Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun with Abraham and Christ

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
robert j
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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun with Christ in the driver's seat

Post by robert j » Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:54 am

Employing the same terms that Paul used, one finds examples in earlier Jewish tradition of the suspension of persons on wood --- both dead and alive --- as a form of punishment and ultimate humiliation.

Of course the most important example here is the passage from Deuteronomy that Paul used as source material and is primary in Paul’s system ---

And if there be any sin with the judgment of death upon him, and he should die, and you should hang (κρεμάσητε) him upon a tree (wood, ξύλου) … by burial you shall entomb him that day, for being cursed by God is every one hanging (κρεμάμενος) upon a tree (wood, ξύλου); and in no way shall you defile the land which the Lord your God gives to you … (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

In this passage, the generalized victim is killed before the suspension on wood. But the message is clear, anyone suspended on wood is “cursed by God”. To be cursed by God is the ultimate form of humiliation and punishment. And the body must be taken down and buried on that same day so the humiliation did not spread to all and “defile the land”.

And another example from the Jewish scriptures ---

Behold, even a tree (wood, ξύλον) prepared … and it was set straight up … Let him be staked/suspended/impaled (σταυρωθήτω) upon it! And Haman was hung (εκρεμάσθη) upon the tree (wood, ξύλου). (Esther 7:9-10, LXX)

The very same verb form (σταυρωθήτω) that Paul used is found in the Greek translation of this passage in Esther in the LXX. And like in Paul, the term is associated with hanging on a tree/wood. Whether Haman was suspended dead or alive in this passage in Esther is not entirely clear. However, when Josephus recounted those scriptural ‘events’ from Esther, he indicated that the suspension of Haman on the stake was an execution ---

“Haman … to be hanged on that stake (του σταυρού κρεμασθέντα) to be killed” (AJ 11.6.11, aka 11.267).

An important text found among the DSS materials provides the last example here ---

If a man is a slanderer and delivers his people to a foreign nation and does evil against his people, you shall suspend him on the wood/tree and he shall die. On the words of two witnesses and on the words of three witnesses he shall be put to death and they shall suspend him [on] the wood/tree [[...]]. If there is in a man a sin [worthy of the] death sentence and he has fled into the midst of the heathens and he has cursed his people and children of Israel, you shall suspend also him the wood/tree and he shall die, and you shall not let a corpse remain on the wood/tree overnight, you shall indeed bury him by day, for a [man] suspended on wood/tree is cursed by God and men, thus you shall not defile the land which I am giving to you [as] inheritance. (Temple Scroll, Col. 64)

In the second sentence, a post-mortem suspension seems to be implied, but at least one other translation is less clear. However, the text clearly describes in two places the suspension of a live victim for treasonous acts. The prohibition of leaving the corpse overnight as found in Deuteronomy is repeated here in this text.

In the wide realm of Jewish tradition whether the victim was executed first or suspended alive may have been determined by the specific crime committed, may have varied over time, and may have been at the discretion of those in power and imposing the punishment.

I think the important take-away is that within the wide realm of Jewish tradition in Paul’s day, some vanquished foes and certain law-breakers were publicly suspended on wood --- whether dead or alive --- in order to impose the maximum humiliation.

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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun

Post by robert j » Mon Dec 31, 2018 2:09 pm

Was Paul’s Christ “crucified"?

Paul’s Christ was crucified --- died on a cross. Just read the Christian bible, or listen to just about any preacher, or read just about any NT scholar. Common knowledge.

The problem is, this translation convention skews the understanding of Paul’s letters in a direction not established by the evidence, and in my opinion has resulted in the most significant red-herring in all of Pauline studies.

He was crucified (staked/suspended on a stake, ἐσταυρώθη) (2 Corinthians 13:4)
… the cross (stake, σταυρός) of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:17)

I think the alternative English translations in the parentheses are the most precise and accurate translations. For such pivotal terms it is not appropriate --- based on church tradition and without clear internal evidence in support --- to use specific and narrow translation choices for more widely applied Greek terms. Speculation about the details of Paul’s terminology --- beyond the scant information provided by Paul --- belongs in the realm of opinion, not translation.

Nowhere in Paul’s letters is the death of Jesus identified as an execution on a cross, such as a wooden stake with a patibulum --- a cross-bar that the Romans sometimes used as part of an instrument of execution.

In fact, nowhere in the entire NT is the death of Jesus associated with a cross-shaped instrument. That association is found in non-canonical texts and in the patristic writings. A cross as the instrument of the execution of Jesus seems to have been first associated with the letter “T” (Greek tau), and that perhaps associated with numerology. And the cross-shape was also associated with out-stretched hands and the posture of Moses in Exodus 17:11-12.

Can “crucified” as the translation of the Greek ἐσταυρώθη in Paul’s letters be justified based on etymology? After all, the English term “crucify” was derived from the Latin root “crux” which was used for a wooden stake, pole or frame on which something can be suspended, attached, or impaled like a vine or a human body. In that vein, the English “crucifixion” or the verb “to crucify” can simply mean to affix a body on a stake.

However, a fatal flaw with that argument is that the term “crucify” is inextricably understood by modern readers as an execution on a cross, as in the manner of the death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans.

Nowhere in Paul’s letters is the death of Jesus identified as being at the hands of the Romans. Characterizing the death of Jesus in Paul’s letters as a Roman execution is an assumption, in this case lacking clear evidence.

It is widely accepted --- and justifiably so --- that Paul’s letters are the earliest extant writings about a Jesus Christ. Paul’s letters are best understood by totally blocking-out all the later stories in the NT and all the other later traditions.

There exists ample examples in ancient Greek and Jewish texts --- prior to and up to Paul’s day --- where the Greek terms in question were used for the suspension or impalement of a victim on a wooden stake, either dead or alive. In those examples, the specifics of the suspension on wood is often vague. Those terms were generally used in the LXX in a manner consistent with the way they were used in other Greek literature up to Paul’s day. And one may need to look no further than the LXX for the terminology used by Paul ---

Behold, even a tree (wood, ξύλον) prepared … and it was set straight up … Let him be staked/impaled/suspended (σταυρωθήτω) upon it! And Haman was hung (εκρεμάσθη) upon the tree (wood, ξύλου). (Esther 7:9-10, LXX)

The same verb (σταυρωθήτω) that Paul used in various forms in his letters for the mode of death of his Jesus Christ is found in the Greek translation of Esther in the LXX. And just like in Paul (Galatians 3:13), the term in Esther is associated with hanging on a tree/wood.

I think this statement by BeDuhn is right on-point here --- (borrowed from another thread and re-formatting and highlighting mine) ---
Irish1975 wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:54 am

In the preface to his The First New Testament ---

BeDuhn writes:
"It now appears to me that we are at the beginning, rather than the end, of serious historical investigation of Christian, and biblical, history unfettered by entrenched assumptions that in many cases have passed into modern scholarship directly from prior theologically-motivated judgments."

And even beyond the terminology associated with the “wood” --- Paul’s letters provide a unique laboratory for the study of the evolution of language.

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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun

Post by robert j » Wed Jan 02, 2019 3:18 pm

robert j wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 2:09 pm

... Paul’s Christ was crucified --- died on a cross ... The problem is, this translation convention skews the understanding of Paul’s letters in a direction not established by the evidence ...
For those interested in delving deeper into the topic of “crucifixion” in the ancient world, and haven’t yet read his 2011 book, Gunnar Samuelsson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity --- An Inquiry into the Background and Significance of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion provides a fairly comprehensive study.

Samuelsson reviews the ancient Hellenistic, Roman and Jewish texts, and the Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic terminology used for what are often considered to be forms of “crucifixion” --- and the significance in relation to the NT.

The 300+ page book is a slightly revised version of his Th.D. thesis at the University of Gothenburg.

I found his presentation to be refreshingly lacking apologetics. One of the professors participating in Samuelsson’s successful defense of his thesis commented that, “if Gunnar Samuelsson is right, then all lexica will need revision on this point."

The book is expensive to purchase, but at least at this point-in-time is available on-line in English as a PDF for free, with no sign-ins or sign-ups required. I put in my web-browser search engine --- Samuelsson Crucifixion PDF --- and looked for a PDF entry from skeptik.net khazarzar. It worked in a Google search at least.

The "skeptik.net khazarzar" doesn't inspire a lot of confidence for me for the trustworthiness/safety of this source, but I searched this forum (using "khazarzar") and see that many others have used that source for other books and texts.

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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun with Abraham and Christ

Post by Irish1975 » Wed Jan 02, 2019 7:55 pm

You gotta love the Olympian disdain of Garry Wills, 20th century intellectual and liberal christian apologist...
At the time the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing their Gospels, that word simply meant "suspended," the theologian argues.

"This word is used in a much wider sense than 'crucifixion,'" he says. "It refers to hanging, to suspending vines in a vineyard," or to any type of suspension.

"He was required to carry his 'stauros' to Calvary, and they 'stauroun' him. That is all. He carried some kind of torture or execution device to Calvary and he was suspended and he died," Samuelsson says.

Not everyone is convinced by his research. Garry Wills, the author of "What Jesus Meant," "What Paul Meant," and "What the Gospels Meant," dismisses it as "silliness."

"The verb is stauresthai from stauros, cross," Wills said.

Samuelsson wants to be very clear about what he is saying and what he is not saying.

Most importantly, he says, he is not claiming Jesus was not crucified - only that the Gospels do not say he was.
Okay Garry.
Sub Tiberio quies.

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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun with Abraham and Christ

Post by robert j » Wed Jan 02, 2019 9:11 pm

I think it is important to distinguish between the later NT Gospel stories, and the letters of Paul. In the NT Gospels, the execution of Jesus is placed in the hands of early 1st C. Romans --- not so in Paul’s letters.

Paul seems to have derived (or at least associated) the mode of the suffering of his Jesus Christ from Deuteronomy (Galatians 3:13). Paul's Christ was hung on wood (ξύλου) --- suspended on some sort of wooden stake (σταυρός), using the same terminology found in earlier ancient texts.

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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun with Abraham and Christ

Post by DCHindley » Thu Jan 03, 2019 8:45 pm

Ruslan Khazarzar is a maverick. His site often has pirated copies of works, or those whose copyright has been disputed. Because he does not charge for access to his site, I don't think he is in violation of Russian copyright law. I think he objects to copyrighting of ancient general knowledge simply on the basis of technical editorial critiques and emendations made by editors, so much of it is in Greek (he was brought up Russian Orthodox, who do love their church fathers, including all the ones you see cited here) and he only occasionally does so with translations. This is the first time I recall him hosting an entire academic book. I have never detected any hint that his files contain malicious code.

Regardless, Gunnar Samuelsson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity --- An Inquiry into the Background and Significance of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion (2011) is great! The online version, I think, came out in 2011. What surprised me about it was the sheer amount of romantic speculative lore about Jesus' crucifixion that passes for "fact" in academia.

When I did my own background research on the Greek terms, besides its use to mean "fence post," I was very frequently finding references to Pales (sharpened tree branches, sometimes fire hardened, that were buried point up in the ground to serve as defenses against attack in war. Think Pungi Sticks in the Vietnam war era, although those were made of bamboo.

Here is my study of "Apostaurow" (to impale):
According to Novum Lexicon Manual Graeco-Latinum et Latino-Graecum, 4th edition 1825 vol. 1, pg 504 (available @ Google Books) APOSTAUROW corresponds to Vallis (palisade/stockade), seu palis (to stake), ligneis in terram defixis munio (wood cut in the land, defenses to build), seu cingo: seclude (to surround/seclude), 2) Adfigo cruci (from affigo = affix + crucio = to torment)

I'm sure you refer to an equation like #2 above, and while I acknowledge that such a translation as crucifixam is possible (I did find another Gr-Lat lexicon which had this form next to adfigo cruci), it seems that the term could also be used to refer to the posting of war trophies or captured soldiers on stakes in the sight of the enemy to torture the enemy with shame on account of their capture. I would feel better if someone could provide an actual case where this Greek word is actually translated so in ancient literature. For all we know, the equation with crucifixam is there precisely because it seems that Latin Irenaeus and Tertullian do so, and is thus circular.

Searching for forms of the words adfigo and crucio in the same passage, the only passage I could find was Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum 28.1.10 "Thus Maximinus gained the power of doing harm and poured out the natural cruelty implanted in his hard heart" … and 13 "[Maximinus] ruled that all those whom the justice of the ancient code and the edicts of deified emperors had made exempt from inquisitions by torture should, if circumstances demanded, be examined with torments."

At Perseus.org a form of APOSTAUROW is found about 10 times:


Anabases 6.5 Before breakfast time came, they proceeded to dig a trench across the way of approach to the place, and they backed it along its entire length with a palisade,

Hellenica 5.4 When he found, however, that the plain and the most valuable portions of their territory had been surrounded by a protecting trench and stockade

Hellenica 7.4 the Arcadians and those with them were so fearful for the coming day that they did not so much as go to rest during the night, being engaged in cutting down the carefully constructed booths [built by merchants or for the shelter and convenience of visitors] and building a stockade.

Agesilaus Ages.2 he made another expedition against Thebes, and, after crossing the stockade and trenches


Peloponnesian War 4.69 and the fruit-trees and timber cut down to make a palisade wherever this seemed necessary

Peloponnesian War 6.101 As soon as the Athenians had finished their work at the cliff they again attacked the stockade and ditch of the Syracusans.

Peloponnesian War 7.80 they found there also a Syracusan party engaged in barring the passage of the ford with a wall and a palisade


Histories 4.56 and they [the Sinopeans] accordingly determined to strengthen the line of the peninsula, where it was washed by the sea, by putting up wooden defenses and erecting palisades

Histories 16.30 Having then invested Abydos partly by a palisade and partly by an earthwork,


The Civil Wars 1.14 He [Licinius Crassus] overtook them [Sparticus and his remaining forces] and enclosed them with a line of circumvallation consisting of ditch, wall, and paling.

These are all cases of erecting defensive palisades, not one of crucifixion. Impaling of trophies or war captives would more likely have been expressed in Greek with a form of ANASTAUROW (Plut.2. impale, Sid Ep 6.1, Ambrose Sacram 6.2.8, concrucifigo sacrum)

Here is a description of Roman use of these kinds of palings, from Julius Caesar's Gallic War 7.73 "Caesar thought that further additions should be made to these works, in order that the fortifications might be defensible by a small number of soldiers. Having, therefore, cut down the trunks of trees or very thick branches, and having stripped their tops of the bark, and sharpened them into a point, he drew a continued trench every where five feet deep. These stakes being sunk into this trench, and fastened firmly at the bottom, to prevent the possibility of their being torn up, had their branches only projecting from the ground. There were five rows in connection with, and intersecting each other; and whoever entered within them were likely to impale themselves on very sharp stakes [se ipsi acutissimis vallis induebant]. The soldiers called these "cippi" [the stakes]. Before these, which were arranged in oblique rows in the form of a quincunx, pits three feet deep were dug, which gradually diminished in depth to the bottom. In these pits tapering stakes, of the thickness of a man's thigh; sharpened at the top and hardened in the fire, were sunk in such a manner as to project from the ground not more than four inches; at the same time for the purpose of giving them strength and stability, they were each filled with trampled clay to the height of one foot from the bottom: the rest of the pit was covered over with osiers and twigs, to conceal the deceit. Eight rows of this kind were dug, and were three feet distant from each other. They called this a lily from its resemblance to that flower. Stakes a foot long, with iron hooks attached to them, were entirely sunk in the ground before these, and were planted in every place at small intervals; these they called spurs."

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Re: Out on Highway 61 --- Paul riding shotgun with Abraham and Christ

Post by DCHindley » Sat Jan 05, 2019 8:42 pm

If the point (oh God, no pun intended) of the word stauros (stake) is to describe something that divides space (our forces from the enemy's in battle, or in a camp), then it seems that Roman use of stakes for their executions of rebels and slaves is symbolic. Like the enemy failing to take a Roman fort due to being impaled on the sharpened stakes that make up the defensive walls and sharpened branches that serve as the equivalent of modern minefields, so are they hung on a stake (dead or alive) when a rebel or escaped slave is caught.


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