Sunday, June 27, 2010

How Exactly Did Jesus Die? Gunnar Samuelsson, of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, recently finished his doctoral thesis on the topic.

As early as I can remember I recall seeing the pictures of Jesus in various forms along with statues showing him on a cross. But even as I child I was puzzled as to how ones body could be made to hold itself in such a position. To me it didn't seem possible. And before you discount this child you should understand that there were several subjects that I was rather gifted at in school and science was one of them. Straight A's from my youngest years and onto college.

Years later I would do my own research into the death of Jesus and like Gunnar Samuelsson, through careful reading of the Greek text I would see that Jesus Christ did not die on a cross but on a pole ("stauros") and it was that discovery that would help to formulate my understanding of the Gospels. Flashforward to 2010 and a thesis by Gunnar Samuelsson is getting some major attention - why so?

The episode of Jesus’ crucifixion is based more on traditions of the Christian church and artistic illustrations than antique texts, says a Swedish researcher.

“The problem is that descriptions of crucifixions are remarkably absent in the antique literature,” Gunnar Samuelsson, of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who recently finished his doctoral thesis on the topic, said.

He added: “The sources where you would expect to find support for the established understanding of the event really don’t say anything.”

The 400-page thesis offers the reader samples of antiquity’s most terrifying texts and gives examples of mankind’s amazing resourcefulness in terms of mind-boggling cruelty against fellow human beings.

Samuelsson has studied the available ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic literature all the way from Homer to the first century A.D.

While the texts indicate a vast arsenal of suspension punishments, they do not say much about the kind of punishment the Christian tradition claims Jesus was forced to endure.

The thesis clearly shows that although the studied texts are full of references to suspension of objects and the equipment used to this end, no reference is made to ‘crosses’ or ‘crucifixion’.

When the Gospels refer to the death of Jesus, they just say that he was forced to carry a "stauros" out to Calvary." Many scholars have interpreted that ancient Greek noun as meaning "cross," and the verb derived from it, "anastauroun," as implying crucifixion. But during his three-and-a-half-year study of texts from around 800 BC to the end of the first century AD, Samuelsson realized the words had more than one defined meaning.

“Consequently, the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged. And what’s even more challenging is that 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,” said Samuelsson.

"'Stauros' is actually used to describe a lot of different poles and execution devices," he says. "So the device described in the Gospels could have been a cross, but it could also have been a spiked pole, or a tree trunk, or something entirely different." In turn, "anastauroun" was used to signify everything from the act of "raising hands to suspending a musical instrument."

The manner in which Jesus died is further thrown into question by Samuelsson's discovery that crucifixion may have been an unusual form of punishment in the Roman Empire. Descriptions of crucifixions contained in the thousands of Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Greek manuscripts he examined most commonly referred to dead prisoners being placed on some form of suspension device, or living captives skewered on stakes. The first century Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, for example, wrote about seeing a great many prisoners of war on "crosses" after one campaign. But the scribe then describes how a large number of the dead had been impaled.

"If you search for ancient texts that specifically mention the act of crucifixion [as we understand it today]" he says, "you will end up with only two or three examples." He also points out that the actual execution texts do not describe how Christ was attached to the execution device.

That revelation stands in stark contrast to claims that appear in many books on the historical Jesus, as well as more general surveys of life under Roman rule, which state that prisoners were routinely nailed to crosses. (The Encylopaedia Britannica, for example, says crucifixion was an "important method of capital punishment" in Rome.)

“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,” The Telegraph quoted Samuelsson, as saying.

“If you are looking for texts that depict the act of nailing persons to a cross you will not find any beside the Gospels.”

Samuelsson added: “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.” (ANI)

In conclusion should we really be surprised of the latest discovery or note in history? Not really. One need only get a copy of the Catholic Encyclopedia to see that many of the things that they teach as doctrines are actually pagan celebrations to the Gods. Need I remind you of Easter & Christmas?

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