Jesus Wasn’t Crucified?

This one actually made me chuckle. A christian scholar and theologian, Gunnar Samuelsson, has written a 400 page thesis in which he concludes, after studying ancient texts, that Christ was not crucified, at least in the manner we commonly understood the term to mean. Apparently, there is no mention of a cross-beam and nails in the original text. More so, there is no evidence that the Romans were even crucifying prisoners in the first century. What we’ve been basing our “knowledge” on for the past 2000 years has been a mixture of traditions and artistic illustrations, not fact. Here’s an abstract of the thesis:


This study investigates the philological aspects of how ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic texts, including the New Testament, depict the practice of punishment by crucifixion. A survey of the ancient text material shows that there has been a too narrow view of the “crucifixion” terminology. The various terms are not simply used in the sense of “crucify” and “cross,” if by “crucifixion” one means the punishment that Jesus was subjected to according to the main Christian traditions. The terminology is used much more diversely. Almost none of it can be elucidated beyond verbs referring vaguely to some form(s) of suspension, and nouns referring to tools used in such suspension. As a result, most of the crucifixion accounts that scholars cite in the ancient literature have to be rejected, leaving only a few. The New Testament is not spared from this terminological ambiguity. The accounts of the death of Jesus are strikingly sparse. Their chief contribution is usage of the unclear terminology in question. Over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every wordbook and dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary. The immense knowledge of the punishment of crucifixion in general, and the execution of Jesus in particular, cannot be supported by the studied texts.

Samuelsson says that the executions described in the Bible don’t really describe how Jesus was attached to the execution device. I went back to the four Gospels to see, and they really don’t. Mark simply says he was crucified, as does John, Matthew and Luke. What is described in our modern version of the Bible as a crucifixion upon a cross, with large spikes or nails being driven into the hands or wrists,  may not have happened. The ancient, original texts have Jesus carrying a stauros, which is not necessarily a cross with a cross beam, but could be merely a pole.

“When the Gospels refer to the death of Jesus, they just say that he was forced to carry a “stauros” out to Calvary,” he told AOL News. Many scholars have interpreted that ancient Greek noun as meaning “cross,” and the verb derived from it, “anastauroun,” as implying crucifixion…

“‘Stauros’ is actually used to describe a lot of different poles and execution devices,” he says. “So the device described in the Gospels could have been a cross, but it could also have been a spiked pole, or a tree trunk, or something entirely different.” In turn, “anastauroun” was used to signify everything from the act of “raising hands to suspending a musical instrument.”

Touchdown Jesus, anyone?

If this is even remotely true, I find it deliciously humorous. Christians will no longer have a cross to bear. And imagine what will happen to the cottage industry that has been built up around the symbol of the cross? What about all those constitutional challenges to the crosses placed on public grounds with public funds? What will Christians wear around their necks? And what will Catholics put on the end of their rosary beads? Then, there’s all those jokes that will have to be thrown out. (Jesus Christ walks into a hotel. He hands the innkeeper three nails and asks…”Can you put me up for the night?”) Finally, and most important, what about all those cross tattoos, often etched in delicate places?

I’m reminded of the aphorism floating around the atheosphere – if Jesus had been electrocuted, the electric chair would have become the symbol of Christianity rather than the cross. But, what if he was impaled on a stauros? Imagine the grisly representation over every altar in every church? (Rectum! Damned near killed him!)

Of course, before we decide the manner of his execution, shouldn’t we be convinced that he existed in the first place?

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10 thoughts on “Jesus Wasn’t Crucified?

  1. I remember from art history classes how there was debate over his feet. One nail or two? The one nail idea pretty much won out, for it makes a more striking image with the feet coming together in a point, plus one nail means what? That’s right, three nails total, and we all know three is the magic number.

    I do remember as a child hearing that the nails for the hands couldn’t have gone through the palms because he would have ripped right off the cross (I thought that was the coolest thing then, btw). Apparently “hand” used to include the wrist and lower forearm, so each nail would have gone into the wrist, between the radius and ulna. That way when he started to rip off, the nail would get stuck between the bones and the hand, locking him in place. Cool. So much for those bleeding hands stigmata “miracles”, unless they claimed to be bleeding from their wrists perhaps.

  2. I can tell you this, hanging from a pole with your arms extended upward probably wouldn’t have been a lot more fun than the “traditional” cruciform (alleged) proceedure.

    During the course of my cancer treatment (snort) every time they track down a “sentinel” lymph node they inject a radioactive dye at the tumor site and watch which way it goes to the nearest “sentinel” node so it can be removed.

    This proceedure entails one laying supine, (luckily with a pillow) arms extended above the head, and don’t move.
    After about ten minutes you discover that it is very difficult to breath, and your body gets quite distressed.
    This can take as little as ten minutes, I’m told, but it’s never taken less than an hour for me, once an hour and a half.

    If it is that uncomfortable to be supine and actually supported in that position, I’d hate to think about actually hanging from something by your arms. The only thing you could probably think about would be your pain and your next breath.
    Someone else can have my turn.

    • I think death is by suffocation for crucifixion. As you tire, you can’t support yourself and as you hang, the position makes it difficult to breath.

  3. I don’t know about an electric chair (a little too 3-D to be a good icon), but the Egyptian Ankh is a pretty good facsimile of an upside down noose.

    I wonder if witches ever wore little torch necklaces.

  4. I’ve seen the little guillotines that were worn around the necks of Frenchmen during a phase of the revolution. They also used red ribbons to signify “Le Chop” (my attempt at Francophone humor. French and Spanish speaking people I know have requested that I stick to Russian, German and Esperanto as I have some competence with these. PLEASE! Don’t hurt their language, they beg.)

  5. If this were proven true, imagine those people who, during some intense religious experience, had visions of Jesus on the cross. They would be forced to admit their visions were false and merely imaginings of their own making. …uh, oh, sorry, what they would really do is claim the facts were wrong and their visions were correct because nothing surpasses religious experience–it’s how they “know” God.

  6. That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah. but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. Nay, Allah raised him up unto himself; and Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Koran An-Nisa : 157)

    • It’s nice when the subject of a post actually stops by and comments. I understand you don’t question the historicity of Jesus, and in fact you are a pastor by day (researcher and thesis writer by night 8) ) so I imagine you disagree with me when I question the historical basis for Jesus.

      Just wondering. Did your research, and the conclusions you reached, ever cause you to question other aspects of the Jesus story?

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