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Crucifixion (Facets) Paperback – September 1, 1977
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When I say short, I mean it. You can read this one easily in a couple of hours. Doing so will be an excellent investment of those two hours. That it is short does not mean that it is not scholarly. It is incredibly packed with information. Those who want to say they seriously question the New Testament should have no problem as hardly any of it comes from the New Testament. Crucifixion is talked about from various sources. Of course, the New Testament has a lot to say about it, but others at the time had their own statements about it as well.
If there was really in fact one lesson that could be learned from this book and one that I wish all readers would learn, Christian and non, it is this.
The cross was a scandal.
Many people have not really had this sink in. We say Jesus died by crucifixion and this is certainly true, but we don't realize just what that would mean to the people of the time. To say that the crucified Jesus was the Messiah and you worshiped Him as God would be like saying that you think a pimp on the streets should be the next Pope or that you think a child molester would make a great president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This is one reason docetism and gnosticism both found their way into Christianity early on. Both of these would have a way of denying the crucifixion. Is it any shock that even in Islam, you have it being denied that Jesus died by crucifixion? At least there's something that all of these beliefs recognize. It is incredible to think that the Messiah who was seen as sharing in the divine identity of the God of Israel would be crucified.
Hengel in his work goes through several quotes from writers at the time who put crucifixion on the lowest point possible. It was certainly not something you would casually talk about over dinner when you were together. Say the word and it is quite likely that people would fall back in disgust at the very thought of it.
Crucifixion was simply as Hengel says, barbaric, and it was in fact the worst penalty that could be given to someone. The act of crucifixion was designed to not only kill the person involved, but shamefully kill then in a highly painful process. In fact, this is where we get the word "excruciating" from. The word means "out of the cross."
We today don't really get the way that shame worked back then. It was designed to be a deterrent to others and a way of making an object lesson of the person involved and saying "You don't want to be like this guy." Jesus's death would have been the most shameful of all. That is not the kind of event that would draw sympathy from others. Instead, it would have been the exact opposite. It would have cemented any idea of Jesus being the Messiah as false. This is why Paul in 1 Cor. 1 says that the cross is a stumbling block.
In all of this, somehow Christianity survived. It must have been something massive that overcame the shame of the cross.
It's important to point out that if you're wanting to learn about the theology of the cross or the work of the atonement, you're not going to find it in Hengel's book. His is looking at the nature of crucifixion from a historical point of view. It is wanting the reader to learn how crucifixion was viewed at the time of Jesus and a few centuries before and after. It should open the eyes of the reader still to what exactly Jesus went through and how this would have been perceived.
As I said, this is a short book, but if you want to learn about crucifixion, it is a massively important one to read. Go invest that couple of hours. It will be worth it.
Deeper Waters Christian Ministries
The author, Hengel, surveys the references to crucifixion in the literary and legal traditions in ancient Rome, Greece and Judea. Special attention, of course, is given to the early Christian traditions, especially in Paul’s treatment of the subject. At first, the Christian community was ashamed and embarrassed that Jesus was executed by crucifixion. Death by crucifixion was reserved not only for the most heinous of criminals, but for adjudged enemies of the State. Due to the extreme severity of the punishment, crucifixion was seen as the ultimate humiliation and nothing to be proud of, let alone to serve as the basis for a religion.
The genius of Paul was that he applied his own spin on the subject, transforming what was originally an object of shame and derision into a positive. In order to accomplish this, according to the book, Paul, public relations master he was, wrote that Jesus conquered his own crucifixion by resurrecting afterwards and made this belief the mandatory cornerstone of what it meant to be a Christian.
The ancient world was horribly divided on the subject of crucifixions. There was no question regarding the barbarity of the punishment. There was the general consensus of all who considered the punishment that it was unjust and immoral. However, much like the contemporary attitude regarding torture, the general population either acquiesced to the existence deaths by crucifixion or it was considered a necessary evil. Besides, most of the criminals were in fact adjudged to be enemies of the State or to the established order. However, also much like today, there was a marked inequality in how the punishment was administered. Most of those who were actually executed by crucifixion were criminals belonged to the underclasses. Affluent criminals, even those convicted of crimes for which crucifixion was the prescribed punishment, were spared “the nail and board.” Hengel does not discuss how the punishment was terminated, but it is easy to see how under these conditions, and with the symbol of the cross belonging to the new official religion, actual crucifixions died in a quite death.
This is all an engrossing and fascinating read. Anyone wanting to understand the symbol behind its doctored doctrine should pick up and read this book.
After reading this can anyone actually blame Peter for turning against Jesus 3 times??? No way he'd want to be thrown in with this rabble and perhaps suffer this most torturous punishment.
But then, later, he freely did. Weird, right? Something changed. Hmmm..wonder what it might have been...
Top international reviews
Perhaps the book was meant for another, more academic audience because parts of it did seem repetitive/irrelevant to me.
Ultimately, and biblically the greatest offence of the cross is not what is addressed at length in this book - the humble suffering of God's Son. The great offence is what hurts our pride: there's NOTHING we can do to pay for our transgressions against God. We can only bow down to the slain Lamb and receive His righteousness by faith.
Having received the grace of God, what then should we do? Take up the cross, bear the reproach, and follow Jesus as far as He goes.