἐδύνατο χωρῆσαι τὰ σώματα αὐτοῖς, ἡ τελευταία καὶ ἔφεδρος τιμωρία σταυρὸς ἦν.

11. Maceneas, quoted in Seneca Epistulae 101.11,12; Latin text: vel acuta / si sedeam cruce (even if I were to sit on a sharpened stake)... ...suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas (You may nail me up and set underneath a sharpened stake for me to sink down on)

12. In Flaccum 83-85, Greek text: 83 ἤδη τινὰς οἶδα τῶν ἀνεσκολοπισμένων μελλούσης ἐνίστασθαι τοιαύτης ἐκεχειρίας καθαιρεθέντας καὶ τοῖς συγγενέσιν ἐπὶ τῷ ταφῆς ἀξιωθῆναι καὶ τυχεῖν τῶν νενομισμένων ἀποδοθέντας· ἔδει γὰρ καὶ νεκροὺς ἀπολαῦσαί τινος χρηστοῦ γενεθλιακαῖς αὐτοκράτορος καὶ ἅμα τὸ ἱεροπρεπὲς τῆς πανηγύρεως φυλαχθῆναι. 84 ὁ δ’ οὐ τετελευτηκότας ἐπὶ σταυρῶν καθαιρεῖν, ζῶντας δ’ ἀνασκολοπίζεσθαι προσέταττεν, οἷς ἀμνηστίαν ἐπ’ ὀλίγον, οὐ τὴν εἰς ἅπαν, ὁ καιρὸς ἐδίδου πρὸς ὑπέρθεσιν τιμωρίας, οὐκ ἄφεσιν παντελῆ. καὶ ταῦτ’ εἰργάζετο μετὰ τὸ πληγαῖς αἰκίσασθαι ἐν μέσῳ τῷ θεάτρῳ καὶ πυρὶ καὶ σιδήρῳ βασανίσαι. καὶ ἡ θέα διενενέμητο· 85 τὰ μὲν γὰρ πρῶτα τῶν θεαμάτων ἄχρι τρίτης ἢ τετάρτης ὥρας ἐξ ἑωθινοῦ ταῦτα ἦν· Ἰουδαῖοι μαστιγούμενοι, κρεμάμενοι, τροχιζόμενοι, καταικιζόμενοι, διὰ μέσης τῆς ὀρχήστρας ἀπαγόμενοι τὴν ἐπὶ θανάτῳ· τὰ δὲ μετὰ τὴν καλὴν ταύτην ἐπίδειξιν ὀρχησταὶ καὶ μῖμοι καὶ αὐληταὶ καὶ ὅσα ἄλλα σκηνικῶν ἀθύρματα ἀγώνων.

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