Archive for the 'February 2007' Category

CRUCIFIXION


November 30th, -0001

If Mel Gibson’s film “Passion of the Christ” did nothing else than portray the absolute brutality of crucifixion as a method of State sanctioned murder then it has done a service to mankind and further emphasises the value of having written this article in the first place.

Recently I was watching one of those fundamentalist preachers on television and the preacher was punching the air and shouting out in a loud voice about “the glory in the cross”, which disturbed me somewhat, as I have never felt that there was much glory in this Roman method of unbelievably cruel judicial execution.

Jesus was not the first person to be crucified nor was he the last. Christians use the phrase “Jesus was crucified” as though it were a mark of distinction; a way of dying that was exclusively his. It is something that compels people to wear a “Christian” cross – a symbol of torture – attached to religious chains of office.

On entering many churches throughout Christendom we are confronted with a figurine of a man strung up to a Roman execution apparatus as though it was a mark of honour. Others actually wear an effigy of this judicial murder in their belts or girdles as a sign of piety. This symbology reverences Roman cruelty at its worst, something I find quite disturbing and offensive.

I sometimes wonder if they would hang a gallows or an electric chair or even the guillotine if Jesus had been judicially murdered by any of these methods of killing another human being. Or maybe they could display a syringe, to indicate another human devise of killing people – death by lethal injection – which apparently is a more “humane” way of killing someone. Of course, the Romans were not particularly interested in “humane” ways of killing somebody – the more vicious, the better!

And why would Protestants find solace in this “Old rugged cross … a symbol of suffering and pain.”If it indicates extreme suffering and pain, why would anyone “Glory in the Cross…”?

Undoubtedly, crucifixion was one of the cruellest and most humiliating forms of punishment in the ancient world. The Jewish historian Josephus best described it following the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in CE 66 to 70 as “the most wretched of deaths.” Whereas in Seneca’s Epistle 101 to Lucilius, he argues “that suicide is preferable to the cruel fate of being put on the cross”.

This form of state terror was widespread across the Roman Empire that included Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. It originated several centuries before the Common Era and continued into the fourth century CE when Constantine, the emperor of Rome, discontinued the practice. While its origins are obscured in antiquity, it is clear that this form of capital punishment lasted for around eight hundred years and tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals were subject to this cruel and humiliating death. Mass executions in which hundreds and thousands died – such as the well-known crucifixion of six thousand followers of Spartacus as part of a victory celebration along the Appian Way in 71 BCE – appear in the literature.

While many people believe that crucifixion was reserved for criminals only as a result of Plutarch’s passage that “each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back,” the literature clearly shows that this class of individuals were not the only ones subjected to this ultimate fate. Alexander the Great had two thousand survivors from the siege of Tyre crucified on the shores of the Mediterranean. In addition, during the times of Caligula Jews were tortured and crucified in the amphitheatre to entertain the inhabitants of Alexandria. Women are seldom if ever mentioned specifically in the ancient sources aside from two passages in the Mishnah, one in Tractate, Mourning 2.11 that suggests that women may have been sacrificed as well. The second reference is found in Sanhedrin 6.5 in which Simeon B. Shetah had 70 or 80 sorceresses hung in the city of Ashkelon. However, as crucifixion was widely employed with slaves, one can assume that, in the ancient world its use was thus not limited by gender but mainly by class.

Crucifixion amongst the Jews was rare and except for a few instances, the subject was stoned to death first and then hung on a tree in accordance with the Biblical passage in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: which of course is no less offensive than crucifixion. “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”.

There was one notable exception to this passage in which the victims were first killed via crucifixion rather that being hung on a tree after death. This was the case with the high priest, Alexander Janneus in which 800 Pharisees were crucified in Jerusalem before their wives and children. While on the cross, according to Josephus, the women and children were then slaughtered. Despite this abundance of literary evidence for crucifixion over the centuries in the ancient world, the direct anthropological evidence amounts to but one case from Jerusalem discovered in 1968.

In 1968 building contractors working in a suburb north of Jerusalem accidentally uncovered a Jewish tomb dated to the first century CE. Lying in a Jewish ossuary bearing the Hebrew inscription ‘Jehohanan the son of HGQWL’ were the skeletal remains of a man in his twenties, who had been crucified. The evidence for this was based on the right calcaneum (heel bone) of the individual, pierced by an iron nail 11.5 cms in length. The nail penetrated the lateral surface of the bone merging on the middle of the surface in which the tip of the nail had become bent. The bending of the tip of the nail upon itself suggests that after the nail penetrated the tree or the upright it may have struck a knot in the wood thereby making it difficult to remove from the heel when the victim was taken from the cross.

Remains of olive wood found between the head of the nail and the heel bone suggest that prior to penetrating the heel bone the nail so as to increase the head of the nail thus making it difficult for the victim to free his legs from the upright. Due to the taphanomic process that occurred over a period of two thousand years the skeleton was in a poor state of preservation. Being friable and fragmentary, with many post-mortem breaks, the right heel bone was not amenable for proper anthropological investigation.

This is all very distasteful but those who take offence should be reminded that judicially killing anyone is an obscenity and the means of torture employed, are not items of idolisation to be worn as ornaments. This near total absence of any direct anthropological evidence for crucifixion in antiquity bears the question of why, aside from the case described above, is the record silent. There are two possibilities that may account for this silence; one is that most victims may have been tied to the cross. In Christian art, the good and the bad thieves are depicted as being tied to the cross despite the fact that the Gospels do not go into detail as to how they were affixed to the cross. Scholars have in fact argued that crucifixion was a bloodless form of death because the victims were tied to the cross.

Martin Mengel, however who wrote what is perhaps the definitive scholarly report of the subject of Crucifixion in antiquity, takes an opposing view. He argues that nailing the victim by both hands and feet was the rule and tying the victim to the cross was the exception. During the first revolt of the Jews against the Romans in CE 61 to 73, Josephus mentions that in the fall of Jerusalem (CE 70), “the soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures”.

As a deterrent in the ancient world, many of its victims were crucified where the criminal event took place, as was the case with thieves or along the cities busiest thoroughfares. The situation can perhaps best be summed up by Quintilian who wrote that, “whenever we crucify the guilty, the most, crowded roads are chosen, where most people can see and be moved by this fear. For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect”.

As one of the main objectives of this cruel method of execution was its deterrent value, Roman authorities also devised various means whereby the victim could remain on the cross for days in public before eventually expiring. Thus the manner in which the victims were crucified was not fixed by law but appears dependent on the number of individuals involved, the sadistic ingenuity of those carrying out the execution and the time needed for this spectacle to have its maximum deterrent effect.

Giving the victim a proper burial following death on the cross, during the Roman period was rare and in most cases simply not permitted in order to continue the humiliation. Thus the victim was in many cases simply thrown on the garbage dump of the city or left on the cross as food for wild beasts and birds of prey. We can see from the above that crucifixion is not something that should be celebrated in any form whatsoever but something that should be abhorred by any right thinking person.

All who profess some kind of attachment to Jesus of Nazareth should remember that he was killed by self-righteous ignorance and many today are being killed by all kinds of religious zealots by the same self-righteous ignorance that resulted in his death. Neither Christianity – of all persuasions – nor Islam, nor Judaism, nor any number of religious entities is exempt from this sanctimonious indulgence.

Presentations of Jesus hanging on a cross is not an object of adoration, it is perversion, and represents a most vile and torturous means of killing another human being. Jesus of Nazareth was one amongst thousands who was killed by this most repugnant means of inflicting human agony and by wearing an image of a murdered man and “to glory in the cross” as our preacher thundered, is to perpetuate a crime that resulted in an innocent man being murdered by the “most wretched of deaths”.

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Easter


November 30th, -0001

The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring in the northern hemisphere with a rollicking festival commemorating their goddess offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the fourth and fifth century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with their pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity.

It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations that already existed. If they had done so they would have alienated those who had not converted to this new religion – Christianity.

It so happened that the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of the crucifixion of Jesus. It made sense, therefore, to steal this pagan celebration and make it a Christian celebration. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.

Now, what Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the night before his judicial murder was the festival of the Passover. It has nothing to do with commemorating the goddess of fertility and springtime or the Crucifixion.

This festival celebrated the exodus from Egypt when Moses led the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage round about 1500 BCE.

Jesus, as a Sabbath observing Jew would have celebrated this festival each year with his family and friends when he was quite young. It is one of Judaism’s high holidays.

What does the term Easter actually mean? It is of Chaldean origin. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the Queen of Heaven, whose name, as pronounced by the people of Nineveh, was evidently identical with that now in common use in this country. That name, as found on Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar. The worship of Bel and Astarte was introduced very early into Britain, by the Druids, ‘the priests of the groves.’

To conciliate the pagans to nominal Christianity, it became necessary for Rome, pursuing its usual policy of integrating pagan concepts into Christianity, to take measures to get the Christian and pagan festivals amalgamated, and, by a complicated but skilful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter in general to get paganism and Christianity, now immersed in idolatry – in this as in so many other things – to combine harmoniously.

The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) Benedictine monk, priest, historian and Dr of the Roman Church, first asserted in his book “De Ratione Temporum” that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similar “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility were known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.”Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “Eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:

  • Aphrodite from Cyprus
  • Astarte, from Phoenicia
  • Demeter, from Mycenae
  • Hathor from Egypt
  • Ishtar from Assyria
  • Kali, from India
  • Ostara, a Norse Goddess of fertility

Easter traditions that have been derived from pagan traditions

Hot Cross Buns:

The hot cross buns of Good Friday and the dyed eggs of Easter Sunday, figured in the Chaldean rites just as they do now throughout the Christian world. The ‘buns’ known by the identical name, were used in the worship of the Queen of Heaven, the goddess Easter, as early as the days of Cecrops, the founder of Athens- that is, 1500 years before the Christian era. The prophet Jeremiah takes notice of this kind of offering when he says: ‘The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women make cakes to the queen of heaven’ – Astarte! (Jer.7: 18)

At the feast of Eostre, the Saxon fertility Goddess, an ox was sacrificed. The ox’s horns became a symbol for the feast. They were carved into the ritual bread. Thus originated “hot cross buns”! The word “buns” is derived from the Saxon word “boun” which means “sacred ox.” Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the buns; the cross represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the Goddess, and its four quarters.

Easter Rabbit and Eggs:

The symbols of the Norse Goddess Ostara were the hare and the egg. Both represented fertility. From these, we have inherited the customs and symbols of the Easter egg and Easter rabbit. Dyed eggs also formed part of the rituals of the Babylonian mystery religions. Eggs “were sacred to many ancient civilizations and formed an integral part of religious ceremonies in Egypt and the Orient. Dyed eggs were hung in Egyptian temples, and the egg was regarded as the emblem of regenerative life proceeding from the mouth of the great Egyptian god.”

In ancient times eggs were used in the religious rites of the Egyptians and the Greeks, and were hung up for mystic purposes in their temples. From Egypt these sacred eggs can be distinctly traced to the banks of the Euphrates. The classic poets are full of the fable of the mystic egg of the Babylonians; and accordingly it is told by the Egyptian Hyginus, the erudite keeper of the Palatine library at Rome, in the time of Augustus, who was expert in the wisdom of his native country: ‘An egg of wondrous size is said to have fallen from heaven into the river Euphrates. The fishes rolled it to the bank, where the doves having settled upon it, and hatched it, and out came Venus, who afterwards was called the ‘Syrian Goddess.’ – That is Astarte. Consequently the egg became one of the symbols of Astarte or Easter.

Easter Lilies:

The so-called ‘Easter lily’ has long been revered by pagans of various lands as a holy symbol associated with the reproductive organs.

Easter Sunrise Service:

This custom can be traced back to the ancient pagan custom of welcoming the sun God at the vernal equinox – when daytime is about to exceed the length of the night-time. It was a time to “celebrate the return of life and reproduction to animal and plant life as well.”

Easter Candles:

These are sometimes lit in churches on the eve of Easter Sunday. Some commentators believe that these can be directly linked to the pagan customs of lighting bonfires at this time of year to welcome the rebirth/resurrection of the sun God.

>PS.

This sun god – Sol Invictus – is what Christians unknowingly celebrate each year on the 25th December, coincidentally on the birthday of “The Undefeated Sun god” believing they are celebrating the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Roman Empire began their official recognition of sun worship during the time of Aurelian when he instituted the cult of “Sol Invictus”. There is virtually no difference between the cult of Sol Invictus and that of Mithraism or for that matter Roman Catholicism.

The Roman Emperor Constantine, who was an early Christo-pagan maintained the title “Pontifus Maximus” (one of the titles of the pope) the high priest of paganism and remained a worshipper of Apollo. His coins were inscribed: “Sol Invicto Comiti”, which is interpreted as “committed to the invincible sun”. During his reign pagan sun worship was blended with the worship of the God of Israel and officially titled “Christianity” by the Holy Roman Empire and its’ official church, The Holy Apostolic Roman Catholic church.

This blending is referred to as religious “syncretism” which describes the blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions.

In both the case of Easter and Christmas it means the sycretisation of ancient pagan celebrations with the developing religion of Christianity.

However this article is not about Christmas and we will deal with the real birthday of Jesus of Nazareth in a later article.

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