Sadly, it is the view of the present Reviewer that Samuelsson’s book does not meet the standards of stringent scientific inquiry into Greek linguistic problems. Through the use of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, he may have amassed a long list of texts, which at first sight may look impressive to the uninitiated, but a specialist in Greek linguistics and philology is not fooled by this caricature presentation of the Greek evidence on the question of ancinet crucifixion in general and of Jesus’ crucifixion in particular. The evidence stands clear and cannot be falsified by such dilettantish investigations.
When a reader of our blog, "Z," had read Caragounis' review he made this comment:
Still haven't read the work of Gunnar Samuelsson, but the review confirms my suspicion: He must have forgotten about lots of ancient texts which describe crucifixion.To which I replied:
I wait to see Samuelsson's reply. The thing is that almost all those texts that Caragounis cites are included in Samuelsson's treatment, which implies that Caragounis has not read Samuelsson's interpretation of those texts. It seems Caragounis has browsed the work, made his own searches and then responded.
Nevertheless, the critique is serious and many points are probably relevant, but I'd like to hear Samuelsson's response. In fact, he now will have time to revise his dissertation on some points before publication (hopefully in the WUNT series).
Apparently Caragounis reads this blog, at least occasionally, and that is something I take pride in. However, he was not pleased with this comment, and, thus, he posted a two pages long reply to my blogcomment, "Tommy Wasserman and Crucifixion" on his website.
I offer here some comments to Caragounis' comments. Perhaps it is not the best timing since I will be on holiday for some time without good internet access, but nevertheless, here it is:
First, C. says I have assumed the role of Samuelsson's advocate. Let me clarify that I would prefer it if Samuelsson's thesis is wrong! (Not for Samuelsson's sake of course.) However, I feel that I owe it to Samuelsson to listen to his reply, he has after all devoted many years to the study of crucifixion, although he has now been criticized sharply by a very competent scholar like C. (which of course makes me worried for Samuelsson's sake).
C. asks this question: "With what right does Wasserman assume that 'Caragounis has not read Samuelsson's interpretation of those texts'? How does he know that?"
I do not know that. What I say is that something *implies* that C. has not read the (whole) book, but that it *seems* he has browsed the book (see further below). Only C. (and God) really knows the truth. However, *I* assumed it because I had spoken to a rather depressed author the day before, and he had that very impression. Now the author of the book of course would know better than me, because I had only read the conclusion, and browsed other parts.
By the way, C. later goes on to ask why, if he has followed such a procedure – browsing the book, searching texts on one's own and responding – would invalidate what he as a reviewer has to say about the dissertation ... Well, the point, if I understand Samuelsson, is that C. is basically reproducing the traditional understanding of those texts, a traditional understanding which Samuelsson criticizes with his new thesis (which may or may not be groundbreaking). It seems to me the question of method becomes rather important. (Again, I am not saying that Samuelsson's method is good but I would have liked to see Caragounis discuss the question of how to select the texts.)
In which way does my citation of a number of texts that Samuelsson treats prove that I have not read what he wrote? ... Here it is not a case that we need more texts about crucifixion (there are about 10.000 texts till the XVIth century and many more till the present day!), but that we need to understand what the texts are saying.
I agree with C., that we need to understand what the texts are saying, and I assume that is what Samuelsson also claims. Here C. mentions "10.000 texts till the XVIth century," and in his review of Samuelsson he similarly says: "Samuelsson treats a smaller number of occurrences, but even these should have been sufficient to clarify the meaning of crucifixion" (p. 2), and, further, "The evidence for crucifixion is altogether too overwhelming to cite here. The examples are innumerable. I shall here content myself with presenting just a few brief texts" (p. 5).
Why does Samuelsson treat "a smaller number of occurences"? Is it a sloppy omission or does it rather have to do with his method? Has C. noted that Samuelsson has searched *all* accessible texts within the defined time span of the investigation, from Homer to the turn of the 1st century? Samuelsson's very method is to not treat later texts. Why? Because Samuelsson thinks they might have been influenced by the death of Jesus. As the title of the thesis implies, Samuelsson studies the *background* to the NT terminology: "Crucifixion in Antiquity. An Inquiry into the Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion."
And, yet, in his review C. cites later texts as evidence for crucifixion using a different methodology (again, I am not saying C. is wrong, but it seems to me he, as a reviewer, is not sensible to Samuelsson's work at this point). It would indeed have been interesting to hear what Caragounis says about Samuelsson's method on this point, but that is not what he does in the review (although he does make other very relevant methodological points on p. 3ff.). Instead C. presents "a few brief texts" as evidence for crucifixion. When one reads those texts (and the rest of the review) and has not read Samuelsson's thesis in any detail, one probably reacts as the reader "Z" – Samuelsson "must have forgotten about lots of ancient texts which describe crucifixion."
This very comment (that preceded my comment) made me suspect that the review, in this regard, may not represent Samuelsson's work very well, because, as I have pointed out, Samuelsson actually discusses in detail *all* those texts except those outside the time span for the investigation, and he comes to a different conclusion. Samuelsson's point is that the Greek words under discussion are used in a wider sense than previously assumed (in the time span of the investigation).
Note that Samuelsson is *not* arguing against the major event - that Jesus was executed on Calvary - I think on this point Samuelsson is being constantly misunderstood, especially in the media.
C. further writes in his review of Samuelsson (p. 2):
Such an astonishing claim makes it incumbent on me ... to look critically into the kind of evidence that has led the author to such an extraordinary conclusion, namely, that Jesus most probably was not crucified, but died in some other way. e.g. through some kind of 'suspension' (e.g. p. 372).
Does Samulesson really draw this conclusion, “that Jesus most probably was not crucified” or has C. misunderstood him? Is he not saying that the texts are so vague that one cannot say on the basis of them how Jesus was executed, or to conclude that what happened to Jesus cohere altogether with modern definitions of "crucifixion." Samuelsson therefore chooses to use a wider designation, "suspension" (which, in the case of Jesus' execution, may or may not have been what we think today of as "crucifixion").
C. further says:
Wasserman does not seem to appreciate that I write both as a scholar of Greek and as a Greek user of Greek. I have mentioned, for example, that the words in question have been used in the Greek language continuously till the present day. If some non-Greek students of Greek are uncertain about what Greek words mean, we, at least, who have Greek as our mother tongue, consider that we do know what we mean with the words of our language!
I certainly do not doubt C.'s superior knowledge and command of the Greek language. In fact, I have consulted him a number of times on various issues (the last time on Atticism). However, I think Samuelsson's point is that the Greek terms relating to crucifixion have been affected much by what happened to Jesus (it is a major historical event). Again, a methodological question.
Further, C. cites me saying that his “critique [against Samuelsson] is serious and many points are probably relevant” and C. finds it troublesome that I use a “probably” here, implying an uncertainty on my part. Then he makes a further remark:
[P]erhaps old Riesenfeld was not so wrong after all, when he deplored that with the developments taking place in his time, the day would soon come in Sweden when it would be difficult to find a competent scholar of Greek within the field of the NT.
Okay, I am not so competent in Greek as I would wish (sorry Riesenfeld, but you, if anyone, would probably have been very happy with my textual criticism), but when I said "probably relevant" I was only trying to be humble, because (1) I had not read the entire book; and (2) I had not heard Samuelsson's reply.
Finally, I find it very strange that a "dilettantish investigation" (to use C.'s words) would leave Gothenburg University, which has a long and good tradition of Greek studies. What about the joint seminaries where linguists have read Samuelsson's material? What about the examining board? What about the opponent Erkki Koskenniemi (Åbo Akademi). Were they all, in contrast to Caragounis (p. 10), "fooled by this caricature presentation of the Greek evidence on the question of anci[ent] crucifixion in general and of Jesus’ crucifixion in particular"?, since this dissertation has passed their scrutiny (of course not without criticism, but far from the level expressed in Caragounis' review).
Update (12/7): C. has posted a new reply here. In the comments to this blogpost Christian Askeland captures well what would be my re-response:
Caragounis does not seem to understand Wasserman's basic challenge concerning Samuelsson's method. In point 5, he admits that he did not discuss Samuelsson's minimalist method in his review. One would assume that either (1) he had accepted the method (which he obviously did not) or (2) that he was unaware of it (the assumption of Samuelsson via Tommy Wasserman).