Monday, September 27, 2010

Crucifixion-scholar Samuelsson Responds to Caragounis pt. 2

Samuelsson begins his response proper (i.e., part 2; see previous post for the background) with the following statement: "On several occasions I get the impression that Caragounis has not read the book he reviews." Then he gives a number of reasons for this impression and finally concludes:

Thus, if Caragounis had read whole the book he reviews, he would probably not have been criticizing things I have not said, and offered an answer to my questioning of the traditional understanding of the text level of the death of Jesus instead of simply reproducing such an understanding.

William Lane Craig has posted a balanced response to Samuelsson on his website Reasonable Faith to a direct question by "Karl" about Samuelsson's dissertation, which I only summarize here:

Q: My question is simply: what grounds do we have to doubt the traditional view of the cru[c]ifixion? Is it really more likely that Jesus was hung/nailed on a pole rather than nailed to a cross as Mr. Samuelsson states? Does it actually matter?

A:... [T]his is an interesting claim which is of no historical or theological significance. In short, it doesn’t matter.

Why not? Well, very simply because in his dissertation “Crucifixion in Antiquity” Samuelsson is not calling into question the historical veracity of the New Testament documents; rather he’s saying that later generations of Christians have misunderstood the documents. He’s like those New Testament scholars who argue, for example, that Jesus was not born in a stable but in a Jewish home, which typically included a space for the animals under the same roof. When Luke says the kataluma was full, the word means, not “inn,” as traditionally translated, but “guest room.” Because the guest room was already occupied, Joseph and his family were given space in the section of the house where the animals were quartered. This hypothesis may explode the images of Jesus’ birth we’ve grown accustomed to in nativity scenes, but it does nothing to challenge the historicity of the Gospel accounts. On the contrary, it aims to help us understand them more accurately.

Craig concludes:

Public furor does not imply that there are serious implications to Samuelsson’s thesis after all. There are a number of cherished beliefs about Jesus which have no basis in the Gospel accounts: for example, the idea that three kings from the East visited Joseph and Mary on the night of Jesus’ birth (cf. the visit of the magi in Matthew 2.1-12) or that Jesus’ mother Mary received Jesus’ body when it was taken down from the cross, as represented in the Pieta. Dispelling these popular misconceptions does nothing to undermine the credibility of the Bible as God’s Word. On the contrary, it helps us to understand it more accurately.


  1. The correct link is