In his recently published doctoral thesis, "Crucifixion in Antiquity," Gunnar Samuelsson states that there is no evidence in the either the Bible or other ancient texts to indicate that the device Jesus Christ died on was an actual cross.
Samuelsson told ABC's "Good Morning America," "There is no distinct punishment called 'crucifixion,' no distinct punishment device called a 'crucifix' anywhere mentioned in any of the ancient texts, including the Gospels."
The original Greek text of the New Testament says Christ carried something called a "stauros" to Calvary, the site of his death. "Everyone thought it meant cross, but it does not only mean cross. We cannot say every instance of this noun, stauros, refers to a cross," Samuelsson said.
Among the clues that tipped him off to the mistranslation were repeated references to things like fruits and dead animals being "crucified" in ancient texts. Such references made no sense, he said, unless the Greek word was translated as "suspended" (or "hung").
Roman and other authorities in the ancient world routinely used tall poles or pikes to execute people and display their bodies as a public warning to would-be miscreants. Besides, as Samuelsson explained, the Romans kept meticulous and gory records of their military conquests and wrote lengthy legal treatises, so it would be surprising if they did not do the same with their executions. The Greek writers of the Old Testament probably would have had access to such records.
Samuelsson also said that people in Christ's time would have understood the significance of hanging from a pole. "If you were walking around Galilee and heard Jesus say he will be suspended in days, people would have an understanding of the kind of torture involved."
None of this, the 44-year-old evangelical preacher said, means that Christians should abandon their belief in the crucifixion of Christ, for it cannot be established for certain that Christ was not executed by suspension from a cross. All his research establishes, he said, is that there is no textual evidence that this was what happened.
Samuelsson said he was surprised at the attention his doctoral dissertation at the University of Gothenburg has attracted. He had printed only 200 copies of the dissertation, expecting that only family and friends would read it. He added that he expected other scholars to be intrigued by the research, but he had not expected it to garner worldwide interest.
"I'm just another boring pastor," he told ABC. "I think Jesus is the son of God. I read the New Testament every day. I'm filled with the Holy Spirit. I keep telling people, this does not mean we have to tear down the crosses in all the churches."
Written by Sandy Smith