The Cross.

March 21, 2008

(Excerpts from The Int’l Standard Bible Encyclopedia, excluding pictures & verse.)


Singly they were set up as instruments of torture on which serious offenders of law were publicly suspended to die (or, if already killed, to have their corpses thoroughly dishonored).

Symbolic Uses.

Conventional & widespread use of the cross as a common Christian symbol makes it difficult for contemporary readers to cross-053.jpgsense the harsh reality that underlies this theology of the cross & the cross sayings in the [New Testament]. When Paul preached the “crucified Christ” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; Gal. 3:1) any audience in the Greek-speaking world would have known immediately that this Christ had suffered an especially agonizing & humiliating death, the sort usually reserved for rebellious slaves, political rebels, or criminals.

A common theme in the early anti-Christian polemic, preserved by Minucius Felix (one of the earliest Latin apologists) in his dialogue Octavius (29.2), was that Christians worship “a criminal & his cross” (hominem noxium et crucem eius). The scattered comments of Justin in his Apologia reveal that the extreme dishonor associated with death by crucifixion was one of the most common objections to the Christian claim that Jesus was Son of God; e.g., “They say that our madness consists in the fact that we put a crucified man in second place after the unchangeable & eternal God, the Creator of the world.”


The process subjected the victim to the greatest possible humiliation, with the victim (dead or alive) either nailed or bound to a stake.

In both Greek & Roman civilizations crucifixion was, with few exceptions, not applicable to the freeborn or to citizens. It was significant to the Roman upper classes that crucifixion was the servile supplicium, “the slaves’ punishment.”

The Roman jurist Julius Paulus (ca. A.D. 200), in the Sententiae complied from his works toward A.D. 300, lists crux as the foremost of the three summa supplicia, “supreme penalties” (the others are crematio, “burning,” and usually decollatio “decapitation”), revealing that this was applicable in such cases as desertion, betrayal of secrets, incitement to rebellion, murder, etc.

Jewish law prescribed that idolaters & blasphemers, after execution by stoning, were to be hanged on a tree to demonstrate that they were accursed by God (Dt. 21:23).


Whatever else may have been done to the victim prior to crucifixion, there was at the least a flogging to the point of making blood flow.

As the next step in the process the victim carried his own cross-beam to the place of execution, where the upright stake had already been erected.

Then on the ground he was fastened to the beam with arms outspread, usually by ropes, less commonly by nails.

the_cross.jpgThe beam & body were then lifted into place on the upright. A small wooden block (sedicula) or a wooden peg positioned midway on the upright supported the body weight as the buttocks rested on it. This feature was extremely important in cases of nailing since it prevented the weight from tearing open the wounds.

Once the condemned was thus immobilized he was left alone, unable to attend to bodily functions, unprotected from inclement weather or flies, and, because the place of execution was usually some public street or prominent place, subjected to abusive words and mockery from passersby.

Remains from a first-century A.D. tomb unearthed at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in Jerusalem surprisingly included the two heel bones of a crucifixion victim still fastened together by a single iron nail.cross001.jpg

The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense. In addition to exposure to the weather & insects (& sometimes animals), the body suffered from the intensifying damage of the wounds & from the stretching caused by the strained position. Some think that headache & convulsions added to the agony.

The ultimate cause of death has been debated; generally it is considered the result of gradual suffocation brought about by fatigue. The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim & the extent of the prior flogging.

“Surely our griefs He Himself [Jesus] bore, & our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, & afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, & by His scourgings we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
(Isaiah 53:4-6)


4 Responses to “The Cross.”

  1. stephanie Says:

    tia =]

  2. tia Says:

    steph :]

    (i feel weird putting a smiley in such a somber post for Good Friday, but . . . “Sunday” comes!)

  3. callodus Says:

    Dearest one,
    I have seen that you believe in christianity. However I strongly advise you to read these facts about the bible and continue…

    read it carefully and think a lot…

  4. tia Says:

    Hi Callodus!

    Thank you for the link, & thank you for your concern! I read the info on the link you provided. I read through (& wrestled through) a similar list a few years ago.

    The author of the Bible, God, isn’t a God of contradictions. There are difficult passages & paradoxes in the Bible, but He doesn’t contradict Himself. He isn’t a “man” like us such that He would forget what He said or change His mind or make mistakes. He is true, & His Word is true.

    It seems insincere to write these things up here to you, just because the reading audience includes more people than you, but I really hope & pray you would personally know & love the God of the Bible.

    Shoot me an email ( if you want :] Hope to hear from you.

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