"Jesus did not die on the cross" (Gunnar Samuelsson)

by Titus 101 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • PSacramento

    Leo, I haven't read the paper, obviously, but it seems to me that for Gunnar to make a statement that jesus was not crucified on a cross that the burden of proof would be on HIM to prove he wasn't, right?

    I mean, if his point was that there were MANY methods and that there is no reason to advocate one or another, other than what was written in scripture, then that is fine, but if he is trying to prove that Jesus wasn't crucified then he must show HOW he died, no?

    I mean, other than that all he can basically say is, we don't knwo for sure one way or another, right?

  • Leolaia
    Leo, I haven't read the paper, obviously, but it seems to me that for Gunnar to make a statement that jesus was not crucified on a cross that the burden of proof would be on HIM to prove he wasn't, right?

    I mean, other than that all he can basically say is, we don't knwo for sure one way or another, right?

    Well, again, we don't know if Gunnar is in fact making that claim. The media often misses the subtlety of academic arguments; I see it all the time in the news articles commented on at PaleoJudaica (another blog I read). The difference between "Jesus may not have died on a cross" and "Jesus did not die on a cross" is an easy one for a news writer to miss. From what I have read at ETC, he seems to be questioning the standard monolithic depiction of crucifixion, which he is not the first to do (Hengel did so as well in his book, emphasizing the unfixedness of execution practices and the paucity of data). And with respect to Jesus' crucifixion, the gospel narratives are laconic. Not too laconic imo to preclude any judgment but the accounts definitely do not describe much of anything about how Jesus was crucified. I think Gunnar would say that the burden of proof is on those making generalizations from the data we have. But again I'll have to wait to read what he says himself.

    I mean, if his point was that there were MANY methods and that there is no reason to advocate one or another, other than what was written in scripture, then that is fine, but if he is trying to prove that Jesus wasn't crucified then he must show HOW he died, no?

    He's not saying that Jesus wasn't crucified in the sense that he must have suffered some different form of capital punishment, like stoning or beheading. He is saying that crucifixion was so vaguely described in the literature that it is hard to pin down exactly what it means to say (descriptively, not theologically) that Jesus was crucified.


    More evidence supporting death by cross is found in Ezekiel 9:4,6 when God himself commands that the Tau be placed on the foreheads of the righteous. This is 8 verses after Tammuz worship is condemned [Ez8:14].

    2 other early Christian writers [Tertullian and Origen] considered this to be a prefigurement of the cross of Christ.

    Tertullian said 'In all our travels, in our coming in and going out, in putting on our clothes and our shoes, at table, in going to rest, what everemployment occupies us, we mark our forhead with the sign of the cross' The Chaplet [De Corona].

    Any evidence at all to support a torture stake has never been found....aside from WTS publications.



  • Mary

    In the The Epistle of Barnabas chapter 9 it makes specific reference to the cross that Jesus died on being in the shape of a 'T':

    "....have [the initials of the, name of] Jesus. And because the cross was to express the grace [of our redemption] by the letter Τ..."

    Many scholars today believe it was probably written in the years 70 - 131 CE when Roman cruxifictions were still very much commonplace.


    Mary, Leolaia [ can I call you Leo?], PSacramento, notacaptive, madsweeny, titus and many others. Great posts....sorry, I started posting before reading all the pages, so I see that I restated some earlier points.

    Some of the threads on this site I could never get enough time to read, but all these posts are well worth the time. Thanks all!


  • shamus100

    Strain the gnat and swallow the camel.

  • Leolaia
    More evidence supporting death by cross is found in Ezekiel 9:4,6 when God himself commands that the Tau be placed on the foreheads of the righteous. This is 8 verses after Tammuz worship is condemned [Ez8:14].

    The Society regularly confuses the cross-cultural use of a cross shape as a symbol (which is, after all, one of the simplest geometric patterns, consisting of two intersecting lines) with what was done in ancient execution practices. We should not similarly utilize the oracle in Ezekiel 9 concerning the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem as having any bearing on the apparatus used in Jesus' execution. It has no historical value on crucifixion, there is no intrinsic connection. Any connection is made eisegetically.

    And I don't know if you were alluding to Alexander Hislop's claims about Tammuz (frequently repeated by the Society), but there is not a shred of evidence I've seen that associates the Babylonian deity Dumuzi/Tammuz with a cross symbol.

  • steve2

    Whether stake or cross, one thing's for sure: Earlier methods of execution were barbaric and unusually cruel and sadistic. Their means of killing make ours pale into wimpishness. I'm a sucker for comfort so if you have to put me to death, please make it painless and quick. Thank you.

  • StAnn

    Just came across this.

    The Divine Life

    Why We Were Created
    a blog by Eric Sammons
    July 2, 2010

    Shocking: biblical scholar says something idiotic, CNN declares him a genius

    Each year it seems that it takes ever more ludicrous claims in order to get attention in the mainstream media. The latest from CNN: Gospels don’t say Jesus was crucified, scholar claims. Here is the article with my comments within:

    There have been plenty of attacks on Christianity over the years, but few claims have been more surprising than one advanced by an obscure Swedish scholar this spring.

    The Gospels do not say Jesus was crucified, Gunnar Samuelsson says.

    In fact, he argues, in the original Greek, [beware any argument that is based on the 'original Greek!' It usually means the person is counting on the ignorance of the vast majority of people - including CNN reporters] the ancient texts reveal only that Jesus carried “some kind of torture or execution device” to a hill where “he was suspended” and died, says Samuelsson, who is an evangelical pastor as well as a New Testament scholar. [I wonder if would be called a 'scholar' if he came to traditional conclusions]

    “When we say crucifixion, we think about Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion.’ We think about a church, nails, the crown of thorns,” he says, referring to Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

    “We are loaded with pictures of this well-defined punishment called crucifixion – and that is the problem,” he says.

    Samuelsson bases his claim on studying 900 years’ worth of ancient texts in the original languages – Hebrew, Latin and Greek, which is the language of the New Testament.

    He spent three years reading for 12 hours a day, he says, and he noticed that the critical word normally translated as “crucify” doesn’t necessarily mean that. [So, if this claim is true, he spent around 13,000 hours studying this - does that trump the millions of hours spent by thousands of scholars through the centuries who came to a different conclusion? Ever hear of peer-review?]

    “He was handed over to be ’stauroun,’” Samuelsson says of Jesus, lapsing into Biblical Greek to make his point. [Translation: See? He's a really smarty-pants - he knows Biblical Greek!]

    At the time the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing their Gospels, that word simply meant “suspended,” the theologian argues.

    “This word is used in a much wider sense than ‘crucifixion,’” he says. “It refers to hanging, to suspending vines in a vineyard,” or to any type of suspension.

    “He was required to carry his ’stauros’ to Calvary, and they ’stauroun’ him. That is all. He carried some kind of torture or execution device to Calvary and he was suspended and he died,” Samuelsson says. [Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament - the work of many scholars over many years and accepted by scholars of both liberal and conservative bent as authoritative - defines it as "an instrument of torture for serious offenses...in three basic forms: a vertical, pointed stake...an upright with a cross-beam above it...or two intersecting beams of equal length." Then it goes on to explain the Roman method of 'stauron' at that time as what we call crucifixion.]

    Not everyone is convinced by his research. [In other words, NO ONE is convinced by his research] Garry Wills, the author of “What Jesus Meant,” “What Paul Meant,” and “What the Gospels Meant,” dismisses it as “silliness.” [I'm no fan of Wills, but I couldn't agree with him more. Yet still CNN thought it was worthy of a story.]

    “The verb is stauresthai from stauros, cross,” Wills said.

    Samuelsson wants to be very clear about what he is saying and what he is not saying.

    Most importantly, he says, he is not claiming Jesus was not crucified – only that the Gospels do not say he was.

    “I am a pastor, a conservative evangelical pastor, a Christian,” he is at pains to point out. “I do believe that Jesus died the way we thought he died. He died on the cross.”

    But, he insists, it is tradition that tells Christians that, not the first four books of the New Testament. [This would not be an issue, in other words, if not for sola scriptura: if something is only in "tradition" that means it is unreliable. Even if Samuelsson were correct - which he is not - then it would still not be a problem for Catholics, as we accept sacred tradition as being a reliable means of passing on information.]

    “I tried to read the text as it is, to read the word of God as it stands in our texts,” he says – what he calls “reading on the lines, not reading between the lines.”

    Samuelsson says he didn’t set out to undermine one of the most basic tenets of Christianity.

    He was working on a dissertation at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden when he noticed a problem with a major book about the history of crucifixion before Jesus.

    What was normally thought to be the first description of a crucifixion – by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus – wasn’t a crucifixion at all, but the suspension of a corpse, Samuelsson found by reading the original Greek.

    The next example in the book about crucifixion wasn’t a crucifixion either, but the impaling of a hand.

    Samuelsson’s doctoral advisor thought his student might be on to something.

    “He recommended I scan all the texts, from Homer up to the first century – 900 years of crucifixion texts,” Samuelsson recalled, calling it “a huge amount of work.”

    But, he says, “I love ancient texts. They just consume me.” So he started reading.

    He found very little evidence of crucifixion as a method of execution, though he did find corpses being suspended, people being hanged from trees, and more gruesome methods of execution such as impaling people by the belly or rectum.

    The same Greek word was used to refer to all the different practices, he found.

    That’s what led him to doubt that the Gospels specify that Jesus was crucified.

    At the time they were written, “there is no word in Greek, Latin, Aramaic or Hebrew that means crucifixion in the sense that we think of it,” he says.

    It’s only after the death of Jesus – and because of the death of Jesus – that the Greek word “stauroun” comes specifically to mean executing a person on the cross, he argues.

    He admits, of course, that the most likely reason early Christians though Jesus was crucified is that, in fact, he was. [Proof of the idiocy of much of modern biblical scholarship. They completely divorce the texts of the Bible from the world in which it was produced. This guys admits that the reason it was seen as crucifixion is because it was, in fact, a crucifixion. But the text doesn't say it in the way he wants, so now he questions it. This would be like the first accounts of JFK's death just saying he "died of a bullet wound" and then hundreds of years later claiming he really wasn't shot because the original accounts only said "died of a bullet wound" - maybe he just ran into a rogue bullet that was suspended in mid-air in Dallas!]

    But he says his research still has significant implications for historians, linguists and the Christian faithful. [Not really]

    For starters, “if my observations are correct, every book on the history of Jesus will need to be rewritten,” as will the standard dictionaries of Biblical Greek, he says. [Now we get to the heart of the matter. Like many scholars, he wants to be influential. He is hoping his findings make him popular on the scholarly circuit.]

    More profoundly, his research “ought to make Christians a bit more humble,” he says.

    “We fight against each other,” he reflects, but “the theological stances that keep churches apart are founded on things that we find between the lines.

    “We have put a lot of things in the Bible that weren’t there in the beginning that keep us apart. We need to get down on our knees as Christians together and read the Bible.” [Again, the problem of sola scriptura. When everyone can individually interpret what the Bible 'really says,' then we will never come to agreement and be able to resolve the things that keep us apart. It is only when we humbly accept the authority of the Church that such union is possible.]

  • Earnest

    I have recently received an email from Gunnar Samuelsson in which he said :

    Thank you for sending inquires about my thesis Crucifixion in Antiquity. However, the dissertation edition has been sold out and this edition will not be printed further. I have also decided to not publish the thesis electronically (as PDF). The reason for this is that the manuscript is now being revised, and will be sent to Mohr Siebeck in Tübingen with the aim of being published in the WUNT Series (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament). Other publishers have been in touch and expressed interest in publishing the book, but I have decided to send the manuscript first to Mohr Siebeck not least since the main dialogue partner of my thesis, Martin Hengel, is the father of the series. Further inquires about the book could then be sent be sent to the publisher.
    For more information about my thesis, log on to www.exegetics.org

    This website is well worth visiting and includes the contents of the thesis, as follows :

    1 Ancient Sources 7
    2 Papyri and Non-Literary Sources 14
    3 Early Jewish Literature 14
    4 Modern Works 15
    5 General 18
    6 Signs 19

    PREFACE 21


    1 The Purpose of the Study 26

    2 The Scholarly Discussion 27
    2.1 Predecessors 27
    2.2 Intermediate Studies 36
    2.3 Main Contributors 39
    2.4 Recent Studies 48

    3 Basic Problems and Method 50
    3.1 The Terminology 51
    3.2 The Definition 53
    3.3 The Basic Questions of the Investigation 56
    3.4 Considerations of Theory 57
    3.4.1 Philology 58
    3.4.2 Semantics 59

    4 Content of the Book 63


    1 The Archaic Era 66
    1.1 Homer 66
    1.2 Aesop 69
    1.3 Conclusion – The Archaic Era 69

    2 Historians of the Classical Era 70
    2.1 Herodotus 70
    2.1.1 Herodotus’ Use of ?νασταυρο?ν 71
    2.1.2 Herodotus’ Use of ?νασκολοπ?ζειν 79
    2.1.3 Herodotus’ Use of Nail Terminology 84
    2.1.4 Conclusion – Herodotus and Crucifixion 87
    2.2 Thucydides 92
    2.3 Ctesias 94
    2.4 Xenophon 97
    2.5 Conclusion – Historians of the Classical Era 97

    3 Philosophical Literature of the Classical Era 99
    3.1 Plato 99
    3.2 Aristotle 101
    3.3 Conclusion – Philosophical Literature of the Classical Era 102

    4 Tragedy, Comedy and Orators of the Classical Era 102
    4.1 Aeschylus 102
    4.2 Sophocles 104
    4.3 Euripides 105
    4.4 Demosthenes 108
    4.5 Conclusion – Tragedy, Comedy and Orators of the Classical Era 109

    5 Greek Historians of the Hellenistic Era 109
    5.1 Polybius 109
    5.1.1 Undefined Suspension Punishments in Polybius 109
    5.1.2 Post-Mortem Suspension in Polybius 111
    5.1.3 Ante-Mortem Suspension in Polybius 112
    5.1.4 Conclusion – Polybius and Crucifixion 114
    5.2 Diodorus Siculus 114
    5.2.1 Undefined Suspensions in Diodorus Siculus 115
    5.2.2 Post-Mortem Suspensions in Diodorus Siculus 117
    5.2.3 Possible Impaling Accounts in Diodorus Siculus 119
    5.2.4 Possible Ante-Mortem Suspensions in Diodorus Siculus 120
    5.2.5 Suspension by Nailing in Diodorus Siculus 123
    5.2.6 Conclusion – Diodorus Siculus and Crucifixion 125
    5.3 Conclusion – Historians of the Hellenistic Era 127

    6 Papyrus and Fragmentary Texts of the Hellenistic Era127
    6.1 Papyrus Hellenica 127
    6.2 Alexis 128
    6.3 Conclusion – Papyrus and Fragmentary Texts of the Hellenistic Era 129

    7 Historians of the Roman Era 129
    7.1 Strabo 129
    7.1.1 Suspension Texts in Strabo 129
    7.1.2 Conclusion – Strabo and Crucifixion 133
    7.2 Dionysius of Halicarnassus 133
    7.3 Flavius Josephus 135
    7.3.1 Texts Without Indications of the Suspension Form 136
    7.3.2 Texts With Indications of the Suspension Form 142
    7.3.3 Conclusion – Josephus and Crucifixion 153
    7.4 Plutarch 156
    7.4.1 Undefined Suspensions in Plutarch 156
    7.4.2 Suspension Accounts With Additional Information159
    7.4.3 Nailing Accounts in Plutarch 164
    7.4.4 Plutarch’s Use of σταυρ?ς 167
    7.4.5 Conclusion – Plutarch and Crucifixion 171
    7.5 Appian 172
    7.5.1 Appian’s Use of σταυρο?ν and σταυρ?ς 173
    7.5.2 Appian’s Use of κρεμανν?ναι 174
    7.5.3 Conclusions – Appian and Crucifixion 178
    7.6 Conclusion – Historians of the Roman Era 179

    8 Philosophical and Poetical Authors of the Roman Era 180
    8.1 Philo Judaeus 180
    8.1.1 Undefined Suspensions in Philo 180
    8.1.2 Suspensions by Nailing in Philo 185
    8.1.3 Ante-Mortem Suspensions in Philo 186
    8.1.4 Conclusion – Philo and Crucifixion 188
    8.2 Chariton 189
    8.2.1 The Suspension of Theron 189
    8.2.2 The Suspension of Chaereas and His Cellmates 190
    8.2.3 A Recapitulation of the Suspensions 191
    8.2.4 Chariton’s Use of σταυρ?ς 192
    8.2.5 Conclusion – Chariton and Crucifixion 194
    8.3 Conclusion – Philosophical and Poetical Literature of the Roman Era 194

    9 Conclusion – The Greek Literature 195
    9.1 The Terminology 195
    9.1.1 The Verbs 195
    9.1.2 The Nouns 198
    9.1.3 The Terminological Problem 200
    9.2 The Punishment 200


    1 Historians 206
    1.1 Gaius Iulius Caesar 206
    1.2 Gaius Sallustius Crispus 207
    1.3 Titus Livius 208
    1.3.1 The Case Against Horatius 208
    1.3.2 Livy’s Use of crux 211
    1.3.3 Conclusion – Livy 214
    1.4 Valerius Maximus 214
    1.4.1 Conclusion – Valerius Maximus 217
    1.5 Cornelius Tacitus 217
    1.5.1 Tacitus’ Use of Assumed Crucifixion Terminology 217
    1.5.2 Conclusion – Tacitus 223
    1.6 Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus 223
    1.6.1 Suetonius Use of crux and Accompanying Verbs 223
    1.6.2 The Ancient Custom 226
    1.6.3 Conclusion – Suetonius 226
    1.7 Clodius Licinius 227

    2 Playwrights 228
    2.1 Titus Maccius Plautus 228
    2.1.1 Conclusion – Plautus 232
    2.2 Publius Terentius Afer 233

    3 Rhetorical Texts 233
    3.1 Marcus Tullius Cicero 233
    3.1.1 Cicero’s Oration Against Gaius Verres 234
    3.1.2 Cicero’s Defense of Rabirius 240
    3.1.3 Conclusion – Cicero 242
    3.2 Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the Elder) 242
    3.3 Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the Younger) 244
    3.3.1 Conclusion – Seneca the Younger 250
    3.4 Gaius Plinius Secundus 251
    3.5 Marcus Fabius Quintilianus 253
    3.6 Quintus Curtius Rufus 254

    4 Poetry 255
    4.1 Gaius Valerius Catullus 255
    4.2 Quintus Horatius Flaccus 256
    4.3 Publius Ovidius Naso 256
    4.4 Marcus Valerius Martialis 257
    4.5 Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis 258

    5 Inscription259

    6 Conclusion – The Latin Literature 262
    6.1 The Terminology 262
    6.2 The Punishment 265



    1The Old Testament 271
    1.1 Genesis 271
    1.2 Numeri 274
    1.3 Deuteronomy 277
    1.4 Joshua 278
    1.5 The Books of Samuel 280
    1.6 Ezra 284
    1.7 Esther 286
    1.8 Lamentation 289

    2 The Deuterocanonical Texts 291

    3 The Dead Sea Scrolls 291

    4 The Apocryphal Old Testament 295

    5 Conclusion – Old Testament and Related Literature 296
    5.1 The Terminology 296
    5.2 The Punishment 299


    1 The Gospels 302
    1.1 Jesus Foretells His Passion 302
    1.2 To Carry One’s Own Cross 305
    1.3 A People’s Call for Execution 307
    1.4 The Road to Golgotha 309
    1.5 The Execution 312
    1.6 The Criminals 314
    1.7 The Mocking of Jesus 315
    1.8 The Death of Jesus 316
    1.9 The Aftermaths of the Death of Jesus 318

    2 Acts 320

    3 The Epistles Attributed to Paul 321

    4 The Epistles Not Attributed To Paul 325

    5 Revelation 326

    6 Conclusion – The Execution of Jesus 327


    1 Discussion One – The Definition of Crucifixion 331
    1.1 An Execution 332
    1.2 In the Strict Sense, an Execution 333
    1.3 Not Necessarily an Execution 335
    1.4 Uncertainty, but Nevertheless a Crucifixion 336
    1.5 A Better Way: A Suspension Among Others 338
    1.6 Conclusion – The Definition of Crucifixion 342

    2 Discussion Two – The Terminology of Crucifixion 342
    2.1 The Greek Terminology 343
    2.1.1 ?νασταυρο?ν and ?νασκολοπ?ζειν 343
    2.1.2 σταυρο?ν 346
    2.1.3 σταυρ?ς 349
    2.1.4κρεμανν?ναι 352
    2.2 The Latin Terminology 353
    2.3 The Hebrew-Aramaic Terminology 354
    2.4 Conclusion – The Terminology of Crucifixion 356
    2.4.1 Verbs of the σταυρ-Stem 356
    2.4.2 ?νασκολοπ?ζειν 357
    2.4.3 σταυρ?ς 358
    2.4.4 κρεμανν?ναι 359
    2.4.5 crux 360
    2.4.6 patibulum 360
    2.4.7 The Hebrew-Aramaic Terminology 361
    2.4.8 The Terminology of Crucifixion 361

    3 Discussion Three – The Depiction of Crucifixion 362
    3.1 The Scholarly Contributions 362
    3.2 Evaluation of the Scholarly Contributions 369
    3.3 A Depiction of Crucifixion 372

    4 Test Case I – The Archaeological Challenge 373

    5 Test Case II – Challenging the Basic Theory 374


    1 Primary Sources (Texts and Translations) 383
    2 Reference Works 396
    3 Secondary Literature 400
    4 Internet 413

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