Jesus may not have died on the cross, Christian scholar claims
Jesus may not have died nailed to the cross because there is no evidence that the Romans crucified prisoners two thousand years ago, a scholar has claimed.
The legend of his execution is based on the traditions of the Christian church and artistic illustrations rather than antique texts, according to theologian Gunnar Samuelsson.
He claims the Bible has been misinterpreted as there are no explicit references the use of nails or to crucifixion – only that Jesus bore a ‘staurus’ towards Calvary which is not necessarily a cross but can also mean a ‘pole’.
Mr Samuelsson, who has written a 400-page thesis after studying the original texts, said: ‘The problem is descriptions of crucifixions are remarkably absent in the antique literature.
‘The sources where you would expect to find support for the established understanding of the event really don’t say anything.’
The ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew literature from Homer to the first century AD describe an arsenal of suspension punishments but none mention ‘crosses’ or ‘crucifixion’.
Mr Samuelsson, of Gothenburg University, said: ‘Consequently, the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged.
‘And what’s even more challenging is the same can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. The New Testament doesn’t say as much as we’d like to believe.’
Any evidence that Jesus was left to die after being nailed to a cross is strikingly sparse – both in the ancient pre-Christian and extra-Biblical literature as well as The Bible.
He said: ‘The overwhelming number of texts only offer a noun “stauros” or a verb “anastauroun” or “anaskolopizein”. In almost every dictionary these terms are said to mean “cross” or “to crucify”.
‘But as I show in my thesis they are used in a much wider sense than that. The verbs refer to some kind of suspension of a human being – living or dead – while the noun refer to the suspension device used in such suspension.’
Mr Samuelsson, a committed Christian himself, admitted his claims are so close to the heart of his faith that it is easy to react emotionally instead of logically.
He said: ‘My question deals with the traditional understanding of the death of Jesus – that He carried a cross-beam toward Calvary, but since he could not stand the burden of the cross a passer-by was forced to carry it for him.
‘On Calvary the rest of the cross was awaiting, that the two parts were conjoined and Jesus was then nailed to the crucifix-like cross.
‘As a matter of fact these text are strikingly silent when it comes to depict the actual event. The texts say that Jesus carried a stauros, which has a much wider usage in antiquity than just referring to a “cross”, towards Calvary, to be “stauroun” – which is used in a much wider sense that just “to crucify”.
‘The text is silent about why Jesus carried a stauros, what that looked like – was it the whole execution tool or just a part such as the cross-beam – and why a passer-by was forced to carry it for Jesus.’
Mr Samuelsson said the actual execution texts do not describe how Christ was attached to the execution device.
He said: ‘This is the heart of the problem. The text of the passion narratives is not that exact and information loaded, as we Christians sometimes want it to be. If you are looking for texts that depict the act of nailing persons to a cross you will not find any beside the Gospels.’
Mr Samuelsson said: ‘That a man named Jesus existed in that part of the world and in that time is well-documented. He left a rather good foot-print in the literature of the time.
‘I do believe that the mentioned man is the son of God. My suggestion is not that Christians should reject or doubt the biblical text.
‘My suggestion is that we should read the text as it is, not as we think it is. We should read on the lines, not between the lines. The text of the Bible is sufficient. We do not need to add anything.’
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