The facts on crucifixion, stauros, and the "torture stake"

by Leolaia 175 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • jwfacts

    Eskape's quote shows the normal JW tendency to create strawmen arguements, attacking irrelevant points and ignoring the obvious.

    At I have a photo copy from the Imperial Dictionary and De Cruce Liber Primus, Secundus, and Tres and contrary to Eskape's claim, the Watchtower quotations from these sources are misleading, as both clearly state that Jesus died on a cross when read in full.

  • kalunga

    It's an old topic, and an interesting one!

    I'll post a question about this matter, that came to me reading this topic... It's about something that Watchtower allways claims:

    An important reason is that Jesus Christ did not die on a cross. The Creek word generally translated “cross” is stau-ros’. It basically means “an upright pale or stake.” The Companion Bible points out: “[Stau-ros’] never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle … There is nothing in the Creek of the [New Testament] even to imply two pieces of timber.”

    So, the first assertion is that stauros doesn't mean an instrument constituted of two or more pieces of wood... It only means a stake, all right?

    But, isn't the stauros of Christ constituted at least of a titulus?

    (Mark 15:26) And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

    So, even if a crux simplex was used, it was constituted of more than one piece of wood... Am I right?

  • Leolaia
    So, even if a crux simplex was used, it was constituted of more than one piece of wood... Am I right?

    Sure. But I would add that the number of pieces of wood has nothing to do with the MEANING of the word. If it did, there would be another word in Greek used just to denote a two-beamed instrument that was so widely used, but there is no other is all just stauros. Going back to the "car" example, the shape and style of the car can vary widely. It could be made out of wood, steel, aluminum, etc., it could have two doors or four doors, or could be compact or an SUV, and what are considered cars today are hugely different from what were considered cars 150 years ago (e.g. our cars today lack horses). The technology changes while the word remains the same. Similarly, the shape of the instrument used in Roman crucifixion could vary widely (as Seneca himself noted in the first century AD), sometimes by the whim of the executioner, what mattered was the function of the device, it didn't matter what other pieces of wood were on it, or in what direction the pieces of wood were nailed together, or whether the victim was nailed to it or tied by ropes, it was all variations of execution by crucifixion. Originally the stauros referred to stakes without crossbeams, well, duh....the word is older than Roman crucifixion itself, which arose only in the third century BC. What matters is how the word was used to signify Roman crucifixion, which we know frequently included a patibulum from traditional Roman execution practice.

    So that is a nuance that should be borne in mind...the word stauros signified a device that frequently had more than one piece of wood, but the number of pieces of wood (or other random characteristics of the device) that the device had was not a part of the word's meaning. No more than the word "car" implies a vehicle containing only two doors. To restrict it only to a particular form of the device introduces an artificiality absent in the actual usage of the term in Greek. It would similarly be wrong to restrict the Latin word crux as referring only to two-beamed crosses. Seneca explicitly says that this is not the case (cruces non unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas).

    Narkissos....I don't have the scans available at the moment, I think I may have to rescan them.

    jwfacts....eskape obviously did not read my piece because I addressed most of his "points" and claims therein.

  • kalunga


    I was asking this, because we have in the Bible an example of stauros been used to denote an instrument of more than one piece of wood... Just the contrary of what the Watchtower preachs.

    This can stand as a "quick answer" to JWs... They can deny Seneca (believe me, they can make it), but not the Bible...

    I saw in a NWT with commentaries in portuguese, that they have more quotes...

    One is from Die Kreuz und die Kreuzigung (I forgot the Author), and Die Geschischte Jesu (I forgot the autor too...), and a quote (with elipsis) from Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary

  • bite me
    bite me

    Thank you so much for bring this thread back up. I thought I came across it a time before but with all the topics going on, I was not sure. You did a lot of researching and time in putting this together. I will print it out and read it throughly.

    btw.. how long did it take you to gather all the information?

  • Leolaia

    bite me....It was about a year of research at a university library, when I was minoring in classics. Then I did some more research recently, and then updated my essay into the post you see here. :)

  • dogisgod

    Being rather new here I just read this. In a word, "WOW" You are a scholar par non!!!! Thank you.

  • Frank4YAHWEH

    Peace greetings ALL,

    Whether Yahshua was executed on a cross or not, I still find the sign of the cross to be of pagan origin. If one of my loved ones was to executed unjustly by means of an electric chair, I would not wear a small image of an electric chair around my neck in rememberance of them. I have always found the image of the cross or Jesus hanging on a cross in churches uncouth.

  • Leolaia

    Frank....You conflate two separate issues: the claim of a pagan origin of the "cross" symbol in Christendom and the seeming "uncouth" use of displaying the cross in Christianity. Unless you are arguing that the use of the cross must have a pagan origin apart from the crucifixion of Jesus because early Christians would have been horrified at the notion of the cross (just as a person today would feel disgust at the electric chair used to kill a loved one -- an analogy that the Society often makes, cf. 5/1/1989 Watchtower, p. 26; 4/22/1996 Awake!, p. 29), I see no connection between the two. But if that connection is what you are presuming, I should mention that the early Christian attitude towards the cross (at least in the NT) was not at all analogous to how a person today would feel about a hangman's noose or electric chair. The cross was central to Pauline and sub-Pauline theology, as the very vehicle through which salvation and reconciliation occurred for mankind. Thus, Jesus "reconciled them to God through the cross" and even humiliated the evil powers by "triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15, Ephesians 2:16). The cross was viewed as a means of triumph and victory, not defeat and sorrow. Paul referred to the cross of Christ as continually defining the Christian gospel and the community of Christians. Those persecuting Christians were "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18), and Christians were "being persecuted for the cross of Christ" (Galatians 6:12). Far from being disgusted by it, Paul said that "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v. 14). Clearly, the cross still lived in the heart of Paul, defining his own relationship with the world. Of course, the world at large was disgusted at the cross, the vile and hated instrument of torture and execution. Paul even explicitly mentions this attitude as a key thing seperating the Christians from the rest of the world.

    "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel -- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:17-21).

    This is the "scandal of the cross" was ridiculous to the Greeks that Christians would think so highly of such a vile thing as a cross. Paul here even calls the message of the cross "the power of God", the power of the "cross of Christ". So the attitude of disgust towards the cross is something the Greeks and non-Christian Jews would have had -- the "enemies of the cross" for Paul -- but definitely not Paul himself...he wanted to even boast in the cross.

    The centrality of the cross for Paul, who already was turning the literal instrument of execution into a symbol of salvation, more than accounts for the early Christian attention to the cross and its depiction as a symbol in later centuries. As Christianity spread in the subsequent centuries, already existing symbolic uses of the same geometric shape likely contributed to the style and symbiology of the cross, but that does not make it the cross itself a "pagan borrowing" -- as it already was in place, as a symbol as early as Paul and the shape of the cross getting symbolic attention as early as the epistle of Barnabas. And here is the important point, already mentioned a few times already in the thread: the geometric shape of two intersecting lines is a VERY BASIC shape, so it is no surprise at all that it is used in iconography in religions all over the world -- the same is true with circles, triangles, and any other basic geometric shape. This use does not preclude the possibility of Christians also finding symbolic value in an execution instrument that also shares the same basic shape. And although this point isn't addressing anything in the post, it bears repeating that the execution instrument is not the same thing as a symbol -- the Romans did not execute Jesus on a symbol.

    The webpage linked in the post also has a lot of bad information, as well, such as the claim that the cross symbol was "associated with the Babylonian Goddess Tammuz". First of all, Tammuz was not a goddess, second, there is no evidence whatsoever that the symbol had anything to do with this deity. The claim comes from W. E. Vine (in a very poorly researched entry on "STAUROS"), who in turn depends on Alexander Hislop (both men were members of the Plymouth Brethren, and Bullinger was influenced by the Brethren as well), and the claim is based not on any real evidence but on one of Hislop's many imaginative identifications that rests on no real factual basis. Yet this claim is uncritically repeated ad nauseum by the Society and on the web. I will post more information on this later in this thread.

  • Leolaia

    I don't think this has been posted yet, but to give a historical view of the Society's argumentation on the subject, here is a very early statement on the matter:

    *** g35 11/4 p. 72 How the Cross Superstition Originated ***

    The Scriptures state that Jesus was nailed to a xylon (tree) or stauros (mistranslated "cross"), not to a T-shaped cross. The Brooklyn Union explains that "the cross did not become the symbol of Christianity until four centuries after the death of Christ". The original symbol was a composition of the Greek letters X, P, and I (chi, rho, and iota), representing the "Chri" of the word "Christ". Thus the device seen displayed so widely is all a humbug, historically.

    The Companion Bible, published by the Oxford University Press, contains an article proving that the form of the cross adopted by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy is really a form of worship of the Babylonian sun-god. Homer uses the word stauros to signify an ordinary stake or single piece of timber, and this is always the use of the word in the Greek classics. There is nothing in the Greek New Testament to even imply two pieces of timber. Constantine was a sun-god worshipper and did not become a "Christian" until a quarter of a century after he saw his alleged vision of the cross in the heavens. The fact that what he saw, and what was afterwards adopted by the Roman Catholic cult, was a pagan symbol is verified by coins of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar as well as by coins of the days of Constantine, and numerous scholars have borne united testimony to the fact that the Lord was put to death upon an upright stake, and not on two pieces of timber placed at any angle. Nothing taught by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy can be accepted as the truth.

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