Monday, June 14, 2010

"Crucifixion in Antiquity" – The Swedish Thesis in Its Third Printing

Was the cross a cross? For less than a month ago I reported on Gunnar Samuelsson's thesis, "Crucifixion in Antiquity" including a few glimpses of the examination, an abstract and a summary of some significant points.

Since then, the dissertation has caused quite a stir, at least here in Sweden, and there has been major coverage in the media. The dissertation has recently gone through a a second and even a third printing, which is soon sold out! The person handling orders at the institution is worried about her vaccation, so the author has asked me to instead refer international correspondance to him directly: gunnar[dot]samuelsson[at]telia[dot]com.

The monograph will be sent to Mohr Siebeck with the aim to be published in the WUNT Series.

"Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion"
ISSN: 1102-9773
ISBN: 978-91-88348-35-7

Update: Chrys Caragounis has written the first review that I have seen. It is not positive. Read it here.


  1. As Wounded Ego commented last month on this- Jehovah Witnesses must be having a party with this thesis.
    And as others commented- how do you ignore the archaeology?
    More so- how do you ignore the context?
    When Jesus said, "And I,if I am lifted up from the earth [the narrow "suspension" of Gunnar's thesis], will draw all men to myself"(John 12:32)- was Jesus merely "indicating" a drawing of water? With arms above the head as Gunnar's alleged "stauros" would demand? This type of "drawing" is neither ergonomic nor economic.
    OR was Jesus "indicating" a drawing of "all men" with outstretched arms? Seems to me that the latter "indication" is far more probable.
    Then there remains the issue of where to post Pilate's extended inscription. Do you post it way above the arms? Or lower- where people can actually read it? And where it might actually appear to be a crown fit for a "King".
    Gunnar's narrowness appears to obscure far too much text to be credible.

  2. In support of the cruciform stauros is John 20:15, where Thomas mentions the mark of the nails (HLWN) on Jesus' hands (CERSIN). Two nails would have been needed for a crossifixion, but one would have sufficed for a stakifiction.

  3. 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 + about archaeology finds from the century of Jesus.

  4. One factor I haven't seen mentioned is the propensity of illustrators to picture Jesus nailed to his cross, whilst the other two are suspended from theirs.

    How far back does this tradition run?

  5. Z: "He must have forgotten about lots of ancient texts..."

    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).

  6. Tommy Wasserman

    Ah, thanks, the reply would of course be nice to hear/read. Caragounis seem a bit too angry there!, and his review doesn't convince me of the shape of the Cross, as much as this thorough and long investigation (by a "LadyArwen", can't find the name of the person) with e.g. tons of quotes from the centuries before and after Christ:

    + other aspects of the matter.

    It is that work which convinced me (The dispute about the cross/stake is quite old, as old as me, in fact, it dates back to 1975 at least, with the stake proposition from Jehovas Witnesses), and which makes me guess that Samuelsson probably left out lots of sources to analyse.

    And i must confess i was really not impressed with the statement in the abstract, that the depiction of the execution/death of Jesus is "strikingly sparse". One fourth of a gospel is not "strikingly sparse".

    1. The titulus sign (I N R I) which is placed above "his head" not above his hands or above his arms, imply that his arms where probably stretched open, to both sides

    2. The custom of letting the condemned run around with the crossbeam on his shoulders, while being ridiculed, screamed at, and beaten.

    3. A person normally can't carry a beam of over hundred kilos (which would be the minimum weight of a single vertical stake not tipping over with the crucified person, a man of 60-70 kg, on it), the custom describes the patibulum, and also describe what the patibulum is, about the arms stretched out "membres distendere", etc

    well, i must read the dissertation some time soon, to see if there is any comment on the avove linked quotes + conditions described in the gospels.


  7. Cecilia, good to see another Swede commenting on this blog!

  8. "the popular Christian conception of Jesus bearing the entire crux compacta over one of his shoulders appears rather late in Christian art (. . . the earliest known representation is from c. AD 430), and is probably unhistorical."

    If nothing else comes out of this discussion, one could hope that the Bible illustrators and Passion Play actors would at least get things right in the future.

  9. I read Caragounis' reviwe. Samuelsson's paper sounds like a lot of documentation, and nonsense. I advise that y'all may want to obtain just one copy and pass it around.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  10. I read Caragounis' review and I tend to agree with him. Of course, I have not read the thesis and I don't expect to be able to do that soon. However, the ancient authors did not have us in mind, so if some terms are ambiguous for us, it does not mean that they were ambiguous for the readers of the texts Gunnar surveyed. Thanks for letting us know about the review. It looks, after all that the author may come to be known as the Samuelsson who wrote about the cross.

  11. If this is the case, then we can put the cross back on every public place. Because they (world) said is not a symbol of Christianity. HUAH! Every work for good...

  12. F.Y.I.
    This is an interesting topic. I look into this debate and
    right off the bat I found the problem. it is in use of the
    mistranslation the Greek word "stauros That was used in the topic. even
    Gunnar Samuelsson who researched for three years, as he claimed. it took me only a
    few hours with the help of the Lord Jesus to solve this debate. here's
    the problem. in the use of the word, out of his own mouth of research he
    stated that the Word means this, "stauros" to mean crucifix, when really the term just means a suspension device,
    which might have been anything such as a "pole or a tree trunk.". by
    looking at his own definition, a child could see the mistake. the answer
    is this, the, "stauros", as the defination states was a suspension device, that all, so the question now is what was suspended on it. the answer, the patibulum, or crossbeam. see the  mistake, the "patibulum was suspended by the "stauros", or suspension device, the "stauros" as the researcher states it is a suspension device.
    so the patibulum was suspended by the "stauros" device, which is a
    stake or pole. so by crossing the patibulum/crossbeam with the
    stake/stauros, you have the classic cross that is in art.
    you can see what I'm talking about at this web site
    The patibulum
    also you need to read about this type of Crucifixion at