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.”
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?