Cross or stake as gibbet on which Jesus died

Cross or stake as gibbet on which Jesus died

Writers hold different views on the form of the gibbet used in the execution of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, and differ about the meaning of the Greek word "stauros" (σταυρός) which was used in the New Testament books to refer to it. [The same writer is sometimes quoted in favour of each of opposing views. Egon Brandenburger is reported as saying, somewhere on pages 391-403 of Volume I of "The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology" (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1975): "The New Testament word 'cross' is an incorrect translation of the Greek word stauros. The word "stauros" referred to any upright wooden stake firmly fixed in the ground. A stauros could serve a variety of purposes as, for example, a pole in a picket fence. The word stauros also represented a pointed stake used for impalement of human beings. This was an ancient form of punishment used to publicly display the bodies of executed criminals. [...] A tradition of the Church which our fathers have inherited, was the adoption of the words 'cross' and 'crucify'. These words are nowhere to be found in the Greek of the New Testament. These words are mistranslations, a later rendering, of the Greek words stauros and stauroo." Yet on page 391 he says (text quoted on [ this website] ): "Corresponding to the vb. ("stauroo") which was more common, "stauros" can mean a stake which was sometimes pointed on which an executed criminal was publicly displayed in shame as a further punishment. It could be used for hanging (so probably Diod. Sic., 2, 18, 2), impaling, or strangulation. "stauros" could also be an instrument of torture, perhaps in the sense of the Lat. "patibulum", a crossbeam laid on the shoulders. Finally it could be an instrument of execution in the form of a vertical stake and a crossbeam of the same length forming a cross in the narrower sense of the term. It took the form either of a T (Lat. crux commissa) or of a + (crux immissa)." And on page 392 he says (text quoted [ here] ): "It is most likely that the "stauros" had a transverse in the form of a crossbeam. Secular sources do not permit any conclusion to be drawn as to the precise form of the cross, as to whether it was the "crux immissa" (+) or "crux commissa "(T). As it was not very common to affix a "titlos" (superscription, loanword from the Lat. "titulus"), it does not necessarily follow that the cross had the form of a "crux immissa". There were two possible ways of erecting the "stauros". The condemned man could be fastened to the cross lying on the ground at the place of execution, and so lifted up on the cross. Alternatively, it was probably usual to have the stake implanted in the ground before the execution. The victim was tied to the crosspiece, and was hoisted up with the horizontal beam and made fast to the vertical stake. As this was the simpler form of erection, and the carrying of the crossbeam ("patibulum") was probably connected with the punishment for slaves, the "crux commissa" may be taken as the normal practice."]

[ "Easton's Bible Dictionary"] lists the forms in which such gibbets are represented::1. The crux simplex (I), a "single piece without transom".:2. The crux decussata (X), or St. Andrew's cross:3. The crux commissa (T), or St. Anthony's cross:4. The crux immissa (), or Latin cross


Of these forms, certain writers, notably Jehovah's Witnesses, accept for the gibbet on which Jesus died only the meaning "a pale, a strong stake, a wooden post." [Henry Dana Ward, "The History of the Cross", The Book Tree publ., 1871/1999, p. 52. Cf "The Gk. word for 'cross' (stauros; verb stauroō; Lat. crux, crucifigo, 'I fasten to a cross') means primarily an upright stake or beam, and secondarily a stake used as an instrument for punishment and execution. It is used in this latter sense in the NT."—Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H, "Cross, Crucifiction," "New Bible Dictionary", InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove 1996, c1982, c1962, p. 245]

The Greek terms used in the New Testament of this gibbet are "stauros" (") was used with reference to a cross composed of an upright and a crossbeam. [ [ Stromata, book VI, chapter XI] ] Crosses of or Τ shape were in use, even in Palestine, at the time of Jesus. [See, below, quotations from Seneca the Younger, Josephus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the information on the skeleton of a man crucified in Palestine around A.D. 70.]


The words used, in the New Testament and in Early Christian times, to refer to what Jesus died on were:::* "Σταυρός" ("stauros")::* "Ξύλον" ("xylon")::* "Crux"

People employed each of these words (the first two in Greek, the third in Latin) with more than one meaning. Accordingly, no conclusion can be drawn from the words "in themselves". Nor is the authority of standard lexicons of Greek and Latin decisive for those who hold a different view: for instance, those who believe that Jesus died on a stake do not accept the attribution, by the standard lexicographical work of the Greek language, of the meaning "cross", rather than "stake", to the word " for the horizontal crossbeam (the "patibulum") used in Roman crucifixions; he describes how the hands of the condemned man were tied to it ("χεῖρας ἀποτείναντες ἀμφοτέρας [...] προσδήσαντες") for him to be whipped while being led to the place of execution. [Since Greek did not have a specific word for what in Latin was called the patibulum, it seems possible that the crossbeam is what is meant by the word " and : "The Spirit saith to the heart of Moses, that he should "make a type of the cross and of Him that was to suffer", that unless, saith He, they shall set their hope on Him, war shall be waged against them for ever. Moses therefore pileth arms one upon another in the midst of the encounter, and standing on higher ground than any "he stretched out his hands", and so Israel was again victorious." [ [ Epistle of Barnabas, 12:2-3] ]

econd century generic use of the words

The mid-second-century diviner Artemidorus spoke of crucifixion as something that occurred on a cross that had breadth as well as height: "Since he is a criminal, he will be crucified "in his height and in the extension of his hands"." ["κακούργος δὲ ὦν σταυρωθήσεται διὰ τὸ ὕψος καὶ τὴν τῶν χειρῶν ἔκτασιν" (Oneirocritica 1:76)]

Lucian of Samosata (121-180) describes the crucifixion of the mythical Prometheus by nailing him to a precipice on the Caucasus "with his hands outstretched ( was a foreshadowing (a "type") of the cross (T, an upright with crossbar, standing for 300) and of Jesus (ΙΗ, the first two letter of his name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, standing for 18). [ [ Stromata, book VI, chapter XI] ]

For other second-century instances of the use of the cross, in its familiar form, as a Christian symbol, see the references in the [ Jewish Encyclopedia article on the cross:] :The cross as a Christian symbol or "seal" came into use at least as early as the second century (see "Apost. Const." iii. 17; Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, "Apologia," i. 55-60; "Dial. cum Tryph." 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons (Tertullian, "De Corona," iii.; Cyprian, "Testimonies," xi. 21-22; Lactantius, "Divinæ Institutiones," iv. 27, and elsewhere). Accordingly the Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may be learned from Tertullian, "Apologia," xii., xvii., and Minucius Felix, "Octavius," xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the cross (see Apocalypse of Mary, viii., in James, "Texts and Studies," iii. 118).


It is disputed whether the Alexamenos graffito was intended as mockery of Christian veneration of a crucified Christ. This earliest surviving pictorial representation of a crucifixion shows a cross, not a stake, as the gibbet. It may be as late as the third century (though well before the time of Constantine), but some have posited for it a date as early as 85.

In his article "Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar" published in the Israel Exploration Journal in 1970, N. Haas of the Department of Anatomy at Hebrew University, writes of the remains of a man crucified around A.D. 70 as showing that the two-beam cross was in use in Palestine in the first century: "The whole of our interpretation concerning the position of the body on the cross may be described briefly as follows: The feet were joined almost parallel, both transfixed by the same nail at the heels, with the legs adjacent; the knees were doubled, the right one overlapping the left; the trunk was contorted; "the upper limbs were stretched out, each stabbed by a nail in the forearm"." [ [ Joe Zias, "Crucifixion in Antiquity - The Evidence"] ]


ee also

Cross in Christian Art

External links

* "Catholic Answers" Web site: [ "Cross or Stake?"]
* "Expository Times", February 1973 volume IXXXIV No. 6, [ "An Archeological Note on Crucifixion"] , at [ PBS Web site] .
* "Awake!", Jehovah's Witnesses' magazine, April 2006: " [ "The Bible's Viewpoint: Did Jesus Really Die on a Cross?"]
* "Watchers of the Watch Tower World" Web site: [ "The facts on crucifixion, stauros and the "torture stake"]
* John Denham Parsons, " [ The Non-Christian Cross —An Enquiry into the Origin and History of the Symbol Eventually Adopted as that of Our Religion] ", London, 1896, downloadable book at [ Project Gutenberg]

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