Wednesday, May 26, 2010

If Samuelsson Is Right about Crucifixion All Lexica Need Revision

Last Friday Gunnar Samuelsson successfylly defended his thesis "Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion" at Gothenburg University (supervisor Samuel Byrskog).

The external examiner Erkki Koskenniemi Professor of Åbo University, Finland, was drastic in his opening when he said that "if Gunnar Samuelsson is right, then all lexica will need revision on this point." "Koskenniemi also pointed out that "if Gunnar Samuelsson is wrong, he will from this moment be known as the Gunnar Samuelsson who wrote about the cross."

Abstract

This study investigates the philological aspects of how ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic texts, including the New Testament, depict the practice of punishment by crucifixion. A survey of the ancient text material shows that there has been a too narrow view of the “crucifixion” terminology. The various terms are not simply used in the sense of “crucify” and “cross,” if by “crucifixion” one means the punishment that Jesus was subjected to according to the main Christian traditions. The terminology is used much more diversely. Almost none of it can be elucidated beyond verbs referring vaguely to some form(s) of suspension, and nouns referring to tools used in such suspension. As a result, most of the crucifixion accounts that scholars cite in the ancient literature have to be rejected, leaving only a few. The New Testament is not spared from this terminological ambiguity. The accounts of the death of Jesus are strikingly sparse. Their chief contribution is usage of the unclear terminology in question. Over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every wordbook and dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary. The immense knowledge of the punishment of crucifixion in general, and the execution of Jesus in particular, cannot be supported by the studied texts.

Order the monograph from the department by sending an e-mail to: gunnar[dot]samuelsson[at]telia[dot]com

"Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion"
ISSN: 1102-9773
ISBN: 978-91-88348-35-7

Update: Below I will cite the concluding chapter seven, "Answers to the basic questions of the investigation." I will cite the six questions and some significant parts of the answers (but not all - buy the book!):

1) "First, what is the ancient - pre-Christian - terminology of crucifixion? The answer is that there was no such terminology. There was only a terminology of suspension - a group of words and idioms that were used more or less interchangeably when referring to various forms of suspension ... The problem is that no specific terminology is linked to this particular form of execution - before the execution of Jesus.

When it comes to the individual terms, some conclusions can be drawn. A σταυρός is a pole in the broadest sense. It is not the equivalent of a 'cross' (†). In some cases, it is a kind of suspension device, used for the suspension of corpses, torture or in a few cases executionary suspensions. Very little or nothing is said about what it was made of or how it looked."

...

And so it goes on with (ἀνα)σταυροῦν and ἀνασκολοπίζειν, crux and patibulum. For example, Samuelsson says "crux is more firmly connected with the suspension of humans than σταυρός." "The ecclesiastically pregnant term crucifigiere did not evolve until the final years before the Common Era, and its usage is hard to define beyond denoting 'to attach in some way to a crux."

Then comes Hebrew/Aramaic terminology.

...

2) "Second, what can be said about the punishment that the term describes? The punishment consists in fact of punishments. There is a large group of terms and idioms which refer to varous acts of suspension, and this is almost all that can be said about 'the punishment' - it comprises various acts of suspension. ... What happened to Jesus on Calvary might then be only a momentary expression of local caprice. Previous and subsequent executions might have been completely different. What has become the solid image in the centre of the Christian faith might be just a freak of fate, not an expression of a well-defined and long-used execution form."

3) "Third, how do the New Testament authors depict the death of Jesus on the philological level? The New Testament authors are strikingly silent about the punishment Jesus had to suffer on Calvary ..."

4) "Fourth, how is the punishment of crucifixion defined by previous scholars?"

5) "Fifth, how do the insights from the present stud of the ancient texts cohere with the contributions of the major lexica and dictionaries? The outcome of the comparative study is that they are incoherent. At the heart of the discrepancy is the usage of the labels 'cross' and 'crucifixion' in the lexica and dictionaries. The label 'cross' is commonly applied to many more texts which contain σταυρός than those which - with at least a decent amount of certainty - can be determined to contain a reference to the punishment tool used in crucifixion in a traditional sense. In the same way, the label 'crucifixion' is applied to a large number of texts where the only qualifier is the occurence of, e.g., (ἀνα)σταυροῦν and ἀνασκολοπίζειν. In short, a lot of texts are identified as references to 'crucifixion' on the basis of a simple conjecture."

6) "Sixth, how has the punishment of crucifixion been depicted, and how should it be depicted in the light of the present investigation?"

46 comments:

  1. Erkki Koskenniemi was one of my early advisors :) The opening sounds like him. And I would like to know, like Wieland, what exactly needs revision... anyone know?

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  2. Wieland, I have the dissertation but haven't read it yet, but I know that the author has done a very thorough job with a huge material, and, as he writes in the abstract I have cited, he has concluded that:

    "Over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every wordbook and dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary."

    I BDAG sv. σταυρος I read "a cross-piece was oft. attached to its upper part (Artem. 2, 53), so that it was shaped like a T or thus: †—MHengel, Crucifixion ’77."

    I assume that Samuelsson has demostrated that this particular part (and similar elsewhere), for example, can not be sustained.

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  3. Tommy, can you tell me if he has also analyzed the archaeological evidence? Then, I'd very interested in getting the dissertation. Thanks

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  4. I will cite the concluding chapter seven, "Answers to the basic questions of the investigation." I will cite the six question and some significant parts of the answers (but not all - buy the book!):

    1) "First, what is the ancient - pre-Christian - terminology of crucifixion? The answer is that there was no such terminology. There was only a terminology of suspension - a group of words and idioms that were used more or less interchangeably when referring to various forms of suspension ... The problem is that no specific terminology is linked to this particular form of execution - before the execution of Jesus.

    When it comes to the individual terms, some conclusions can be drawn. A σταυρός is a pole in the broadest sense. It is not the equivalent of a 'cross' (†). In some cases, it is a kind of suspension device, used for the suspension of corpses, torture or in a few cases executionary suspensions. Very little or nothing is said about what it was made of or how it looked."

    ...

    And so it goes on with (ἀνα)σταυροῦν and ἀνασκολοπίζειν, crux and patibulum. For example, Samuelsson says "crux is more firmly connected with the suspension of humans than σταυρός." "The ecclesiastically pregnant term crucifigiere did not evolve until the final years before the Common Era, and its usage is hard to define beyond denoting 'to attach in some way to a crux."

    Then comes Hebrew/Aramaic terminology.

    ...

    2) "Second, what can be said about the punishment that the term describes? The punishment consists in fact of punishments. There is a large group of terms and idioms which refer to varous acts of suspension, and this is almost all that can be said about 'the punishment' - it comprises various acts of suspension. ... What happened to Jesus on Calvary might then be only a momentary expression of local caprice. Previous and subsequent executions might have been completely different. What has become the solid image in the centre of the Christian faith might be just a freak of fate, not an expression of a well-defined and long-used execution form."

    3) "Third, how do the New Testament authors depict the death of Jesus on the philological level? The New Testament authors are strikingly silent about the punishment Jesus had to suffer on Calvary ..."

    4) "Fourth, how is the punishment of crucifixion defined by previous scholars?"

    5) "Fifth, how do the insights from the present stud of the ancient texts cohere with the contributions of the major lexica and dictionaries? The outcome of the comparative study is that they are incoherent. At the heart of the discrepancy is the usage of the labels 'cross' and 'crucifixion' in the lexica and dictionaries. The label 'cross' is commonly applied to many more texts which contain σταυρός than those which - with at least a decent amount of certainty - can be determined to contain a reference to the punishment tool used in crucifixion in a traditional sense. In the same way, the label 'crucifixion' is applied to a large number of texts where the only qualifier is the occurence of, e.g., (ἀνα)σταυροῦν and ἀνασκολοπίζειν. In short, a lot of texts are identified as references to 'crucifixion' on the basis of a simple conjecture."

    6) "Sixth, how has the punishment of crucifixion been depicted, and how should it be depicted in the light of the present investigation?"

    Hope this answers your questions (partly) Wieland and Timo.

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  5. Antonio, the author writes on p. 373: "4. Test Case I - The Archaeological challenge

    Although it is outside the scope of the present investigation, the area of archaeology ought to be mentioned. The question is simple: does archaeological evidence topple the outcome of the present investigation?

    The well-known so-called 'crucified man,' found in Givat ha-Mivtar northeast of Jerusalem in 1968, sparked a lenghty discussion."[+footnote]

    Then he discusses this discovery on two pages and concludes:

    "The importance of the discovery has been exagerrated in comparison to its scientific value as proof of one specific form of suspension. As the case was with the ancient texts, scholars read to much into it. They have drawn too far-reaching conclusions from a heel-bone that for some reason has a large nail in it. Tzaferis uses not only this, in his opinion, archaeological evidence, but also his own all too vivied historical reconstruction, and sets out to, with his own words, 'reconstruct the crucifixion' of the man whose bones he excavated at Givat ha-Mivtar"[+footnote≈ Such a reconstruction is doomed to go too far. This reconstruction purports to explain in detail not only the event that took the man's life - but also his appearance" + long citation of Tzaferis.

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  7. Dear colleagues,

    please allow a small correction to the referate of my opening words:
    " ...he said that "if Gunnar Samuelsson is right, then all lexica will need revision on this point." Koskenniemi also pointed out that from this moment Gunnar Samuelsson will be known as the Gunnar Samuelsson who wrote about the cross."
    The last part should rather be as follows:
    "Koskenniemi also pointed out that IF GUNNAR SAMUELSSON IS WRONG, HE WILL from this moment be known as the Gunnar Samuelsson who wrote about the cross."
    I will not resume here the good discussion where Samuelsson was brilliant. As people present in the disputation saw we both agreed and disagreed. The scholarly world will decide if the learned doctor is right or wrong. No doubt this is a very important and well written book - let us waite for the final version!

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  8. "Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

    US Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, arguing for the Silver Standard.

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  9. Thanks Dr. Koskenniemi for the correction. Unfortunately, I wasn't there myself, but I got a brief report over the coffee today by my colleague who was present.

    On the other hand, the statement is a bit unexpected but very smart - lectio difficilior :-).

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  10. And, I have updated the main post.

    Dr. Koskenniemi, can you briely tell us on what significant points you disagreed with the candidate?

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  11. Thank you, Erkki, for the correction. A clever statement :) What was your impression on the work? Like Tommy, I would like to know which concepts you disagreed with. It sounds like this dissertation *may* influence future translations of the NT.

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  12. To put it very briefly: We discussed the manner we deal with the texts: How much we should treat them synthetically, i.e. reading a text with the help of others, and how much atomistically, i.e. reading only what a single text shows. It was a very good discussion and I think that we both are forced to rethink our position.

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  13. I still don't know what exactly should be revised.
    The shape of the cross?

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  14. Yes Wieland, but not only the shape.

    I think think the author is trying to say that we have been to specific when we talk about "crucifixion/cross," as many/most think of it as nailing someone (perhaps hands and feet) to a wooden cross † in order to execute him/her. The author says that "[p]revious and subsequent executions [crucifixions] might have been completely different."

    He says it was not an established specific procedure, etc, etc.

    I have not summarized here how he answers his sixth question, "how has the punishment of crucifixion been depicted, and how should it be depicted in the light of the present investigation?"

    But, what I have said may give hints.

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  15. The dissertation made headlines in the national "Christian" newspaper Dagen yesterday.

    http://www.dagen.se/dagen/article.aspx?id=213715

    Unfortunately (and not unexpectedly), many readers (and newsreporters) think that the issue under debate is whether Jesus was executed and died, but it is of course not.

    (Samuelsson himself is a Christian, pastor, and person who has a very high regard of the Bible, without going into details).

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  16. at what point do apocryphal writings (Bartholomew, Nicodemus, etc) work in corroboration with usage of these words? Were they part of his study?

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  17. The Jehovah's Witnesses have long held that STAUROS suggests a single stake, and there exist ancient depictions of Jesus on a stake, not a cross. There is also the allusion to "cursed is every one who hangs on a tree" in Deuteronomy, which did not involve a cross.

    I apologize for veering off topic here, but I don't know where to post a question/solicitation for help...

    Where might I find the Textual Variants for John 1:18?

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  18. re: John 1:18 certainly is on topic for this blog, but probably not this post. (He says as he then goes on to answer the question...)

    Just about any text on Textual Criticism will have a discussion on John 1:8. I use it in my TC class at church. Here are the resources I use:

    Obviously you can find the variants in Nestle-Aland.

    Muenster has a set of transcriptions here: http://nttranscripts.uni-muenster.de/ which have most of the importan old witnesses.

    IGNT has their majuscle copy of John online as well as transcriptions for papyrus, majuscles and some minuscules on line here: http://arts-itsee.bham.ac.uk/

    The following actual images are on-line so you can see the verse yourself:
    At CSNTM http://www.csntm.org :
    - Codex Sinaiticus
    - Codex Vaticanus (psuedo-facsimile)
    - Codex Alexandrinus
    - Codex Washintonensis
    At the e-codices site, http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/csg/0048
    - Codex Sangallensis (9th century)
    At the University of
    Utrecht http://digbijzcoll.library.uu.nl/metadata.php?lang=en&BoekID=1553
    (also on-line an Muenster)
    - Codex Boreelianus

    Almost all of these resources are on the side bar on the right of this blogsite.

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  20. Did you write .se at the end of the address? You indicated .s which is wrong.

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  21. Thanks for the *very* helpful links.

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  23. Dear Scott, I now know what the problem is. Pernilla is overflowing with orders and Gunnar now has to print new copies!!! They are working the best they can. Give it a couple of days!

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  25. Apparently, ca. 20 people ordered as a result of this blogpost, which was written before an international pressrelease.

    Samuelsson's dissertation is now getting a lot of media coverage in Sweden, which is quite unusual for a dissertation in theology.

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  26. Do anyone know whether he deals with the Alexamenos (Palatine) graffito?

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  27. I emailed as well, and heard back this morning. The price is 300 SEK including shipping. I thought that was a lot of something. Turns out it is only 38.62 in american dollars.

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  28. Yes, and then, unfortunately for you, the value of the dollar has decreased lately.

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  29. Peter, I will have to check about the graffiti at home, but I don't think he treats it at any length, because, as I referred to in an earlier comment, he says the area of archaeology is "outside the scope of the present investigation" although he does include a small section (but I cannot remember seeing anything on that graffiti.

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  30. Tommy,
    Thanks for yours. We'll order the book for Tyndale House library and I'll have a look. However, it would seem like an extraordinary methodological flaw if he wants to discuss the meaning of words referring to tangible entities and to leave archaeology out of consideration.

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  31. Peter, I look forward to hearing your opinion when you have had time to read it.

    I have just browsed its pages but read the summary carefully.

    Unfortunately, I do not know if Koskiniemi complained about that. Maybe he or Gunnar Samuelsson himself can reply here?

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  32. I would be very curious as to how the author of the dissertation picked his texts. Did he search the electronic Thesaurus Linguae Graecae for all occurrences of the words connected with "crucifixion" and then classify and exegete them afresh, adding information from papyri etc? For instance, the term "stauros" has 995 occurrences in the TLG E for the Nominative. Add to that 2575 for the Genitive, 995 for the Dative and 1958 for the Accusative. Of course, many forms occur in patristic texts and would need to be left out. Still, it would be interesting to see how the term was understood by Early Christian and Patristic writers. To do this for every possible term connected with "crucifixion" seems a huge enterprise! But perhaps it would yield interesting results.

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  33. The issue may be nothing more than the shape and form of the cross, which has always been under discussion. An important text is in Josephus, War 7.200-203. It shows such executions were public and considered quite gruesome.

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  34. I don't have any expert knowledge in the fields of theology, text criticism or ancient history, but isn't this stauros-issue quite an old one? Weren't those beams shaped like I, X, like a cross, +, or a T ?

    But the conclusion, that the execution device for Jesus, had a crossbeam, probably comes from the imported tradition i've read about, which the Romans employed, where the convicted person had to walk around with the crossbeam on his shoulders, while being beaten and mockered about for hours.

    This i think, speaks for the crossbeam/horizontal beam, concerning the case of Jesus.

    Did Samuelsson mention this tradition among his arguments?

    kindly
    /Cecilia

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  35. Tommy,

    Thanks very much for this! We have put in a request for the Baylor library. Looking forward to reading it!

    Best,

    Mike Whitenton

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  36. Still haven't been able to read Samuelsson's work, but after reading this looong and thorough investigation (With different aspects, gospel-textual, historical, quoting lots of ancient texts from the centuries around Jesus (300 BC to 300 AD), ancient quotes with explanation about what happens on the patibulum connected to execution on the cross/crux, etymological, etc....):

    http://www.answerbag.com/a_view/391343

    by a LadyArwen, i am convinced that Jesus was crucified with crossbeam + vertical beam

    /Cecilia

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  37. Isn't this old news? For instance, in Hengel's book on crucifixion, he states "A particular problem is posed by the fact that the form of crucifixion varied consideably." And " all attempts to give a perfect description of the crucifixion in archaelogical terms are therefore in vain; there were too many possibilities for the executioner."

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  38. I personaly feel that samuelsson has not proven that it was not the cross as we think of it. and this is a simple attempt at scandal.

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  39. I'd also be interested in if Samuelsson brings in the early traditions and writings of the Church Fathers, including St. Paul, which give credence to the crucifixion. After all, even the earliest icons and catacomb illustrations point to crucifixion, giving further weight to the traditional interpretation of the Gospel's writings.

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  40. Given the nearly 900 years of written text, from the time of Homer to 200C.E., that Samuellson has reviewed, it is evident that "stauros" cannot be considered Crucifixion. Removing the Crucifix from Christian worship is also in alignment with
    1 John 5:21,"Little children, guard yourselves from idols."

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  41. Dear Friends,

    If you want further information about my doctoral thesis Crucifixion in Antiquity, please visit my website http://www.exegetics.org.

    Regards,
    Gunnar Samuelsson

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  42. One has to wonder whether Samuelsson fully considered the Epistle of Barnabas (dated no later than A.D. 135), which includes the statement:

    "...ὁ σταυρὸς ἐν τῷ ταῦ ἤμελλεν ἔχειν τὴν χάριν..." [In Barnabas 9:8.]

    "...the cross, which is shaped like the T, was destined to convey grace..." [Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 299.]

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  43. sounds like another attempt to muddy the water with supposed scholarship. This debate is an old one with the JWs... it has already been historically shown Jesus was nailed to a cross (post and cross beam). for a FREE reading of the discussion and references goto http://www.answerbag.com/a_view/391343

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  44. Today I was reading from Justin Martyr's Apology and I chanced upon a passage which reminded me of the debate over the crucifixion.

    Justin interprets Isaiah 9:6 as referring to Christ and takes the reference to "shoulders" as pointing to the fact that Jesus put (προσέθηκε) his shoulders on the cross. I wonder whether this means that, according to Justin, Jesus was crucified on a T like cross. Not that this in itself would be a clue about the real event. But is still should be taken into account as a 2nd century witness.

    Ἔστι δὲ ταῦτα· Παιδίον ἐγεννήθη ἡμῖν, καὶ νεανίσκος ἡμῖν ἀπεδόθη, οὗ ἡ ἀρχὴ ἐπὶ τῶν ὤμων, μηνυτικὸν τῆς δυνάμεως τοῦ σταυροῦ, ᾧ προσέθηκε τοὺς ὤμους σταυρωθείς, ὡς προϊόντος τοῦ λόγου σαφέστερον δειχθήσεται. (Apology, 35)

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  45. Tree is not the same thing as a simple pole. Justin in the second century really makes the identification stauros = cross. And he wrote in greek. And I think that christian in the second century have better information.

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