Thursday, February 22, 2007

Crucifixion of a 14-year Old Assyrian boy in Basra

A 14-year old Assyrian Christian boy was allegedly crucified and killed in Basra, Iraq in early-October 2006. The story was carried by the Assyrian International News Agency (AIN) and another agency covering religious affairs, Asia News, although neither had confirmed details.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Crucifixion of Jesus by Pontius Pilate

The most famous crucifixion, that of Jesus of Nazareth, took place in Jerusalem on April 7, 30 CE or April 3, 33 CE. It is recorded in all four gospels of the New Testament: Mark 15:22-32; Matthew 27:33-44; Luke 23:33-43; and John 19:17-30. The execution was ordered by the Roman government of Judea, Pontius Pilate, on the charge of sedition (treason) against the Roman Empire, ruled by the second Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar Augustus.

Two other men were crucified alongside Jesus, also for treason against the state. These men were not common criminals, but rather revolutionaries or traitors of some sort. Death by crucifixion was the Roman punishment for political crimes against Rome.

It is unclear how long Jesus was on the cross. The problem is that the gospels give different times for the crucifixion. Mark says it was early in the morning (Mk 15:1). Mark says that Jesus was crucified at the third hour (Mk 15:25), while John has the crucifixion taking place after the sixth hour (Jn 19:14).

According to Hebrew time, the third hour would have been 9 am. The day started at sunrise, at 6 am. The sixth hour would have been 12 noon. Note, though, that John may well have been going by Roman time, which is modern time. So after the sixth hour would have meant sometime after 6 am.

Mark says that at the sixth hour (Mk 15:33) darkness fell over the land until the ninth hour (Mk 15:33-34). That would have been at around 12 noon through 3 pm. Jesus died at about the ninth hour (3 pm), according to Mark (Mk 15:34).

Mark's account suggests that Jesus hung on the cross no more than six hours before he died. If John were going by Hebrew time, his account suggests no more than three hours. Assuming he was using Roman time, John would suggest no more than nine hours.

As horrendous as was Jesus' crucifixion, it was by no means unique. It was one of tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of crucifixions in history. Some of those crucified hung on the cross for days and even weeks before they died.

Crucifixion as a form of state terror was widespread throughout the Roman Empire, including Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. It originated several centuries BCE and was only officially discontinued around 337 CE under Emperor Constantine when he legalized Christianity.

(painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Crucifxion)

Crucifixion of Leonidas by Xerxes

On September 18, 480 BCE, after two days of fighting, the remains of a small army of 300 Spartans and 6,700 allies, including 700 Thespians and 400 Thebians, lost the battle of Thermopylae against an invading Persian army consisting of some 150,000 soldiers led by King Xerxes, son of Darius. King Leonidas I of Sparta was killed in battle. According to Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes ordered that the head of Leonidas be cut off and his body crucified.

(statue of Leonidas I of Sparta)

Friday, February 2, 2007

Alexamenos Graffito

The earliest known depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, the Alexamenos Graffito, is believed to date back to the third century CE. The caricature carving mocks Christianity and the crucifixion by giving Jesus an ass's head. The inscription reads: "Alexamenos - worship your God !".

The carving was found on a stone in a guard room on Palatine Hill in Rome near the Circus Maximus in 1857, and is now in the Palatine Antiquarium. Some date it to the first century CE. Others traditionally date the graffito to the third century, when Tertullian wrote of accusations that Christians worshipped an ass's head: "Somniatis caput asininum esse Deum nostrum" (Apol., xvi; Ad Nat., I, ii)... meaning, "You talk nonsense by suggesting that our god is the head of an ass".

(carving, Alexamenos Graffito, c. 3rd century)

Crucifixion of Yohanan Ben Ha'galgol

Despite the many thousands of people crucified by the Romans, there is only one archaeological discovery of a crucified body dating back to the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus. The remains were excavated just north of Jerusalem. The remains, accidentally found in an ossuary in 1968, were preserved because family members gave this particular person a customary burial. Usually, a crucified body was left to decay on the cross and would not be preserved.

The ossuary had an Aramaic inscription on it with the crucified man's name, Yehohanan or Yohanan Ben Ha'galgol (the son of Ha'galgol). Contained within was a heel with a nail driven through its side, indicating that the heels may have been driven through the sides of the tree (one on the left side, one on the right side, and not with both feet together in front). The nail had olive wood on it indicating that he was crucified on a cross made of olive wood or on an olive tree. Since olive trees are not very tall, this would suggest that victims were crucified at eye level.

Additionally, the piece of olive wood was located between the heel and the head of the nail, presumably to keep the victim from freeing his foot by sliding it over the nail. His legs were found broken. It is thought that since in Roman times iron was expensive, the nails were removed from the dead body to cut the costs, which would help to explain why only one has been found, as the back of the nail was bent in such a way that it couldn't be removed.

Yohanan was 24 to 28 years old when he died.

(photo of heel bones of Yohanan)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Cupbearer and the Baker

Genesis 40

1 Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. After they had been in custody for some time, 5 each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh's officials who were in custody with him in his master's house, "Why are your faces so sad today?"

8 "We both had dreams," they answered, "but there is no one to interpret them." Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams."

9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, "In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand."

12 "This is what it means," Joseph said to him. "The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon."

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, "I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head."

18 "This is what it means," Joseph said. "The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh."

20 Now the third day was Pharaoh's birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh's hand, 22 but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

(painting by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, Joseph Interprets Dreams in Prison, c. 1816-1817)

Crucifixion of Peter by Nero

The Apostle and first "Bishop of Rome", Peter, was imprisoned, tortured, and crucified in Rome in 64 CE under the Roman emperor, Nero. Some scholars set the date at October 13, 64 CE. The earliest documented mention of Peter's death is in a letter from Clement, bishop of Rome (AD 88-97), to the Corinthians. It is in "The Acts of Peter" (2nd century CE), that we find the story of Peter being crucified upside-down, supposedly at Peter's request, because was "unworthy to die in the same manner as my Lord."

Eusebius of Caesarea (275–339 CE) also records this story, but says his source is from a church theologian named Origen (who wrote about 230 CE): "Peter appears to have preached through Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, to the Jews that were scattered abroad; who also, finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, having requested of himself to suffer in this way" (Ecclesiastical History 3:1).

The crucifixion took place during a spectacle that included battles between slaves, gladiators, and wild beasts. The Christians immediately took Peter's body and buried it in the cemetery near the Circus Maximus.

Peter was also known as Simon ben Johan/BarJonah, Simon Peter, Cephas, and Kepha. He was a Galilean fisherman. He was married (Matthew 8:14-5 and Mark 1:30-31). He may have also had a son (1 Peter 5:13).

(painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, c. 1601)

Crucifixion of Joachim of Nizhny-Novgorod

Archbishop Joachim of Nizhny-Novgorod was crucified upside down on the Royal Doors of the Cathedral in Sebastopol in the Ukraine (Soviet Union) in 1920.

Joachim was born John Ioakimovich Levitsky on March 30, 1853 in the village of Petrushek, Kiev. In August 1910, he was appointed Bishop of Nizhny-Novgorod and Arzamas. On May 6, 1916 he was raised to the rank of Archbishop. On March 22, 1918 he was retired from his see at his own request and was appointed administrator, with the rights of superior, of the Resurrection monastery at New Jerusalem in Moscow diocese.

In the autumn, Joachim went to visit his son and his family in the Crimea. He was often invited from there to serve in the churches of Sebastopol. Once, when all the inhabitants of the house had gone out and he was alone, some unknown people who were supposedly robbers, but were in fact sent by the local Bolsheviks, appeared. According to the witness of a Crimean priest, he was martyred by being hanged with his head down on the royal doors of the Sebastopol cathedral.

Crucifixion of Polycrates by Oroetes

Herodotus, writing about 450 BC, mentions crucifixion three times in his histories, including the death by crucifixion after torture, of the tyrant of the island of Samos, Polycrates, around 522 BC at the hands of Oroetes, the Persian governor of Sardis.

(painting by Salvator Rosa, The Crucifixion of Polycrates, c. 1663-64)

Crucifixion of Jews by Flaccus

In his Against Flaccus, Hebrew historian, Philo of Alexandria wrote that on July 28, 38 CE the Hebrew king, Herod Agrippa, visited Alexandria (Egypt) on a mission from the Roman emperor, Caius Caligula. The story goes that Herod was insulted. The Roman governor of Egypt, Aulus Avilius Flaccus, did nothing to punish those guilty.

The city's Greek elite class, which hated the Romans and despised the Jews, demanded that statues of Caligula be erected in the Jewish synagogues as a sign of allegiance to the emperor. The move was trick designed to cause trouble for Flaccus. If Flaccus built the statues, the Jews would be enraged, and he would have to use violence to control them. If he didn't, then he'd have to explain himself to Rome.

Flaccus was forced to install the statues, which encourage the mob to attack the synagogues, destroying the gardens and burning the buildings. Philo noted that the attacks were well organized, planned. Flaccus contained the Jewish in their quarter of the city. Many were stoned, clubbed, or burned and the dead bodies were mutilated. Members of the Jewish council were arrested and whipped in the amphitheater to celebrate the birthday of the emperor; others were crucified to entertain the citizens of Alexandria (Against Flaccus 72.84 85). All of this took place during August-September 38 CE.

"[Jews] were arrested, scourged, tortured and after all these outrages, which were all their bodies could make room for, the final punishment kept in reserve was the cross... [Flaccus] ordered the crucifixion of the living... And he did this after maltreating them with the lash in the middle of the threatre and torturing them with fire and the sword (Against Flaccus 72, 84)."

During the first week of October 38 CE, Flaccus was arrested by a Roman officer sent by Caligula.

Crucifixion of 3,000 Babylonians by Darius

According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, King Achaemenid Darius (ca. 549 - 486 BCE), known as Darius I the Great, of Persia had 3,000 of the leading citizens of Babylon crucified in about 519 BCE.

In Iran, there is a town called Behistun where there are several ancient monuments, including one with a famous insription by Darius I. The inscription reads:

" While I was in Persia and in Media, the Babylonians revolted from me a second time. A certain man named Arakha, an Armenian, son of Haldita, rebelled in Babylon. At a place called Dubâla, he lied unto the people, saying: 'I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.' Then did the Babylonian people revolt from me and they went over to that Arakha. He seized Babylon, he became king in Babylon. Then did I send an army unto Babylon. A Persian named Intaphrenes, my servant, I appointed as their leader, and thus I spoke unto them: 'Go, smite that Babylonian host which does not acknowledge me.' Then Intaphrenes marched with the army unto Babylon. Ahuramazda brought me help; by the grace of Ahuramazda Intaphrenes overthrew the Babylonians and brought over the people unto me. On the twenty-second day of the month Markâsanaš [27 November] they seized that Arakha who called himself Nebuchadnezzar, and the men who were his chief followers. Then I made a decree, saying: 'Let that Arakha and the men who were his chief followers be crucified in Babylon!' "

Notes: Arakha Urartian, son of Haldita, was also known as Nebuchadnezzar IV. His rebellion, the second against Darius, started on 25 August 521 BCE and was suppressed by Darius' bow carrier Intaphrenes on 27 November. The first Babylonian insurrection was led Nidintu-Bêl and was suppressed by Daris during October-December 522 BCE.

(carved image of Arakha from Behistun)

Crucifixion of 2,000 Tyrians by Alexander

Roman senator Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote the History of Alexander the Great, in which he tells that Alexander the Great had 2,000 citizens of Tyre crucified on the shores of the Mediterranean after he had conquered that city in 332 BCE.

"The extent of the bloodshed can be judged from the fact that 6,000 fighting-men were slaughtered within the city's fortifications. It was a sad spectacle that the furious king then provided for the victors: 2,000 Tyrians, who had survived the rage of the tiring Macedonians, now hung nailed to crosses all along the huge expanse of the beach."

Crucifixion of 3,600 Jews by Vespasian

According to the Roman historian Josephus, during the first Jewish War against the Romans in 66-70 CE, the Roman commanders Vespasian and his son Titus both ordered thousands of crucifixions as public warnings and deterrents. During the Titus's siege of Jerusalam in 70 CE, Roman soldiers crucified up some 3,600 Jews over the course of several months... up to 500 in a single day. So many Jews were crucified outside of the walls that "there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies" (Wars of the Jews 5:11.1).

Crucifixion of 800 pharisees by Alexander Jannaeus

The Roman historian Josephus wrote in Antiquities 13:14:2 that in 88 BCE, the Hasmonean king, Alexander Jannaeus (in office 103-76 BCE), ordered the crucifixion of 800 Pharisees.

"As he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes."

Alexander Jannaeus (also known as Alexander Jannai/Yannai) was the son of John Hyrcanus. His likely Hebrew name was Jonathan, and he may have been the High Priest Jonathan. In the Talmud, he appears as a wicked tyrant under the name King Yannai, reflecting his conflict with the Pharisee party.

(painting by Willem Swidde, The Execution of the Pharisees, c 17th century)

Crucifixion of 6,000 rebels by Crassus

At the end of the Third Servile War, a revolt against the Romans led by the gladiator Spartacus in 71 BCE, the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus had more than 6,000 rebels crucified. After defeating and killing Spartacus in battle at Apulia, the Romans lined the 200-kilometer Appian Way road from Capua to Rome with 6,000 gladiators and slaves on 6,000 crosses (Bella Civilia 1:120).

Crucifixion 2,000 rebels by Quintilus Varus

Following a rebellion (led by Judath the Galilean) in Judea triggered by the death of King Herod in 7 BCE, the Roman officer in charge (or "Legate") of the Roman province of Syria, Quintilus Varus, ordered the crucifixion of 2,000 Jews in Jerusalem in a single day.