Perceptions Of Crucifixion Among Jews And Christians In The Ancient World -- By: David W. Chapman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 51:2 (NA 2000)
Article: Perceptions Of Crucifixion Among Jews And Christians In The Ancient World
Author: David W. Chapman


Perceptions Of Crucifixion Among Jews And Christians In The Ancient World1

David W. Chapman

This thesis explores the perceptions of crucifixion among Jewish people in the period from Alexander the Great until Constantine. Earlier similar studies concentrate on Graeco-Roman literature or limit discussion to whether certain Jews favoured the penalty of crucifixion. This dissertation, in contrast, examines Jewish literature in order to demonstrate the range of early Jewish perceptions about crucifixion. Early Christianity reflects awareness of, and interaction with, these Jewish perceptions.

The first chapter begins by surveying contemporary research on crucifixion in ancient Jewish sources. Then follows an extensive analysis of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac terminology for crucifixion. Each of these ancient languages manifests similar application of crucifixion terminology, often employing the same words for ante-mortem suspension on a cross-shaped object (i.e. crucifixion) as they do for post-mortem hangings or for ante-mortem suspensions in a variety of postures. Most frequently the actual method of execution apparently did not concern ancient authors. And the linguistic evidence implies that crucifixion was a subset of the many ancient forms of penal human bodily suspension. Therefore, the study of Jewish perceptions of all forms of human bodily suspension in antiquity can inform the more narrow question about how crucifixion was perceived by Jewish peoples. This chapter also contains a demonstration that, despite recent controversy, the semantic ranges of Hebrew תלה and שׂלב (and their nominal cognates and Aramaic equivalents) include the notion of ‘crucify’ in post-biblical Jewish literature.

The next three chapters inductively scrutinise Jewish texts which speak of human bodily suspension. Chapter Two examines texts

which claim to report historical crucifixion events in the Second Temple and early rabbinic periods. The ANE was long familiar with execution by suspension, and this was continued into the Hellenistic period in Palestine. Significantly, Josephus and the Assumption of Moses both portray the Maccabean martyrs under Antiochus Epiphanes as crucified. Josephus also claims that the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus practised mass crucifixion against his countrymen (possibly also reflected in the Qumran Nahum Pesher). Rabbinic traditions about Simeon ben Shetach indicate that even a great Jewish sage could be said to execute evildoers (i.e. witches) by suspension.

Both Josephus and Philo present graphic accounts of mul...

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