this has always puzzled me.....can anyone shed some light as to what it really was?
Cross or torture stake.....
I have done extensive research on this subject, looking up references in the original Greek and Latin sources. The Watchtower claim is not only erroneous, but it is also disingenuous.
1) The Romans did crucify prisoners and slaves in the first century with a two-beamed cross and the words crux and stauros did denote such an execution instrument (cf. Plautus, Lucian, Artemidorus, Seneca, Tacitus). The Society's repeated claim (1950 NWT, 6/22/1984 Awake!, 1984 Reference NWT) that Livy used crux to only denote impalement is totally without merit; I looked up every time Livy mentioned crux and he never was specific the way the Society claims he was. The claim (cf. 1950 NWT, 1984 Reference Edition) that Lucian used anastaroó to denote impalement in his play on Prometheus is also false; Lucian actually indicated a two-beamed cross. The Jewish historian Josephus described the Romans crucifying the Jews "in different postures" when they attacked Jerusalem (Jewish War, 5,450-451). By claiming that crux and stauros did not mean "cross" until the third century, the Society is intentionally distorting and hiding the facts.
Here are some ancient Greek and Roman references to crucifixion (stipes is the Latin word for the upright pole and patibulum is the word for the crossbeam):
"Being crucified is auspicious for all seafarers. For the stauros, like a ship, is made of wood and nails, and the ship's mast resembles a stauros." (Artemidorus, Oneirocritica, 2:53)
"Men weep and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up the erections on which men are crucified. Stauros the vile engine is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but supplied by his own shape--that shape which he gave to the gibbet named stauros after him by men." (Lucian, Trial in the Court of Vowels, 12)
"Suppose we crucify [anestaurosthai] him half way up somewhere hereabouts over the ravine, with his hands out-stretched from crag to crag....Do you suppose there is not room on the Caucasus to peg out a couple of us? Come, your right hand! Clamp it down, Hephaestus, and in with the nails; bring down the hammer with a will. Now the left; make sure work of that too." (Lucian, Prometheus, 1-2)
I suspect you're doomed to die outside the gate, in that position: Hands spread out and nailed to the patibulum....Oh, I bet the executioners will have you looking like a human sieve, the way they'll prod you full of holes as they run you down the streets with your arms on a patibulum, once the old man gets back! .... I'll give two hundred pounds to the first man to charge my crux and take it ? on condition his legs and arms are double-nailed, that is....I shall bear the patibulum through the city; then I shall be nailed to the crux." (Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 359-360; Mostellaria, 55-57, 359-360; Carbonaria, fragment 2; Plautus wrote about 250 BC)
"Though they strive to release themselves from their crosses (crucibus)---those crosses to which each one of you nails himself with his own hand--yet they, when brought to punishment hang each one on a single stipes; but these others who bring upon themselves their own punishment are stretched upon as many crosses as they had desires. Yet they are slanderous and witty in heaping insult on others. I might believe that they were free to do so, did not some of them spit upon spectators from their own patibulum!" (Seneca, De Vita Beata, 19,3)
"I should deem him most despicable had he wished to live up to the very time of crucifixion (ad crucem). . . .Is it worth while to weigh down upon one's own wound, and hang impaled upon a patibulum? . . . . Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree (infelix lignum), long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly tumours on chest and shoulders, and draw the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? I think he would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the crux!" (Seneca, Epistle 101,10-14)
2) The Gospel accounts assume a two-beamed cross, especially in the motif of Jesus or Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross on the way to Golgotha (cf. John 19:17) which is nothing other than the widely-attested practice of patibulum-bearing (the patibulum was the crossbeam). This practice pre-existed the invention of crucifixion as a method to torture disobediant slaves (cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch) and was widely adopted as a prelude to crucifixion (cf. Plautus, Plutarch, Artemidorus, Chariton). The Society would instead require Jesus or Simon to carry a pole to Golgotha (actually pictured in the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived book (1991, chapter 124), which is utterly without any historical support and ignores the copious evidence of patibulum-bearing. The traditional Christian picture of Jesus carrying the whole cross over one of his shoulders (seen in the Passion of the Christ movie) is also unhistorical....what the Romans did was have the prisoner stretch out his hands, nail or tie the hands to the crossbeam, and then having him bear the beam over his back or chest to the stationary stipes (vertical beam), and then hoist him up to the cross. This practice is also possibly alluded to in John 21:18-19 which also assumes a two-beamed cross. Details in John 20:25 and Matthew 27:37 are also best explained by assuming a two-beamed cross.
3) The use of the word xylon "tree, wood" in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29, Galatians 3:13, and 1 Peter 2:24 does not indicate the kind of stauros Jesus died on, only that the Bible writers understood Roman crucifixion in terms of the law in Deuteronomy 21:23-23. Other Jewish writers referred to Roman crosses in exactly the same manner (including the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus), and Roman writers also referred to Roman crosses metaphorically as "trees" (cf. Seneca, quoted above).
4) There was a strong tradition in late first century and second century Christianity that repeatedly looked for prophecies and prefigurings of the two-beamed cross of Jesus in the OT, and described the stretching out of the hands from side to side as a sign of Jesus' cross (cf. Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Odes of Solomon, Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.). Even the pagan Romans, in mocking the Christians, depicted a two-beamed cross (cf. the Palatine graffito).
There is lots more evidence, but this covers the basics.
"And they put over his head his cause written: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Matthew 27:37). Since the 'cause' was not written over the hands, it would seem that it was a cross rather than a 'torture stake.'
Though you would need archaeological evidence of crucifixtions from that period to be 'sure.' However, considering that the sign of the cross began as a private devotion in the 2nd cenutry AD, it would seem more than probable that it was a cross rather than an upright stake.
Gina and I did some amateur investigating on this the other day (nothing approaching the work of Leolaia) and concluded that it could go either way, but there wasn't enough evidence to jump up and scream "stake" as the Watchtower has done for decades.
Anybody know why they chose to go with the stake idea? Just to be different?
There appear to be a number of misconceptions regarding the Crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus was NOT the first nor the only person to be crucified. The Romans had used that method of execution for at least 70 years before Jesus was Crucified. In around 40 BC, in Rome, a historian recorded that 2,000 people were crucified in a single day, for the entertainment of Quintilius Varus! About 40 years after Jesus' Crucifixion, the Romans crucified around 500 per day in 70 AD.
Even by Jesus' time, it is clear that they had developed "efficient" methods. For example, on that day of the 2,000 crucifixions, it seems unlikely that the workers would have had the time to dig 2,000 holes and built 2,000 crosses, just for practical reasons. The following articles indicate that it was extremely common for the upright pole to be left in place, at the standard location for the crucifixions, and that Jesus (and the others) almost certainly carried just the horizontal cross-bar, still a heavy burden. Once there, the execution crew would have lifted Jesus and the cross-bar up onto the already vertical pole.
Most modern depictions of the Crucifixion show Jesus being quite high up, but that almost certainly was not the case. Victims of crucifixion generally had their feet just a foot or two above the ground. Also, part of the "punishment" of crucifixion (and a visible example of that punishment for the community as a whole) was that it was generally an extended process. One of the articles below even mention that some crosses had a small "seat" area to partially support the weight of the body, with the intent of extending the suffering further.
These matters are confirmed by a variety of Jewish laws of the time. Several dealt with the "official" ways of determining the moment of death such that the body could be taken down. Yev. 120b mentions that one of those methods of confirmation was when stray animals began to feed on the flesh of the feet and legs, which could be reached because of the legs being close to the ground. Oho. 3:5 mentions ways of determining when the blood had become impure. Many other laws associated with crucifixion existed in Jewish law of the time. Tosef, Git 7:1, Git 70b, describe how a person could get a divorce from a person being crucified. Interestingly, Yev. 16:3, 15c, apparently allowed the possibility that a rich matron could "redeem" a person being crucified to become her husband!
Also, a modern misconception is that the spikes were driven through the hands. The Romans had discovered much earlier that the skin would just tear away and the person would fall from the cross. The spikes were certainly driven through the wrist area, between some bones there.
Finally, as a confirmation of the reality of the Crucifixion of Jesus, Jewish records record the event. In the Talmud, Sanh. 7:4 refers to Him being subjected to halakhah, being "hanged alive". This, along with stoning, was the legal punishment for "leading others astray or practicing sorcery". Sanh. 6:4 also refers to the event.
I always wondered WHY that was such a BIG deal to them... why it's important. To me it's like saying, did he die wearing a red robe or a blue robe and then fight a certain side. I mean seriously, that is not the important issue. It could matter less if it was a cross or stake. He died, it was his message that should be important.
Just another thing where they focus on the wrong issues.
In around 40 BC, in Rome, a historian recorded that 2,000 people were crucified in a single day, for the entertainment of Quintilius Varus! About 40 years after Jesus' Crucifixion, the Romans crucified around 500 per day in 70 AD.
Yeah like in Monnty Python's, "Life of Brian" they were crucifying dozens of people and the one on the crosses started singing, "Always look on the Bright side of Life".
I believe that the WT demonized the cross for one of 2 reasons.
Either there is such a thing as Satan and he has an army against Christ - the anti-Christ -
There is an organization run by men who have demonized a symbol of an afterlife - a spiritual life - to keep this emotional and spiritual feeling of connection to a "higher" force away from their members in order to keep themselves as the object of devotion and loyalty.
The cross issue is only one of many ways either of these 2 reasons control the group, keep them isolated and destroy the human spirit.
John 20:25 New World Translation "Consequently the other disciples would say to him [Thomas]: 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them: 'Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe.' "
To have been crucified the way Jehovah's Witnesses say would have required only one nail. That's how they have depicted it in "Mankind's Search for God," page 351. But they must have slipped up in their translation by using nails instead of nail.
There is power in the Cross of Christ. The WTS wanted that power, so to be different, as well as to keep people from that power they demeaned the death of Jesus, the manner of His death, and scoffed at its importance. As stated earlier in this thread - Anti Christs is what the lot of them are.