Apologetics: How the Obscenity of the Crucifixion Supports the Truth of the Gospel
by Timothy Paul Jones
With few exceptions, even the most skeptical scholars admit that Jesus was crucified—and with good reason. Not only the authors of the New Testament but also later Christian writers, the Roman historian Tacitus, and quite likely the Jewish historian Josephus mention the crucifixion of Jesus. And it’s highly unlikely that first-century Christians would have fabricated such a shameful fate for the founder of their faith. In the first century A.D., crucifixion represented the darkest possible path to death, after all.
In fact, it is almost impossible for contemporary people to comprehend the full obscenity of crucifixion in the ancient world.
Beginning as early as the third century B.C., the very word “crucify” was a vulgarism that did not pass freely between the lips of cultured people. In one ancient document, a Roman prostitute hurled this insult—perhaps the lewdest curse in her vocabulary—at an uncouth patron: “Go get yourself crucified!” The Roman philosopher Seneca described what he witnessed at a crucifixion with these words: “I see the stakes there—not of one kind but of many. Some victims are placed head down; some have spikes driven through their genitals; others have their arms stretched out on the gibbet.”
That’s why Romans referred to the Christians’ worship of a crucified God as “foolishness,” “insanity,” and “idiocy.”
Alexamenos GraffitoOne of the earliest graphical depictions of such worship is a scrap of late second-century graffiti, uncovered near Rome in a palace where slaves trained to serve the imperial family. In this graffito, a man with the head of an ass dangles naked from a cross. At the foot of the cross, someone kneels, surrounded by these rough-scrawled words: Αλεχαμενος σεβετε θεον. “Alexamenos worship [sic] God.” Someone—perhaps a servant training to serve Caesar himself—was apparently ridiculing a young man named Alexamenos because Alexamenos had embraced a new religion, a faith centered around a deity who suffered the punishment for humanity’s sin on a cross…
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