Monday, May 22, 2017

On the historicity of the Crucifixion of Jesus, why there might be reason to doubt.

(Tip o' th' hat to Richard Carrier.)

Part 1 - Some findings and allegations by Michael Baigent in: The Jesus Papers.

In this part I discuss a finding of one or more documents that allegedly contained indications that Jesus was alive in 45 CE and the finding of another pair of documents that allegedly consisted of the response to a charge of blasphemy by one “Messiah of the Children of Israel” in his own writing.

In the first photo image in Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers [1], a depiction of the XIV (14th) Station of the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus remove the body of Christ AT NIGHT.  This image in the Church at Rennes le Château in the Pyrenées, south of France, manufactured in the 19th Century by a firm based in Toulouse.  The image was adorned and painted in a strange and peculiar style as authorized by the parish priest, the Abbé Béranger Saunière (p. 19).  It appears that Jesus is still alive in this scene because he is still pink and because he is still bleeding.

Baigent alleges that there were some documents that Jesus was alive and well in southern Transalpine Gaul (now France) in 45 CE (pp. 7-20).  Baigent interviewed the Rev, Dr. Douglas William Guest Bartlett, who was in Oxford in the 1930s and was friends with the Canon and Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, Alfred Lilley (1868-1948), who was an expert in Mediaeval French.  According to Bartlett, Lilley reported to Paris, the Seminary of St. Sulpice at their request, to help translate a strange document or documents that were believed to be in possession of the Cathars in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries ce. Bartlett reported that Lilley had become a disbeliever in the certainty of anything in the gospels with the implication hinted at by Baigent that he became so because of his early 1890s translation work and the alleged content of the documents.

St. Sulpice was a hotbed of (Catholic) Modernism--an informal school of thought within the Catholic Church at the time which also included Parisian Institute Catholique--and it was just prior to a crackdown against this Modernist thought in 1892 that Lilley was asked to help translate some strange documents, which Baigent alleges "to provide incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was alive in A.D. 45." (p. 16)

Baigent then cites Suetonius, who wrote that "'because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.'6" (p. 16) Then he hints that Chrestus may be the same as Christus: Greek Khristos, Aramaic meshiha, Hebrew ha-mashiah.

At this same time in the early 1890s the Abbé Béranger Saunière, priest of Rennes le Château, visited St. Sulpice.  After his visit to Paris he returned apparently wealthy for he had his parish church building renovated, a fashionable, well-appointed villa built for himself as well as a lavish garden and a tower that served as his study. This story, that the priest brought these documents with their supposed contrarian allegations cannot be proven, of course!  But the Rev. Bartlett thought it to be true. At any rate, Saunière came back with and subsequently expressed some peculiar ideas, especially in his renovation and redecoration of his parish church, done in a fantastic late-Nineteenth Century Gothic style.

Now regarding the 14th Station of the Cross, the full moon is up, indicating that Passover had already begun.

[No] Jew would have handled a dead body after the beginning of Passover, as this would have rendered him ritually unclean.

This variation of the fourteenth station suggests two important points: that the body the figures are carrying is still alive, and that Jesus---or his substitute on the cross---has survived the crucifixion.  Moreover, it suggests that the body is not being placed in the tomb, but rather, that it is being carried out, secretly, under the cover of night. (p. 19) 

Compare with John 20:1-2, esp. v. 2: "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him." (New American Bible)  Station 14 as depicted in this church appears to testify to a secret heterodox knowledge of the fate of Jesus (p. 19).
Related to this is the discovery by one mediaeval Jewish rabbi in Narbonne in the Twelfth Century: "The famous Jewish traveller and writer Benjamin of Tudela visited Narbonne around 1166 and wrote of its Jewish community being ruled by a descendant of the House of David as stated in his family tree.'23" (p. 266)  Baigent then asks whether Saunière's document was a Mediaeval French translation of an earlier document, perhaps "dating from the first century A.D." [2]

The other pair of documents, a much more recent find in Israel, is brought to Baigent's attention by an anonymous Israeli Jew, a wealthy businessman whose true passion was for ancient objects of religious symbolism and for whom money was no object. This contact of Michael Baigent had uncovered a document that was in his estimation a reply to questions from the Sanhedrin about the ancient writer calling himself "the son of God."  He told Baigent the story of how he found these "'Jesus Papers'" and the controversy they engendered.  In the early 1960s he bought a house in the Old City Jerusalem, and excavated its basement down to the bedrock (pp. 267-272).

In 1961 he found the papyrus documents bearing an Aramaic text, together with a number of objects that allowed him to date the find to A.D. 34.

The papyrus texts were two Aramaic letters written to the Jewish Court, the Sanhedrin.  The writer ... called himself beni meshiha---the Messiah of the Children of Israel.

This figure ... was defending himself against a charge made by the Sanhedrin---he had obviously been calling himself 'son of God' and had been challenged to defend himself against this charge.  In the first letter, the messiah explained that what he meant not that he was 'God' but that the 'Spirit of God' was in him---not that he was /physically/ the son of God, but rather that he was spiritually an adopted son of God.  And he added that everyone who felt similarly filled with the 'spirit' was also a 'son of God.' (pp. 269-270)

So this "messiah," perhaps the called out by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews 20.200 [20.9.1] to be Jesus, the brother of a certain James, who was called the messiah (or the so-called or self-styled messiah), explicitly states that "he is not divine---or at any rate, no more than anyone else." (p. 270)
Compare John 10:33-35 in which some Jews are bent on stoning Jesus for blasphemy:

"You, a man, are making yourself God."

"Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods."'?  If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside,"

Baigent's contact had "showed them to archaeologists Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad and asked their opinion of them.  The both confirmed that these letters were genuine and important. They "also told some Catholic scholars---[probably] one or more members of the École Biblique, consultants to the Pontifical Biblical Commission" and Pope John XXIII was made privy to the information that they passed on.  He "sent word back to the Israeli experts asking for these documents to be destroyed." The contact refused to do this and has kept the documents under glass in safe storage ever since. It is to be noted that he did not want to stir up controversy between the Vatican and the State of Israel. (p. 270)
Michael Baigent was able to handle these glassed documents, each about eighteen inches long by nine inches wide.  He was unable to figure out what the letters said nor, apparently, was he able to photograph them.

Well Baigent's tome, which at first I found intriguing but since then far less satisfying, raises some interesting questions about the historicity of the Crucifixion, which is one reason why I tend to call it the Crucifiction.  But the manner in which he raises his questions makes his conclusions about Jesus living in Gaul to be rather dubious. [2]  But his testimony concerning the other documents he was able to view in Israel may be an indicator that whoever was calling himself messiah round-about 34 CE was able to avoid being convicted of blasphemy.  Other reasons to doubt are to be found in Josephus (i.e., the so-called Testimonium Flavianum and the statement about James) and in the New Testament itself.


Notes with numbers in brackets mine, otherwise Michael Baigent's with my addition of further bibliographic information from his bibliography.

[1] Michael Baigent, /The Jesus Papers/ (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), photo plate directly opposite p. 50.
6   Robert Graves, Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars (Harmondsworth, 1979), p. 202 [Claudius 25.4].
23  Arthur J. Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France 768-900 (New York, 1972), p. 58.

[2] Baigent's work is filled with loaded questions such as this and it really gets to be really annoying.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Theme: The Roman Tropaeum.

Two-beam crosses like the kind you see in every church everywhere probably were not used to hang people with in Ancient Rome: how is it even possible to attach the crossbeam to the post when the prisoner is wearing it?

But crosses of this sort were known all throughout the Roman Empire as symbols of victory; because they were used as the frames of tropaea (trophies).

1) Here is the Roman Goddess Victoria next to a bound slave, kneeling under a tropaeum; its shields give away the shape of the frame--the shape of a cross.

2) Here on Trajan's Column is a relief representing a tropaeum decorated with enemy armor. Note again, the typical form of the tropaeum is in the shape of a cross.

3) Here in the lower left-hand corner of the Gemma Augustea is a victory party of Roman Soldiers exalting aloft a cruciform tropaeum.  Note the bound slaves by its foot.

5) And here are the reenactors of the 8th Legion Augustus with a vexilla; its frame's shape is that of a tropaeum.

6) Here is a Roman Eagle perched on top of its standard, which is shaped like a T. This unusual for a tropaeum.

8) Here is a coin of Augustus Caesar, on the reverse he is being anointed by the Roman goddess Victory with the star of Julius Caesar while holding a Nike (angel), portrayed roughly in the form of a tropaeum.

9) Here is a coin of Vespasian Caesar, minted by his son the Imperator Titus, showing on the reverse a tropaeum. Note that captives were always bound at the foot of the tropaeum.

10) And here is another coin of Vespasian, again minted by Titus, with an image of a tropeum, a bound captive kneeling at its foot.

11) And here on view at the Charlottenberg Museum in Berlin is a mini-tropaeum depicted wearing the body armor of a Roman Imperator or a Caesar, perhaps even Julius Caesar.

12) And finally here is a reenactment of the Funeral of Julius Caesar, with his likeness showing all twenty-three stab wounds mounted on a cross, or tropaeum.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Crucifixion Fresco in the Roman Colosseum - Renaissance Provenance Instead?

In a previous post at Fin des Voies Rapides, I discussed a possibility that a fresco, alleged by some to depict the Crucifiction of Jesus Christ, may have been painted by Jewish artisan-laborers 80 CE.  Since the I have come to the conclusion that it might be of 16th-Century provenance instead.

Here's the reason why:

Golgotha in Christian Krulk van Adrichem's 1584 Map of Jerusalem.
This is a photo of an image in : Jeremy Black, Andrew Heritage, Andrew Humphreys and Thomas Cussans. Great City Maps. A historical journey through maps, plans, and paintings. (New York City: DK Smithsonian, DK Publishing, 2016), pp. 30-33, esp. p. 33.

It is reproduced from the 1584 map of Jerusalem, by: Christian Krulk van Adrichem.  It's a hand colored copperplate engraving---numerous copies exist.

Note Christ is both being nailed on the ground and suspended up in mid-air on a cross. His arms are put to the full stretch.  Note also manner of dress of the locals: they are wearing robes turbans. Note also the city wall and the city of Jerusalem beyond: the wall corner is curved, and Jerusalem is an idealised garden city.

Now compare to the crucifixion scene fresco in the Flavian Ampitheatre (Roman Colosseum, or Coliseum):

First, the overview: note in the remainder of the fresco the curved corners of the depicted city wall of Jerusalem. Note, too, that the city of Jerusalem is depicted as a garden city. Now a close-up of the crucifixion scene at the northwest (lower-left) corner of the city:

Squalid Crucifixion scene - Flavian Ampitheatre - 80 or 1585 CE.

Except for the extra squalor and the nude figure in the foreground depicted in this fresco, the scene looks uncannily like the Golgotha scene depicted in Christian Krulk van Adrichem's 1584 Map. Note how the freshly crucified person's the legs are bent and the arms extended just like in  the 1584 map.  The three figures on crosses, with the central one hidden by smoke from a fire based at the foot of the cross, are very similar to the depictions of Christ and the two thieves in Late Renaissance and Baroque art; the central figure even has his arms extended just like Christ's in the 1584 map. There is even a nude figure seated on a rock, approached by a person in a yellow tunic and black tights, similar to the person of Christ being offered wine in the 1584 map . Note also how the four crosses are depicted. In ancient Roman art, crosses and mobile poles are frequently depicted as merely lines, as seen in the Alexamenos, Puteoli and Vivat Crux graffiti, and in this illustration:

Note how the uprights, struts and handles of the mobile poles are shown only by lines. The crosses in the fresco are depicted like the ones in Mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque art.

Now we can figure out if we have a clinch for a post-1584 provenance of this fresco or not.  It depends on the mode of dress of the the person in yellow, and how Jerusalem is depicted. Is it typical of the First Century CE, or the Sixteenth, or later?  First, the full image of Christian Krulk van Adrichem's 1584 Map of Jerusalem:

Christian Krulk van Adrichem's 1584 Map of Jerusalem. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Note again how here, too, is depicted a garden city. Notice something peculiar when comparing this image with the city depicted in the fresco: everything about the city in the fresco is identical with this image, with the Temple in the upper center, the brook running from upper mid-left to lower mid-right. Even the street layout is identical.

We can see from the dress of the slaves sending condemned people to their deaths that their typical color of dress was red, not yellow.  Note also they did not wear tights.  And the typical Roman mode of dress in the street?

The Roman outfits are to the right of the image provided. Note the men are wearing leggings or sandals, not tights. And the outfits they wore, even those the lower-class male to the right, are draped, not blousy.

Now the woman's outfits.

Here, the women all are depicted with outfits that covered the whole body from neck to toe. They did not wear, as far as I know, skirts with hemlines at the knees. But it appears that lower-class women were not depicted! So I'll go with the men.

Source: Pinterest.
It looks like the top row, third from left is a close enough match for our man in yellow.  So is the image below, an even closer match!

Source: Kleanrite
So our fresco in the Roman Colosseum is of Sixteenth-Century provenance.  Just in time to get the Catholic Church from cannibalizing the Colosseum for its marble slabs.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Vivat Crux Graffito

This meanwhile is another graffito, this time found in a house in Pompeii (Insula 13, Regio I [= Block 13, Precinct I]). It shows the letters VIV alongside the drawing of a †-shaped crux, and what looks like a V intersecting with the †. The cross figure could be taken as a rebus for crux. There is some uncertainty as to whether the sketch is a Christian work or not (it could be read either as the acclamation vivat crux vivat "Long live the cross" or as the insult viv(as in) cruce "may you live on the cross"), or whether the V intersecting with the cross in really a letter or a representation of the sedile.

-          Patrick457, posted in "I heard someone say Christ was not crucified on a cross but an upright stake" on Catholic Answers Forums, dated February 8, 2013, accessed December 5, 2015 (formatting and brackets mine)

First, we shall look at an argument that the graffito is a Christian work:
“Sign of the Cross Used in Pompeii” John Herbert Roper, William C Weinrich The New Testament Age. Essays in Honor of Bo Reicke (Macon, Ga.: Mercer Univ. Press, 1984) pp. 25-26 (formatting, reconstruction of images, and all comments and notes in brackets mine):


Monogram  (chrismon) found in excavations 1951-1956. Not with certainty they are Christian – appears on Amphorae jars. [chrismon = chrestos = good]
House Insula XIII Region I, 1955: (illustration on page 25)

VT                                    TP                                        XP

"The excavator of Pompeii, della Corte, took this as proof of the existence of Christians in Pompeii [79 ce] by reading: “VIV(at) crux V(ivat),” which he thought was an acclamation of the cross.29  Dinkler disputes this interpretation on the grounds that such a development of Pauline or Johannine theology would have been highly improbable at such an early period.30  However Dinkler does not explain the undisputed existence in this graffito in the sign of the cross.  It is very unlikely that this is Jewish (+ or x), and we have no pagan parallels[1] to [VT, above] as is the case with [TP, above] and [XP, above].  If it is not Christian, what is it?[2]  I can see no reason for denying that the figure of the Vivat Crux refers simply to Christ’s death and resurrection.  The early kerygma, which can be reconstructed behind New Testament documents,  undoubtedly referred to this.  We do not need to find in this figure an elaborate cult of the cross, or a development of Pauline or Johannine theology.  What we have here is a simple acclamation of faith that Jesus, who died on the cross, is alive.  The reason that no figure of Jesus appears on the cross is due to the fact that the early Christians had no knowledge of his physical appearance, beyond a few details about his clothes, and they were loath to portray him.  While it would be unscientific to bring the Cross of Herculanaeum to support a Christian interpretation of the “vivat crux” graffito at Pompeii, a view of both crosses independently does not rule out the possibility that they may be Christian and therefore the earliest archaeological witness to the Christian religion in the Roman Empire.  Perhaps we should mention here also the similar cross at Pompeii made long ago by Mazois but now lost.31

29 della Corte, “Inscrizione,” 113, 183 pl. 5 no. 181; see also Agnello Baldi, La Pompeii Giudaico-Christiana (Di Mauro Editore, 1964) p. 67. [Graffito was discovered 1955, Insula XIII, Region I, Pompeii.]
30 Dinkler, Signum Crucis, 144-145. [Dinkler, Signum Crucis: Aufsätze zum Neuen Testament und zur Christlichen Archäologie. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1967 pp. 136-145, esp. pp. 144-145, within: Graffiti in Pompeii using sign of the cross is not Christian. “Sodom and Gomorrah” was etched by a pagan (?)]
31 François Mazois, Les Ruines de Pompei, 4 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1824-1838), v. 2 p. 84. [This cross was discovered on the exterior of an oven at the House of the Baker. It appears to be a hybrid of a Tau and Club of Hercules; given another graffiti, apparently Jewish, and plastering-over of a sexually rude relief at this house, this cross appears to serve as an instruction to slaves on roasting animals, such as the Passover lamb---see David W. Chapman, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), pp. 207-8, where he explains that formerly the apparatus for the roasting of the lamb was in the shape of a cross.]

[1] “no pagan parallels to…” Yes we do – Orpheos Bakkikos gem (Dionysius crucified), now lost due to Allied bombings of Berlin during World War II.
[2] “what is it?” I think the argument that it is an obscene curse or rebus--vivas in cruce--is the better of the two.

And now a counter argument that the Vivat Crux is a rebus:

From an article written by Gino Zanniotto, “The Shroud and Roman Crucifixion: A Historical Review” in: The Turin Shroud past, present and future. International Scientific Symposium Torino 25 March 2000 (Cantalupa: Effatà Editrice, 2000), pp. 285-324, esp. pp. 307. (formatting mine):

This type of cross with a seat is depicted in a graffito35 at Pompeii.  In shape it is like that of the crux immissa or “Latin” cross which recalls a ship’s mast.  Here again on the stipes there is a sign that looks like the “sedile (seat)” and which would also justify the writing VIV superimposed on the cross and which might be interpreted as a rebus VIV[AS IN CRUCE] (“That you may live a long time on a cross”) on the lines of “IN CROCE FIGARIS” (May you be nailed to the cross) found in the same city.

35 M Della Corte (“Notizie Scavi” 1958 p. 113) found in July 1958 in a house on insula 13 (Regio I) and he interpreted it as “VIV(at crux) V(ivat)”, taking for a V the sign of the stipes. The graffito may be seen in the Corpus Inscriptionorum Latinarum (CIL IV … [remainder of note not reproduced].

Note: the Vivat Crux can be found on p. 306 of the referenced volume; images within this blog’s article are reverse-direction reproductions from page scans posted on the Yahoo! ANE-2 forum by Antonio Lombatti.  Credit and locational information kindly provided by him via private email correspondence on December 16, 2012.

Now as a rebus: if the Vivat Crux Graffito were drawn to scale to reflect actual construction, with the transom 72” in length, here is what we obtain for dimensions:

When we set the patibulum (transom) at 72” wide to accommodate the condemned’s arms, the rise above the sedile would be 40” – high enough to give the one crucified quite an upper-body racking – and the elevation of the transom would be 62” above the ground.  At this transom there appears to be a representation of two branches or brackets[3] – projecting out at an angle to support the transom as if it were an antenna (ship’s yard).  Furthermore, at the end of the sedile there appears to be a spike (cornu) standing about 7” in front of the pole, 10” tall and 2” in diameter, which would lock the person in place by anal penetration. If the “crucified” person were to stand on his nailed or bound feet to relieve the strain in his arms, given an assumed torso height above the perineum of say 32”, he probably would still be penetrated.

On the other hand if this representation of the sedile-cornu was actually meant to be a V and the intent Christian, the way this graffito was drawn is most peculiar.

[3] If the whole graffito were intended to be a depiction of an actual crux immissa (lap-jointed two-beam cross) and originated from a Christian animus, this representation to the best of my knowledge cannot be accounted for except as an accidental stray marking.

In my reasoned opinion, this graffito is a rebus intended as an insult, not a Christian faith-inducing epigraph.  And as such, it means that the Roman crux is more than just a cross, and at the same time not a cross at all.

Next epigraph: the Puteoli Graffito.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Crestus Graffito

Crestus Graffito
Sources:   (Author unknown) “A Possible Contemporary Representation of the Crucifixion,” The Methodist Magazine and Review, Vol. XXLVII January to June, 1898. W. H. Withrow, ed. (Toronto: Methodist Publishing House, 1898) p. 473-474.

Samuel Ball Platner (as compiled and revised by Thomas Ashby): A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London, Oxford University Press, 1929. "Domus Tiberiana, pp. 191-194, p. 194.*/Domus_Tiberiana.html and, both accessed May 6, 2017

Arapacana Press, The Alphabetary Heraldic, “Latin Sexual Terms,” Printout pp. 17-22 of 22, esp. pp. 20 & 21. Accessed April 9, 2010.

Although this graffito, immediately above an illustration of rope-dancers, was for the moment after its discovery, was alternately thought of as a reference to the Crucifiction of Jesus Christ back in 1898, it still has a connection with Roman “crucifixion.”  It has since then been properly interpreted as several lines of love verse, and the illustration a depiction of rope-dancers. It was then brought to the attention of Methodist Magazine by a Professor L. Reynaud, their correspondent in Rome.  He writes:

A distinguished archaeologist, Prof. Orazio Marucchi, the director of the Egyptian Museum of the Vatican, has devoted himself for many years to the study of epigraphy, and now he has brought himself into great prominence owing to his discovery of the graffito referred to. The picture is scratched on the level of the ground close by the angle of one of the passages which lie under the structures adjoining the Bridge of Caligula, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Clivus Victoriae.  The building is really a gallery made by Caligula to connect the palace with the Forum.…

… The ‘graffito’ of the Crucifixion is very crude, as is so often the the case in sketches of this kind.  It is believed that the picture was drawn by a soldier who took an active part in the Crucifixion on Mount Calvary.  The figures are about fifteen centimeters (six inches) high.  At the right are two crosses, and soldiers mount ladders placed against them.  Each person in the great tragedy is duly inscribed with his name, and ‘Piletus’ was undoubtedly intended for Pontius Pilate.  The inscription of twelve or fifteen lines begins with the word ‘Crestus,’ which is already known as a rough form of the name of Christ.  M. Marucchi deciphers part of it: ‘Crestus, virgis coesus decretus mori, super palum virus fixus est,’ which is to say, ‘Christ, after been beaten with rods, having been condemned to die, has been attached living to the cross.’  Various interpretations have been made of other parts of it, some of the lines being love verses.  It was, however, quite customary to add to or subtract from such inscriptions; so this objection of the archaeologists does not militate against the theory that the picture really represents the Crucifixion.  Some contend that Prof. Marucchi is mistaken, and that the scene represents a ropewalk, but what object would Roman soldiers have in portraying a ropewalk, and how does this do away with ‘Crestus’ and ‘Piletus’?  M. Marucchi makes a great point in showing that behind the central figure there seems to have been a third cross, for it is still possible to distinguish a third ladder running up the same height as the others and also a third rope hanging downward like the rest.  All doubts will probably be set at rest when Prof. Marucchi publishes a pamphlet upon the subject.

The New York Times, once Marucchi published his findings, had this to say:
The reputed discovery of a graffito in Rome (graffito meaning an old scribbling on a wall) has awakened some curiosity among archaeologists. The scratching has been interpreted by Prof. Marucchi to represent the crucifixion or refer to it. Other archaeologists declare this graffito not to be a new discovery, but to have been noted before this, and to be understood as a rough sketch of some rope dancers. One name Prof. Marucchi's opponents insist is "Filetus" and not "Pilatus." Those who differ, too, from Marucchi think that "Crestos" is not to be interpreted as Christ. In the last account of the find Prof. Marucchi states that it will require further study before the positive interpretation of the graffito can be understood.
Professor Marucchi after this went on record as stating that the illustrative graffito was a depiction of a group of rope dancers [1] who are in my opinion preparing a frame for a production, probably for Caligula or a later Caesar. These rope dancers form a crew of seven naked men and an eighth in a full-length dress, apparently playing the part of a woman.  One of the naked men is labeled “Piletus,” which is hardly an appropriate depiction of the Roman prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate.  The crosses, or bare tropaea, have ladders leaning against them and ropes hanging from them, possibly intended to be stretched overhead across the space in between like clotheslines. The crosses are also connected at the top with a horizontal beam, from which dangles the third ladder, suspended by a rope.  And the twelve to fifteen lines of verse above them? Those are love verses, that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Not only are they love verses, but I have figured out that they are rather rude homoerotic love verses! I have deciphered for myself the first six lines; the rest are illegible as seen in the Methodist Magazine reproduction. The title and the five initial verses I ave presented as follows:


Virgis erast coesus secretis moribus
Super palum a virum fixum
Non, requies non somnis clavdit ocelios
Per cunctos noctes estuet omnis amor
Ex ano nocitias viroso fuit.


With rods he was chewed-up/consumed in private in [various] ways;
On top of a palus—oh!—a man is fixed!
No, a rest without sleep Orelios finishes.
Throughout all the nights a passion may burn with desire for all men;
From the anus the news is rank!

As you can see, and check for yourself, even though I could not find the meaning of the last word of the third verse except maybe as a proper name, these lines are homoerotic and very, very rude!  But I do not fault Professor Marucchi for initially interpreting this as relating to the Crucifiction, because the first two verses could easily be interpreted as the preparation for, and the act of, “crucifixion” by impalement: the first verse depicting someone being beaten with rods and the second verse is obvious. But since palus (accusative palum) was a Latin sexual term for phallus--an erect penis—and virga (ablative virgis) another euphemism, these two lines are properly love verses.  Yet, even a Roman of Caligula’s time could misinterpret these two lines as depicting an impalement and the softening up of the prisoner for it.
[1] Samuel Ball Platner (comp. and rev. by Thomas Ashby): A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London, 1929. "Domus Tiberiana, pp. 191-194, p. 194: “For the graffiti (representing rope dancers) in a room at the lower level on the clivus Victoriae see Marucchi, Di alcuni graffiti del Palatino (1898); cf. Forum Romain et Palatin, 1903, 378380; BC 1895, 195196; AL 954.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Name Changes

Name changes.  Names, especially the more ancient ones, evolve over time in pronunciation and spelling, and sometimes even in meaning! For example:

Bethlehem Hospital [London] => Bedlam
Fora Julia => Frejus
Lugdunum => Lyons
Londinium => London
Breuckelen => Brooklyn
Conihasset => Cohasset
Satuit => Scituate
Dùn Èideann => Edinburgh, Dunedin
sicarius => sicario, Iscariot
gul-goletha => Golgotha
crux => cross

The last three are controversial, in that two are devolutions of regular, plain nouns into proper nouns, names and the third, well, read on.  The Latin noun sicarius (assassin) became Iscariot (Man of Kerioth, Man of Falsehood, etc.) and the Aramaic noun gul-goletha (skull, head, place of the head, tax office) becomes Golgotha (Place of the Skull). Of course, Melito of Sardis (On the Passion 94-97) thought the Jews hanged Jesus in the broad space of Jerusalem—which, before Hadrian renovated it into Aelia Capitolina, was on the plinth known as the Temple Mount.  So gul-goletha (Golgotha) could have referred to the place of the Head of all Israel! And crux to cross, well it seems self-explanatory, but back in the days before the supremacy of Christianity under Constatine, a crux meant "torture-stake," whether it was equipped with a transom or not.  Even an impaling stake qualified as a crux. Since then, it has been rendered identical to the Roman tropaeum in all illustrations and reliefs and means two pieces of wood set transverse to and laid into each other by a lap-joint.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie Depictions of the Crucifiction.

Adapted from History and tradition in movie depictions of the Cross, by Peter T. Chattaway, Patheos Blog, April 8, 2013, updated through 2016, link. All the photos are from there. I’m going to leave off at 2013 and you can peruse the examples from beyond 2014 at the link.

Well this next Friday the 14th is Good Friday and the approach of this Christian dies sanguines caused me to think about revisiting the above article that I snagged off the internet last year. What is it about Hollywood depictions of the Crucifiction of Jesus Christ that seem, well… implausible? Well let me take you guys on a quick tour of the movies and show you!

But first, a few paragraphs from Mr. Chattaway:

For the first several decades after the invention of film, filmmakers followed centuries of artistic tradition by making the execution of Jesus look noticeably different from the execution of the thieves who were crucified on either side of him: where Jesus carried his entire cross, the thieves carried only crossbeams; and where Jesus was nailed to his cross, the thieves were usually tied to their crosses with ropes. 
Then, in the 1960s, filmmakers began to show the thieves being nailed to their crosses, just like Jesus. And then, in the 1970s, filmmakers began to show Jesus carrying only his crossbeam, just like the thieves. Around that same time, spurred by the recent work of archaeologists and other scholars, filmmakers also began to show the nails going through the wrists of Jesus and the thieves, rather than the palms of their hands. One or two films even showed Jesus and the thieves being crucified naked. 
These “historically accurate” depictions of the Crucifixion dominated films about Jesus for about a quarter-century — and then Gibson’s film [Ed-M: The Passion of the Christ], which was heavily influenced by Renaissance art, came along and reverted to the traditional imagery, at least in part. His Jesus carries a full cross, and the nails go through the palms of his hands, but the thieves are also nailed to their crosses, not tied with ropes.
Mr. Gibson’s film is not only based on Renaissance art but also the mystic visions of a certain nun, the Catholic mystic Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich. But the part where Jesus is flipped over on the Cross so they could hammer the nails sticking out the back flat against the surface--that came from someone else spinning her or his crucifix.

About the Simon of Cyrene bit, Mr. Chattaway has this to say:
Along the way, I noticed that virtually none of the “historically accurate” films — i.e. the films in which Jesus carries a crossbeam instead of a full cross — include the bit from the gospels where Simon of Cyrene carries the cross on Jesus’ behalf. It is as though filmmakers didn’t really know how to show Jesus stumbling under a mere crossbeam so badly that he needed help, or as though the sight of Simon of Cyrene carrying a mere crossbeam wouldn’t carry the same visual symbolic punch.

Perhaps it’s possible that it was the intent of the three Synoptic Gospels that Jesus was forced to carry an assembled two-beam cross—a tropaeum—instead of just the patibulum (transom) of typical Roman practice instead?

That’s a question for a future time but for now we’re off to the movies!

The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ
Lucien Nonguet & Ferdinand Zecca, directors. 1902-1905.

Here Jesus is carrying the top end of his Cross while Simon of Cyrene gets to lug the base end of it.  There are two crosses already up in the distance on what appears to be a Mount Cragmore and no Place of the Skull.

Here Jesus is nailed to his Cross through his palms while the two thieves (the Romans never crucified common thieves, by the way) are tied to their crosses with ropes, with their arms behind the horizontal parts.  This is a very popular trope in Renaissance art and not based on any actual Roman practice that we know of—note that without the thieves’ arms behind them and over their transoms there is no way to keep them from falling off!  Also note that Jesus is standing on a footrest (suppedaneum).  This was never mentioned in the Roman literature until St Augustine put it to writing—it’s not even in the Maxwell Ivories (ca. 424 ce).

From the Manger to the Cross
Sidney Olcott, director. 1912.

In the actual Crucifiction in this film, Jesus is the only one who is nailed—the two thieves are bound—and Jesus’s Cross is now of the regular cross variety with a big sign over his head.

The King of Kings
Cecil B. DeMille, director. 1927.

Here Jesus carries a regular two-beam cross. Notice how the transom is inlaid into the lap-jointed post just like those Katrina crosses right here in New Orleans.

The two thieves on the other hand are only carrying their transoms, which are ludicrously large logs!  But at least DeMille has the first thief’s arms lashed to his in a manner similar to that shown on the Alexamenos graffito

Once again Jesus is nailed to his while the thieves are merely bound.  At least the thieves have no danger of falling off. Jesus on the other hand: if the nails were to let go….

Except with one thief in particular: his right hand is nailed! Note the patiently waiting crow. We won’t see crows take such roles in the movies again until Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. After that, it’ll be Gibson’s film.

The Robe 
Henry Koster, director. 1953.

Once again, a full cross.  Unless you look closely, you cannot discern the ropes tying the Cross together.  Even so it appears the two beams are glued together—otherwise there’s no way the post can be prevented from sliding up along on the transom or vice versa: this cross can easily come apart.  Also note that the outfits—the Roman outfits at least—are becoming more accurate.

Once again, one is nailed up and two are tied up.

William Wyler, director. 1959.

Now this was done in CinemaScope—and look at all that scarlet, it looks fabulous!

Anyway, Jesus is about to carry his full Cross—shaped like a T—whereas the thieves only get to wear their transoms on their backs.  At least here the transoms appear to be portable.

Once again, one nailed, two bound. The one bound shown here appears to be gripping his transom to keep from falling off. But look at shot of the crowd!

King of Kings
Nicholas Ray, director. 1961.

Here Simon of Cyrene is carrying the whole Cross—while a thief in front is only bearing a transom.  And Jesus is also up in front, wearing scarlet just like the Romans, and holding a spear!

Here, all three are nailed and bound with ropes.  At least the director seems to acknowledge that if one was nailed up without a sedile (crotch peg) between the legs (or worse), the person would have to be sustained with ropes.  Still no clue how the crossbeams are held up on their posts—I suppose a nail or two are hiding under the ropes.  Otherwise the ropes are holding the transoms up with friction—not with those cut-and-dressed beams that look like they came from a lumber yard.

The Gospel according to St. Matthew
Pier Paolo Pasolini, director. 1964.

Italian film is always excellent.  The cinematography always gives you something to think about.

Here Simon is carrying a full regular cross, already assembled, apparently held together with glue.  And what is remarkable in this scene, Jesus appears to be wearing short hair!

Jesus and one of the thieves are shown here nailed up with no ropes or other visible means of support.  Note the Roman helmets—they look curiously like US Marine drill sergeant hats.

The Greatest Story Ever Told
George Stevens, director. 1965.

Here a black Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carries his Cross: as if Cyrenaica was a sub-Saharan country and not a North African area in what is now present-day Libya. And the Cross is jointed like those Katrina Crosses.

All three are nailed up like in Renaissance art.  The ropes, supposedly the means of support, are way out at the wrists—apparently useless for their purpose.

Jesus Christ Superstar
Norman Jewison, director. 1973.

This rock opera is one of the most popular films ever.  Its most recent production was as a Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Once again, Jesus carries a whole cross with its base dragging behind him. The Roman soldiers though look like ersatz US Army National Guardsmen, with their helmets painted silver!

 The Crucifiction scene. All three are nailed up with no sedile or footrest and no ropes except out at the wrists.  So how are they kept from falling down?

Well it’s a rock opera, so it’s not supposed to be realistic.

Jesus of Nazareth
Franco Zeffirelli, director. 1977.

This appears to be the most realistic scene ever made for the movies or for television.  And it has this air of existential pathos about it.

Here Jesus is carrying only his transom—a big fat log like in Cecil DeMille’s production!  And he also looks like a hippie.

And here they are nailed up.  There are also ropes around the forearms or elbows of the tree—better situated to be able to keep the men suspended—and also a small platform (suppedaneum) for the three to stand on.  Also there is no cross in sight: these men are suspended from a scaffold, which would be much, much more likely from the view of Roman practice than an inlaid, lap-jointed, sawn-and-planed regular cross!

John Krish & Peter Sykes, directors. 1979.

Here, Jesus is being led out between two groups of soldiers.  He and the two thieves are bearing transoms.  And in this film the Roman soldiers appear to be wearing helmets made of… plastic!

Here, Jesus and both thieves are nailed through their wrists with railway spikes!  Note also they’re sustained from their transoms with hoops of rope.  One thing—how did the Romans get the transoms onto the poles without freeing the criminals from them first, and risking their escape?  On a regular cross like these, this appears to be very difficult or just plain impossible!  Also big railway spikes have been driven through the arches or even the ankles of their feet!  I find that to be totally bizarre. 

The Last Temptation of Christ
Martin Scorsese, director. 1988.

What is it about these films directed by Italians or Italian-Americans that make them the best?
Here Jesus is carrying his transom through the streets of Jerusalem.  The helmet on the soldier behind him appears realistic as well as the rough hewing and planning of the wood on the transom—no more Lowe’s Home Improvement Center lumber!  The transom appears to be a bit large for its purpose, though—it only needs to hold up one person, not a whole floor of a building.  And there’s a reason the Romans called the transom a patibulum—because originally the patibulum was a door-bar meant to keep doors closed, probably no bigger than a two-by-four.

The Crucifiction scene shows Jesus nailed up in a pose derived from the archaeological and medical-forensic analysis of Vassilios Tzaferis and Nico Haas, later revised by the later team of Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles (see BAR article here and CJOS article here).  The nails, again big railway spikes, are driven through his wrists and, apparently, his ankles (although both archaeological-medical teams in Israel found the nail driven through a heelbone).  The Cross in this film is a Tee, or St. Anthony's Cross.  Jesus is also depicted entirely naked!

There is also no visible means of support in case the nails were to let go, although the actor reported that during the shooting of this scene he was required to sit upon a block—a narrow ledge--of wood, which limited shooting cuts to fifteen minutes apiece.  There is also in one photo (not in this post but here) what appears to be a metal support for the crotch which makes it very painful in the perineum for the person to sit upon!

The two thieves, though, are tied to trees—as depicted in some Renaissance art but probably also indicative of Roman practices—the Romans knew that there was more than one way to suspend a criminal in a stress position so that he died of torture!  Here the one thief at the top is astride a branch or peg that is jutting out from the tree between his legs and the other appears to be sitting on a short limb set in place for a similar purpose.

Regardt van den Bergh, director. 1993.

Here six people are carrying a whole cross, with Jesus apparently following behind.  But where are the Romans?

Here is the Crucifiction scene, from across a valley and far away.  From this point, Jesus and the two thieves look exactly like crucifixes!

Roger Young, director. 1999.

Here Jesus is carrying only a transom.  Note the indentation for the lap joint at the place where the beam will be affixed to the post.  Now how are they going to do that without risking his escape?

Here the two thieves are depicted as already nailed up, with railroad spikes driven through their wrists.

The Miracle Maker
Derek W. Hayes & Stanislav Sokolov, directors. 2000.

Here Jesus is at the beginning of his journey with the titulus (sign of criminal charges) dangling around his neck.  Here he is only carrying a transom, just like in Roger Young’s film.

Here Jesus is nailed up with the railway spikes driven though his wrists, but the thieves are tied up with lots and lots of rope.  Now how does Jesus maintain a posture like that?  And how does a Roman soldier tie the lap-jointed transom onto the post without the attached person stabbing his hands with those thorns?  But worst of all, the lighting—it’s atrocious!  I know this is supposed to be the darkness portion of the Crucifiction, but the lighting makes the scene look like it was done in a diorama with models, or done on Photoshop!

The Gospel of John
Philip Saville, director. 2003.

Here Jesus carries just a transom, which apparently was used eleven times before.

Here both Jesus and the two thieves are attached with railway spikes driven through their wrists and ankles.  The Cross here, too, is a Tee.  Now why is Jesus standing out like that?!?

The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson, director. 2004.

Worst, film, ever.  Pornographically violent.  Fortunately, these photos don’t show the violence.

Leaving the city.  Here Jesus is carrying the whole cross—a ridiculous thing, based on a crucifix—while the two thieves are only carrying their transoms.  All three items appear to be impossibly heavy.

The Crucifiction.  Here all three are nailed through their palms and “attached” with ropes around their wrists.  No visible sign of support.  The thieves’ transoms are nailed to their posts in such a manner that risked bashing the thieves’ heads in.  Now Jesus is covered with blood and all, while the two thieves have nary a scratch on them—except from the nails, of course.

And a crow has just arrived on his flight from Bodega Bay (The Birds) as the bad thief is laughing his head off.  We know what comes next—yeeccch!  And what’s with the chalice hanging from the nail in this thief’s hand?  And the satchel dangling from the other thief’s neck, above?  Such things are unheard-of in all the ancient writings about the Roman practice of torture-execution by suspension, or “crucifixion.”

The Bible
Christopher Spencer, director. 2013.

Here Jesus is carrying the whole thing while the other two are only bearing their transoms.  And what’s peculiar about the Roman soldiers’ helmets is that some of them appear modeled after baseball helmets!  If it weren’t for actual brass helmets found in the UK they’d be considered totally unrealistic.  Well we know where this is going.

The Lumo Project: The Gospel of John
David Batty, director. 2014.

All three are carrying transoms, all far too heavy and far too smoothly dressed and planed.  Jesus is wearing his properly in accordance with Roman practice, while the other two are lugging theirs around, swinging them about as they turn. Look out for that end!

Jesus is shown with nails through his palms and leather straps around his wrists.  So how do the Romans keep him from falling down?

Now as for the thieves, they both appear to be merely tied to their crosses with the leather straps—although in the second there appears to be a trickle of blood down the forearm that would indicate a nailing somewhere.

But the crosses of all three, they all look like dressed, planed and chamfered crucifixes!  Would the Romans go through all that work just to suspend a criminal?  Probably not.

Well this sampling of pictures from movies about the Crucifiction shows that the reasons why the scenes depicted therein are almost always, nearly to the last film, implausible, is because usually the instruments of suspension and torture-execution resemble the regular cross, or Roman tropaeum, the transoms and especially the assembled crosses are too heavy, the members usually are smoothly dressed and planed, and when the persons are finally suspended there is no visible means of support, and one more thing: usually the actors are all whites of European descent!

Any questions?

It’s a wrap!