Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ancient Crucifixion Symbols



Crucifixion images abound today—from sculptures and icons in churches to the masterful paintings hanging in museums. But how many of these actually give us a realistic idea of what Jesus’ crucifixion looked like? Do these artistic crucifixion images accurately reflect ancient Roman crucifixion methods?
This second-century graffito of a Roman crucifixion from Puteoli, Italy, is one of a few ancient crucifixion images that offer a first-hand glimpse of Roman crucifixion methods and what Jesus’ crucifixion may have looked like to a bystander.

In the March/April 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Biblical scholar Ben Witherington addresses these questions by looking at some of the earliest archaeological evidence of crucifixion and imagery roughly contemporary with Jesus’ crucifixion. Witherington discusses three crucifixion images—two wall graffiti and a magical amulet—from the first centuries of the Christian era.


The two graffiti were both discovered in Italy—one, the so called Alexamenos graffito, on the Palatine Hill in Rome and the other  in Puteoli during an excavation. Both show a crucified figure on a cross and date to sometime between the late first and mid-third centuries A.D. Likewise, a striking red gemstone bears a crucified figure surrounded by a magical inscription.

To read more about ancient crucifixion images and what they can tell us about Roman crucifixion methods and Jesus’ crucifixion, see Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: “Images of Crucifixion: Fresh Evidence” in the March/April 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.