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July 1st, 2010
01:49 PM ET

Gospels don't say Jesus was crucified, scholar claims

Update July 2 8:04 a.m. After this article posted Gunnar Samuelsson got in touch to stress that his research focuses specifically on the narratives of Jesus's execution in the four Gospels, not on the entire New Testament, so "Gospels" has been substituted for "Bible" in the headline.

There have been plenty of attacks on Christianity over the years, but few claims have been more surprising than one advanced by an obscure Swedish scholar this spring.

The Gospels do not say Jesus was crucified, Gunnar Samuelsson says.

In fact, he argues, in the original Greek, the ancient texts reveal only that Jesus carried "some kind of torture or execution device" to a hill where "he was suspended" and died, says Samuelsson, who is an evangelical pastor as well as a New Testament scholar.

"When we say crucifixion, we think about Mel Gibson's 'Passion.' We think about a church, nails, the crown of thorns," he says, referring to Gibson's 2004 film, "The Passion of the Christ."

"We are loaded with pictures of this well-defined punishment called crucifixion - and that is the problem," he says.

Samuelsson bases his claim on studying 900 years' worth of ancient texts in the original languages - Hebrew, Latin and Greek, which is the language of the New Testament.

He spent three years reading for 12 hours a day, he says, and he noticed that the critical word normally translated as "crucify" doesn't necessarily mean that.

"He was handed over to be 'stauroun,'" Samuelsson says of Jesus, lapsing into Biblical Greek to make his point.

At the time the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing their Gospels, that word simply meant "suspended," the theologian argues.

"This word is used in a much wider sense than 'crucifixion,'" he says. "It refers to hanging, to suspending vines in a vineyard," or to any type of suspension.

"He was required to carry his 'stauros' to Calvary, and they 'stauroun' him. That is all. He carried some kind of torture or execution device to Calvary and he was suspended and he died," Samuelsson says.

Not everyone is convinced by his research. Garry Wills, the author of "What Jesus Meant," "What Paul Meant," and "What the Gospels Meant," dismisses it as "silliness."

"The verb is stauresthai from stauros, cross," Wills said.

Samuelsson wants to be very clear about what he is saying and what he is not saying.

Most importantly, he says, he is not claiming Jesus was not crucified - only that the Gospels do not say he was.

"I am a pastor, a conservative evangelical pastor, a Christian," he is at pains to point out. "I do believe that Jesus died the way we thought he died. He died on the cross."

But, he insists, it is tradition that tells Christians that, not the first four books of the New Testament.

"I tried to read the text as it is, to read the word of God as it stands in our texts," he says - what he calls "reading on the lines, not reading between the lines."

Samuelsson says he didn't set out to undermine one of the most basic tenets of Christianity.

He was working on a dissertation at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden when he noticed a problem with a major book about the history of crucifixion before Jesus.

What was normally thought to be the first description of a crucifixion - by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus - wasn't a crucifixion at all, but the suspension of a corpse, Samuelsson found by reading the original Greek.

The next example in the book about crucifixion wasn't a crucifixion either, but the impaling of a hand.

Samuelsson's doctoral advisor thought his student might be on to something.

"He recommended I scan all the texts, from Homer up to the first century - 900 years of crucifixion texts," Samuelsson recalled, calling it "a huge amount of work."

But, he says, "I love ancient texts. They just consume me." So he started reading.

He found very little evidence of crucifixion as a method of execution, though he did find corpses being suspended, people being hanged from trees, and more gruesome methods of execution such as impaling people by the belly or rectum.

The same Greek word was used to refer to all the different practices, he found.

That's what led him to doubt that the Gospels specify that Jesus was crucified.

At the time they were written, "there is no word in Greek, Latin, Aramaic or Hebrew that means crucifixion in the sense that we think of it," he says.

It's only after the death of Jesus - and because of the death of Jesus - that the Greek word "stauroun" comes specifically to mean executing a person on the cross, he argues.

He admits, of course, that the most likely reason early Christians though Jesus was crucified is that, in fact, he was.

But he says his research still has significant implications for historians, linguists and the Christian faithful.

For starters, "if my observations are correct, every book on the history of Jesus will need to be rewritten," as will the standard dictionaries of Biblical Greek, he says.

More profoundly, his research "ought to make Christians a bit more humble," he says.

"We fight against each other," he reflects, but "the theological stances that keep churches apart are founded on things that we find between the lines.

"We have put a lot of things in the Bible that weren't there in the beginning that keep us apart. We need to get down on our knees as Christians together and read the Bible."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (1,530 Responses)
  1. Lance

    It's downright funny to watch all these so-called "Christians" tear each other up. Hilarious! Hey, here's a question. What's the modern word for "fatwa", sounds like some of you are going to want it.

    Even though I'm no Christian (in part because of all the bull surrounding how which of the thousands of ancient texts magically become part of the Bible, and whose translation is fit for going to war over), I can tell you this: IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW YOUR SAVIOR DIED. Stick that in your heads. The whole point of the teaching of your book is that HE DIED FOR YOU. By whining about how, by WORSHIPPING the method, the basic point of salvation is trivialized. If Jesus is indeed who you say he is, and is up there in heaven, I can pretty much guarantee he looks upon this quibbling with something less than joy. Really. Are you going to stand in front of him for judgment, and proudly say "I called someone a heretic on the Internetz for saying you died on two pieces of wood instead of one, that lets me off the hook for cheating on my wife, right?"

    What would Jesus post?

    I don't know. And apparently there's not a one of you who DOES. If you choose to worship Jesus, worship his message, and don't dwell with lurid delight on the death.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  2. thinquer

    News flash? Jehovahs Witnesses have been explaining this for years. At least the pastor was open minded enough to listen to them. Now if people would also embrace the fact that Christians do not go to war. That would be beautiful! (Isaiah 2:2-4)

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
    • jason

      Thats the interesting thing! But no one is paying attention and believe me, that scholar didnt even mention Jehovahs Witnesses, because he would lose his credibility if he would be assotiated with them. He wants this attention for himself. But he is very late with his "discovery"

      July 1, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  3. Joyce

    Does it really matter at this point how he died. Will we really ever find out the truth? No! Will it really change our lives? No. We can spend our entire lives guessing....and that's about it...but why do that? Lets leave it the way we were taught it to be. We have far more better things to do than to try and dig out other versions of the "so-called" truth.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • Sridhar

      Right Jocye and also forget the fact that something like that ever happened. .... this study doesnt fix the economic conditions , immigration issues , the energy crisis , or solution for disease or even stop larry king from retiring...

      S

      July 1, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  4. Braveheart

    CRAIG I agree with you , crucifixion of Jesus need not be debated as bible is clear , so called scholar just need to attend the Sunday school for class V to understand this very core of Christian faith. He just does not qualify to be a Sunday school teacher leave alone a pastor. Very famous case of doubting Thomas is a classic example of Jesus crucifixion , Jesus show his pierced hands. Overwhelming proof of his agony and his condemn death for the man kind is evident through out the New Testament.
    This gentleman is not only misinformed but is misleading. My little boy will be able to refute his claim.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • pockets

      Believe nothing you read and 1/2 what you seen. Science will prove, that there was no creator of any universe, let alone this little piece of real estate we as primates inhabit. Check out the pictures that Hubble sends back and get back to me about who created what, educate yourself and put the "book of magic" back in the row with the rest of the fairy tales. There is no god, so relax and enjoy your lives. You going to die, no after life awaits you, that as Einstein said is "wishful thinking". You die, you decompose, end of life and end of story. Contribute to mankind, volunteeer to help the rest of humanity.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  5. Mike

    Another scholar trying to prove Christianity a joke, I believe in God and the Catholic Church and i think its ridiculous how people make stupid claims to get 15 minutes of fame. It has been established for 2000 years that Jesus was hung on a cross and this scholar is making ridiculous assumptions on the death of Christ.
    God Bless America, and God Bless The World

    July 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • jason

      God bless america? I beg to differ, pal

      July 1, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  6. srimes

    @Craig – Have you read the original Gospel texts, or the English translations? I think that the point the the pastor was trying to make is that the Gospel says that Christ was nailed to the cross because that is how it has been translated through the years.
    Mistranslations can happen at anytime, without malicious intent. For example "The Wicked Bible, sometimes called The Adulterous Bible or The Sinners' Bible is a term referring to the Bible published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, which was meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. The name is derived from the compositors' mistake: in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) the word "not" in the sentence "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was omitted. This blunder was spread in a number of copies." (wikipedia)

    July 1, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  7. Braveheart

    I agree...you so true

    July 1, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  8. CatholicMom

    Someone commented on the fact that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman and wondered how their children found mates............
    In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve every gene in their bodies was perfect. God did not have any laws about marriage at that time—no laws or commands except to not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

    There were no other people at that time because Adam looked for a mate and found none. God created Adam then Eve from Adam’s rib. To make a long story short-Adam lived for hundreds of years and most likely fathered many daughters and sons. They inherited perfect genes from their parents and so when these men and women married, their children were also perfect, and deformities were unknown. Remember God had not made any marriage laws at that time. No need to-all was good and perfect.

    Then sin entered the world and everything changed. People began to degenerate—they became less and less perfect. God commanded that marriage must be between a man and a woman and not between closely related persons. [ Deformities could be expected if the law was not followed.] People degenerated as years pasted and people did not live as long as their parents did. They were highly intelligent beings in the beginning because of their perfection; we often hear how people think WE are the most intelligent of generations…

    So you see, we all are truly brothers and sisters. Rejoice! And start acting like a loving family. 'Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect'. Matthew 5:48 [Douay-Rheims Bible]

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
    • Marlye

      LMFAO!!

      July 1, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
    • Goddess :)

      Mom..would you please look at the at the pictures of people ..per say few thousands year before..I think Agelina more attractive than Cleopatra.. second..would you please provide me with evidance that Adam was handsome than Brad Pitt :):) and last..what is more sinfull..eat the apple or sleep with your kids..to "populate" the earth?

      July 1, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  9. pockets

    I find it amazing that 'so-called' intelligent primates, still have to believe in the existence of an imaginary diety. Once Zeus ruled the day to Ra the Sun God. The very small planet we inhabit has seen what these 'god's' have done to the human race and its not a pretty sight at all. Hucksters and TV evangalist have suckered money out of un educated and gulliable people for centuries. Only science will be able "hopefully" to put and end to this nonsense in the not to distant future. Who knows maybe we will be lucky enough to have an 'athiest' as President. I know that's a stretch but you can always hope. Until such time as intelligence and reasoning prevail, we have to deal with the "magic book" and the insanity of religion, it poisons everything.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  10. Josh

    Where in the bible does it say that..."Juses was impaled... What Book ect...

    July 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  11. Braveheart

    I agree with you , crucifixion of Jesus need not be debated as bible is clear , so called scholar just need to attend the Sunday school for class V to understand this very core of Christian faith. He just does not qualify to be a Sunday school teacher leave alone a pastor. Very famous case of doubting Thomas is a classic example of Jesus crucifixion , Jesus show his pierced hands. Overwhelming proof of his agony and his condemn death for the man kind is evident through out the New Testament.
    This gentleman is not only misinformed but is misleading. My little boy will be able to refute his claim.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • a

      committed to ignorance I see.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
      • Dbone

        If any or all of this book was/is real, it would be easely understood by all, that were/are 6 years old or older.

        July 2, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  12. Abdullah

    I liked the youtube video. It reinforces that Jesus is a prophet as well as Mohammed peace be upon them.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  13. HeIsGod

    Let No One Disqualify You
    Colossians 2
    16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, [1] puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

    (1 Corinthians 1)

    18 – For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
    19 – For it is written:
    "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    The intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."[c]

    20 – Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
    22 – Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
    23 -but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
    24 – but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    25 – For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
    27 – But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
    28 – He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  14. RLM

    When the entire scope of the various crucifixion passages are taken into account, such as that "they broke the legs" of the criminals that were crucified on his left and right (in order to hasten suffocation in the case of crucifixion) and other passages speak of "nailing" and "hanging" and the obvious greek terms that clearly identify a cross, there is no room for this type of pointless speculation and challenge. Regardless of the shape of the means of execution, Jesus Christ hung on a cross and died in our place for our sins. That is the gospel. Stake? Stick? None of that undermines the basic truths of what He accomplished. It is amazing how people can be caught up in the superficial, instead of the substance. He died for our sins, that is the issue. That is a love that demands that we make a decision.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
    • pockets

      "He died for our sins" hmmmm now what sin would have been so horrific that someone would have to be crucified for it? Oh you must mean Adam and Eve, two black people naked in a garden with a talking snake and a hankering for apples? The ignorance continues when you read some of the foolishness on this page. God's, magic book, raising the dead, burning bushes, water into wine,sighhhhh sounds like a circus show in town. Snake oil salesman and all.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  15. jesse

    jesus was just some nut like jim jones getting the poor uneducated people to buy into his BS. Wow, very similar to today.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  16. Bobish

    No Christian actually believes what they preach. If they did, why aren't they all running into burning buildings to save children so they could die a hero and get into heaven as quick as possible?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Does it take a Christians to honestly save a child that is burning in a building? There are many non-Christians that will go out to save them and help the least that are neglected and they have a beautiful heart. Are you among them?

      How ignorant is your comment!! Can you speak for all of us? I am a nondenominational Christian who believes and living what I preach. I have had many people seen Christ in me, as well as a few homeless people who I never seen in my life. I have been stop by them and they told me that there was something different about me. I told that them that who I am in Christ.

      "No Christian actually believes what they preach. If they did, why aren't they all running into burning buildings to save children so they could die a hero and get into heaven as quick as possible?"

      July 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  17. OhthatChar

    This is the truth. Jesus was not nailed to a cross. Nor was anyone else. The subjects were tied by the arms. then their legs were broken so the bodies had no support. The effects of this caused death. BUT! Jesus didn't die, my friends. He was given a secret potion to make him appear dead. Pontius Pilot was in cahoots with Jesus, and helped in his escape from the Sanhedrin who wanted Jesus dead.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
    • jason

      yeah right. and that poison was mixed by chuck norris

      July 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • Marlye

      but unfortunately, Jesus's legs were never the same again. He walked with a heavy limp and often resorted to using crutches for the rest of his painful life.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  18. Rich

    Craig, let me try to understand this as best I can. You are calling this guy an idiot for studying something and coming to the conclusion that Jesus was not crucified, the research of which you equate with that of studying the Easter Bunny? Did it ever cross your mind that perhaps the whole story is fabricated? I mean, you speak as though you know with absolute certainty that Jesus existed. I am not suggesting that he did not. However, I do not think it is necessarily appropriate to criticize another person when you believe in something, which for all intents and purposes, might be made up. Read Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. It is a good book not to be treated too seriously but to understand the logic behind non-believers. I would not go as far an advancing atheism, but then again I would not say with absolutely certainty that God exists.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
  19. Suleiman

    Jesus (peace be upon him) was a messenger of God. He was not crucified. Watch Ahmed Deedat's debates on youtube. He pretty much destroys the Christians in his debates.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
  20. Thorrsman

    Well, that rather says it all about why YOU are posting here, doesn't it?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
    • Toby

      I agree emphatically with that statement. People should no more indoctrinate their children into sharing their religious beliefs than they should label them with a political party or ideology. Children will believe whatever those in authority tell them is true, why not wait until they are old enough to reason for themselves? I'm quite sure that most would reject these ideas with hardly a passing glance by the time they became young adults.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
    • jason

      @toby so basically you are saying that we should wait until our children are 18 with telling them that stealing is wrong and that you should not kill anyone?
      So you are also saying that, when the parents go to church, they should leave their 3year old son or daughter at home alone?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.