CRUCIFIXION. The act of nailing or binding a living victim… – Modern Bible Dictionary

CRUCIFIXION. The act of nailing or tying a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross or stake (stauros or skolops) or a tree (xylon). Generally Herodotus uses the verb anaskolopizein of living persons and anastauroun of corpses. After him, the verbs become synonyms, “crucify.” Josephus uses only (ana) stauroun, Philo only anaskolopizein. The verb stauroun occurs frequently in the NT, which always uses stauros and never skolops for the cross of Christ (see TDNT 7:572-84).

A. Crucifixion among non-Romans

B. Crucifixion under the Romans

C. Forms of crucifixion

D. Crucifixion of Jesus

E. Christian interpretations of the crucifixion

A. Crucifixion among non-Romans

In his History, Herodotus notes that the Persians practiced crucifixion as a form of execution (1.128.2; 3.125.3; 3.132.2; 3.159.1). He reports that Darius (512-485 BC) had 3,000 Babylonians crucified. Other ancient sources, which are not necessarily reliable, speak of the use of crucifixion among the people of India (Diod. Sic. 2.18.1), the Assyrians (ibid. 2.1.10; Lucian Iupp. Trag. 16), the Scythians (Diod. Sic. 2.44.2; Tert. Adv. Marc. 1.1.3), the Taurians (Eur. IT 1429-30) and the Thracians (Diod. Sic. 33.15.1; 34/35.12.1). Diodorus Siculus says that the Celts crucified criminals as sacrifices to the gods (5.32.6). According to Tacitus, the Germans (Ann. 1,61,4; 4,72,3; Germ. 12.1) and the British (Ann. 14.33.2) practiced crucifixion. Sallust (Iug. 14.15) and Julius Caesar (B Civ. 66) report that the Numidians used this form of execution. According to many sources (for example, Polib. 1.11.5; 24.6; 79.4-5; 86.4; Diod. Sic. 25.5.2; 10.2; 26.23.1; Livy 22.13.9; 28.37.2; 38.48.13), the The Carthaginians used crucifixion. The Romans may have taken over the practice.

In the Greek-speaking world, criminals were sometimes strapped to a flat board (tympanum) for public display, torture, or execution. This form of punishment closely resembled crucifixion when the victims were nailed to the boards. According to Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius I of Syracuse captured and crucified some Greek mercenaries employed by the Carthaginians (14.53.4). Alexander the Great repeatedly resorted to crucifixion. On one occasion, they crucified 2,000 survivors of the siege of Tyre. -Then the anger of the king offered a sad spectacle to the victors. Two thousand people, for whose massacre the general madness had been spent, hung fixed to crosses over an enormous stretch of shore -(Curtius Rufus Hist. Alex.4.4.17). After Alexander’s death, Greece itself witnessed mass crucifixions. In 314 BC C., an administrator of Alexander’s kingdom put down a rebellion in the city of Sición (near Corinth) and crucified thirty of its inhabitants (Diod. Sic. 19.67.2). In 303 BC C., after his city fell to Demetrius Poliorcetes, the commander of Orchomenus (in Arcadia) and eighty of his men were crucified (ibid. 20.103.6). Under Antiochus IV, in 267 BC. C., Judea saw the crucifixion of men who remained faithful to the Jewish law (Joseph. Ant12 §256). During the pre-Roman and Hellenistic period in the Greek-speaking East, crucifixion was practiced in the context of war or for acts of high treason. After the coming of Roman rule, crucifixion was also used as a punishment for slaves and violent criminals. As Plutarch (ca. 46-120 AD) remarks, -every criminal sentenced to death wears his cross on his back- (Mor. 554 A/B).

Among the Jews, crucifixion was occasionally practiced during the Hellenistic-Hasmonean period. The Sadducean high priest, Alexander Jannaeus (in office 103-76 BCE), had 800 Pharisees crucified and had their wives and children killed before his eyes as they hung dying (Joseph. Ant 13 §380-83; JW 1 §97-98). According to Jewish law, the corpses of executed idolaters and blasphemers were hung from a tree to show that God had cursed them (Deut 21:22-23). In pre-Christian Palestine, this text from Deuteronomy was applied to those who died by crucifixion, such as Nahum’s pesher from Qumran Cave 4 shows. Another document from Qumran (11QTemple 64:6-13) also connects Deuteronomy 21:23 with crucifixion, which was apparently an Essene punishment for some very serious crimes.

B. Crucifixion under the Romans

Cicero calls crucifixion the summum supplicium or the most extreme form of punishment (Verr. 2.5.168). Josephus, who witnessed the death of men by crucifixion during Titus’s siege of Jerusalem, calls it -the most miserable of deaths- (JW 7 §203). In order of increasing severity, the aggravated methods of execution were decollatio (beheading), crematio (burning), and crucifixion. Damnatio ad bestias (throwing victims to wild animals) sometimes substituted for decapitation, but animals and an arena were needed to stage such a form of execution. The crucifixion was much easier to perform and could also serve as a public spectacle. For example, in the time of Caligula (AD37-41) under the prefect Flaccus, some Jews were tortured and crucified in the Alexandrian amphitheater to entertain the people (Philo Flacc 72.84-85).

Among the Persians and to some extent in Greece, as we have seen, crucifixion could be a punishment for serious crimes against the state. On occasion, the Carthaginians crucified generals and admirals who had been defeated or failed in other similar ways. Very occasionally, Roman citizens were crucified for high treason, desertion during war, and similar serious crimes. For example, just before the outbreak of the Jewish War in AD 66, the Roman procurator Gessius Florus had some Jews who were Roman knights flogged and crucified in Jerusalem (Josephus JW2 §308). But normally Roman citizens and, in particular, members of the upper class were safe from the possibility of crucifixion, no matter what their crimes. Death on the cross was generally limited to foreigners and people of the lower class, particularly slaves.

In 63 a. C. , Rabiro, a Roman nobleman and senator, was threatened with the penalty of crucifixion. Defending him, Cicero argued that the very mention of the “cross” and the executioner (who bound the criminal’s hands, veiled his head and crucified him) was intolerable for a respectable Roman citizen.

How serious it is to be dishonored by a public court; how painful to suffer a fine, how painful to suffer exile; and yet, in the midst of such a disaster, we retain a degree of freedom. Even if we are threatened with death, we can die as free men. But the executioner, the veil on the head and the very word “cross” must be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but also from his thoughts, eyes and ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things, but the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man (Rab. Perd. 16; italics added).

This speech reflected the horrified disgust that the -good- Roman citizens felt that any of their number were subjected to or even threatened with crucifixion. For those people, crucifixion was “the most cruel and disgusting punishment” (crudelissimum taeterrimumque supplicium; Cic. Verr. 2.5.165).

The Romans used crucifixion to control mutinous troops, break the will of conquered peoples, and wear down rebellious cities under siege. Dangerous and violent thieves could be crucified, often near or at the site of their crimes. Quintilian (ca. 35-95 AD) approved of crucifixion as a punishment for such criminals, and thought that this form of execution had a better deterrent effect when crosses were established along busy highways. -Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where most people can see and be moved by this fear. Because the penalties do not refer so much to retribution as to its exemplary effect -(Decl. 274). The Romans used crucifixion primarily as a servile execution (-The punishment of slaves-), a terrible form of execution typically inflicted on slaves ( servitutis extremum summumque supplicium; Cic. Verr. 2.5.169).

Plautus (d. 184 BC), who happens to be the first writer to provide evidence for Roman crucifixions, has more to say on the subject than any other Latin author. He writes of the slaves’ “terrible cross” (Poen. 347; see Capt. 469; Cas. 611; Men. 66, 859; Pers. 352; Rud. 518; Trin. 598), and reflects the gloomy gallows humor of his subculture. From his time, the lower classes used “crux” as a vulgar taunt. The much-cited confession of Sceledrus in Miles Gloriosus (written around 205 BC) suggests that for a long time before Plautus, slaves were frequently crucified: -I know that the cross will be my tomb: that is where my ancestors are , my father, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents- (372-73).

Livy reports that twenty-five slaves conspired in Rome (in 217 BC) and were crucified (22.33.2). In 196 BC C., the leaders of a slave revolt in Etruria were crucified (Livy 33.36.3). Especially during the 2nd century BC. C. , crucifixion was used to deter rebellions among the masses of slaves who lived in Rome or worked on the large estates elsewhere in Italy. According to Orosius (5.9.4), the first slave war in Sicily (139-132 BC) saw the crucifixion of 450 slaves. Appian (BCiv. 1120) states that after the final defeat and death of Spartacus in 71 BC, Crassus had over 6,000 slaves crucified along the Via Appia between Capua and Rome.

Even under “ordinary” conditions, slaves had little legal protection. Juvenal describes the Roman matron who wanted a slave crucified and overrode her husband’s objections with the notorious reply: Hoc volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione volantas (-This is my will and my order. If you are looking for a reason , it’s just that I want it – (Sat. 6.223). cruel comment about slaves “feeding the ravens on the cross” (Ep.1.16.46-48) In Nero’s time, a Senate decree revived the custom of executing (often by crucifixion) all slaves. slaves of a house if they killed the master (Tac. Ann. 13.32.1). A few years later this was done after the murder of a city prefect (ibid. 14: 42-45). A slave named Mithridates was crucified for “having condemned the soul” of Caligula…

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