Nailing the story right -

Nailing the story right

Jesus didn’t die on the cross, scholar says, because the Romans didn’t crucify anyone


A Swedish theologian argues that the idea of Christ’s crucifixion comes from a misinterpretation of the original Biblical account. In it there is no specific mention of a cross—two pieces of wood lashed together—but only of a “staurus,” which, Gunnar Samuelsson claims, is not necessarily a cross but can also mean a pole, and no mention at all of nails. Adds Samuelsson, who has written a 400-page thesis after studying the original texts: “The problem is descriptions of crucifixions are remarkably absent in the antique literature. The sources where you would expect to find support for the established understanding of the event really don’t say anything.” The absence of nails in the Scripture is true enough, although Christ after his resurrection shows the nail wounds to Doubting Thomas, and Christians have always portrayed him as nailed to the cross. That was a long-running dispute between believers and skeptics who pointed to overwhelming evidence that the Romans usually tied their victims to crosses and watched them die from slow asphyxiation, but the discovery, in 1968, of the skeletal remains of a crucified man, complete with iron nail driven through his heel bone, considerably bolstered the Biblical story. Samuelsson’s other claim, that no one at all was crucified, however, is new, and liable to startle other scholars. According to the theologian, ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew literature from Homer to the first century CE describe an arsenal of suspension punishments but none mention “crosses” or “crucifixion” and therefore, “the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged.” But most experts argue that crucifixion was the general term for those deaths by suspension whether or not crossbeams were involved. Particularly when the victorious Romans were engaged in mass executions—some 6,000 followers of Spartacus were crucified along the Appian Way in 71 BCE after his revolt was put down—a shortage of wood could lead to single poles being used.


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Nailing the story right

  1. It's an interesting theory. It certainly is widely understood that Christ did not drag an entire cross up Golgotha, but rather just one beam (generally understood to be the crossbar of the cross).

    It's also certainly true that the Gospels do not offer much detail about the actual technique used by the Romans, but it seems to me that crucifixion is mentioned a number of times in reference to the sign put at the top, the cries from the crowd to "Crucify Him", the references to those "crucified" alongside Christ, the reference to concerns about leaving the three bodies up on their "crosses" for the Sabbath day, the mockery from bystanders about how Christ should just "come down from the cross", the reference to the sponge with vinegar being raised to Christ's mouth on a pole, the coup de grace toward the end in lieu of breaking the legs (i.e. death by asphyxiation on a cross), etc.

    It would be interesting to discuss it with Samuelsson over a beer some day.

  2. Samuelsson is just trying to get noticed by suggesting such theories without a shred of proof. It's a 'publish or die' motive.

    • Without a shred of proof, eh? That sounds, curiously, a lot like the Bible itself.

      • I am not a believer in the Christian myths myself, actually I am an atheist but there is more proof that Jesus the man was a real historical person; he is even mentioned( as a footnote more or less) by a contempory Roman historian. Gary below is dead wrong on this issue. He existed as much as Budda and Mohammed did.

        I just disagree with Sammy on his thesis that crucifixion never existed. It seems to me he is just expelling hot empty air to get noticed and get his pathetic little useless paper published.

        • Genesis in its entirety. God etching out ten "rules to live by" on a mountainside for a single witness with no independent corroboration. Noah's nautical zoo and stud farm. Virgin impregnated by supernatural force. Angel conversing with the royal deliverers of gold, frankincense and myrrh (or was it a shepherd or two? or was it all of 'em? whatever…). Violation of the conservation of mass when a bunch of hungry folk split up a coupla fish. And on and on. Oh, and the biggie, on which, I am told, all of Christianity rests: resurrection to walk back among the mere mortals incapable of such a trick.

          I do not expect any proof to satisfy an atheist-leaning agnostic like myself. I get that these are articles of a fantasy deep faith. But to blast someone over publishing conjecture without proof over a biblical story is, to me, missing a rather large elephant in the room.

          • I've always enjoyed this kind of discussion with atheists. Had a great one once concerning Noah's ark on an atheist discussion board.

            Anyhoo, I realize this is just an aside you're throwing out but I can't resist responding.

            – the account of the universe's origin from modern science is starting to look more and more like Genesis with each passing decade
            – Noah's ark: I've never found a conflict between it and modern science….and in fact recent discoveries in modern genetics corroborate it.
            – virgin etc. Not sure I see the problem with that one, once one admits that all life comes from a supernatural force
            – angels etc. Again, not sure I see a logical problem with the possibility of separated intellects
            – loaves and fishes: does it have to violate C of M? Not if the matter was merely transported, rather than generated.
            – resurrection: see the point about origin of life above

            Conjecture vs,. faith: the difference is that one plainly comes from a fallible man, while the other is thought to come from an infallible God. We may well be mistaken about the source, but if we're not then it makes perfect sense to give more credence to assertions from that source than to those from a university professor.

          • Well, my point was about the irony of challenging a biblical scholar over lack of proof. But I had a feeling you might come along and have a go.

            But now this atheist-leaning agnostic is getting a bit spooked. In less than an hour, you have poked up with a response. And I had a feeling that you would. Almost as if some force called on you to keep an eye on this thread… or maybe keep an eye on me… some force… some maybe superna– AAAAAAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!

          • the account of the universe's origin from modern science is starting to look more and more like Genesis with each passing decade .

            I guess I missed the article in Nature about "Female mammalian origination from the costal structure of the male mammal, just prior to sexual reproduction." Or maybe "Big Bang could've been a day later but somebody was in a hurry to take a day off." Google scholar doesn't have either yet. Do you have the names and/or academic affiliations of the authors?

          • Not that part, the part about the universe itself. There was a time when physicists thought that the universe had no beginning and that time itself had no beginning. In the last century that idea was pretty much debunked, so that the Genesis account, implying a beginning to both as it does, began to look somewhat prescient after all the Newtonian skepticism it endured during the prior century.

          • Noah's ark: I've never found a conflict between it and modern science….and in fact recent discoveries in modern genetics corroborate it..

            Wow. Do we know which species are now extinct because the last couple ended up being fed to the surviving species? Where did all that water come from? Where did it go? You know, conservation of mass and all that…

          • There are good discussions to be had about the water, but I was referring to the part that could definitely be debunked by today's science: the genetics. According to the Noah's ark story, everyone is descended from one common male ancestor (Noah) due to a widespread wipeout of every non-related male. Our common female ancestor (Eve), on the other hand, is supposedly well before Noah since his sons' wives were also on the Ark.

            Modern genetics has found that all humans have both a common male ancestor and a common female ancestor, but that the common male ancestor is many generations more recent than the common female ancestor. Interesting, no?

          • virgin etc. Not sure I see the problem with that one, once one admits that all life comes from a supernatural force

            Uh… ok. And you may have a point corroborated by modern science. A friend at a Christmas Party (who has a relative who is an obstetrician) remarked that it's not that big a deal, since the OB's birthing centre delivers dozens of virgin births per year. I never quite took the meaning of that observation the way you seem to be taking it. I will need more time to digest this thought.

          • angels etc. Again, not sure I see a logical problem with the possibility of separated intellects

            I have nowhere to go with this that does not involve some snarky manipulation of the "separated intellect" phrase, so I think I will leave this one alone. Yeah, yeah, I know. Atheist coward. Sue me.

          • loaves and fishes: does it have to violate C of M? Not if the matter was merely transported, rather than generated.

            You mean Jesus was pulling off a Penn & Teller routine? Wow. The first Vegas-style dinner theatre…

          • resurrection: see the point about origin of life above

            OK. I'm looking. Is anybody going to explain to me what it is I am seeing?

          • I think Harry Potter is real, but nobody takes me seriously! I DEMAND EQUALITY!!!!!

          • I 'blast' Sammy for wasting his and other's peoples time on such a shallow thesis. Just saying.

            I don't disagree with your mocking of the articles of faith the sheep are expected to believe. Imagine, it is now supposely modern times and this stuff is still being believed. Myths have deep roots amongst the deluded, simple-minded and ignorant(like your buddy, Gaunilon). Not just Christians. We have true believers in other religions who kill wantonly. At least modern times have tempered the Christian zealots and the large majority of Christians have become civilized over the last few centuries, we have come a long way from the witch burnings, baby.

          • Well, I enjoy very much my conversations with my buddy Gaunilon, and I reject your "deluded, simple-minded and ignorant" line.

            Look, these are matters of FAITH. They aren't supposed to be all neatly tied together with scientific evidence, which you and I seem to want to rely on mostly. And that's fine.

            I can enjoy a debate on these matters of faith with believers, and I trust that I (and any correspondent) can maintain a healthy level of respect for each other's (non-)beliefs. So I have little interest in the name-calling.

          • Well I dunno, he might not be too far off with "simple-minded" and "ignorant". "Deluded" is where we would hit our first disagreement, I suppose.

  3. Heresy is nothing new. He hasn't invented this theory. It happened, not as we may think it did, but it happened. The trouble is that the crucitixion has been Hollywooded to death, as it were.

  4. After so many so-called "scholarly" antibiblical theories such as Da Vinci, the gospel of Judas and Jesus walking on ice, here is more of the same ole garbled nonsense.

    Yeah, what's new under the sun, right?

    What has Truth not suffered in the past 200 years?

    "the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet." Ps 22:16

  5. What is amazing is that after 2000 years, people still take a myth as it wore real. Grow up.

    • Well, there WAS a jesus christ who was crucified (?) about 2000 years ago. The idea that he was of a virgin birth and the son and embodiment of a divine being is open to rational skepticism.

  6. I'm a little surprised that Maclean's published this story.

    Back in May, in an article on disappearing fish in the Sea of Galilee, the magazine related Biblical accounts of miracles as though they were unproblematically historical.

    Example 1: "Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee in Israel have been hauling in nets brimming with fish since Biblical times—the disciple Peter filled his nets to the point of breaking after Jesus showed him where to cast."

    Example 2: "Israel's cabinet approved the ban last month in hopes that depleted fish stocks in the freshwater lake where Jesus walked on water will bounce back."

    I wonder what's changed.

    • The date.

      That was Easter.

  7. This is a pretty pointless debate. Good Christians are meant to take certain things as articles of faith, so this evidence – if confirmed – is of no use to them. Moreover, it is fair to say that different variants of Christianity differ in the degree to which they understand the bible as being allegorical. Catholics, for instance, are actually pretty open to that view.

    Would people be foolish to follow the bible, even if everything in it was demonstrably false? No. The basic values of Christianity are good ones like self-restraint and mercy. Unlike secular humanism (but like quasi-religious forms of secular humanism), Christianity helps sustain these behaviors through rituals and community-building.

    • I think you're dead wrong here, friend, at least with regard to Christians who view faith and reason as allies. If something Christians hold by faith is found to contradict hard evidence, then there's a mistake in what we hold by faith. It's not possible for something to be both true and false at the same time in the same sense.

      Of course, what often does happen is that people think something has been proven with hard evidence that contradicts something else we hold by faith, and then the hard evidence turns out to have been misinterpreted. There are a few notable examples in history like this.

      Ergo, either Christ was executed on a cross or He wasn't. We have it on good authority that He was, but our understanding could always be wrong. If my understanding is incorrect I'd definitely prefer to know that than to retain my original error, particularly on something as important as this.

      • You don't view faith and reason as allies. You spin risible sophistries in a transparent and ridiculous attempt to lend credence and weight to irrational arguments. The big question is whether you do it to convince yourself or others.

  8. Are you saying that Christians wouldn't change our beliefs to match evidence? I certainly think we would, if Samuelsson was proven correct (which I'm skeptical of to say the least). Even about the crucifixion.

  9. Historical Jesus did not exist. He was invented as the poster child for a new Jewish sect which became Christianity and was eventually legislated into legitimacy by Constantine as a tool to control the masses. It has worked famously for years. But the cracks are now showing as people start thinking for themselves.

    • Your thesis is mythism and serious historians don't uphold that.
      Go to
      for a good – non professionnal and in french- debunking of these nonsense ideas

  10. Vindication for Jehovah's Witnesses?!

  11. Why not rewrite history here as well. The left pretty much rewrites anything and everything they don,t like. Isn,t the holocaust a myth as well.