"No Evidence in Ancient Sources Backs Up Defining Symbol of Christianity, Scholar Says
For 2,000 years the crucifix has been a potent symbol of both Jesus Christ's death and Christianity. Now one Swedish theologian says that despite the crucifix's proliferation in art and literature, there is scant evidence in the Bible or other ancient sources to indicate that Christ was killed on a cross.
"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," he told ABCNews.com.
Samuelsson devoutly believes the story of Jesus' death and resurrection, but says for generations people have misinterpreted and mistranslated the Greek word "stauros" to mean crucifix, when really the term just means a suspension device, which might have been anything such as a "pole or a tree trunk." The earliest versions of the New Testament were written in Greek.
"If you chose to just read the text and ignore the art and theology, there is quite a small amount of information about the crucifixion. Jesus, the Bible says, carried something called a stauros out to Calvary. 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.
Suspension devices, basically tall polls or pikes, were routinely used in the ancient world, by the Romans and their contemporaries, both as execution devices and for displaying the bodies of executed criminals and enemies as a public warning.
Part of what tipped Samuelson off to the apparent mistranslation, were routine references to things like fruits and dead animals being "crucified" in ancient texts, when translating the word as "suspended" makes more sense. "