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The cross is among the oldest and most universal symbols. In preliterate societies it often represented a conjunction of dualities. The horizontal arm was associated with the terrestrial, worldly, feminine, temporal, destructive, and negative, passive, and death, while the vertical arm connoted the celestial, spiritual, masculine, eternal, creative, positive, active, and life. Often symbolic of the four astrological elements of earth, water, fire, and air, a cross was also perceived as the cosmic axis from which radiated the spatial dimensions of height, length, width, and breadth, as well as the directions of north, east, south, and west.

The ankh (crux ansata) was an ancient Egyptian T - shaped cross surmounted with a loop. It symbolized the creative energies of the male and female and the essence of life. The simple T - shaped cross is named for the Greek letter tau. It is often referred to as the Old Testament cross because Moses supposedly placed a brazen serpent on a T cross (Num. 21:6 - 9), and according to legend, the Israelites on Passover eve marked their doors with blood - drawn tau crosses to identify themselves as Yahweh's followers. Another name for the T cross is the crux commissa.

In ancient Asian, European, and pre - Columbian American civilizations the left - directed swastika, or cruz gammata, appears to have been symbolic of solar power and movement. Hindus see the swastika as a sign of the resigned spirit, whereas Buddhists consider it an emblem of the Buddha's mind. The German Nazis adopted a right - directed swastika for their party logo because they believed it to be an ancient Nordic symbol.

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The erect pole and crossbar used to crucify Jesus Christ became the principal symbol of Christianity. A cross stood for both the actual Crucifixion and the concept of the Christian church. More than 50 variants were to develop, but the most important are the Greek cross, with its equilateral arms, and the Latin cross, with a vertical arm traversed near the top by a shorter horizontal arm. The Greek cross derives its name from its frequent use in the Greek and other Eastern Orthodox churches; the Latin cross was favored by the Western, or Roman Catholic, church.

Other major shapes include the diagonal, or x - shaped, cross on which Saint Andrew is said to have been crucified, and the cross paty (or patee), in which the arms widen at the extremities. A variant of the cross paty is the Maltese cross, has eight points. The Chi - Rho is a cross formed by joining the first two letters of the Greek word for "Christ." The Celtic or Iona cross, developed in early medieval Ireland and Scotland, is distinguished by a circle surrounding the point of crossing. Two graduated crossbars indicate the Lorraine cross associated with archbishops and patriarchs, whereas the Papal cross has three graduated crossbars. A commonly used Eastern Orthodox variant of the cross of Lorraine has an additional crossbar diagonally placed near the base.

The placement of the cross is often symbolic. Crosses surmounting orbs or spheres refer to the global triumph of Christianity. A cross erected on the site of a pagan temple indicated the victory of Christianity, and territory conquered by Christians would be claimed initially by planting a cross in the ground.

The cross was not widely depicted before the 4th century AD, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Earlier, when Christians were often persecuted, the cross was frequently disguised as an anchor, or some other mundane object. Second century Christians, however, had already begun to make the sign of the cross as a gesture of identification, blessing, and warding off of evil. In the Roman church the sign of the cross was made from left to right and in Eastern Orthodox churches from right to left.

A crucifix is a cross bearing a painted or sculptured image of Christ. Crucifixes first appeared in the 5th century, and from the 9th century on medieval artists increasingly aimed at a realistic portrayal of Christ's suffering. The Renaissance created a fashion for a more ideally conceived imagery that dramatically returned to pathos under the emotional taste of the baroque period. During the Reformation, Protestants generally repudiated the use of representational religious imagery; the crucifix therefore became associated with Roman Catholicism.

When the art of Heraldry developed in medieval Europe, various types of Christian crosses were employed as symbols, or charges, in the designing of coats - of - arms. A cross with equal arms and a diagonal cross, or saltire, were the most traditional heraldic forms. Many of the insignias for medieval and Renaissance chivalric orders were crosses: the Maltese cross, for example, was the heraldic symbol of the Knights of Malta (the Hospitalers). The flags of Switzerland, Greece, and the Scandinavian countries display various crosses. The British Union Jack was designed to unify the diagonal crosses of Saint Patrick (Ireland) and Saint Andrew (Scotland) with the rectilinear cross of Saint George (England). A Saint Andrew's cross dominated the American Confederate flag, and it was subsequently incorporated into the state flags of some former Confederacy members.

Robert J Loescher

G W Benson, The Cross, Its History and Symbolism (1974); J Campbell, The Mythic Image (1974); J E Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (1962); R Guenon, The Symbolism of the Cross (1975); J Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (1979).

The Crucifix

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Three kinds of Cross were in use: the so-called St. Andrew's Cross (x, the Crux decussata), the Cross in the form of a T (Crux Commissa), and the ordinary Latin Cross (+, Crux immissa). We believe that Jesus bore the last of these. This would also most readily admit of affixing the board with the threefold inscription, which we know His Cross bore. Besides, the universal testimony of those who lived nearest the time (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and others), and who, alas! had only too much occasion to learn what crucifixion meant, is in favour of this view.

This Cross, as St. John expressly states, Jesus Himself bore at the outset. And so the procession moved on towards Golgotha. Not only the location, but even the name of that which appeals so strongly to every Christian heart, is matter of controversy. The name cannot have been derived from the skulls which lay about, since such exposure would have been unlawful, and hence must have been due to the skull-like shape and appearance of the place. Accordingly, the name is commonly explained as the Greek form of the Aramaean Gulgalta, or the Hebrew Gulgoleth, which means a skull.

The brief spring day was verging towards the 'evening of the Sabbath.' In general, the Law ordered that the body of a criminal should not be left hanging unburied over night. (a Deut. 21:23; comp. Jos. Wariv. 5, 2) Perhaps in ordinary circumstances the Jews might not have appealed so confidently to Pilate as actually to ask (3 'ask,' John 19:31.) him to shorten the sufferings of those on the Cross, since the punishment of crucifixion often lasted not only for hours but days, ere death ensued. But here was a special occasion.

The Sabbath about to open was a 'high - day', it was both a Sabbath and the second Paschal Day, which was regarded as in every respect equally sacred with the first, nay, more so, since the so - called Wavesheaf was then offered to the Lord. And what the Jews now proposed to Pilate was, indeed, a shortening, but not in any sense a mitigation, of the punishment. Sometimes there was added to the punishment of crucifixion that of breaking the bones (crurifragium) by means of a club or hammer. This would not itself bring death, but the breaking of the bones was always followed by a coup de grace, by sword, lance, or stroke (the perforatio or percussio sub alas), which immediately put an end to what remained of life. (1 Comp. Friedlieb, Archaeol. d. Leidensgesch. pp.163 - 168; but especially Nebe, u. s. ii. pp. 394, 395.) Thus the 'breaking of the bones' was a sort of increase of punishment, by way of compensation for its shortening by the final stroke that followed.

It were unjust to suppose, that in their anxiety to fulfil the letter of the Law as to burial on the eve of that high Sabbath, the Jews had sought to intensify the sufferings of Jesus. The text gives no indication of this; and they could not have asked for the final stroke to be inflicted without the 'breaking of the bones,' which always preceded it. The irony of this punctilious care for the letter of the Law about burial and high Sabbath by those who had betrayed and crucified their Messiah on the first Passover - day is sufficiently great, and, let us add, terrible, without importing fictitious elements. John, who, perhaps, immediately on the death of Christ, left the Cross, alone reports circumstance.

Perhaps it was when he concerted with Joseph of Arimathaea, with Nicodemus, or the two Marys, about measures for the burying of Christ, that he learned of the Jewish deputation to Pilate, followed it to Praetorium, and then watched how it was all carried out on Golgotha. He records, how Pilate acceded to the Jewish demand, and gave directions for the crurifragium, and permission for the after - removal of the dead bodies, which otherwise might have been left to hang, till putrescence or birds of prey had destroyed them. But John also tells us what he evidently regards as so great a prodigy that he specially vouches for it, pledging his own veracity, as an eyewitness, and grounding on it an appeal to the faith of those to whom his Gospel is addressed.

It is, that certain 'things came to pass (not as in our A V 'were done') that the Scripture should be fulfilled,' or, to put it otherwise, by which the Scripture was fulfilled. These things were two, to which a thrid phenomenon, not less remarkable, must be added. For, first, when, in the crurifragium, the soldiers had broken the bones of two malefactors, and then came to the Cross of Jesus, they found that He was dead already, and so 'a bone of Him' was 'not broken.' Had it been otherwise, the Scripture concerning the Paschal Lamb, (a Ex. 12:46; Numb. 9:12) as well that concerning the Righteous Suffering Servant of Jehovah, (b Ps. 34:20) would have been broken. In Christ alone these two ideas of the Paschal Lamb and the Righteous Suffering Servant of Jehovah are combined into a unity and fulfilled in their highest meaning.

And when, by a strange concurrence of circumstances, it 'came to pass' that, contrary to what might have been expected, 'a bone of Him' was 'not broken' this outward fact served as the finger to point to the predictions which were fulfilled of Him.

Not less remarkable is the second fact. If, on the Cross of Christ, these two fundamental ideas in the prophetic description of the work of the Messiah had been set forth: the fulfilment of the Paschal Sacrifice, which, as that of the Covenant, underlay all sacrifices, and the fulfilment of the ideal of the Righteous Servant of God, suffering in a world that hated God, and yet proclaimed and realising His Kingdom, a thrid truth remained to be exhibited. It was not in regard to the character, but the effects, of the Work of Christ, its reception, alike in the present and in the future.

This had been indicated in the prophecies of Zechariah, (c Zech. 12:10) which foretold how, in the day of Israel's final deliverance and national conversion, God would pour out the spirit of grace and of supplication, and as 'they shall look on Him Whom they pierced,' the spirit of true repentance would be granted them, alike nationally and individually. The application of this to Christ is the more striking, that even the Talmud refers the prophecy to the Messiah. (d Sukk. 52 a) And as these two things really applied to Christ, alike in His rejection and in His future return, (e Rev. 1:7) so did the strange historical occurence at His Crucifixion once more point to it as the fulfilment of Scripture prophecy. For, although the soldiers, on finding Jesus dead, broke not one of His Bones, yet, as it was necessary to make sure of His Death, one of them, with a lance, 'pierced His Side, with a wound so deep, that Thomas might afterwards have thrust his hand into His Side. (f John 20:27)

And with these two, as fulfilling Holy Scripture, yet a third phenonmenon was associated, symbolic of both. As the soldier pierced the side of the Dead Christ, 'forthwith came thereout Blood and Water.'

It has been thought by some, (1 So, with various modifications, which need not here be detailed, first, Dr. Gruner (Comment. Antiq. Med. de Jesu Christ Morte, Hal. 1805), who, however, regarded Jesus as not quite dead when the lance pierced the heart, and, of late, Dr. Stroud (The Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, 1871), and many interpreters (see Nebe, u.s. pp. 400, 401).) that there was physical cause for this, that Christ had literally died of a broken heart, and that, when the lance pierced first the lung filled with blood and then the pericardium filled with serous fluid, (2 But certainly not through a separation of the serum and the cruor, which is the mark of beginning putrefaction.) there flowed from the wound this double stream.

(3 The fullest and most satisfactory physical explanation is that given by the Rev. S Haughton, and reprinted in the Speaker's Commentary on 1 John, pp. 349, 350. It demonstrates, that this phenomenon would take place, but only if a person who was also being crucified died of rupture of the heart.) In such cases, the lesson would be that reproach had literally broken His Heart. (a Ps. 99;20.) But we can scarcely believe that John could have wished to convey this without clearly setting it forth, thus assuming on the part of his readers knowledge of an obscure, and, it must be added, a scientifically doubtful phenomenon. Accordingly, we rather believe that to John, as to most of us, the significance of the fact lay in this, that out of the Body of One dead had flowed Blood and Water, that corruption had not fastened on Him.

Then, there would be the symbolic meaning conveyed by the Water (from the pericardium) and the Blood (from the heart), a symbolism most true, if corruption had no power nor hold on Him, if in Death He was not dead, if He vanquished Death and Corruption, and in this respect also fulfilled the prophetic ideal of not seeing corruption. (b Ps. xvi. 10.) To this symbolic bearing of the flowing of Water and Blood from His pierced side, on which the Evangelist dwells in his Epistle, (c 1 John 6) and to its external expression in the symbolism of the two Sacraments, we can only point the thoughtful Christian. For, the two Sacraments mean that Christ had come; that over Him, Who was crucified for us and loved us unto death with His broken heart, Death and Corruption had no power; and that He liveth for us with the pardoning and cleansing power of His offered Sacrifice.

Yet one other scene remains to be recorded. Whether before, or, more probably, after the Jewish deputation to the Roman Governor, another and a strange application came to Pilate. It was from one apparently well known, a man not only of wealth and standing, (d Matthew.) whose noble bearing (4 This seems implied in the expression (A V 'honourable') Mark 15:43.) corresponded to his social condition, and who was known as a just and a good man. (e Luke) Joseph of Arimathaea was a Sanhedrist, (5 Taken in connection with Luke 23:51, this is probably the meaning of Otherwise we would have) but he had not consented either to the counsel or the deed of his colleagues. It must have been generally known that he was one of those 'which waited for the Kingdom of God.'

But he had advanced beyond what that expression implies. Although secretly, for fear of the Jews. (John) he was a disciple of Jesus. It is in strange contrast to this 'fear,' that )t. Mark tells us, that, 'having dared,' 'he went in unto Pilate and asked for the Body of Jesus'.

Thus, under circumstances the most unlikely and unforgivable, were his fears converted into boldness, and he, whom fear of the Jews had restrained from making open avowal of discipleship during the life - time of Jesus, not only professed such of the Crucified Christ, (2 At the same time I feel, that this might have been represented by the Jews as not quite importing what it really was, as rather an act of pietas towards the Rabbi of Nazareth than of homage to the Messiahship of Jesus.) but took the most bold and decide step before Jews and Gentiles in connection with it.

So does trial elicit faith, and the wind, which quenches the feeble flame that plays around the outside, fan into brightness the fire that burns deep within, though for a time unseen. Joseph of Arimathaea, now no longer a secret disciple, but bold in the avowal of his regents love, would show to the Dead Body of his Master all veneration. And the Divinely ordered concurrence of circumstances not only helped his pious purpose, but invested all with deepest symbolic significance. It was Friday afternoon, and the Sabbath was drawing near.

(3 No time therefore was to be lost, if due honour were to be paid to the Sacred Body. Pilate gave it to Joseph of Arimathaea. Such was within his power, and a favour not unfrequently accorded in like circumstances.

(4 See the proof in Wetstein, ad loc.) But two things must have powerfully impressed the Roman Governor, and deepened his former thoughts about Jesus: first, that the death on the Cross had taken place so rapidly, a circumatance on which he personally questioned the Centurion, (b Mark) and then the bold appearance and request of such a man as Joseph of Arimathaea.

(5 The Arimathaea of Joseph is probably the modern Er - Ram, two hours north of Jerusalem, on a conical hill, somewhat east of the road that leads from Jerusalem to Nablus (Jos. Ant. 8:12. 3), the Armathaim of the LXX. The objection of Keim (which it would take too long to discuss in a note) are of no force (comp. his Jesu von Naz. III. p. 516). It is one of the undesigned evidences of the accuracy of Luke, that he described it as belonging to Judaea. For, whereas Ramah in Mount Ephraim originally belonged to Samaria, it was afterwards separated from the latter and joined to the province of Judaea (comp. 1 Macc. 10:38; 11:28, 34).) Or did the Centurion express to the Governer also some such feeling as that which had found utterance under the Cross in the words: 'Truly this Man was the Son of God'?

The proximity of the holy Sabbath, and the consequent need of haste, may have suggested or determined the proposal of Joseph to lay the Body of Jesus in his own rock hewn new tomb,

(1 Meyer regards the statement of Matthew to the effect (27:60) as inconsistent with the notice in John 19:42. I really cannot see any inconsistency, nor does his omission of the fact that the tomb was Joseph's seem to me fatal. The narrative of John is concentrated on the burying rather than its accessories. Professor Westcott thinks that John 19:41, implies 'that the sepulchre in which the Lord was laid was not chosen as His final resting place.' But of this also I do not perceive evidence.) wherein no one had yet been laid. (a Luke)

The symbolic significance of this is the more marked, that the symbolism was undersigned. These rock hewn sepulchres, and the mode of laying the dead in them, have been very fully described in connection with the burying of Lazarus. We may therefore wholly surrender overselves to the sacred thoughts that gather around us. The Cross was lowered and laid on the ground; the curel nails drawn out, and the ropes unloosed. Joseph, with those who attended him, 'wrapped' the Sacred Body 'in a clean linen cloth,' and rapidly carried It to the rock hewn tomb in the garden close by. Such a rock hewn tomb or cave (Meartha) had niches (Kukhin), where the dead were laid.

. It will be remembered, that at the entrance to 'the tomb', and within 'the rock', there was 'a court,' nine feet square, where ordinarily the bier was deposited, and its bearers gathered to do the last offices for the Dead. Thither we suppose Joseph to have carried the Sacred Body, and then the last scene to have taken place. For now another, kindered to Joseph in spirit, history, and position, had come. The same spiritual Law, which had brought Joseph to open confession, also constrained the profession of that other Sanhedrist, Nicodemus. We remember, how at the first he had, from fear of detection, come to Jesus by night, and with what bated breath he had pleaded with his colleagues not so much the cause of Christ, as on His behalf that of law and justice. (b John 7:50)

He now came, bringing 'a roll' of myrrh and aloes, in the fragrant mixture well known to the Jews for purposes of anointing or burying.

It was in 'the court' of the tomb that the hasty embalmment, if such it may be called, took place. None of Christ's former disciples seem to have taken part in the burying. John may have withdrawn to bring tidings to, and to comfort the Virgin Mother; the others also, that had 'stood after off, beholding,'appear to have left.

Only a few faithful ones, (a Luke) notably among them Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of Joseses, stood over against the tomb, watching at some distance where and how the Body of Jesus was laid. It would scarcely have been in accordance with Jewish manners, if these women had mingled more closely with the two Sanhedrists and their attendants. From where they stood they could only have had a dim view of what passed within the court, and this may explain how, on their return, they 'prepared spices and ointments' (b Luke.) for the more full honours which they hoped to pay the Dead after the Sabbath was past.

(1 John computes it at about 100 litras. As in all likelihood this would refer to Roman pounds, of about twelve ounces each, the amount is large, but not such as to warrant any reasonable objection. A servant could easily carry it, and it is not said that it was all used in the burying. If it were possible to find any similar use of the expression one might be tempted to regard the litras as indicating not the weight, but a coin. In that sense the words litra is used, sometimes as = 100 denars, in which case 100 litras would be = about 250 l., but more frequently as = 4 dranhms, in which case 100 litras would be = about 12 l. (comp. Herzfeld. Handelsgesch. p. 181).

But the linguistic difficulty seems very great, while any possible objection to the weight of the spices is really inconsiderable. For the kind of spices used in the burying, see Book EV. ch. xxi. (as the burying of Lazarus). In later times there was a regular rubric and prayers with Kabbalistic symbolism (see Perles, Leichenfeierlichk. p. 11, Note 12). No doubt, the wounds in the Sacred Body of our Lord had been washed from their gore.)

For, it is of the greatest importance to remember, that hast characterised all that was done. It seems as if the 'clean linen cloth' in which the Body had been wrapped, was now torn into 'cloths' or swathes, into which the Body, limb by limb, was now 'bound,' (2 The Synopists record, that the Body of Jesus was 'wrapped' in a 'linen cloth;' John tells us that it was 'bound' with threads of aloes and myrrh of Nicodemus into 'swathes' or 'cloths,' even as they were found afterwards in the empty tomb, and by their side 'the napkin,' or soudarion, for the head. I have tried to combine the account of the Synoptists and that of John into a continuous narrative.) no doubt, between layers of myrrh and aloes, the Head being wrapped in a napkin.

And so they laid Him to rest in the niche of the rock hewn new tomb. And as they went out, they rolled, as was the custom, a 'great stone,' the Golel, to close the entrance to the tomb, (c Sanh. 47 b.) probably leaning against it for support, as was the practice, a smaller stone, the so - called Dopheq. (d Ohai. ii 4.) It would be where the one stone was laid against the other, that on the next day, Sabbath though it was, the Jewish authorities would have affixed the seal, so that the slightest disturbance might become apparent.

(3 But it must be admitted, that there are difficulties on this particular. See the remarks on this point at pp. 623 and 631, but espically pp, 636, 637.) to follow delegates from the Sanhedrin to the ceremony of cutting the Passover - sheaf. The Law had it, "he shall bring a sheaf (literally, the Omer) with the first - fruits of your harvest, unto the priest; and he shall wave the Omer before Jehovah, to be accepted for you."

This Passover - sheaf was reaped in public the evening before it was offered, and it was to witness this ceremony that the crowd had gathered around the elders. Already on the 14th Nisan the spot whence the first sheaf was to be reaped had been marked out, by tying together in bundles, while still standing, the barley that was to be cut down, according to custom, in the sheltered Ashes Valley across Kidron. When the time for cutting the sheaf had arrived, that is, on the evening of the 15th Nisan, even though it were a Sabbath, just as the sun went down, three men, each with a sickle and basket, set to work. Clearly to bring out what was distinctive in the ceremony, they first asked of the bystanders three times each of these questions: "Has the sun gone down?" "With this sickle?" "Into this basket?" "On this Sabbath? (or first Passover - day)", and, lastly, "shall I reap?"

Having each time been answered in the affirmative, they cut down barley to the amount of one ephah, or about three pecks and three pints of our English measure. This is not the place to follow the ceremony farther, how the corn was threshed out, parched, ground, and one omer of the flour, mixed with oil and frankincense, waved before the Lord in the Temple on the second Paschal day (or 16th of Nisan). But, as this festive procession started, amidst loud demonstrations, a small band of mourners turned from having laid their dead Master in His resting place. The contrast is as sad as it is suggestive. And yet, not in the Temple, nor by the priest, but in the silence of that garden tomb, was the first Omer of the new Paschal flour to be waved before the Lord.' (1 See 'The Temple and its Services,' pp. 221 - 224.)

excerpts from Book 5, Chapter 15, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
by Alfred Edersheim, 1886)

Author Edersheim refers to MANY reference sources in his works. As a Bibliography resource, we have created a separate Edersheim References list. All of his bracketed references indicate the page numbers in the works referenced.


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Cross, in the New Testament was the instrument of crucifixion, and hence used for the crucifixion of Christ itself (Eph. 2:16; Heb. 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:17, 18; gal. 5:11; 6:12, 14; Phil. 3:18). The word is also used to denote any severe affliction or trial (Matt. 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21).

The forms in which the cross is represented are these:-

After the conversion, so-called, of Constantine the Great (B.C. 313), the cross first came into use as an emblem of Christianity. He pretended at a critical moment that he saw a flaming cross in the heavens bearing the inscription, "In hoc signo vinces", i.e., By this sign thou shalt conquer, and that on the following night Christ himself appeared and ordered him to take for his standard the sign of this cross. In this form a new standard, called the Labarum, was accordingly made, and borne by the Roman armies. It remained the standard of the Roman army till the downfall of the Western empire. It bore the embroidered monogram of Christ, i.e., the first two Greek letters of his name, X and P (chi and rho), with the Alpha and Omega.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Cross (noun)

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Cross denotes, primarily, "an upright pale or stake." On such malefactors were nailed for execution. Both the noun and the verb stauroo, "to fasten to a stake or pale, " are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed "cross." The shape of the latter 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. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith.

In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the "cross" of Christ. As for the Chi, or X, which Constantine declared he had seen in a vision leading him to champion the Christian faith, that letter was the initial of the word "Christ" and had nothing to do with "the Cross" (for xulon, "a timber beam, a tree, " as used for the stauros). The method of execution was borrowed by the Greeks and Romans from the Phoenicians.

The stauros denotes (a) "the cross, or stake itself, " e.g., Matt. 27:32; (b) "the crucifixion suffered, " e.g., 1 Cor. 1:17-18, where "the word of the cross, " RV, stands for the gospel; Gal. 5:11, where crucifixion is metaphorically used of the renunciation of the world, that characterizes the true Christian life; 6:12, 14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 3:18. The judicial custom by which the condemned person carried his stake to the place of execution, was applied by the Lord to those sufferings by which His faithful followers were to express their fellowship with Him, e.g., Matt. 10:38.


Jewish Viewpoint Information


The stake (σταῦρος = or ) used by the Romans at crucifixion. This was so familiar to the Jews in New Testament times that they spoke frequently of "men carrying their cross before them while going to be executed" (Gen. R. lvi.; Pesiḳ. R. xxxi., ed. Buber, 143b), as did Jesus (Matt. x. 38, xvi. 24, and parallels; see Crucifixion).


A specific Christian symbol: termed by Jews ("warp and woof"); also ("idol"). Concerning this the law is: "As far as it is made an object of worship by Christians, it is to be treated as an idol and prohibited for use; if, however, it is worn as an ornament without any religious object, its use is permitted to the Jews" (Isserles, Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yore De'ah, 141, 1: R. Mordecai to 'Ab. Zarah iii. in the name of R. Eleazar b. Jacob of Worms). However, being a Christian symbol, it has always been scrupulously avoided by Jews. Pious Jews would not even wear badges or decorations with the cross attached to them, whereas more liberal ones do not hesitate to wear either the Iron Cross as German soldiers, or the Red Cross as members of the Red Cross Society. To embroider ornamental crosses upon silk dresses for Christian ladiesis not forbidden to Jewish artists, according to Solomon b. Adret (see Berliner, "Aus dem Leben der Juden," 1900, pp. 13, 130). The Jewish aversion to using any sign resembling a cross was so strong that in books on arithmetic or algebra written by Jews the plus sign was represented by an inverted "ḳameẓ" ().

The cross as a Christian symbol or "seal" came into use at least as early as the second century (see "Apost. Const." iii. 17; Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, "Apologia," i. 55-60; "Dial. cum Tryph." 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons (Tertullian, "De Corona," iii.; Cyprian, "Testimonies," xi. 21-22; Lactantius, "Divinæ Institutiones," iv. 27, and elsewhere). Accordingly the Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may be learned from Tertullian, "Apologia," xii., xvii., and Minucius Felix, "Octavius," xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the cross (see Apocalypse of Mary, viii., in James, "Texts and Studies," iii. 118). Nevertheless Jewish teachers in the Middle Ages declared that Christians must be believed when swearing by the cross, as, in reality, they swear by the true God (Isaac of Corbeil, in "Sefer Miẓwot Ḳaṭan," 119, quoted by Güdemann, "Gesch. d. Erz. u. Cultur in Italien," 1880, i. 90). The fact, however, that the cross was worshiped as an idol during the Middle Ages caused the Jews to avoid (compare Ex. xxiii. 13) the very word "Cross," as well as all derivatives of it; for instance, "kreuzer" they called "ẓelem" or, abbreviated, "ẓal"; and the town "Kreuznach" they called "Ẓelem-Maḳom."

Several forms of the cross appear to have been used: the simple form, like a plus sign, the so-called St. Andrew's cross, and the Latin cross, which is mentioned in Ezek. ix. 4 (Hebr.) as the "mark of life set upon the men to be saved" (compare Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and Vulgate, or St. Jerome, to Ezek. l.c.; and Tertullian, "Adversus Marcum," iii. 22; compare Job xxxi. 35). On the other hand, the oblique or St. Andrew's cross, resembling the letter "x," was used in Justin's time (see "Apologia," i. 60, where he compares the Christian cross with the cosmogonic starting-point in Plato's "Timæus," 36), and was known also to the Jews (see Anointing and Cabala), this form as the initial letter of Χριστός being preferably used. In Jewish circles the original connections of both the Latin and the St. Andrew's cross were quite naturally ignored.

Kaufmann Kohler
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.

Zöckler, Das Kreuz Christi, 1875; Hastings, Dict. Bibl. s.v.; Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v.; Winer, B. R. s.v.; Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. s.v.; Krauss, Realencyclopädie der Christlichen Archäologie, s.v.

Also, see:
Seven Words On The Cross
Words Inscribed on the Cross, INRI
The Arising of Jesus

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