|Athanasius of Alexandria.|
(Part 7p 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
Athanasis (296 or 298 to 373 CE) was an Orthodox-Catholic theologian of Alexandria who made a name for himself and was drafted into a leading role at the Council of Nicaea, to address the teachings of the Arian branch of Christianity. Although he was a prolific writer, he appareantly did not write all that much about the Roman penalty and their execution gear and most of what he wrote is impossible: I found that it is just recitation or paraphrasing of what is found in the NT or worse, stuffing it with theology and even making references to "the Holy Cross" as an instrument of the Deity's power and of the healing of the planet. I suppose by this time, if Athanasius had ever known about the infamous crux, he had probably forgotten about it, and recognised it only as akin to a tropaeum. But I did find some small bits in his On the Incarnation of the Word.
Athanasius a few 'prophecies' in this work, five of which I will discuss here.
They say to them, "A man in stripes, and knowing how to bear weakness, for his face is turned away, he was dishonoured and held in no account. He bears our sins, and is in pain on our account; and we reckoned him to be in labour, and in stripes, and in ill-usage; but he was wounded for our sins, and made weak for our wickedness. the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.
On the Incarnation of the Word 34.2 (New Advent) 1, 2
This first one is from Isaiah 53.3-5, although it appears to be a paraphrase. But where it says "to be in labour" does not imply anything remotely resembling childbirth! The Greek for "in labour" is πόνῳ: "in hard work, toil, bodily exertion, exercise." The rest of the translation is accurate, although I will say that "made weak" is μεμαλάκισται, "softened, weakened, made effeminate," which last would be true for the writer and the reader of the day only if they still remembered that an acuta crux was typically used in Roman suspensions, and was still assumed to be applied to the suspension of Jesus. This of course, cannot be proven, and besides, even for the earliest Christians, it could still mean something else: tenderized, that is, "softened up" and weakened by a beating or scourging, as I discussed in the writings of Pseudo-Barnabas, here.
1 But, perhaps, having heard the prophecy of His death, you ask to learn also what is set forth concerning the Cross. For not even this is passed over: it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness. 2. For first Moses predicts it, and that with a loud voice, when he says: “You shall see your Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe.” 3. And next, the prophets after him witness of this, saying: “But (Jeremiah 11:19) I as an innocent lamb brought to be slain, knew it not; they counselled an evil counsel against me, saying, Hither and let us cast a tree upon his bread, and efface him from the land of the living.” 4. And again: “They pierced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” 5. Now a death raised aloft and that takes place on a tree, could be none other than the Cross: and again, in no other death are the hands and feet pierced, save on the Cross only.
On the Incarnation of the Word 33:1-5. (New Advent) 3, 4
Well let me pick this apart: Moses' 'prophecy' in 35:2 is in Deuteronomy 28:66, and it has nothing to do with the suspension of Jesus the Nazarene except in the most general sense. The statement in Deuteronomy actually reads:
And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear night and day, and shalt have no assurance of thy life.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28:66, 1917 JPS Edition
Your life will hang in suspense. Day and night, you will be so terrified that you will not believe that you are alive.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28:66 Kaplan EditionDavid W. Chapman discusses this verse a bit, and cites an anecdote in Rabbinic Law that connects the Mosaic statement with the Roman penalty:
"Another explanation is this: 'Your life will hang in doubt before you' -- this applies to one who is placed in the prison of Caesarea. 'And you will fear night and day' -- this applies to one who is brought forth for trial. 'And you will have no assurance of your life' -- this applies to one who is brought out to be crucified."
Proem I in Esther Rabbah 5
Well what is translated as "to be crucified" is the Aramaic להצלב which could just as easily be translated as "to be hanged" or "to be impaled." 6 Or both, if it's the typical Roman penalty on a typical Roman execution pole. And of course, Athanasius mangles it, equating "your life" with the Christian God Man, and said Moses predicted the Jews would not believe on Him.
The next 'prophecy' is picked out-of-context from Jeremiah 11:19: "Come, let us cast a tree upon his bread, and efface him from the land of the living." That's in the Catholic English, but the Greek reads: Δευτε, καὶ ἐμβάλωμεν ξύλον εἰς τόν ἄρτον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκτρίψωμεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ γῆς ζώντων καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ οὐ μὴ μνησθῇ ἔτι. It can also mean: "Come, and let us cast wood into his bread, and rub him out [or wear him out by constant rubbing] from the land of the living."
The third 'prophecy' is from the Psalm 22:17-19: "They pierced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” It is still known to all Christians. Of course, the Jewish people do not view this as any prophecy at all.
And Athanasius says both are fulfilled by the death on the "cross" (σταυρός (pole)), because a death that is lifted up and takes place on wood (Θάνατος δὲ μετέωρος, καὶ ἐν ξύλῳ γινόμενος) and because the death is one where the hands and feet are dug through (θανάτῳ διορύσσονται χεῖρες καὶ πόδες). Nota bene that with ἐν ξύλῳ the preposition ἐν is paired with ξύλῳ, which is the dative of ξυλον (wood). That would make the wood the agent of cause or the instrument of death, i.e., the death takes place with, by means of, the wood. 7 With the confusion of the Canonical Gospels whether Jesus carried his own cross, pole, or even crossbeam or not, and some ancient sources stating the criminals had to pick up their own pole, it actually makes more sense if the instrument of his execution was equipped with a penetrating wooden member that was known as an acuta crux. Without one, of course, the backup strategy is to assume that John was correct in that Jesus carried the cross, or harmonize the Canonical Gospels as is traditionally done.
|Utility Poles. (Source: Wikipedia.)|
The fifth 'prophecy' concerns the stretching out of the arms on the crossarm of the execution pole (which was just like the crossarm of a utility pole):
1b For of whom do the prophets say: “I was made manifest to them that sought me not, I was found of them that asked not for me: I said Behold, here am I, to the nation that had not called upon my name; I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.” 2. Who, then, one might say to the Jews, is he that was made manifest? For if it is the prophet, let them say when he was hid, afterward to appear again. And what manner of prophet is this, that was not only made manifest from obscurity, but also stretched out his hands on the Cross? None surely of the righteous, save the Word of God only, Who, incorporeal by nature, appeared for our sakes in the body and suffered for all.
On the Incarnation of the Word, 38:1b-2 (New Adv't) 8, 9
This prediction is from Isaiah 65:1 and 2. It follows in train on Isaiah 64, which recounts a lament of the disasters befalling Israel and Judah, and a prayer that the LORD relent and remember his people. In that context, The beginning of Isaiah 65 depicts the LORD in response airing grievances to Isaiah against the people of Israel and Judah and saying he was not done judging the people yet, but Christians took it as a prophecy of the Crucifixion. Make of it what you will.
Anyway, the stretching out of hands part: "I stretched out my hands" in 38:1b is, in the Greek, ἐξεπέτασα τὰς χεῖράς μου (I have spread out my hands). So we have the image of a person spreading his hands out to his sides in a gesture of frustration with the one he's speaking to. Now the supposed fulfillment, is in the "prophet" who was also the "Word of God," who "stretched out his hands on the Cross:" for which the Greek is τὰς χεῖρας ἐκπετάσας ἐπὶ σταυροῦ (the hands being spread out upon a pole). The presumption, of course, is that the pole was like a modern utility pole, because the spreading out is like that of a pair of wings or a net. Of course, by the time of this writing, Athanasius was probably thinking of a CROSS: that is, a TROPAEUM. Unconvinced? Then you should come to Rome....
1. On the Incarnation 34: 2 (Documenta Catholica Omnia, English Text)
There is this passage, for instance: "A man that is afflicted and knows how to bear weakness, for His face is turned away. He was dishonored and not considered, He bears our sins and suffers for our sakes. And we for our part thought Him distressed and afflicted and ill-used; but it was for our sins that He was wounded and for our lawlessness that He was made weak. Chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His bruising we are healed."2. De incarnation verbi 34:2 (Documenta Catholica Omnia, Greek Text)
[34.2] Φασὶ τοίνυν· «Ἄνθρωπος ἐν πληγῇ ὤν, καὶ εἰδὼς φέρειν μαλακίαν, ὅτι ἀπέστραπται τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ· ἠτιμά σθη καὶ οὐκ ἐλογίσθη. Αὐτὸς τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν φέρει, καὶ περὶ ἡμῶν ὀδυνᾶται· καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐλογισάμεθα αὐτὸν εἶναι ἐν πόνῳ, καὶ ἐν πληγῇ, καὶ ἐν κακώσει. Αὐτὸς δὲ ἐτραυματίσθη διὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, καὶ μεμαλάκισται διὰ τὰς ἀνομίας ἡμῶν· παιδεία εἰρήνης ἡμῶν ἐπ' αὐτόν, τῷ μώλωπι αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς ἰάθημεν.».3. On the Incarnation 35: 1-5 (Documenta Catholica Omnia, English Text)
You have heard the prophecy of His death, and now, perhaps, you want to know what indications there are about the cross. Even this is not passed over in silence: on the contrary, the sacred writers proclaim it with the utmost plainness. Moses foretells it first, and that right loudly, when he says, "You shall see your Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe." After him the prophets also give their witness, saying, "But I as an innocent lamb brought to be offered was yet ignorant of it. They plotted evil against Me, saying, 'Come, let us cast wood into His bread, and wipe Him out from the land of the living." And, again, "They pierced My hands and My feet, they counted all My bones, they divided My garments for themselves and cast lots for My clothing." Now a death lifted up and that takes place on wood can be none other than the death of the cross; moreover, it is only in that death that the hands and feet are pierced.4. De incarnation verbi 35:1-5 (Documenta Catholica Omnia, Greek Text)
[35.1] Ἀλλ' ἴσως περὶ μὲν τῆς τοῦ θανάτου προφητείας ἀκούσας, ζητεῖς καὶ τὰ περὶ τοῦ σταυροῦ σημαινόμενα μαθεῖν. Οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδὲ τοῦτο σεσιώπηται· δεδήλωται δὲ καὶ λίαν τηλαυγῶς ἀπὸ τῶν ἁγίων. [35.2] Μωϋσῆς γὰρ πρῶτος μεγάλῃ τῇ φωνῇ προαπαγγέλλει λέγων· «Ὄψεσθε τὴν ζωὴν ὑμῶν κρεμαμένην ἀπέναντι τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ὑμῶν, καὶ οὐ μὴ πιστεύσητε.». [35.3] Καὶ οἱ μετ' αὐτὸν δὲ προφῆται πάλιν περὶ τούτου μαρτυροῦσι λέγοντες· «Ἐγὼ δὲ ὡς ἀρνίον ἄκακον ἀγόμενον τοῦ θύεσθαι, οὐκ ἔγνων· ἐπ' ἐμὲ ἐλογίσαντο πονηρὸν λέγοντες· δεῦτε, καὶ ἐμβάλωμεν ξύλον εἰς τὸν ἄρτον αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐκτρίψωμεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ γῆς ζώντων.». [35.4] Καὶ πάλιν· «Ὤρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας μου· ἐξηρίθμησαν πάντα τὰ ὀστᾶ μου, διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτιά μου ἑαυτοῖς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν ἱματισμόν μου ἔβαλον κλῆρον.». [35.5] Θάνατος δὲ μετέωρος, καὶ ἐν ξύλῳ γινόμενος, οὐκ ἄλλος ἂν εἴη, εἰ μὴ ὁ σταυρός· καὶ ἐν οὐδενὶ πάλιν θανάτῳ διορύσσονται χεῖρες καὶ πόδες, εἰ μὴ ἐν μόνῳ τῷ σταυρῷ.5. As cited in David W. Chapman, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academic (2008) p. 89. (Link.)
6. Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumin, Talmud and Midrashic Literature, New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, (1926) p. 1282, entry צלב : "to hang, impale." (Link.)
7. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐν and ξύλῳ. The Autenrieth, Slater, Middle Liddell and LSJ Lexica (accessible by the link menu in the top listing box for ἐν) all verify that ἐν + dative can mean "of the instrument, means or manner" with the dative noun as the instrument, means or manner by which something is brought about.
8. On the Incarnation 38: 1b-2 (Documenta Catholica Omnia, English Text)
Of whom, for instance, do the prophets say "I was made manifest to those who did not seek Me, I was found by those who had not asked for Me? I said, 'See, here am I,' to the nation that had not called upon My Name. I stretched out My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people." Who is this person that was made manifest, one might ask the Jews? If the prophet is speaking of himself, then they must tell us how he was first hidden, in order to be manifested afterwards. And, again, what kind of man is this prophet, who was not only revealed after being hidden, but also stretched out his hands upon the cross? Those things happened to none of those righteous men: they happened only to the Word of God Who, being by nature without body, on our account appeared in a body and suffered for us all.9. De incarnation verbi 38:1b-2 (Documenta Catholica Omnia, Greek Text)
[38:1] ....Περὶ τίνος γὰρ λέγουσιν οἱ προφῆται· «Ἐμφανὴς ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἐμὲ μὴ ζητοῦσιν, εὑρέθην τοῖς ἐμὲ μὴ ἐπερωτῶσιν· εἶπα ἰδού εἰμι τῷ ἔθνει οἳ οὐκ ἐκάλεσάν μου τὸ ὄνομα· ἐξεπέτασα τὰς χεῖράς μου πρὸς λαὸν ἀπειθοῦντα καὶ ἀντιλέγοντα;» [38.2] Τίς οὖν ἐστιν ὁ ἐμφανὴς γενόμενος; Εἴποι τις πρὸς Ἰουδαίους· εἰ μὲν γὰρ ὁ προφήτης ἐστί, λεγέτωσαν πότε ἐκρύπτετο, ἵνα καὶ ὕστερον φανῇ· Ποῖος δὲ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφήτης ὁ καὶ ἐμφανὴς ἐξ ἀφανῶν γενόμενος, καὶ τὰς χεῖρας ἐκπετάσας ἐπὶ σταυροῦ; Τῶν μὲν οὖν δικαίων οὐδείς, μόνος δὲ ὁ τοῦ Θεοῦ Λόγος, ὁ ἀσώματος ὢν τὴν φύσιν καὶ δι' ἡμᾶς σώματι φανεὶς καὶ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν παθών.