Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ancients: The Shame of the Cross, Part 1

During the last two days, God has shown me more ways of understanding the cross. This came about in an unusual fashion because it began as a research paper for my history class about the Roman Republic. Unintentionally, I came across the idea of writing about "crucifixion" and had no idea that it would lead to such a humbling experience.

I was not sure how much material covered the topic but it did not take long for me to come across Martin Hengel's book, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Before the topic was approved by my teacher, I started reading the book. After reading just the first chapter, I knew that I had to write about this topic. Thankfully, I received the approval of my teacher.

I have not finished the research paper but I did finish reading the book. I had no prior knowledge of the author or the book and wasn't sure what to expect. Reading Hengel's book is probably the most humbling experience I have had while reading anything outside the Bible. I will try to summarize the content of the book that humbled me more than anything in Part 1 and 2.

Ancient Crucifixion

The ancient nations were accustomed to crucifying mostly slaves, with some exceptions like the Carthaginians. Of course, it was Rome's use of crucifixion that allowed Jesus to suffer death on the cross.

Among the ancients, crucifixion was seen as one of the most gruesome acts of punishment anybody could suffer. Roman citizens were seen as being too noble for crucifixion and would be only considered for such a punishment for severe crimes, like betraying their country. Slaves, enemies, and non-citizens, on the other hand, were constantly at risk of being crucified.

Crucified individuals were used as a deterrent for revolts and crimes. People who were crucified were displayed along main paths or outside the city limits as an example of shame and communal rejection.

Also, mass crucifixions occurred before and after the time of Christ. During the Servile Wars, Rome crucified thousands of rebel slaves.

As in the case of Jesus, Rome would scourge individuals before crucifying them. The injuries received before the crucifixion would easily put them on the brink of death before the cross.


You most likely are already feeling the heartache by relating the information to the cross of Christ. There is still more to come in Part 2. Next time, I will try to share how the ancient use and perception of crucifixion can help our understanding of passages in the Bible.