Five myths about the cross

Source: The Washington Post

April 14

Christians worldwide are commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus in Good Friday worship services, followed by celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. But as often as the cross appears in Christian artwork and Western culture at large, misunderstandings and myths persist as to its history, origins and image. Here are five of the most stubborn misconceptions about Christianity’s most prominent symbol.

MYTH NO. 1
Jesus’ cross was a stake bisected by a horizontal beam.

The iconic image of the Christian cross tends to feature a central vertical beam transected by a perpendicular beam about a third of the way down. This version of the cross is visible everywhere from emoji (which include both the two-beam Latin cross and the Orthodox cross, also known as the Suppedaneum cross, which has another bar near the bottom) to roadside memorials and, of course, church steeples.

But the actual crosses Romans used for executions probably took a different shape. The Greek and Latin words for “cross” — “stauros” and “crux” — do not necessarily describe what most people imagine as a cross. They refer to an upright stake upon which the condemned could be bound with hands above their heads. Most historians surmise that Jesus’ cross was more likely to have been T-shaped, with the vertical element notched to allow executioners to tie the victim to the crossbeam, then raise it and set it securely into the top. The Tau cross, named for its resemblance to the Greek letter, has been adopted over time by various Christian orders and sects, and it probably bears a stronger resemblance to the object upon which Jesus died on than those crosses more commonly depicted in Christian art.

MYTH NO. 2
Jesus was fixed to the cross by nails in his hands and feet.

Nearly every depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion — including masterpieces such as Sandro Botticelli’s “Mystic Crucifixion” and Diego Velázquez’s “Christ Crucified” — shows Him attached to the cross by nails through his palms and his feet.

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