Crucifixion One Final Time

Darrell L. Bock's picture

This is a follow up to several recent previous posts on the issue of crucifixion terminology. I am at Tyndale House, Cambridge, England where I was able to see a copy of Crucifixion in Antiquity and look it over. 

The dissertation from Sweden argues that there was no terminology for crucifixion as meaning death on a crossbeam. Rather the terms simply meant suspension executions so that one could have died on a cross or be impaled or even be suspended after a death. The chief complaint is against lexica and commentators and other writers on the topic that are too specific in defining the terms. To determine what kind of death is present. One has to go passage by passage, and most texts do not tell us enough for us to know. The lexical point is fair enough. The term refers to all types of public executions. The shape of what one could be hung on where T, t, X, or I. This actually has been known and discussed for some time. The lexical work is carefully done. Context is key. So we take the next step into the context.

Here the key may be appearance texts. Luke 24:39 ask for people to look at Jesus' hands and feet, which seems to assume nails there. The same type of scene is in John 20:27. This would appear to limit the options to T, t or X. So then is the term crucify still a good one? It would still seem so, not because the  term by itself  automatically means death on a cross, but a public death/execution by suspension in which the victim's hands and feet were nailed. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same after all (but with distinct reasoning). In sum, for all the hype, the dissertation makes a simple point, but not quite up to all the hype that came with it. This hype is not the fault of Gunnar Samuelsson, the author of the study who is clear about what he is and is not saying. Rather it is the media hype in headlining and spinning his claims where the fault lies. So watch what you read. Nothing beats going to the source.


Hello Dr. Bock, Thank you for the post. At my university, we do not have access to this dissertation by Samuelsson (only the abstract). Other than going to England, do you know if a copy can be accessed online? Regards, Phil

Darrell L. Bock's picture

No, it is not available online.

"Here the key may be appearance texts. Luke 24:39 ask for people to look at Jesus' hands and feet, which seems to assume nails there. The same type of scene is in John 20:27. This would appear to limit the options to T, t or X. " Dr. Bock, why would Luke 24 and John 20 exclude the options of the death instrument being shaped like a single pole, namely, an "I"? I don't necessarily see it as an issue that both Jesus' hands and feet were pierced on an instrument shaped as an "I". Perhaps your can elaborate on that? Best, Ivan

Darrell L. Bock's picture



The answer is simple. To nail hands on an I shape instrument is awkward. Normally it is used for impaling. Had Jesus had no feet or hand marks then that option would have been included as likely.

Also useful on this topic is the first chapter of David Chapman's (really the whole book but esp. the first chapter for the relevant lexical data) Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion (pp. 30-33). It is well known that the language (in Greek, Hebrew, Latin) is broad enough to encompass all forms of bodily suspension. For me (as Dr. Bock says with regard to the awkwardness of nails on a stake) its pretty clear that the NT and other important early Christian writings present Jesus' death as almost certainly a crucifixion on a T or t shaped cross (John 20; Acts 2:23; Col. 2:14; Epistle of Barnabas 12:2; Justin Martyr - dialogue with Trypho chap 91; Tertullian, Against Marcion III.18) Not too exciting...

Deke mentioned David W. Chapman's book, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion. It's available in Europe in its original 2008 Mohr-Siebeck edition (ISBN 978-3-16-149579-3) and in North American in a 2010 Baker Academic reprint (ISBN 978-0-8010-3905-8.

Dear Friends, If you want further information about my doctoral thesis, Crucifixion in Antiquity, please visit my website Regards, Gunnar Samuelsson

Darrell L. Bock's picture



The above site is by the author of the Crucifixion dissertation. We have been in email touch. His site is helpful in clarifying what he is doing.


Gunnar (& Dr. Bock), Thank you for posting the website in regard to the dissertation. As I mentioned earlier, my university does not have access to the entire manuscript, so I very much appreciate any additional information (especially when it is not in the form of misleading headlines!). I look forward to reading it when it comes out in book form. Best Regards, Phil

The crucifixion is the pivot point of the gospel from an evangelistic standpoint. Do you think Evangelicals have focused too much on the conversion experience? (at the expense of other important spiritually formative elements...) and If so, why do you think this is? Or please -- weigh in on my post...

Darrell L. Bock's picture


I have posted on this recently in my discussions on the gospel. A book is forthcoming in November as well. Conversion is like waling through a door. You do not stay there to enjoy what is in the room.

Hi Professor, this is Chester from Luke-Acts class two years ago. I just had another thought on context concerning the shape of the cross. The gospel of Matthew says that above Jesus' head was placed the written charge against him, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews" (27:37). And the gospel of John says that Pilate had noticed this prepared and fastened to the cross (19:19). Wouldn't this have to rule out the "T" (as nothing would be able to be placed above the head) and "X" shape if the charge was above Jesus' head, not hands (such as would be in the "I" or "X" shape)? I pray for a fruitful sabbatical. Thank you for showing me the gospel of good news. Living the gospel in the powerful new life of the Spirit, Your student, Chester

Darrell L. Bock's picture


It would seem to rule out the X. Depending on how Jesus was suspended it makes a T less likely, but not impossible. If the head was slightly lower than the arms, the placard with the charge (called the titulus) could fit above. Not likely, but possible.

If the titulus was carried by a Roman Soldier in front of the death-procession (which I suspect was usually the case), it would include a signpost upon which the actual placard would already be affixed. In which case it would be easier to attach the sign by accessing the top of the crossbeam from a ladder leaned against the back of the main upright: no throwing the ladder against the condemned. Now of course, the executioners didn't care for their victim but they were concerned about their own safety. Which would make a T-cross the more likely type of cross as is borne out in the Palatine Hill and Puzzuoli Graffiti.

Besides, there is a victory cross that Romans used called a tropaeum. Formed in the shape of a Latin Cross (t-cross), it was used to display their own armor, captured enemy armor and even the effigies of the deceased Caesars beginning with Julius Caesar at his funeral, 44 BC.

One more thing. A minority of the ancient writers, both non-Christian and Church Fathers, indicated that the Roman execution cross frequently had a seat that impaled the condemned in his fundament. Their reports are confirmed by both the Puzzuoli Graffito and the Pompeii Vivat Crux Graffito. And the Latin crux originally meant tow-pole. That is all.

Does the intricate detail over exactly which shape the cross was really matter? In what way does one's relationship with God and God working through that person's life improve by knowing the exact shape of the cross?

Misidentification of the Rylands Papyrus on the opening page of his website doesn't inspire much confidence.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

It is not crucial other than there was some form of public death as the Bible argues. That death is central to what is claimed about Jesus' work.

Darrell L. Bock's picture


I am certain this is a typo. My name was originally misspelled on the site. John 18 is the text (and perhaps vv 37-38 should be added to include the smaller lower lines). Anyway, I let Gunnar know.

I think there is agreement that the shape doesn't matter a whole lot. What really matters is what was accomplished with the death of our Lord Jesus. However, one should not quickly dismiss other possibilities. It seems we are often too uncomfortable with anything that challenges our traditions. As Henry Ward brought out in History of the Cross, “this sign and image...was a profane symbol in heathen mysteries, exalted and honoured from Babylon to Jerusalem.”-p.53 Vine stated, “Pagans were received into the churches... and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ." Such comments should not be brushed off lightly. It would seem that the general use of stauros should be maintained, (upright stake/pale) unless Biblical and lexicographical evidence leads one elsewhere. One needs to deal with the following issues: Why is the generic term tree (xylon) used if it was more than a upright stake? What might also seem implausible would be to used added wood to make a crossbeam (patibulum). In addition, what may have been even more awkward would have been, "the explicit demand for the crucifixion ...from the Jews ....[who had] a detestation of this Roman form of punishment." NIDNTT p. 396 vol I Also if asphyxiation caused death then it appears that a “T” shape could be ruled out. See: Joe Zias  In addition, nails would not be needed if nailed to a 'T" but would be demanded if nailed to an upright post/stake. (Not really sure what might be “awkward” about using nails on a post.) See one of many of Justus Lipsius illustrations of one nailed to an upright post:

One can easily fall into the error that N. Haas did in regards to the man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. It appears that he was either misinterpreting evidence or trying to make it fit a preconceived notion. Any deviation from the normal use of stauros should have solid reasons and not just tradition. Although Gunnar Samuelsson is by no means the first to highlight sticking to what the Biblical Text says, I appreciate that he does so regardless of whether it is to our liking.

Mr. Gunnar Samuelsson, this is a letter from Moscow, Russia, from a Christian named Antony. Like many others, I've heard about your research and your statements. Having by the grace of God the possibility to understand English language, I looked into your site ( and examined your work more thoroughly to eliminate misunderstanding. My desire is to discover your work step by step in the light of the Word of God, neither emotionally nor logically, but SPIRITUALLY. Jesus told us what we should do when some teacher or prophet appears -- He commanded us to know them by the fruits: “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20) because the following law is always unchangeable: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7:17). Mr. Gunnar Samuelsson, let us first look together at the fruits of your work. You admit yourself that you weren't prepared for “breaking headlines around the world”. And what do they state, those headlines? You know it perfectly well yourself. I will just give three examples for clarity. Here's the message from site [1] before me, in Russian. It's the first message about your work I've seen. Its headline states the following: “New research: Christ wasn't crucified by anyone”. On your site there's a page named “Media” where you give links for the messages about your work in the mass media. Let us take the first link from there, the CNN site [2]. Its headline states: “Gospels don't say Jesus was crucified, scholar claims”. The second link (site ABC News [3]) states: “Jesus Christ May Not Have Died on Cross”. I would stop here. What kind of fruit do we see here? What does your work lead people to: towards establishing faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God or is doubt being sowed in its stead? It's obvious that doubt is being sowed, and doubting is surely a bad fruit: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39). Yet you say that the media is claiming other things than you originally stated. You wrote that it wasn’t exactly the cross -- and the whole world flared with headlines that Jesus didn't die and that He wasn't crucified at all. Some of them even write that there are no references in the Bible to the nails, though this is an obvious lie and you've never stated this. But there's nothing surprising in all this. The Bible says: “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). You have sowed a little doubt -- and it quickly grew into a great one and rushed into the hearts of people. Apostle Paul in his ministry followed the holy principle to “cut off occasion from them which desire occasion” (2 Corinth. 11:12). But you behaved on the contrary, giving an occasion for the enemies of the Word of God to spread devilish doubt worldwide. You say that you're sad that “some fellow Christians have misunderstood (with good help by media) what you have done in your research”. But aren't you sad that millions of unbelievers are turning away from the Bible with the same “help” of media provoked by your work? Oh, if you just would be able to look ahead a few years and see what else will grow from your seed! You wouldn't have started your work at all. Mr. Gunnar Samuelsson, I desire to look into the spiritual, invisible aim of your work. But first, let's make certain of it's visible aim, as it's written: “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual”. You state it quite clearly yourself: you want to show that in the original Greek text of the Holy Scriptures there's no detailed description of the execution device that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was nailed to. And the words “cross” and “crucify” which are used so many times in the New Testament, they mean accordingly “execution device” and “to nail to an execution device” in their original meaning in the ancient Greek, as you say. Having read a great amount of ancient texts with the description of cruel executions of people, you say that you have never found these words to be definitely matched to a cross or crucifixion. And that's why you state it to be quite possible that Lord Jesus Christ was nailed not to a cross, but, for example, to a plank or something else. As your work is not yet published, maybe I've missed some points of your research. If the statements above are wrong or incorrect, please let me know. Now let us turn to the SPIRITUAL aim of the work you're doing. You've said the following in CNN [3]: “If my observations are correct, every book on the history of Jesus will need to be rewritten”. You claim that all the translations of the Holy Scriptures are incorrect and need to be rewritten. That is, you're trying to prove scientifically that all those translations of the Bible which people around the world read in their native languages contain errors that are serious enough to be corrected and reprinted. You're sowing doubt in the accuracy of translations of the Bible, because in all of them it's written quite specifically that Jesus was crucified on the cross. You say: “My topic appears almost to be made to be misunderstood. It is so close to the heart of the Christian fate that is easy to react emotionally instead of logically.” I pray to God to react neither emotionally nor logically, but SPIRITUALLY. It's not the crucifix you're touching. And not the crucifixion. You're touching the Word of God and fighting against Him, against simple trusting the Word of God in one's own native language. You say that your aim is not to undermine the Christian faith. But that's exactly what you're doing! Faith comes from hearing the Word of God -- and if the Word of God is “proved” to contain mistakes, what sort of faith can be expected? The devil is using you to do his destructive work to offend people, having blinded your mind. Mr. Gunnar Samuelsson, your position is very serious. Please listen to what Jesus says: “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7). What is that woe? The answer is in the same Gospel: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42). I don't know when and where you stepped away from the Word of God, gave place for the devil and became a weapon in his arms. But there are some thoughts I want to share to help you and the many others who may fall into similar temptations. You say in CNN that your doctoral advisor “recommended you to scan all the texts, from Homer up to the first century -- 900 years of crucifixion texts”. And you said: “I love ancient texts. They just consume me.” And you started reading. You say that you devoted three first years of your research, reading these texts 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. If I understand correctly, crucifixion texts are texts about the blood, because blood is almost always spilled when one is crucified. I'm sure that you've read there about lots of cruelties and evil, because most of these texts were written by unbelievers. Now listen what the Word of God says about this. “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? -- He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high...” (Isaiah 33:14-16). Have you noticed the behavior of righteous people who desire to dwell on high and reach Heavenly Jerusalem? He “STOPPETH HIS EARS FROM HEARING OF BLOOD, AND SHUTTETH HIS EYES FROM SEEING EVIL”. And you've read about them, read a lot and for a very long time, and didn't stop your ears and shut your eyes. You've opened your heart towards them, gave place for the devil -- and he has deceived and blinded you. You've admitted yourself: “I love ancient texts. They just consume me”. The devil has really consumed you when these texts pushed away the Word of God from your heart. I think that you haven't found the detailed, gruesome description of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the Bible because of the following: it's unlikely for the Holy Ghost, the author of the Bible, to look at such details. “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13). So may it not be strange for you that “Christian traditions did not enter the texts of the Gospels when they were subsequently written” -- only things which pleased the Holy Ghost, author of the Bible, entered there. And the description of the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ is given in the Bible in order to let every reader know his own “fellowship of his sufferings” (Philip. 3:10). First, to know his own personal fault and come to repentance and reconciliation with God. And then, after that, to receive new, glorious fellowship: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philip. 1:29). It can be seen and known only by the work of the Holy Ghost through conscience, when one is reading the Bible in the spirit of prayer. But if one reads the Bible according to your final advice (“We should read on the lines, not between the lines”), it's very easy to follow the way of the scribes and the Pharisees: they have read every Sabbath day the voices of prophets, and they have also read on the lines about the sufferings of Christ (Isaiah, chapter 53), but they haven't seen their own fellowship of His sufferings, and they knew Him not. Finally, it was the Pharisees who crucified the Lord. Mr. Gunnar Samuelsson, I want also to tell you something about the Bible, particularly about its translations into different languages of the world. I want to speak about those very translations that you say should be rewritten. I believe in Almighty God, with Whom absolutely all things are possible, Who exists outside the bounds of time and Who knows everything beforehand. I read from the Bible how God treats His Word: “thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Psalm 138:2), and also “thy word is truth” (John 17:17). So do you really think that while the holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost were doing the Bible translation and were writing “cross” instead of “stauros” and “crucify” instead of “anastauroun”, God was powerless to correct them if they were writing the wrong words, as you say? Or do you think that God admitted untruth into His Word in such an important question and in so many languages all over the world? I'm not speaking about icons, pictures and movies because they are not related to the Word of God. They are vain thoughts of men, about which it is written “I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love” (Psalm 119:113). God is not watching over them because He isn't the source of them. Please believe that God has many more possibilities than you to correct a mistake in His Word, even if it would be possible for it to get there by some unknown reason. But if that correction is initiated by people's own desire, not coming from the Holy Ghost, -- they will be ashamed. Here's the example. You must know that the most used English translation of the Bible is the King James Version (KJV). But how old is it? It will be 400 years old soon. A great length of time! During this time there were many attempts to improve this translation: multiple different translations were made, but none of them is better. It's clearly seen from the popularity of KJV among the believers. But why? Many educated people with excellent knowledge of Greek and Hebrew were working on these new translations, diligently comparing and adapting to modern English... But believers continue to read the KJV for almost 400 years, in spite of intense advertisement of the new translations. Why? Because King James feared God, kept His Word, was guided by the Holy Ghost and he received the blessing of the Lord. This translation was sealed by God himself. So many people turned to Christ through this translation and so many will surely be turned still! The same situation is in Russia. The Lord has found holy people who feared Him, people filled with the Holy Ghost, and they have done the first translation of the Bible into Russian -- the Synodal translation. It was almost 150 years ago. Today many people are trying to make new, modern translations. They declare them to be closer to the original Greek and Hebrew and they're advertising them intensely -- but with poor effect. Those who love Jesus still read Synodal Bibles, and they don't even purchase other translations. This translation is beloved, it's being learned by heart, it's used for composing spiritual songs. It easily and joyfully enters into one's heart as something very dear and precious. And it's still the most widely used translation of the Bible into Russian. This is because it was translated by holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost -- and this translation was blessed and sealed by God the Father. If someone will be moved, not with the Holy Ghost, but with curiosity, knowledge or something else coming of the flesh, he shall be ashamed: for God is always watching over His Word in all the nations. Apostle Paul once wrote to Corinthians: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinth. 11:3). Mr. Gunnar Samuelsson, please accept this word from the Lord Jesus: “repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Yes, believe the simple gospel in your native language. Believe that God has given it to you without corruption. Please return to the simplicity that is in Christ, reject your doubts that are poisoning your soul and all around you. You shall save your soul from death and will bring many others to salvation. With love unto you, Antony Ugolev, Moscow, Russia 27-th of October, 2010 References 1. 2. 3.

Darrell L. Bock's picture


I feel I have to respond to your letter. It badly misreads Gunnar and his work, which I have seen. He cannot help how people twist what he says in the media. That you cannot blame him for. He never said Jesus was not put to death by Rome. His only point is the shape of the object he was killed on and whether it is to be depicted in the way it has been. He even notes that a cross shape may be right. It is just that the term used in the text does not tell us that much by itself. Just look at the posts I have done earlier that explain his work and then I make my own conclusions, not base don the term used but larger evidence.

Darrell Bock 

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