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."
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"
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?"