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What do we really know about the crucifixion of Jesus?

News: May 18, 2010

The many different accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus find little support in historical sources. The reason is that antique sources generally lack descriptions of crucifixions, says Gunnar Samuelsson, University of Gothenburg, who recently finished his doctoral thesis on the topic.

Encyclopaedias, monographs and bible commentaries generally agree on
the type of punishment Jesus had to endure on Golgotha in Jerusalem.
There is an ample amount of very colourful accounts of crucifixions in
the literature, and researchers from all kinds of disciplines seem to
endorse them.

'The problem is that descriptions of crucifixions are remarkably
absent in the antique literature,' says Samuelsson. 'The sources where
you would expect to find support for the established understanding of
the event really don't say anything.'

The 400 page thesis offers the reader samples of antiquity's most
terrifying texts and gives examples of mankind's amazing
resourcefulness in terms of mind-boggling cruelty against fellow human
beings. Samuelsson has studied the available ancient Greek, Latin and
Hebrew/Aramaic literature all the way from Homer to the first century
A.D. While the texts indicate a vast arsenal of suspension
punishments, they do not say much about the kind of punishment the
Christian tradition claims Jesus was forced to endure.

The thesis clearly shows that although the studied texts are full of
references to suspension of objects and the equipment used to this
end, no reference is made to 'crosses' or 'crucifixion'. Samuelsson
therefore concludes that the predominant account of the destiny of
Jesus is not based on the antique texts, but rather on for example the
tradition of the Christian church and artistic illustrations.

'Consequently, the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged. And what's even more challenging is
that the same can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion
of Jesus. The New Testament doesn't say as much as we'd like to
believe', says Samuelsson.

Title of the thesis: Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the
Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion
Author: Gunnar Samuelsson, tel: +46 (0)31 786 53 08 (office)
E-mail: gunnar.samuelsson@lir.gu.se
Time and venue for the public defence: Friday 21 May 2010 at 1.15 pm.
Lilla hörsalen, Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6, Gothenburg Faculty
Examiner: Docent Erkki Koskenniemi
The thesis is out of stock and can no longer be ordered from the University of Gothenburg. It will, however, be published by publishing company Mohr Siebeck.
An abstract of the thesis is available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/22126

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