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jerv's avatar

Did Jesus really die on the cross?

Asked by jerv (28888 points ) June 27th, 2010

There is a new theory that Jesus may not have died on the cross and that the crucifix shape that we commonly depict Jesus hanging from did not come about until a couple of centuries after his death. This theory is based on translation from the original texts of the Bible, and in particular, the actual definition of the word “stauros”.

What are your thoughts on this theory?

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47 Answers

gemiwing's avatar

It’s an interesting theory. To me, it doesn’t matter. The cross is a symbol, much like the rainbow, and I view it as such. Then again, I’m a protestant, so that probably counts for something in the totaling.

It’s more important, to me, that he sacrificed himself, more so than what he was sacrificed on.

DominicX's avatar

Don’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe he died on a pole?

It doesn’t matter to me either. The cross has become the symbol and it doesn’t need to change because of a translation issue. The Bible has so many translation issues it’s absurd. The whole arsenokoitai and malakoi thing…don’t even get me started on that. ;P

MissA's avatar

Some things are imponderable…like who killed JFK.

YARNLADY's avatar

Was there really any such person – where is the proof?

MissA's avatar

@YARNLADY In the damn pudding.

MissA's avatar

@YARNLADY That’d have to be “Jesus pudding” and that concept is just too weird for even me.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Even if the man Jesus died on a cross, that does not make him a deity or a Messiah.
Had he died by being impaled on a swear or beheaded with a sword, it would have changed nothing.

He was born, he preached and organized during his life and he died. He inspired people to create and pass on myths about his alleged supernatural powers. The story like so many others, grew in the telling and retelling.

MissA's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence

I’ve also read that there were many “Jesus-type” folks back then. If that is correct, I wonder why they selected him in particular, to grow the myths about.

Jeruba's avatar

The cross symbol has been around longer than Christianity.

janedelila's avatar

OH my I see this being a long, long discussion. And it could be difficult. Can’t wait! Check in with y’all tomorrow morning to see what’s shakin.

jerv's avatar

Personally, I find it rather odd and a little sad that this is causing such controversy. It’s almost as if some people are saying, “Not only is the Bible the true word of God, but Man’s interpretation of it is flawless because He intended His message to be clear!” when that is obviously and provably not the case.

What is provable is that humans are good at creating fiction, misinterpreting facts, and otherwise saying things that are less than 100% literal truth. It is also provable that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible that all claim that they are the only correct one, even when they are mutually exclusive.

I see this as a plausible theory given my unshakable belief in the fallibility of Man.

MissA's avatar

@jerv Are we reading the same thread?

I agree with paragraphs 2 and 3, but what’s going on in that first one! Maybe it’s just late.

Pandora's avatar

Agree with @MissA Killed is still killed. I sometimes wonder about how things from any old dead language is translated.
I watched a documentary on the history channel the other night about some old carvings and scrolls from Egypt. One that was found in a cave about some Empresses shows her having relations in not such a nice way. There was some speculations about why that was where it was away from her tomb. Funny how no one came up the idea that perhaps some poor slave found the cave and simply wanted to draw pornagraphy of her to show what he would love to do to her. No it all had some interesting symbolic meaning. It all had to do with Gods and rebirth.
What if they simply just like having their sex life recorded and wanted Gods in the afterlife to know what positions they preferred?
My point is tomorrow someone else will have a different theory of what the actual translation meant. Like Miss A pointed out. JFK is a prime example. How many theories with that one.
FBI, CIA, One man, two men, Castro? I’m sure there is more but I stopped wondering long ago.

jerv's avatar

@MissA Maybe it’s a little parallel thinking on my part; I am prone to that.
Still, I have heard quite a few people say that something (for instance, “Jesus died on the cross”) is true because the Bible says it is when we aren’t really sure that that is what the Bible actually says no matter how many people believe it.
When I first read that article, those were my first thoughts.

ETpro's avatar

I do not believe we are likely to find any proof of how Jesus died. For those who believe, it is supposed to be a matter of faith and not concrete proof that he was God Incarnate anyway.

MissA's avatar

@jerv We do not disagree.

MissA's avatar

What would happen if ‘believers’ were as fully faithful about their bodies having everything they need to heal themselves?

Jabe73's avatar

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus was crucified on a stake rather than a cross. JW also don’t accept the trinity, most “Christian” denominations believe Jesus was lord who incarnated as a man in the flesh but not Mormons and JW. Jesus real name most likely was Yeshua Ben Yosef and was likely a man of typical seminite physical features such as being darker skinned, darker short hair. Many biblical scholars believe many of the beliefs written in the bible (regardless) of version were formed from earlier pagan beliefs and that Yeshua’s own true teachings were distorted by his own apostles to push their own religious beliefs. 2 great books on this subject “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart D. Ehrman and the other called “Jesus Religion” by Louis Charles are good reads about any bibles being the “inerrant word of god”.

MissA's avatar

@Jabe73 Do the sources you quote eliminate the need for faith?

jerv's avatar

@Jabe73 Given when certain Christian holidays fall in relation to the eight Pagan holidays, I wonder about how much Paganism influenced Christianity. “Sure, we got a festival of rebirth in the Spring, but we call it Easter instead of Ostara.”

Jabe73's avatar

@MissA Yes/no because no one knows what should have been in the bibles that christians read today, we don’t have the original bible texts but most likely copies of other copies. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the short Gospel of Thomas (left out of the AKJV bible as not being inspired by god) that makes several references to reincarnation. I am only saying what I read about, and no one obviously knows the truth and no the sources I quote do not express an opinion on faith. I do have my own beliefs from everything I’ve researched on what I believe is really true about Jesus, god, faith, salvation, heaven/hell. I will stop short of typing that here.

Tarf's avatar

i believe it but most people do not and i’m mormon so yeah i believe it.@MissA Jesus was god’s son and there was already a plan for him to die and one of his disciples betrayed him and persuaded a king to kill him along with other people who got killed.

jerv's avatar

@Jabe73 ”...because no one knows what should have been in the bibles that christians read today,...”
Isn’t that the problem? Plenty of people seem to think they do….

Qingu's avatar

Jesus almost certainly existed. I know it’s fashionable among atheists to deny he existed (apparently Paul and Peter made him up from scratch?) However, I think this claim blatantly contradicts the evidence. First of all, “A Jewish cult leader named Yeshua” existed is not an extraordinary claim; there were plenty of similar cult leaders in Roman-era Judea. Secondly, if Jesus didn’t exist—where did his cult come from? Paul’s writings are the earliest Christian documents we have, from the 50’s AD… and at this time, there was already a well-formed cult of “Christians.” If Paul and Peter invented the person of Jesus, why was there already a cult centered around Jesus? It makes no sense; it’s much more in line with Occam’s razor to say they simply co-opted a cult that Jesus started (much like how Jesus perhaps co-opted John the Baptist’s cult).

As for Jesus dying on a cross—again, this is not an extraordinary claim. The Romans crucified thousands of people, especially people with political power. Sure, there’s no “proof” by modern standards—no photographs or eyewitness accounts—but then there isn’t a similar level of proof for almost anything from the ancient world. I see no reason to doubt that he was crucified.

by the way, “Jesus wasn’t crucified” is actually a sectarian religious claim. A sect of early Christians called the Docetics believed that Jesus only “appeared” to be crucified—that it was some kind of illusion on the cross, and he lived on. Interestingly, this story gets picked up by the Muslims and is alluded to in the Quran. I have a feeling that people making the claim that he wasn’t crucified are conflating the Docetics’ religious belief with an actually valid historical position.

Qingu's avatar

@Jabe73, do you have any sources for the Dead Sea Scrolls containing the gospel of Thomas? I’m pretty sure that’s not true. The gospel of Thomas is associated with Coptic Christianity.

Otto_King's avatar

Jesus and the whole Bible is just an understandable way to explain the sun-worship, the heliolithic. Like any other religion. The planets, stars and the sun just been replaced with “Great” people. That’s it. (at least for me)

Qingu's avatar

@Otto_King, that’s a pretty huge oversimplification.

The Bible, compared to other Mesopotamian mythology, is relatively uninterested in the sun.

Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with the sun either, beyond a passing resemblance to another popular mystery cult figure, Mithras (whose cult largely post-dates Jesus anyway).

“Heliolithic” is also not the word you’re looking for…

Otto_King's avatar

@Qingu If you’re so smart, then you should know about that the rebirth of the sun from the death after 3 days, is the winter solstice. And just be amused how they replace the Sun with Jesus a couple of thousand years after the discovery of the winter- and summer solstice. And you are right, the Bible uninterested in the sun, but who wrote it… he wasn’t. And just so you know, it wasn’t GOD who wrote it…

Qingu's avatar

Can you explain how the winter solstice is the rebirth of the sun after death? I mean, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying Jesus’ early cult wasn’t influenced by resurrection-obsessed mystery cults in ancient Rome; I just don’t think solar cults had much to do with it. Many mystery cults were centered around Osiris, not Helios/Appolo (and like I said, most of Mithras’ cult post-dates Jesus’).

I also don’t understand what you mean by “they replaced the Sun with Jesus.” Who is “they”?

Certainly, the Catholics renamed pagan Saturnalia rituals (around the winter solstice) with Jesus’ birthday, but again, this doesn’t seem to be what you’re saying… and it’s also a later development than the early Christians.

Also, you must not know me very well; I don’t think God wrote the Bible. (I think Gods are fictional characters.) But I’m not sure what you mean when you say “he wasn’t” interested in the sun, as if the Bible had a single author. The Bible has many authors with varied interests. Though, very little concerns the sun. Can you cite a passage from the Bible that supports your argument?

Otto_King's avatar

By the winter solstice the sun stays at the lowest position for 3 days considered as dead, just like Jesus and after that on the 25th of December, “accidantely” on the birthday of Jesus, the Sun started to live again… But you know what, I quit from this topic now, that was and will be the longest conversation of religion I ever had. Wasting time…

Qingu's avatar

Okay. Just to clarify: Jesus’ birthday was not identified with Saturnalia/the Winter Solstice until the time of the Catholic Church, so this doesn’t really apply to early Christians.

Otto_King's avatar

@Quingu I think I’m gonna keep you as my personal Fluther religionist advisor. Are you interested? :)

Qingu's avatar

I charge $25/month

Otto_King's avatar

How about 100 simoleons/month

Qingu's avatar

No deal, Kyzlowski.

Otto_King's avatar

I’ll sleep on it!

mattbrowne's avatar

Very likely, yes. If not, several major history magazines would write about it. But pseudohistory like pseudoscience seems very exciting to many people.

jerv's avatar

@mattbrowne Some would argue that the Bible is pseudohistory; c’est la vie.

Bear in mind that we have barely gotten to the point where you can even think such things without getting crucified yourself… or at least such crucifixions are more metaphorical than literal than they were in the olden days.
Still, even if it doesn’t earn you a visit from Inquisitors, writing such a thing causes enough controversy that it can be considered career suicide regardless of truth so I am not surprised that such stuff isn’t written about in any history magazine that wants to avoid being picketed and/or pissing off a portion of it’s reader base, or by any writer who doesn’t like getting death threats.

But those are just my thoughts.

Qingu's avatar

@jerv, I think you’re overstating the danger modern Bible/Christian skeptics face. People have been proposing “alternate histories” for Biblical stories for more than a century with little repurcussion. The “historical Jesus” idea is accepted mainstream scholarship.

jerv's avatar

@Qingu Maybe a little. However, I do think that any employee that causes their employer to lose business and/or receive massive amounts of hate mail may seriously reconsider whether or not to keep said employee on the payroll, though I would rather be terminated from employment than just plain terminated like it’s 1610.

Oh, and by “olden days”, I was going back a little further than 1900. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think it’s been more than a century since any large numbers of people were hanged/burned/drowned/what-have-you for heresy.

As for accepted, I think that that may depend on your definition of “mainstream”... unless you are willing to concede that there are people whose thoughts and opinions are not mainstream and that some of them (often the insane ones) tend to be either very vocal and/or violent in their opposition to “mainstream” thinking.

mattbrowne's avatar

@jerv

“Historical criticism, higher criticism, or the historical-critical method is a branch of literary analysis that investigates the origins of a text. As applied in biblical studies it investigates the books of the Bible and compares them to other texts written at the same time, before, or recently after the text in question. The historical-critical method to studying the Bible is taught nearly universally in Western nations, including in most seminaries. Conservative, evangelical schools, however, often reject this approach, teaching instead that the Bible is inerrant and that it reflects explicit divine inspiration.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_criticism

Historians found out that Jesus’ birth as described by Luke is a myth and not a historical event, while Jesus’ cruxification is most likely a historical event, same for Paul spreading the word and dying in Rome.

jerv's avatar

@mattbrowne Ah. That makes it clearer now. Thanks!
It still doesn’t totally clarify the exact translation of Stauros, but that does shed a little light on things.

JenniferP's avatar

That is not a “new theory.” Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others have known that for a long time. The cross is actually borrowed from Paganism. Regardless of what he died on it is only an object and shouldn’t get idolized. It is no different than a gun which is used to kill someone you love. You wouldn’t put guns up on your wall and make gun jewelry to remind yourself of your loved one.

JenniferP's avatar

Jeruba said “The cross has been around longer than Christianity,” and that is true. When explorers came to the Americas they found that Native Americans even had a version of the cross that they must have brought over when they immigrated from Asia.

Qingu is correct that there is indeed evidence that Jesus existed. Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny the younger wrote about him. I was just reading about that today.

ETpro's avatar

@JenniferP Easy on the discussion of Native American crosses. You’ll pour more gasoline on the racist rantings of the Brit-Am Israelism bunch. Many of them claim that Jews from the lost tribes came to the New World before the Indians.

JenniferP's avatar

@ET pro-Don’t Mormons claim that too.

ETpro's avatar

@JenniferP I think it’s down to certain fringe sects among the followers of Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni.

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