The Puzzling History of the Cross
We must understand history to understand ourselves. Where does the word cross come from and what does it mean?
I don't love controversy but I do love truth. Unfortunately, at times they go hand in hand.
The cross today is adored by millions of Christians around the world. It is used in prayer, hung in cars as good luck charms and worn around the neck for protection. And apparently, some people wear it as a fashion statement 🤔.
I've been on both sides of the table when it comes to the cross. As a young girl I was taught to sign the cross over my body, especially during prayer. Even long after I stopped, the muscle memory lingered and occasionally I'd find myself about to sign the cross. (💡 Muscle memory is a powerful teaching technique💡)
I haven't used the cross in worship for many years, but I also haven't spent much time researching its history, until now.
Talk about controversial, conflicting information!!!
The Internet is a wealth of accurate and inaccurate information and sifting through the data can be intimidating and confusing. Finding pearls of wisdom is a major task, which often takes hours of reading and interpreting.
No wonder people suffer from information exhaustion! I appreciate being able to google all kinds of things but I think it has caused society to become apathetic toward truth.
Many believe truth doesn't exist or perhaps they're afraid once they learn a truth, they'll have to make major transformations. (I'm nodding my head sympathetically).
Sometimes learning truth can be a little scary but ultimately it's liberating and lifesaving, and like a hidden treasure, it's worth finding.
Is there truth about the cross that could change your life?
Facts alone do not change behavior. We are creatures of habit, emotion and don't like change. We also don't like to be wrong.
Have you ever noticed how people can examine the same body of evidence and come to different conclusions? Why is that? I believe it's because each of us are a unique blend of emotions, desires, beliefs, habits and preconceived ideas that shape our personality and our inclinations.
How you personally perceive "evidence" will determine the outcome of your behavior.
For example: if you believe masks are dangerous, you won't wear one. If you believe they are protective, you won't leave home without one. (The mask controversy is a long discussion for another day.) Hopefully you see my point.
Many Christians may NOT be interested in doubting the beloved symbol of their Savior.
But what if the origins of the cross don't honor Jesus? Should it matter to a Christian how Jesus died? Do Christians need symbols in their worship to maintain their faith?
I will present my research and encourage you to draw your own conclusions.
Why the Cross?
The cross was one of the most brutal execution methods that the Romans (as well as many others) used to torture and kill people. The idea was to nail or tie a supposed criminal to a pole and then place it upright so that a long excruciating death would ensue. The person eventually died from asphyxiation (they could no longer breathe).
Interestingly, the Romans didn't use this form of capital punishment on their own guilty citizens because it was considered the most shameful way to die. Instead, Roman citizen offenders died honorably, they were beheaded.
This explains why Jesus, being a Jew, was put to death by crux or a cross. Essentially, it was the most humiliating and painful way to kill a criminal in public.
The ancient Jews put criminals to death before they hung the condemned on a stake, whereas the Romans cruelly nailed them alive to stakes.
Little did the Romans realize they were fulfilling an interesting biblical detail regarding Jesus' death. In Galatians 3:13, the Apostle Paul quoted Deuteronomy 21:23 in reference to Jesus dying as an accursed man, becoming the curse for each one of us.
To fulfill every biblical detail, Jesus had to die on a crux or cross.
In comparison, if Jesus lived in our time and was condemned to death in 2021, he would be executed by electric chair or lethal injection. (Would Christians today be carrying a replica of an electric chair or needle around their necks? 🤔)
What Does Cross Mean?
All Christians agree that it was necessary for Jesus to die for us and that he died on a cross. But what exactly is a cross? Here is where it gets interesting.
Most people today believe the cross was an upright pole with a crossbeam to shape the letter t. Others say the real cross was a tree or an upright pole, with NO crossbeam.
Let's see why.
The New Testament (Matthew-Revelation) was written mostly in Greek. So going back to see what the original Greek words meant and how they were understood by people back then, is a useful study method.
"The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history" is how google defines Etymology.
What is the Etymology of the word cross?
Below are excerpts from various searches I conducted on the web, in books and magazines.
The New World Encyclopedia (website):
"The word cross was introduced to English in the tenth century as the term for the instrument of the torturous execution of Christ (gr. stauros', xy'lon), gradually replacing rood, ultimately from Latin crux, via Old Irish cros.
Originally, both "rood" and "crux" referred simply to any "pole," the later shape associated with the term being based in church tradition, rather than etymology. (Italics and bold are mine.) The word can nowadays refer to the geometrical shape unrelated to its Christian significance from the fifteenth century."
In other words, originally crux, stauros, xlyon all meant an upright pole but NOW these words are widely accepted as meaning a cross with beams. 🤔
History of the Cross (book):
This book was written in 1871, by Henry Ward, in which he presents his extensive research on the topic. (It's available for free via google books.)
According to Henry Ward...there are only two words used in the bible to reference how Jesus died;
stauros: meaning upright pale, a strong stake that farmers drive into the ground to make fences.
zulon: meaning stick, beam, timber, or a live tree.
"Neither stauros nor zulon ever mean two sticks joined each other at an angle, either in the New Testament or in any other book." page 14.
Henry Ward also quoted from Smith's Dictionary of the bible; "In Livy, even crux means a stake." (Livy was a famous Roman historian).
So, the Latin word crux (English; cross) means an upright stake or tree.
Crux simplex, a simple wooden torture stake, by Justus Lipsius. From https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Crucifixion
Please take the time to cross reference a variety of bibles to see how they translate Galatians 3:13. I love to use the Bible Gateway website for this. They have hundreds of bibles online that you can compare.
Here's a link to Galatians chapter 3 from the NIV (New International Version):
Notice how they translate stauros in verse 13. Then feel free to check the other translations!
In the February 2012 issue, on page 43, starts an article entitled; "The secret power of symbols" and on page 46 is a lengthy paragraph about the cross. I will quote portions of it.
"The British Library in London houses the world's oldest New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, which was written between 330 and 360 AD....In the four gospels there is no reference to Jesus having died on the cross, instead it states he was impaled on a stake.
So what's going on?
First off, the cross and the circle are likely the oldest symbols used by humanity-which makes them extremely pagan...The cross is derived from the sun cross, and the Celtic cross was venerated in pagan cultures. It wasn't until Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century and made it the state religion that the cross became the symbol of the young faith.
Constantine spread a rumor that he won a decisive battle only because he ordered his soldiers to paint the cross on their shields, claiming the symbol had appeared to him in a dream. In the centuries that followed, the Catholic Church carried out a propaganda campaign that eventually eliminated nearly all traces of the pagan history of the cross."
ID magazine may sound a bit crazy to you, however there are other sources that back up this information. However, they are wrong about one thing, the church did NOT successfully eliminate all traces of the history of the cross.
What is the History of the Cross?
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the shape of the cross “had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt.
Uh, do they mean the ancient fertility god Tammuz, who was Venus' lover in mythology? (*** this is a correction to my previous statement that Tammuz was also known as Venus***)
Picture from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tammuz-Mesopotamian-god
"A vast body of evidence shows that the cross was used centuries before the birth of Christianity. The cross is thought to have originated from the ancient Babylonians before its spread to other parts of the world such as Syria, Egypt, Greek, Latin, India, and Mexico. The pre-Christian cross was used as a religious symbol and as an ornament among the Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, Persians, Europeans, and in some parts of Africa. There was, therefore, universal use of the pre-Christian cross. In many cases, its use was usually connected to some form of worship.
The pre-Christian cross existed in two forms; the tau cross and the svastika or fylfot cross. The tau cross resembles the Greek capital letter T. On the other hand, the fylfot cross resembles four Greek capital letter G's placed together. The tau cross was initially used among the pagans. It was later adopted by the Christians in Egypt where its use became common. For this reason, the tau cross is sometimes referred to as the Egyptian cross.
The use of the Christian cross as a Christian symbol began after the time of the Constantine, which occurred three centuries after the coming of Christ."
The Shape of the Cross
So, where exactly does the cross beam intersect the pole to form a T? Is the crossbeam at the top, in the middle or lower on the t?
Apparently, the shape of the cross will help you identify its origin. For example, according to Wikipedia:
"For a few centuries the emblem of Christ was a headless T-shaped Tau cross rather than a Latin cross. Elworthy considered this to originate from PaganDruids who made Tau crosses of oak trees stripped of their branches, with two large limbs fastened at the top to represent a man's arm; this was Thau, or god.
To see a detailed list of cross shapes go to the following page: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cross
The cross is the unquestioned symbol of Christianity but in history it belonged to the pagans, most notably the fertility god, Tammuz.
The real cross that Jesus died on was most likely a long upright stake or pole with no crossbeam. However, in my research I still found websites that say that the original cross could have been a T shape.
What do you think?
Does it even matter?
Consider that in the bible, Jews and Christians are repeatedly warned not to divert from the truth of God's word, not to follow after other gods and to be united in thought.
There's no denying that modern Christianity is tainted with paganism. There's too much evidence in support of that and much of it can be attributed to Constantine (4th Century).
Don't underestimate the devil's role in distorting truth and proclaiming lies.
The real way to honor Jesus.
As Christians, we want to honor Jesus in the most appropriate way. Remember, Jesus left us a model to follow in his footsteps and we're instructed to carry the torture stake, not as a protective amulet and certainly not as a literal cross.
Carrying our torture stake or cross, simply means being willing to take on the hard work and self-sacrifice it takes to follow Jesus. Isn't it getting harder and harder to do that every day????