Friday, September 24, 2010

Crucifixion-scholar Samuelsson responds to Caragounis

As I have previously reported on this blog, Gunnar Samuelsson defended his thesis "Crucifixion_in_Antiquity" at Gothenburg University in May this year. In his work Samuelsson investigated the philological aspects of how ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic texts, including the New Testament, depict the practice of punishment by crucifixion. Samuelsson suggests that the ancient text material shows that there has been a too narrow view of the “crucifixion” terminology. Samuelsson further concluded that over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every wordbook and dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary. The immense knowledge of the punishment of crucifixion in general, and the execution of Jesus in particular, cannot be supported by the studied texts.

The publication of the thesis led to a frenzy in media worldwide. Despite Samuelsson's attempts to explain his research, media often choose to misrepresent or abbreviate to make good headlines. The ambivalent headline in the Daily Telegraph is a typical example "Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar." Samuelsson is himself a devoted Christian who believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His point was not to say that Jesus did not die, but to question what we now take for granted about the nature of a cross and crucifixion in Antiquity.

After some time, Chrys Caragounis published a very critical review, which I announced on the blog. One of our reader's commented:
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).

Caragounis, who read my comment, posted a two pages long response on his website "Tommy Wasserman and Crucifixion" which was followed by a debate that you can follow on this blog here (including links to Caragounis who responded on his own website).

As I initially said, I looked forward to Samuelsson's reply. Apparently, he has now begun to publish a response to Caragounis in several parts on his blog here (part 1).

See all of my reports on Samuelsson's thesis here.


  1. His RSS feed appears not to be working. :-(

  2. Okay, just a second here: please tell me whatever this has to do with textual criticism.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  3. James, you are correct. This has little direct relation to textual criticism. Most of us on the blog are working broadly within the field of Christian Origins, so many digressions such as these often surface, especially when we can post something before everyone else.

  4. ... and we are all thankful that you did Christian. A most interesting subject matter.

  5. I think it was Joel Delobel who suggested that exegesis and textual criticism are siamese twins...

  6. Thanks, Stephan, but the credit goes to Tommy for this particular post.