Turns Out the Cross is Made Up

July 5, 2010

It seems maybe Jesus didn’t die on a cross.

Yep.  Apparently, we kind of flubbed that fact.  At least that’s what Gunnar Samuelsson is saying.  He thinks there’s no evidence of crosses or nails being used for executions in Roman times, and we just assume that when the Bible says “crucifixion” it means “on a cross.”

That’s one I didn’t expect.  I would’ve thought that a notorious method of executing criminals and enemies of the state would be well known and rather indisputable.  People have debated since the Monday after whether Jesus actually came out of the grave.  But I’ve never heard of anyone arguing that he didn’t died on a cross.  Thing is, this guy is a Christian.  He says that Jesus was in fact executed by the Romans…just not on a cross.  He just thinks we should stop “reading between the lines” in the Bible and read what it really says. 

While my first reaction to the guy was, “Cram it, Captain know-it-all,” I thought of three slightly better reactions to this news.

What else have we gotten wrong?

This is an obvious one.  When someone starts picking apart something you take for granted, it kind of opens up Pandora’s box.  When I found out Santa might not be literally factual, I immediately shouted at my parents, “I suppose the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are all lies too!”  My world came crashing down that day.

It would be a real shock if the cross is made up.  The Episcopalians and Catholics wouldn’t know what to do with their hands.  Think of all the homies wearing their giant gold crosses on chains that reach their crotches.  They’d sure look ridiculous and phony, now that the cross is certifiably made-up!  Then there’s The Passion of the Christ, and every other Jesus movie, relegated to status of “cute relic of a more innocent time” status.  Not to mention the Jesus fish people would corner the market of Christian symbols.  With no competing Jesus symbols, the market for Christian regalia would plunge into a socialist style dystopia.  You can have any symbol of Jesus you want…as long as it’s a fish.  I don’t want to live in that world.

But most troubling would be the thought of what else is right under our noses in the Bible that we’ve just misinterpreted?  It could be something small.  Perhaps Peter wasn’t a fisherman, but a British shoeshine.  “G’day, gov-na!  Shine ya shoes fer a sixpence!”  Not a huge deal, but it makes you think.  Maybe we’ve misread something important.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  People used to think when Moses came off the mountain with God, he radiated with “horns.”  Charming.  They later found their mistake.  Turns out it was “light.”  The correct answer was “light.” 

Why did we get it wrong?

If the cross never existed, why would we think it did?  Was it just a cosmic, centuries-long game of telephone, where the original word was “post” and we got “cross” by the time the game was over?  Or was it more sinister?  The Romans could’ve killed people in any number of ways.  But some of them were more memorable than others.  Maybe the Romans fancied hanging people on streetlamps or Burger King signs.  Maybe they made prisoners sit in comfy chairs, like during the Spanish Inquisition.  If the Romans weren’t that good at killing people in memorable ways, maybe some monk with a flair for showmanship decided Jesus’ death needed more pizazz.  Maybe by the time the Tower of London was in business, people were desensitized to violence and needed a bit more gore in their Bibles just to keep their attention.

I’m willing to admit that the Bible isn’t very graphic when it comes to the actual crucifixion.  But I’m also not willing to take him at his word that there’s no evidence of crosses being used to execute hundreds of people in public.  Still, if we did get it wrong, it would be a pretty big, “Why?”

Does this really matter?

I don’t like to think about this.  I don’t like to think that something that seems so basic might not have happened the way we think it did.  I mean, we already know that virtually all Hollywood portrayals don’t quite capture the crucifixion in its reality.  But if the cross never really existed, would it really matter?  These days, it’s hard to imagine that people really believed that Moses had horns or that the Earth was the center of the universe, and to believe otherwise made you a heretic.  It’s hard to imagine, but I don’t want to be laughed at a hundred years from now because I believe in the cross like a simpleton.

But really, does a piece of wood have any significance?  Does God change if the shape of the cross changes?

The question does matter because we’ve believed it so long, it would call the rest of our beliefs into question…for a while.  But then I suppose we’d get over it.  We’ve gotten over a bunch of other things, like not being the center of the universe, or being the only planet.  But then again, it would make us all look like morons, and it could be the final stake in the coffin for Christianity in an increasingly skeptical world.

What do you think?  Would it matter to you, beyond personal sentimental feelings?  Or does the rest of the Bible rise or fall on the cross?

33 responses to Turns Out the Cross is Made Up

  1. don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there was no cross, that it was in fact a tree…not like a cross cut out of wood from a tree…but that Jesus was nailed to an actual tree.

    and no i don’t think it matters. i don’t think what Jesus died on, or how he died, changes anything. he died and he rose. for me that’s the important part.

  2. I’ve thought about this and personally it doesn’t matter. I mean, yes, I’ve grown up with the sentimental feeling that the cross saves, Jesus died on a cross, etc, etc. But does the architecture of the wooden structure take away from the saving power of Jesus Christ? If so, then we’re in a lot of trouble.

    Plus, Moses put a snake on a pole for people to look at and be head when they were bitten by the snakes. If would make sense if Jesus himself was lifted on a pole of the same.

    Even still, when Jesus talked to Nicodemus he told him, “Just as Moses lifted the snake up, so is the Son of Man going to be lifted up as well.” I don’t see Jesus getting caught up in the cross versus the pole ordeal.

    To me, it doesn’t matter. But I know who it will matter to. People who use the picture of the chromosome Lamin (sp?) to prove that Jesus holds all things together. (Lamin looks like a cross fyi)

    • I think that Laminin thing is silly.

      I first heard it and thought “well, that’s an interesting shape, but definitely don’t think it’s necessarily a ‘sign from God’ or anything”. I do know a lot of people that really almost rely on it though…

      There are a lot of other things shaped like crosses too…haha

  3. Jesus died for our sins. Was it a cross? I’m a simpleton and think so but if it wasn’t it doesn’t matter because Jesus still died for our sins.

    What in the world would be our new symbol if the cross wasn’t true?

    Also shouldn’t we know from history whether or not Romans used the cross for executions?

  4. No, it won’t matter to me whether or not it was actually a cross, though it does raise some questions about what else has been handed down as fact that might not be so.

    Personally, I have never worn a cross necklace/t-shirt/etc. for a few reasons – death on a cross would be painful and I don’t like pain, so I have no need to glorify it. Also, to me Jesus’ death isn’t the center of the story (everyone dies) his resurrection is, but empty tombs don’t translate well into jewelry or pictures on tees.

  5. It doesn’t matter to me. It could have been a tree, the first Christmas tree. Who gives a flying Epistle?

    What matters is that Jesus is alive. Our faith in not “in” the Bible or the antique texts. It is “in” Jesus Christ alone. Our personal testimony should not be based on scholarship, but on the very fact that we know, that we know, that we know Jesus is alive. If we don’t, we are in big trouble.

    So, did the Red Sea really part? Or did the entire Egyptian Army drown in a few feet of water as the tide came? I mean, this wasn’t the Bay of Fundy (Not the name of a church.)!

    Are symbols important? Not really – I mean is Jesus a white guy with blue eyes and long hair? What if the disciples used a Cigarette boat to cross the Sea of Galilee? Well, I guess there are two symbols that are important. The bread and the wine. Otherwise we’d have communion with Coke and potato chips.

    What matters is that we are out there preaching the Gospel of Salvation, loving our enemies, wives and neighbors, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Signs and wonders are much better than symbols, don’t you think? I mean if your grama got healed of cancer, isn’t that a better witness than a cross on chain?

  6. I doubt that it matters.

    But that’s much harder to say from the perspective of anyone who likes to employ a “slippery slope” style argument to…well…anything.

  7. It doesn’t matter to me. As already said, i believe in Jesus & the truth of his story. Although, i’m not sure i believe that “a cross” is not a historical fact.

    Sometimes i think we need to be shaken up. I think most of the Pauline texts about repressing women are often taken out of context. Some people hold rigidly to certain doctrine. If it were shown to be flawed, i think it might shatter their faith. Other folks have faith that is more fluid & able to withstand questions better.

    Frankly, the pastor at our last church would probably be devastated. Tho he probably wouldn’t believe the revision. He seemed to hold the cross such a standard there were times i wondered if he worshiped the cross (& the KJV of the Bible) as much as he did the Trinity. I don’t know, but i suspect he may have been struggling with doubt, & as time went on he seemed to get more & more rigid about church doctrine, & the “trappings” of faith.

  8. I don’t think it should matter to those of us who are already followers of Christ, but it’s a heck of a lousy witness to everyone else if we have read between the lines for 2,000 years. Much like your Easter Bunny analogy, it would be easy for non-believers to assume we made everything else up, too.

    I don’t think we have read between the lines though, because Paul – who was around during this period – said that Christ “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

    I wonder sometimes if we haven’t turned the cross into a graven image, but I think as long as it’s what the cross represents and not the cross itself that we look at, that’s not an issue. Protestants use the symbolism of an empty cross instead of a crucifix to symbolize that the story doesn’t end there, and that Jesus was resurrected. Whether it’s a cross or a crucifix, it reminds us of the price that was paid for us. Perhaps we shouldn’t need reminders, but it seems that we do.

  9. If He didn’t die on the cross, this would make me wonder what was meant when he said “pick up your cross and follow Me”. Because, I think like most, I’ve looked at this under the light the He died on a cross. So….is the word “cross” in that portion of scripture also misinterpreted?

  10. Before we dismiss this and say it really doesn’t matter, let’s remember…

    -Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

    -Jesus dragged a cross up a hill.

    -A man named Simon literally carried Jesus’s cross when it was too heavy for Him.

    -The mockers told Jesus to save Himself and come down from the cross.

    -Pilate made a sign and hung it on a cross.

    -John and Jesus’s mother and other women stood by a cross as Jesus spoke to them.

    -Paul later talks about how if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead, the cross is “of no effect.”

    And these are just examples I can think of. Granted, I haven’t read Gunnar’s perspective, but it seems to me that he’ll have to pull a lot of interpretive shenanigans to take the cross out of Christianity.

    So does it really, really matter? Perhaps not. But it does matter insofar as it erodes what the Scripture actually says.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  11. It’s a shocking proposition, to be sure. I’m not sure I buy it, but I cling to Christ and not to a hunk of wood. It makes no difference in the scheme of things.

    I did follow the link and read the original article, and I found his ideas about the act of nailing the person to [whatever instrument of execution he thinks it was] to be ambiguous. It seems in one place he argues that there is no evidence for the use of nails anywhere, but then he says that the Bible does say it, but says it wrongly. This could simply be the fault of the article’s author, and not of the scholar himself, or it could be that I’m misreading it. However, Thomas did specifically refer to the imprint of nails in Christ’s body. Unless several someones blatantly mis-read the original text when translating, (what could it have meant instead?), then I’m pretty sure there were nails involved.

    Oh yeah, and Paul says that our death sentence was “nailed to the cross” with Christ. Was he also confused? I’m pretty sure he was alive during Roman crucifixion times…

    References: John 20:25 and Colossians 2:14

  12. As others have pointed out there are several references to the CROSS (and not just CRUCIFIXION) in the Bible.

    For believers, I don’t think it should matter if He died on a Cross, a tree or whatever. Because what matters is He died and rose again. However, I definitely think it would be very difficult for non-believers to grasp and new believers to understand. Like your Easter Bunny example, if that’s not true, then what else isn’t?

  13. But did the Father rise again! LOL!

  14. Velvet Elvis

    • Can I ask what you mean by this? I’m asking because I’ve never read the book but have heard some things about it, and if the author takes issue with the cross I would be interested to know why.

  15. You’ve got me on this one.

    I think the importance of Christ is as other’s have said, that He died for our sins.

    We can nitpick over details — but the truth for every Christian is in the power of His sacrifice, not the way in which it happened — and as none of us were there, none of us can ‘prove’ it happened one way or the other.

    isn’t that what faith is all about?

  16. Meh…

    Sorry to be cynical, but I get so tired of people focusing on stuff like this. I know it’s a big deal, but still.

    Frank Miles said, “I think what went wrong with Christianity is exactly like what happens when you try to get your dog to look at something on TV. Jesus pointed to God, and everybody just stared at his finger.”

  17. Thanks for posting this. I agree with those above who say that ultimately, what matters is that Jesus died for us. I would need to see a lot of hard evidence to convince me on this, though. Lots of food for thought here.

  18. I’m with Katdish on this one. If Jesus had chosen this time he might have died by firing squad, or electric chair, or lethal injection, or beheading. It’s the fact that he cared enough for us to do it in the first place and rise again that’s amazing. I personally have never been a big fan of wearing crosses … just like I wouldn’t wear a little rifle, electric chair, needle or sword around if it was a more modern method.

  19. I did some research – here is the Greek:

    Strong’s Number G4716 matches the Greek σταυρός (stauros), which occurs 28 times in 28 verses in the Greek concordance of the KJV.

    http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4716&t=KJV

    And here is a link to some footnoted research, as opposed to Gunnar’s literary whimsy.

    http://www.bible.ca/d-history-archeology-crucifixion-cross.htm

    I alos read the Gospel of John today. So what nail holes was it that Thomas put his finger in? JOhn 20:24.

    The more I thnk about it, Gunnar Samuelsson is a dope.

  20. I think it matters. The cross signifies how horrible his death would have been to take the whole world’s sin, the wrath of God on his shoulders for us. It makes us thankful that we don’t have to face that cross.

    http://www.konnections.com/kcundick/crucifix.html

  21. I read some of the above comments and disagree…it DOES matter how He died. I included a link on my previous comment. There is proof. How would you sum up the wrath of God poured on a person’s soul? A firing squad? So easy. We take God for granted sometimes speaking mushy, milky talk of God like He’s no bigger than our pinky and portable to carry around with us like our laptops. We go to him last in illness and in times of trial because we think we have the power to change things. We read the stories of the parting of the red sea, but do we really believe it? Do we really believe he can come in and do the same in our day and age?

    I do because I have seen it in my own life–unexplainable things, miracles that happened because I stepped back, trusted him, and prayed. If we diminish his death, what kind of sacrafice was it really?

    Like something I read says, a man asked his congregation to meet him on a mountain and pray for rain that day. When the congregation showed up, he looked at them in disgust, and walked away saying, “you didn’t bring an umbrella.”

  22. I had a couple from a different religious group knock on my door one day. I invited them in and began the talk with my typical, “I’m a Bible believing Christian. My faith rests on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring me redemption and back into relationship with God. What are you selling?”

    They assured me that my Bible was full of errors. Intrigued, I asked for an example.

    “Well,” they replied. “Jesus didn’t die on a cross. It was a stake.”

    “Let’s say I give that to you. What difference does it make?”

    They told me that I asked deep questions and left shortly thereafter. I haven’t seen them since, which is sad because I like learning about what other people believe and why.

    ~Luke

  23. I couldn’t care less, honestly. I think focusing on the fact that he HAD to die on two pieces of wood stuck together at right angles is kind of missing the point…he suffered, he died, he rose. I think you’re right in pointing out that this wouldn’t be the first time the church has gotten a detail wrong, if it is indeed wrong. The church has survived those incidences; I know it can survive this. I think it would be really sad if people got hung up on this issue…

  24. Dude – rockstar post!!!! Awesome. The real problem I have with Christians such as the Cramming-Captain-know-it-all who sparked your blog, is that seem to give no thought to the potential ripple effect of their musings. It’s very similar to a lot of the early church fathers who developed “Higher Criticism” which is little more than theological rug-pulling that ultimately shipwrecks the faith of others. Again, great post!
    Tor Constantino recently posted..I Want to Hear From You!!!

  25. Gah, stuff like this makes my head hurt. There is a clear indication in the Bible that Jesus was nailed to a cross. It uses that word, it describes him carrying his own cross, it talks about the Romans nailing him. In fact many have tried to say this is proof that the account was made up, since they didn’t have evidence of nails being used in crucifixions. Of course that proves the second part wrong as well, Romans were noted as having used this method of execution.

    Oh, and one more little bit, archeologists have found evidence of mass criminal graves, some of which include nails in the wrists and ankles with bits of wood attached still. This supports the statement in the Bible that Jesus was nailed the cross despite claims against it.
    Nick the Geek recently posted..Love Wins, but maybe I’m wrong

  26. I’d suggest that the most important issue is that we need to figure out what we are really believing in and trusting in. Christ is our one and only foundation. The details are important only so far as they point us to him, but our faith rises and falls on the person of Jesus.
    ed cyzewski recently posted..The Goal of our Dreams is Always God

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