(Part 5d of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)
What sort of gear was the instrument of Jesus' execution?
I am treating the four gospels as separate, and then will harmonize the whole lot, to see what differences come up.
Previously I looked at the “Biblical Evidences” in Mark, Matthew and Luke, and inn each case came to the conclusion that the instrument of Jesus’ execution could not be determined because different possible types could match its functions as described in predictions beforehand and by the prior meaning of the Greek verb that was used to denote “crucify”.
I am going into Acts here because it's the second half of a double volume dubbed Luke-Acts by New Testament scholars through their consensus.
At the start of this “history,” which is more like a Greek Romance, in which the author informs Theophilus that he is to pick up where he left off, at the Ascension. Acts contain several passages, which are tidbits withing speeches or retorts that may inform us on the manner of the method of Jesus' suspension.
D.1. Peter addreses the crowd.
The first passage occurs in Acts 2:14-36: Peter addresses the crowd from the Upper Room where 120 disciples were (assuming they cold all fit!) and the Holy Ghost descended upon them all with tongues of fire on top of their heads and the whole lot of them speaking in tongues, by which Jews from every nation of the Eastern Hemisphere to whence they had dispersed and from which they had made their Pilgrimage for Pentecost. Someone dismisses the goings-on, claiming they were drunk and Peter says, No so! and starts to tell them exactly why they, the 120, were creating such a scene.
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men*, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
* or men who have not the law, that is, the Torah.Acts 2:22-24 NIV
Now what did those wicked Jews with the help of men not given the Torah do? In verse 23, "[you] put him to death by nailing him to the cross" The phrase is in the Greek, προσπήξαντες ἀνείλατε: "having fixed [stuck in, planted, fastened, joined, connected,] on [towards, besides, on, at, by, besides, engagement or connection with], you did away with him [lifted him on high]." Nota bene: if one were to remove προσ- "on the side of, in the direction of" from προσπήξαντες, one ends up with πήξαντες, an aorist active participle conjugate of πήγνυμι, "stick or fix in, plant, pitch [a tent], stick fast, stick or fix on or upon, impale**, be bent upon, be immovable or fixed, fasten together, fit together, build, join or put together, make solid or stiff, freeze, curdle, gongeal, make oneself [cheese], crystallize, petrify, strike dumb, establish, etc." A wide variety of meanings of which the relevant ones would boil down to "nail to [something], impale on [something]." But what something? Although Strong's defines the word προσπήγνυμι as "impale (on a cross)," Peter does not tell us what the gear of Jesus' execution was at all!
** Martin Hengel recognises πήγνυμι as an impalement verb for penal bodily suspension (Crucifixion 1977 ed., p. 69, n. 1).
Maybe we can define that gear by figuring out what "with the help of wicked men" actually is in the Greek. Obviously, it is translated in the English to imply the Roman authorities. But what does it actually say? The Greek phrase is, ἔκδοτον διὰ χειρὸς ἀνόμων "betrayed [given up] through [by, by the agency of, by the unassisted agency of] lawless [impious] hands." Well who did the betraying in the Gospels? Judas Iscariot of course! (Mark 14:43-46; Matt 26:14-16, 47-50; Luke 22: 47-48; John 18:1-3). So we have the Jews being the beneficiary of the help of the wicked hands of Judas Iscariot! In that all four gospels are in perfect agreement.
Okay, what about the Romans? We know that in Luke 23:1-25, Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, who fobbed him off to Herod [Antipas], who sent him back to Pilate. And then Pilate says to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, i.e., the Jewish elites in Jerusalem, that neither he nor Herod found no basis for their charges. But they kept demanding for his death, screaming "Crucify, crucify him! (Σταύρου, σταύρου αὐτόν = Pile-drive, pile-drive him! [Fence with pales, fence him with pales! (!!!!)])" So in the end he gave into their demands and he, Pilate, surrendered Jesus into their will (δὲ Ἰησοῦν παρέδωκεν τῷ θελήματι αὐτῶν = And Jesus he betrayed [handed, gave, or delivered over, surrendered, gave up] to the will of them"). The Latin has: Iesum vero tradidit voluntati eorum = "Jesus he certainly surrendered [gave up, handed over, delivered, transmitted, consigned, surrendered treacherously] to the will of them". And what squalid scene do we have next? The same Jewish elites who demanded his death, muscle Jesus up to Golgotha, forcing Simon of Cyrene to carry his pole, and do the dirty work of crucifying [hanging and pile-driving, impaling and/or fencing] Jesus themselves. Then the Roman soldiers show up in verse 36. That's how Luke 23 is written in the Greek, Latin and English. So here Pilate's actions conform to ἔκδοτον διὰ χειρὸς ἀνόμων = "betrayed by the unassisted agency of lawless [impious] hands."
Yet we are supposed to believe that Luke is having Peter tell us the impious hands are those of the soldiers, and not of Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate (only). This is what happens when you interpret Acts by a harmonized sense of the gospels, and not treating each one separate. Deceitful Christians!
Peter goes on with his speech interspersed with two passages commonly believed to be written by King David -- (Septuagint, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1) -- and goes on to say King David is still dead and buried and they could visit his tomb, and claims that King David was talking about Jesus Christ:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Acts 2:36 NIV
And what does the author of Acts use for "whom you crucified?" He uses the Greek, ὃν ὑμεῖς ἐσταυρώσατε "whom you fenced with pales [pile-drove, impaled]" which is how σταυρόω would be interpreted without any sense of crucifixion (except by a "fencing with pales", or a pile-driving, i.e., impalement with a stake) unless Acts was written after the turn of the Second Century CE, perhaps well after.
D.2. Peter and John are called before the Sanhedrin.
In Acts 3, Peter and John create a scene at the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem by magically healing somebody and at the beginning of Chapter 4 they are hauled into the Sanhedrin.
And in Peter's short defense speech, he says flatly,
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
Acts 4:10 NIV
Here, the Greek for "crucified" is, again, ἐσταυρώσατε = "you fenced with pales [pile-drove, impaled]." That would be the earlier meanings that inform crucifixion under this verb. Again, nothing here about nailing to a cross!
D.3. The Apostles are again reprimanded by the Sanhedrin.
In chapter 4 of this tale the Sanhedrin adjured Peter and John not to preach in Jesus' name. Since this is a story of heroism, the two naturally disobeyed and so they are dragged in again! The Sanhedrin are angry with them and the High Priest says to them,
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Acts 5:28 NIV
To which Peter and the others reply,
29 “We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree."
Acts 5:29, 30 NIV
Now here, the verbiage is different The Greek for "whom you killed by hanging him on a tree" reads: ὃν ὑμεῖς διεχειρίσασθε κρεμάσαντες ἐπὶ ξύλου = "whom you killed, having hanged him on a tree." The word is κρεμάσαντες, an aorist active participle of the verb κρεμάννυμι, "to hang or suspend (by any means)." According to the rabbinical code in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 6:4) the method of hanging was this:
A post is sunk into the ground with a beam protruding from it [at the top]. He places his hands together, one over the other and hangs him. Rabbi Yose says: The post is leaned against the wall, and he hangs him in the manner that butchers do. He is immediately untied [and let down].
Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6:4, eMishnah.com
"In the manner that butchers do" would have been with the wrists apart, with ropes. But this is, according to the same section in M. Sanhedrin, strictly for post-mortem hangings! Hanging alive could have been in a different manner entirely. It could have been by tying to a tree with ropes, nailing to a simple cross, or in the manner that the Roman government did, or in the manner of Ezra 6:11: impaled with a stake and lifted on high, and smitten by it. In fact, the Hebrew for "hang upon a tree" (תָּלָה עַל־ עֵֽץ) (talah 'al 'etz) throughout the Hebrew bible / Old Testament is translated into the Greek as (conjugates of) κρεμάννυμι ἐπὶ ξύλου and in the 1985 JPS Translation of the Tanakh as "impale on a stake," as I have shown in Impalements in Antiquity (3A). And David W. Chapman in Ancient Jewish and Christians Perspectives of Crucifixion hints that the Jews routinely hanged people alive, when legally warranted in the manner that the Roman government did. Which is NOT how it is shown in Church, or in all that Christian art and all those Hollywood films!
So here we still don't have a clear understanding what the gear of Jesus' execution was.
D.4 The conversion of the centurion, Cornelius Quoteright.
Okay, that last word is a tongue-in-cheek reference to an error at scripturetext.com. ;^)
This whole entire chapter is devoted to the interaction of Peter who is at Simon the Tanner's house in Joppa (present-day Yafo). He has a vision of vile, unclean animals on an enormous sheet and the LORD says to Peter, "Get up and eat," three times. Each time Peter protests and the LORD says to do it anyway and so he does. Then when he is thinking about the dream, the Centurion's servant-couriers, sent for Peter, arrive at Simon the Tanner's house after driving down from Caesarea Maritima along Israel Route 2 and fighting traffic along the Ayalon South and through the streets of Yafo ;^) (Ha, ha, ha! I'm mixing time periods 2,000 years apart here!) and ask that Peter accompanies him back home. He goes with them, and they all proceed north, fighting traffic again ;^) (okay, horse-and-chariot traffic), and finally get back to Caesarea. And Peter gives a gospel speech about Jesus Christ. Jumping ahead to verse 39:
39 We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
Acts 10:39-40 NIV
Now who kills Jesus in this yarn? The Jews. And how do they do it? By hanging him on a tree (κρεμάσαντες ἐπὶ ξύλου). Here we encounter the same exact verbiage that we encountered in Acts 5:29. The same uncertanties apply.
D.5. Paul's angry lecture in Pisidian Antioch.
Now this chapter involves the First Missionary Journey of Saint Paul. First as Saul he goes to Cyprus, where he rebukes a certain Jewish "sorcerer and false prophet" named Elymas bar-Jesus (or Elymas bar-Yeshu: even the Greek texts indicate one or the other). He picks up the name Paul from the local Proconsul Sergius Paulus without so much as a thank-you (this is the location his name became Paul) and proceeds to Pisidian Antioch. There he sits down in one of the seats at the local Synagogue. And when one of the leaders of the synagogue, after the readings of selected passages from the Torah and the Nevi'im were finished, asks Paul if he would like to give a word of encouragement to his fellow Jews. And what a word of encouragement it was! He immediately goes into a diatribe, essentially picking up where Saint Stephen the Martyr left off. And he doesn't take long in getting around to the life of Jesus and condemning the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem for it. He has this to say:
27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
Acts 13:27-29 NIV
Now here Paul says the instrument of Jesus' execution was some kind of "tree" for he said "After they had carried out all that was written (ὡς δὲ ἐτέλεσαν πάντα τὰ περὶ αὐτοῦ γεγραμμένα = but when they carried out [fullfilled, accomplished, executed, performed (i.e., did the dirty work)] all that was written about him), they took him down from the tree (καθελόντες ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου = having taken down [pulled down, deposed , dethroned , fetched down as a prize or booty] from the tree [gallows, beam, stake]), and put him in a tomb (ἔθηκαν εἰς μνημεῖον = they placed [laid, put] into a tomb).
So we still have the uncertainty that we had encountered in Acts 2:23, 5:29-30 and 13:39-40, especially so here in Acts because the Greek verbiage is (a) just as congruent for impaling the criminal on the ground and lifting him on high so he may be smitten by the pale, and (b) the hanging on a tree business is now interpreted and accepted by (at least parts of) the Jewish community as impaling on a stake, and could have been and probably as such, or as whatever the Romans did, by the Second Temple Jewish community.
And so here is where I draw my conclusions on what Acts is saying about the gear of Jesus' execution:
- It was designed so one could lifted up, either onto it or by it, or by one of its constituent parts.
- It was designed so that one was fastened to it or fixed on/by it.
- It was designed so that one could hang on it.
- It was designed so that people had to take the body down in order to remove the body from it.
- The use of σταυρόω indicates that a "fencing with pales", or a "pile driving (impalement)" is going on, or both.
It appears the gear of Jesus' execution would be:
- An impaling stake.
- An ordinary pole with a blunted, smoothed spike that the condemned had to sit on.
- A two-beam or two-pole cross with or without the same kind of spike.
- An overhead beam supported on two poles, from which the condemned hanged, with or without a stake in the middle, on which the victim would be impaled.
And another conclusion:
This was all supposed to happen when Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judaea (after 18 to 36 CE). Which means he and he alone would have had the ius gladii, the supreme legal power including the power of the sword, which was taken from the Judaean authorities in 6 CE. Which means, of course, that the execution of Jesus by the Jews in Luke-Acts isn't historical, it isn't true, it's just astounding Anti-Semitic rubbish.
Hat tip to Kenneth Humphries. ;^)
Next and last up: John.