Saturday, March 26, 2016

Earlier Christians confused the crux with the tropaeum.

In my last post posted on Thursday the 23rd, the day before dies sanguines or Good Friday, which annually commemorated the Passion and Crucifiction of Jesus Christ, I indicated what the earliest ROMAN Catholic-Orthodox Christians believed about the most central event of Christianity (apart from the Resurrection). Apparently there were two separate traditions concerning how the suspension of the Son of God appeared, one that goes back to a relief on the doors of Santa Sabina Cathedral in Ravenna, IT, apparently based on depictions of the Three Boys in the Fiery Furnace of Daniel 3 as orants (orant, from the Latin orans), and another that goes back to the Sarcophagus Domatilla where the crux itself was modeled on the Roman tropaeum and itself eas carried about just like a tropaeum.

Now, if we go further back in the record (despite the fact that Christianity as we know it -- the one based on the Nicene creed -- only goes back to 325 CE), we will encounter a derogatory graffito scratched out during the government of Alexander Severus and the confusions promulgated by three writers known as "Church Fathers".  First the Graffito:

A slight description of the graffito: "Alexamenos worships his god" (or Alexamenos, worship God!) is the inscribed message, apparently in response to a nearby graffito that proclaimed, "Alexamenos, always faithful." It has been reliably dated to just after the turn of the 3rd C. CE, during the reign of Alexander Severus.

Note that not only the god that Alex is worshipping is made fun of. The devotee's method of worship is also being sneered at: he is hailing his god with his left hand, which is about in line with the level of his mouth, which is also at the level of his god's penis.  It appears that the tagger was thinking, Alexamenos is worshipping the virilia of his god. The god himself has a donkey's head, suggesting a very ample endowment. The god is also portrayed naked from the waist down, possibly implying that Alex is about to perform something more "worshipful" than a hailing from a distance. The Y next to the head of the god is very similar to metal defixiones (curse tablets) found in Rome, which had similar illustrations of a donkey's head next to a Y inscribed on one of the sides. Of course, this could mean that Alexamenos was not at all a Christian/Chrestian, but a devotee of Typhon-Seth.

Since not only Alexameno's god is portrayed in a derogatory manner, so is the manner in which the god has been crucified: on a T-shape cross, or tropaeum, complete with suppendaneum, instead of the usual pole equipped with a sedile/cornu.

And so we shall see if early "Church Fathers" confused the Roman crux (σταυρός)  with the Roman tropaeum (τροπαῖον).

First at bat: Minucius Felix (Octavius, ch. 29).

These, and such as these infamous things [such as worshipping the virilia of their priest or the nature, i.e., genitals of their father -- see Octavius, ch. 9], we are not at liberty even to hear; it is even disgraceful with any more words to defend ourselves from such charges. For you pretend that those things are done by chaste and modest persons, which we should not believe to be done at all, unless you proved that they were true concerning yourselves.

For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on mortal man, for all his help is put an end to with the extinction of the man....

Crosses (cruces), moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies (tropaea) not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross (cruces simplicis), [1] but also that of a man affixed to it.

Crucis simplicis is the genitive of crux simplex. From the epigraphy, what Minucius Felix regarded as a crux simplex (the frame of a tropaeum) was not the same as that item (a plain pole) defined as such. And Minucius is the one who is accusing the Romans of crux-worship.

Next at bat, Tertullian.

You put Christians on crosses and stakes: what image is not formed from [white] clay in the first instance, set on cross and stake? The body of your god is first consecrated on the patibulum!

Tertullian, Apologeticus 12:3
Patibulum here could denote a T-shape gibbet, or rather, cross, by Tertullian's understanding. And he says when the body of their god (like a divine Caesar) is first dedicated, it is installed on a patibulum, or cross, that is, a tropaeum. Just like in this miniature Caesarean tropaeum, on display at the Berlin Museum in Charlottenburg, Germany, below:

Note the ROMAN BREASTPLATE ARMOR on the tropaeum.

6 Then, if any of you think we render superstitious adoration to the cross (crux), in that adoration he is sharer with us. If you offer homage to a piece of wood at all, it matters little what it is like when the substance is the same: it is of no consequence the form, if you have the very body of the god. And yet how far does the Athenian Pallas differ from the stock of the cross, or the Pharian Ceres as she is put up uncarved to sale, a mere rough stake and piece of shapeless wood? 7 Every stake fixed in an upright position is a portion of the cross; we render our adoration, if you will have it so, to a god entire and complete (integrum et totum). We have shown before that your deities are derived from shapes modelled from the cross. But you also worship victories, for in your trophies (tropaea) the cross (crux) is the heart of the trophy (intestina tropaeorum). 8 The camp religion of the Romans is all through a worship of the standards, a setting the standards above all gods. Well, as those images decking out the standards are ornaments of crosses. All those hangings of your standards and banners are robes of crosses. I praise your zeal: you would not consecrate crosses unclothed and unadorned.

Tertullian, Apologeticus 16:6-8
Indeed, in the photo at the top, and the one just above, the "heart" of the tropaeum is indeed a cross. Now what for Tertullian is a crux integra et tota? Well he can explain.
Any piece of wood planted upright in the ground is part of a cross and indeed the larger part of a cross.  But we Christians are credited with an entire cross (tota crux) complete with a transverse beam (antenna) and [the well-known] projecting seat (ille sedilis excessu)

Tertullian, Ad Nationes 1.12.

Now at the link to the source above there is a note at the bottom of Ad Nationes I (1) chapter XII (.12) describing the projecting seat as a ledge, or bench. Other scholars, however, regard this piece to be a plank, beam, or peg: a sort of "phallus." So now we're not looking at a cross for the integra et tota crux (a crux uninjured and complete) executionary suspension device, but a T-pole apparently modeled after the Roman god Priapus.

No now we have a difference between the crux, commonly and almost universally to be regarded as a cross, and what actually was a cross: a tropaeum.

Third at bat, Saint Justin the Martyr.
But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically. And this, as the prophet foretold, is the greatest symbol of His power and role; as is also proved by the things which fall under our observation. For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. For the sea is not traversed except that trophy (τροπαίον) which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work, except with tools which have this shape. And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross (σταυρός). And so it was said by the prophet, “The breath before our face is the Lord Christ.” And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called “vexilla” [banners] and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly. And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions. Since, therefore, we have urged you both by reason and by an evident form, and to the utmost of our ability, we know that now we are blameless even though you disbelieve; for our part is done and finished.

Justin Martyr, I Apology 55

Justin Martyr notes that the "cross," or σταυρός, gives its form to the "trophy" (τροπαίον) that resides in a ship without which ships cannot sail, to the plough, and to the form where Romans dedicated wax images of their simultaneously deified emperors at their funerals (of course elsewhere [Dialogue with Trypho 91] he states that the actual execution device, the crux/σταυρός has the same shape that Tertullian credited it with, as we have seen).  According to Franceso Carotta, this Roman Imperial tradition of consecrating emperors at their funerals with the form of a cross began with the funeral of the first Caesar, the divine Gaius Julius Caesar.

Below are various interpretations of how Julius Caesar's wax image was displayed on a tropaeum. The first two images are clearly erroneous, showing the body of Julius Caesar in imago with his arms down at the sides and behind the antenna like some common suspended criminal. It is more likely, given that the Senate had already proclaimed him a god, that Caesar's was image would be displayed with his arms extended, as a sign of victory; but on the other hand, extending the arms would have displayed each and every stab wound that Caesar received when he was assassinated with dagger-wielding men in the temporary House of the Senate in Pompey's Theatre.  Thirdly, criminals suspended on cruces would not always have their arms down at their sides. Frequently, their arms would be extended along the device's transom, or patibulum (as well as a distinct beam or bar between two poles). So the crowd would have perceived Caesar's death as tantamount, or almost, to a Roman "crucifixion," that is, a suspension on some kind of T-pole (like our modern utility pole).

Source: the History Channel (Divvs Ivlivs blog).
Source: Sitsim (Divvs Ivlivs blog). 

The above images depict what I believe to be an erroneous interpretation of the display of the wax image of Julius Caesar on a tropaeum.

Source: Francesco Carotta, Jesus Was Caesar.

This image shows a better, but still possibly erroneous interpretation, perhaps based on the mannekin-on-a-stick display of the crucified Christ in the Maxwell Ivories.  Julius Caesar would surely have been stabbed in the back, yet the cross here blocks the view of the image's back.
Source: Divvs Ivlivs blog.
This is a better interpretation still, based on ancient imagery in Roman coins of the time. The webhost of the Divvs Ivlivs blog demonstrates by digital manipulations of the figure in the image on the reverse side of the coin called "Sulla's Dream" (possibly the resurrecting Caesar) that an exposition of Caesar's wax image with the arms extended was very much possible. But the tropaeum shown looks too much like an execution stake, the figure in the manipulated image above too much like the crucified Christ of Mediaeval imagery.

Source: Gospel of Caesar (Steven Saylor's web page "Where Are The Euro Movies?")
Now this interpretation in the reconstruction of Julius Caesar's funeral is, in my opinion, the most likely display of the wax image of Caesar on a tropaeum! Caesar is depicted to be reaching out to embrace the infinite, as a god, and the members of the cross are slender enough so that all of the twenty-three stab wound can be clearly seen, yet finely crafted enough to be suitable for the exposition of a god.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

So the Romans Never Crucified, eh?

This is a short, pic-heavy article going back to the beginning of Christian Tradition of the pictorial representation of the cross (stauros in Byzantine and Modern Greek, crux [duo ligna transversa] in Ecclesiastical Latin). It relies heavilly on an article I posted on Fin des Voies Rapides five years ago, and an article posted by Dorothy King, PhD four months later. Photos not sourced are from my earlier article, and from other places I can't remember which..

Our first image is of the relief of Santa Sabina Basilica in Ravenna, Italy, dated approx. 430 CE.

Note Jesus and the two thieves are standing with their hands nailed to hidden boards. They do not appear to be hanging from a cross, or nailed to a cross. However, they look like three Roman orants in the poses they assume.

Dorothy King, PhD reports that "there were no earlier images of the crucifixion to serves as examples, but Sheckler and Leith in their study of the Santa Sabina doors suggested as a prototype depictions of the Three Boys in the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3).  They give the example from the Catacombs of Priscilla, where several popes were buried, including Celestine who constructed Santa Sabina:"


Source: Dorothy King's PhDiva.
There are also similar images of persons assuming the same pose, one a repeat of Daniel 3 on a sarcophagus and another on the reverse side of a coin minted by Domitian, with his then recently-deceased (and also deified) infant son on the reverse side.

From the Passion Sarcophagus.
Source: Dorothy King's PhDiva.

Domitian coin.
Source: Dorothy King's PhDiva.

Ivory plaque ca. 430 CE, One of four surrounding a reliquary,
Maxwell Ivories, British Museum, London.

Dorothy King notes: "It's the earliest depiction of the crucifixion which depicts Jesus for certain, as indicated by the inscription on the titulus crucis: REX IUD[AEORUM]"

Note Jesus is nailed to a sort of tau-cross or an ankh-like cross made of fancy boards, with only two nails in the palms, one each. He is depicted hanging stiffly from these nails like a cardboard cutout or a mannekin on a cross made of planks. It is as if the Christian Church relied on the funeral of Julius Caesar (March 17 or 20, 44 BCE), where a wax image of the deified dictator was raised above the bier containing the body.  Caesar's wax image was also mounted on a cross or tropaeum, either nailed to it or constructed over it.

Source: Franceso Carotta, Jesus Was Caesar.

Indeed, some early Church Fathers in their writings confused the cross (crux, stauros) with the Roman tropaeum in their writings.  They are followed by later Fathers who openly declared the cross to be a tropaeum; which, because of its well-known structure we are familiar with, precisely was.

Note Longinus is depicted as stabbing Jesus in his left side. The lancaea that the gospel of John (and in the earliest manuscripts, Matthew also) says he used looks uncannily like a dagger (gladius, pugium, sica, mucro, telum).  This does not conform to a stabbing in a Roman executionary suspension scene where the executioners go by certain protocols, but rather, it is similar to one act of stabbing in Julius Caesar's chest by Cassius Longinus, one of 23 stabbings committed during Caesar's assassination by his enemies in the Senate in the porch of Pompey's Theatre, March 15, 44 BCE.

To the left, Judas Iscariot is depicted hanging from a tree exactly as one would expect a man who has hanged himself to hang.
From the Sarcophagus Domatilla.
Called the Passion Sarcophagus by Dorothy King, PhD.

In this scene, a Roman official (presumably Pontius Pilatus) has arrived for the trial he is to oversee, with an attendant carrying a cross in the same manner as Aeneas is depicted carrying a tropaeum.

Fresco in Pompeii depicting Aeneas carrying a tropaeum.
Source: forum.
And below is the Anastasia section of the relief along the side of the Sarcophagus Domatilla.  It depicts Christ rising again as the Laureate Chrismon lifting off of a cross, or tropaeum.

From the Sarcophagus Domatilla, Anastasis (= Resurrection), ca. 350 CE.
Note the tropaeum standing in for the crux.

Not twenty years after Constantine got rid of the practice in 337 CE, already people were already imagining the Roman crux as a tropaeum.  This reflects what three earlier Church Fathers, who compared the two, calling the frame of a tropaeum to be a crux simplex, a schematic of a stauros, and a patibulum (presumably structurally neuter just as the word is grammatically).  And I will uncover this in the next post.

Roman Tropaeum, Charlottenberg Museum, Berlin.
Note that what Minucius Felix called a crux simplex is of the crux immissa type.
Source: Francesco Carotta, Jesus Was Caesar

Friday, March 18, 2016

John Granger Cook's Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World (Revised and Updated)


Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

Series: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 327
Author: John Granger Cook
Bibliographic info: xxiv + 536 pp. = 560 pages in all.
Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.
Buy the book at your local bookseller.
Also available Abebooks, Barnes and Noble, the Publisher, or

Another cognitive failure relevant to religious belief [and to conventional wisdom] is the so-called confirmation bias, a psychological tendency to seek confirmations rather than disconfirmation of any hypothesis we’ve adopted however tentatively. People notice more readily and search more diligently for whatever confirms their beliefs, and they don’t notice or readily and certainly don’t look as hard for what disconfirms them.... Francis Bacon was aware of this bias in the seventeenth century when he wrote, “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number of weight and instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises.”

 - John Allen Paulos, Irreligion. New York, Hill and Wang, 2008, pp. 108-9

John Granger Cook has written an immense volume on how the Romans suspended people, reviewed a little more than a year ago at various places, like here. The tome appears to be an exhaustive work on the Roman practice and Dr. Cook has done a great deal of research, and mind you, careful research, too. I've gone through the first one hundred pages of the text proper so far and for the most part it's very excellent.

This work by Professor Cook was preceded by two recent volumes on the same subject: David W. Chapman’s Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion, which is an exhaustive analysis of how the Jews around the time of the ancient Roman Empire viewed the Roman penalty; followed by Gunnar Samuelsson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity, an in-depth minimalist study of the Greek and Latin verbiage used for crucifixion (and to a lesser extent, the Hebrew and Aramaic) to determine the semantics of the words employed for suspension on wood. An earlier work, of which this one was originally meant to be a revamp thereof, at Martin Hengel’s request, was his – for better or for worse -- era-defining survey, titled Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. But Cook’s book is no mere survey: it is an almost-encyclopaedic study of nearly all the writings, epigraphs and archaeological evidence documenting Roman crucifixion – which deviates in every way from the modern common understanding of the penalty, which is: nail to a cross, or tropaeum.

In the introduction, pp. 1-50, Prof. Cook sets out his assumptions and parameters (and perimeters) of the study with an analysis of most of the Greek and Latin terms for crucifixion and a survey of imperial murders under Gaius “Caligula” Caesar. He admits that the Greek terms can be ambiguous at times but he claims the Latin terms are more precise and that impalement, rare in explicit mention in the Latin texts, is to be excluded if the context of the suspension-upon-wood indicated a long death struggle, since impalement allegedly results in a quick death.

In Chapter One, pp. 51-158, Prof. Cook then runs through a long list, consisting of fifty-nine authors, of almost all the mentions of crucifixion in the Latin texts. These authors appear in chronological order without regard to the type of vocation each author had: whether historian, playwright, satirist, philosopher, rhaetor, etc. Each mention is looked at to determine if the executionary suspension is a crucifixion, an impalement, or a suspension of some other kind. Needless to say, he determines all the mentions except two to be describing crucifixions, whether actual or fictitious.

In Chapter Two, pp. 159-217, Prof. Cook deals with the occurrences of this sort of death from the time of the Second Punic War to the imperium of Maximinus Daia, who drowned and was defeated at the Milvan Bridge in 312 CE by the Emperor Constantine. Although this chapter has forty subdivisions, indicated by time periods, major events, geographical areas, topics such as armed criminality and the like, covering individual suspensions and suspensions en masse, the number of pages devoted to each are very few, usually one or two, indicating that the number of recorded occurrences is astonishing low. For example, there is not one example of suspension-on-wood in Transalpine Gaul (modern-day France) or Celtic Britain (the UK) in retaliation to known uprisings there, nor is there any mention of such in Palestine, outside of the works of Flavius Josephus.

In Chapter Three, pp. 218-310, Prof. Cook examines the ancient Greek writers’ recordings of the various forms of executionary suspension-on-wood and the verbiage therein. Although, as he admits, the Greek meanings of the terms are quite ambiguous, yet he had found in many instances clear and unambiguous depictions of the Roman method that was typical for the time. Now this chapter is much better organized than Chapter One. Cook has arranged this chapter into several sections: first Historians (plus others who wrote historical or current events’ accounts) during the Roman Republic, then the Historians, etc. during the Empire, followed by Romance Novelists, Rhetors, Philosophers, non-Jewish Critics of Christianity, Astrologers, Dream Interpreters and Physicians, capped off with the Byzantines’ understanding of (I presume) various forms of.

Chapter Four, pp. 311-357, is a look at the subject matter from the viewpoint of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts. Prof. Cook includes with his analysis of twenty-seven or so Jewish texts a discussion of ancient Near East impalements, Muslim crucifixions and other penal suspensions. Although the Tanakh contains not one reference to any Roman crucifixions but the Septuagint might – most likely in the later-translated books, such as Esther. Later Hebrew and Aramaic texts certainly do contain references thereto and various Rabbinical texts, like a few from the Mishnah and the Talmud, deal with the issues surrounding the Roman penalty.

In Chapter Five, pp. 358-416, Prof. Cook looks crucifixion in the at the perspective of the legal codes and their historical development. This is the part of the book where one would expect to see a discussion of when the penalty was adopted and how it evolved. New Testament scholars, Christian apologists and others often claim that Rome adopted it from Carthage in the latter quarter of the III C. BCE and developed the stake or frame into a brutal killing machine whereupon the suspended person literally tortured himself to death, involuntarily. Prof. Cook notes that the last such suspension-on-wood occurred in 335 CE, two years before Constantine did away with the penalty as a sort of going-away present to the Imperial Christian Church (established in 325 CE at the Council of Nicaea by the self-same emperor), which for its own purposes probably already had mutated the crux (T-pole, torture-stake) into a CROSS, or tropaeum.

In Chapter Six, pp. 417-449, Prof. Cook looks at the New Testament writers dealt with Roman crucifixion, and makes his own determinations on how it was practiced and why it was such a vile, shameful death. (Hint: the suspended person “sat” on a “peg.”) He then discusses the possible medical causes of death by this sort of suspension, only to conclude in the end that the suspended persons “died from ‘different physiological causes’” (p. 435), depending on how each person was suspended. He finishes off the chapter by developing a theologia crucis for the gospel of Mark. He also makes an astonishing claim that Jesus’ dereliction cry does not invoke the whole of the 22nd Psalm, stating that “Attempts to insert the entire psalm into Mark 15:34 fundamentally ignores the brutality of Roman crucifixion” (p. 445). This would be news to the early “Church Fathers” who literally mined the psalm for “prophecies” of Jesus’ execution. Unfortunately for us who do not share the Christian faith, this whole chapter is so much ado about nothing, and would have been best developed as its own separate book.

Prof. Cook wraps up the work with a brief, two-page conclusion, presenting his findings or confirmations, including such that the Greek verbs σταυρόω and ἀνασταυρόω probably do not refer to impalement of a live person or a corpse, but to crucifixion instead; that the Persians invented crucifixion; that the Greeks performed a similar suspension or exposure on wood, and that the Romans developed a brutal form of crucifixion starting with the Second Punic War and kept it until Constantine replaced it with the furca (fork) in 337 CE.

The volume is made complete by eleven pages of images, a nineteen page bibliography, divided into sections for ancient sources, present-day databases/CD-Roms/websites, and modern works of scholarship; a twenty-seven page sources index, divided by type; an index of images; and indices of ancient writers and other persons, modern authors, and subject matters.

At $210 a copy for the hardcover and $80 for the paperback, this book is not meant for the general public, but rather for the serious scholar, whether credentialed or of the armchair variety (with means, of course). It gets very, very technical, given the subject matter involved and the objective of the writer. Each page is literally stuffed with footnotes, themselves frequently stuffed with references, with the notes often taking up more than half the page.

New Testament scholars will probably lap this book up; but on the other hand, Classicists and scholars of Ancient History should pursue it more critically, keeping a keen eye on the meanings of the original Latin, Greek, Hebrew, etc., and keep at their side a copy of David W. Chapman’s volume and Gunnar Samuelsson’s work for cross-checking – for despite his caution that Roman crucifixion probably did not conform to the modern common concept of crucifixion (p. 448), he often, and apparently carelessly and uncritically, translate a suspension account in the original language as “crucifixion.” A lay reader or unknowledgeable scholar reading this book would certainly be justified in assuming that the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Jews in their own private kingdom, and the Persians crucified people by nailing them to a cross, or tropaeum. And certainly by that crabbed modern definition held by probably most of the laity and even perhaps most of the clergy, Prof. Cook unwittingly acknowledges that in all likelihood, the Romans never crucified.

Yet I already have a few beefs with it. First, the Latin crux and the Greek σταυρός certainly do mean, which Dr. Cook disputes, "a pole in the broadest sense" -- Gunnar Samuelsson's words, not mine. My previous post, Crux Utilitatis, demonstrates that they do mean exactly that. Second, the Romans probably never or hardly ever used crosses (two timber beams inlaid into each other); more likely they usually pushed up or hoisted people onto poles using lifting-beams (i.e., patibula) instead, and other times they nailed the lifting-beam with the person on it onto the pole and tilted the macabre assembly up.  Third, that the Romans never impaled people when they "crucified" them -- two graffiti and some of the ancient writings give lie to that!
Well this is my first installment of my review, I'll be updating this post with a description of the book and then follow up with my musings on it as time progresses.
A call-out of appreciation goes out to Messrs. Jim West of the Quartz Hill Theological Seminary, Charles L. Quarles of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and “Diglot” of, without whose reviews I would have found it very impossible to complete this post. Also my thanks go out to Mohr Siebeck and GoogleBooks for their preview copy of this book,

Well this is the revised and updated first installment of my review, I am going to go into a more in-depth review of the separate chapters in separate posts to follow as time and money permit; for at the prices above-noted, this book is extremely expensive and for me, downright unaffordable.
- Edward Miessner


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Muslim Crucifixion 1248 ce

Several years ago I came across this at The Crux Foundation after being clued in on it by other members of the message board.
The German orientalist Helmut Ritter (* 1892, +1971) did research on a the "Hurüfisect" in Stanbul when finding the report. His translation was published in "Oriens", Vol. 25, 1976 (1976), pp. 38-40.

The German text, incl. introduction is as follows:
Er findet sich bei Abu Sama, ad-Dail ala r-Raudatain, Hs. Köprülü 1080, bl. 201a-202a, s.a. 646 h (im druck Kairo 1947 mit dem Titel: Taracim rical al-qarnain as-sadis was-sabi, S. 180f.); danach bei al-Kutubi U yün at-tawarix, Fatih 4440, bl. 145a-146a, s.a. 645 h.

Der Herr des Sklaven, as-Saqsaqini, ist sonst nicht bekannt.

Am Freitag, dem 16. Rabi II. 646 h wurde ein türkischer Sklave eines Emirs, namens as-Saqsaqini, ein geschlechtsreifer Knabe (sabiyun balig) gekreuzigt. Er soll seinen Herrn aus irgend einem Grunde getötet haben. Er wurde gekreuzigt am Ufer des Flusses Barada unter der Festung am Ende des Viehmarktes [in Damaskus]. Sein Gesicht wurde nach Osten gekehrt, und seine Hände, Arme und Füße wurden angenagelt. Er blieb am Leben von Freitagmittag bis Sonntagmittag, dann starb er. Er galt als tapfer, kühn und fromm und hatte bei Askalon gekämpft und eine Anzahl von Franken getötet, hatte auch trotz seiner Jugend einen Löwen getötet.

Er benahm sich bewundernswert, als er gekreuzigt wurde. Er gab sich der Kreuzigung hin ohne Widerstreben und ohne Angst, sondern er streckte selbst seine Hände aus, und sie wurden angenagelt und sodann seine Füße, wobei er keinen Schmerzenslaut ausstieß und sein Gesicht nicht verzog und keins seiner Glieder bewegte. Das haben mit eine Reihe von Leuten, die das gesehen haben, erzählt. Und er blieb, bis er starb, geduldig und ruhig, er stöhnte nicht und klagte nicht, schaute nur nur manchmal nach seinen Füssen und seinen Seiten, bald rechts, bald links und manchmal auf die Leute. - Man sagt, er habe um Wasser gebeten, man habe ihm aber keins gegeben. Die Herzen der Leute, die um ihn waren, hatten Mitleid mit ihm und bedauerten ihn als ein Geschöpf Gottes, das solche Plage erleiden musste. Die Wasser strömten an ihm vorbei zu beiden Seiten, er schaute zu ihnen hin und und schmachtete nach einem Tropfen davon, er ertrug das aber - gepriesen sei Der, Dem Befehl und Bestimmung zusteht. Und mir wurde erzählt, dass er Wahrträume (mandmdt sdliha) gehabt, und dass vor seinem Tode ihn ein Licht bedeckt habe. Über Durst habe er nur am ersten Tage geklagt, dann hörte das auf; Gott gab ihm Kraft, Festigkeit und Geduld. Einer erzählte mir, dass er am zweiten Tage gesagt habe: ,,Gestern wurde mir ein Trunk gegeben, der meinen Durst aufhören ließ“, und bis zum Tode habe er dann kein Wasser mehr verlangt. Er spie Speichel aus wie ein Mann, dessen Leber genug Wasser hat, er spie den Speichel weit fort. Nach seinem Tode blieb er den ganzen Sonntag aufgehängt und wurde Montagfrüh, am nächsten Morgen, abgenommen. Ich sah ihn zufällig, als ich zur Husamiya-madrasa ging, als er abgenommen wurde. Ich sah, dass seine Glieder schwarz geworden waren und seine Schönheit sich verändert hatte. Und es gab viele Gebete für ihn und Bitten an Gott, ihm barmherzig zu sein; vielleicht war er ein Märtyrer - Gott erbarme sich seiner!

Der Tod ist schnell über ihn gekommen, wodurch Gott seine Qual erleichterte: Er blieb zwei Tage und zwei Nächte am Leben. Ich erfuhr, dass manche Männer, denen dieses Kreuzigen und Angenageltwerden widerfuhr, erst viele Tage später starben, wodurch ihre Qual gesteigert wurde. Am zweiten Tage wurde sein Geist verwirrt, und er fiihlte den Schmerz und den Durst nicht mehr. Er konnte auch nicht mehr ordentlich sprechen, sondern gab Worte von sich, die bewiesen, dass er geistesgestört war; Gott erleichterte ihm damit die Qual. Zuweilen schlummerte er ein und wachte dann wieder auf, erschreckt durch den heftigen Schmerz, was den Zuschauern das Herz zerriss. Nur manchmal rief er den Namen Gottes aus. Man sagte mir, einer von denen, denen er überantwortet war, habe ihn am Sonntag oder sonnabendfrüh nach seinem Befinden gefragt. Da habe er geantwortet: „Gut mit Gott". Und ich hörte, dass er beim Angenageltwerden nur ein Wort gesagt habe. Als nämlich der Mann, der ihn annagelte, den Nagel auf seinen Arm setzte und dabei auf den Knochen traf, habe er gesagt: ,,Mein lieber (yd fata)! Vermeide den Knochen!“ Und ich hörte, dass der Mann, der ihn angenagelt hatte, an demselben oder am folgenden Tage gestorben sei - ein merkwürdiger Zufall! Man erzählte das dem Knaben, um ihm mitzuteilen, dass Gott den Mann fur sein Tun bestraft habe. Da habe der Knabe in dieser schrecklichen Lage gesagt: ,,Er ist frei von Schuld. Er hat keine Sünde. Die Sünde liegt auf dem, der ihm das befohlen hat.“ Und er war - Gott sei ihm gnädig! - einer der schönsten Knaben mit dem lieblichsten Gesicht und mit langem Haar. Mehrere tausend Dirhem waren sein Kaufpreis gewesen. Er war, als er getötet wurde, barhauptig. Seine Haarlocke hing hinter ihm herab und die Winde spielten mit ihr. Und er drehte sie nach seiner Brust, fasste sie mit dem Mund und beschäftigte sich mit ihr, indem er damit spielte. Und man sagte mir, er habe gesagt: ,,Ich habe zwei Tage lang nicht gebetet", als ob er traurig wäre über die versäumten Gebete. Und jemand sagte, er sei im Zustand des Fastens gewesen, als man ihn ans Kreuz hängte. Und es berichtete mir ein Mann, den ich für zuverlässig halte, dass er die Leute, die ihn anschauten, gebeten habe, sich zu entfernen, damit er sein Wasser lassen konne. Das hatten die getan, und er habe sein Wasser gelassen. Und er hatte eine Seele, die nicht zu bezwingen war (abiya), und gewaltige Kraft. Einige Leute haben mir erzählt, er habe seine festgenagelten Füsse immerfort bewegt, solange bis die Löcher der beiden Nägel sich auf ihnen erweitert hatten, und er habe sie mit den Nägeln herumgedreht, und wenn die Nägel nicht so fest im Holz gesteckt hatten, würde er sie sicher herausgezogen haben. Und man hat über ihn gedichtet: Über einen Alleingelassenen auf den Hölzern des Todes, der eine Seele hingab, die die Furcht Gottes bewahrte! Seine Glieder wurden angenagelt, und er konnte nicht niederfallen, so deutete er das Niederfallen mit dem Herzen an. Die Schmerzen bemächtigten sich seiner, als er so mit sechs Nägeln angenagelt wurde, und der Tod war das leichtere Unglück für ihn- usw. usw.
English Translation [courtesy of Algabal at The Crux Foundation]
On Friday, 16th. Rabi al-thani 646 [7 August 1248 AD] a Turkish slave of Emir as-Saqsaqini [ an emir could be a commander, general or prince], a grown boy, was crucified.

Allegedly he had killed his master, for an unknown motive. He was crucified on the banks of the river Barada, at the foot of the fortress beyond the cattle market in Damascus.

He was nailed by the hands, arms, and feet, facing eastward. He survived from Friday to Sunday noon and then expired. He was renowned as brave, bold and pious and had done battle at Ashkelon, killing a number of Franks [the general term among Arabs for Christian crusaders]; despite his youth he had also slain a lion.

He behaved in the most admirable way during his crucifixion, submitting to the cross without fear or reluctance. Instead he offered his outspread hands, which were nailed, as well as his feet. He uttered neither a cry of anguish, nor did he grimace with pain or thrash about with his limbs. A number of eyewitnesses ascertained this to me.

He remained calm and enduring up to the moment of death, without groaning or giving complaints. Instead he only occasionally cast glances down at his feet or to his side, looking to the left or right or straight at the people around him.

It is said however that he did plead for water, but none was given to him. This struck the onlookers as cruel, softening them to compassion, and they pitied a creature of God that should suffer such torment. The waters of the river tumbled past him on both sides, he gazed upon them longingly, yearning for but a drop – but he did bear even this – praise be to Him who commands and ordains the fate of men.

And I was told that he had prophetic dreams, and was surrounded by an aura of light in the moments before his death.

He complained of thirst only during the first day, and then desisted; it was God who granted him strength, resilience and longanimity.

According to one account, he proclaimed on the second day: „Yesterday I have received a potion that has quenched my thirst for good“, and then had not demanded water any more until he died. In fact he did seem like a man whose liver has enough water, and he spat the gobs of saliva that collected in his mouth far away from himself.

After his death they let him hang for all of Sunday, and he was only taken down on the next Monday morning. I happened upon this event as I was on my way to the School of Husamiya [founded by the sister of the famous Saladin]. By this time his limbs had blackened and his beauty decayed. Many prayers were said for him and pleas sent to God to grant mercy on his soul; perhaps he had been a holy martyr, may God be merciful to him.

Death came over him quickly – God did relieve his suffering: He was alive for two days and nights. I have learned that many men who suffered this fate of crucifixion, of being nailed, died only after many days, which greatly increased their agony.

On the second day, he became incoherent and no longer experienced either pain or thirst. He could not speak properly anymore; instead he made utterances that proved he had become deranged. This was God´s way of easing his suffering.

Occasionally he became drowsy and fell asleep, only to suddenly awaken, startled by the intense pain. This tore at the hearts of the spectators. Only seldom did he call out the name of God. I have heard that one of the men into whose hands he had been delivered, asked him on Sunday, or perhaps Saturday evening, how he was feeling. His answer was: „At peace with God“.

And I also heard that during his nailing, he had made only one request. Even as the man who nailed him was placing the nail on his arm and set it upon the bone, he supposedly said: „Dear sir, avoid hitting the bone! “. And the man who had carried out this nailing died on the very same day, or the one following that – what a strange coincidence! This was reported to the boy, so that he could understand that God had punished this man for his deeds. Despite his horrifying predicament, the boy then said: „He is free of guilt. He has committed no sin. The burden of sin is on him who has ordered this“. And – God be merciful upon him – he was one of the most handsome boys imaginable with a delicate face and long hair. It had cost thousands of dirhams to buy him [a thousand dirhams would have been about 10 troy pounds of silver].

His head had remained uncovered during his execution. The wind was playing with the locks of his hair that fell down his back. He caught them with his mouth and pulled them forward over his chest, playing with them and thus distracting himself.

I was told that he had complained, „I have not said prayers for two days“, as if he was regretful for his neglect of prayer. Supposedly he had been in a state of fasting when he was crucified. And one man- whom I regard as credible – reported to me that he had asked the onlookers to retreat so that he could pass water, and they complied, and he passed his water.

He possessed a soul that was indomitable, as well as immense strength. Some people related to me that he had incessantly moved his nailed feet, until the holes made by the two nails had widened around them, and that he had turned his feet around the nails. If the nails had not been driven so deep into the wood, he would certainly have drawn them out.

Poetry was composed about him - „About one who was abandoned on the Wood of Death, who offered up a soul that preserved its godliness: His limbs had been nailed, and so he could not fall down – therefore he betokened his downfall with his heart; Pain took possession of him, as he was fastened in this way with six nails, and death was the lesser calamity for him; etc. etc. “
Some interesting points:

- Six nails were used in this instance, apparently two in the hands, two in the feet, and two in the arms. It's not clear what part of the arms the nails pierced; could be that they actually drove nails through his palms and then added another nail near the wrist. The fact that the victim was conscious of a nail being placed "on the bone" might indicate that it was driven through the bony part of the wrist rather than higher up on the arm.

- Death after only two days on the cross was considered merciful.

- The victim was delirious after the first day.

- Although it doesn't say that the victim was naked, we can speculate that he probably was, since he warned the spectators to move back when he was preparing to urinate.

- This victim was not given any water, whereas in the Gospel accounts the Romans appeared to have been ready to give Jesus a drink when he asked for it. Perhaps in this case the refusal of water was intended to shorten the victim's suffering.

- The fact that the victim needed to urinate might indicates that he didn't "lose it" when he was being nailed. With nothing else to drink once he was on the cross, and in the August heat in Damascus, it's not likely that he would need to urinate again if he had done so before he was raised.

- The mention of the victim "dozing off" occasionally and awakening in intense pain might have actually been due to the victim fainting from the pain and then returning to consciousness, as many have speculated would happen during crucifixion.

One more thing: he may have been seated on a "sedile" (i.e., a horizontal dowel, or peg between the legs) because he needed to tell the spectators to move back so he can urinate, because the testicles could have been pushed up by the item, thus making the penis more horizontal. And of course, there would have been the ever-present splash hazard when the urine from a crucified individual reached the ground, whether a sedile was provided or not.