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This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Crucifixions - Scandal of Brutal Empires

This simple sentence covers great personal tragedy as well as tragedy of civilization seduced to terrorize its members into obedience.

Based on archeological records as well as testimonies, aggression, brutality and violence have always been part of human nature and are well documented in primitive societies. Nevertheless only the emergence of large empires saw the development of brutality and violence into a complex calculated system. Large empires used violence and fear of violence as an important tool to control and govern large territories with diverse populations. The Neoassyrian Empire can serve as one of the early and extreme examples of the systemic use of state terrorism for the purpose of governance.

Assyrian depictions of hunting scenes or battle scenes were extremely realistic and also brutal. Accounts of their form of governance were built on fear and terror. Anything interpreted as disloyalty was severely punished.

Here are just some details from the famous bas-relief of the siege of the Judean city of Lachish. Impalement or skinning alive were “proudly” depicted in gory detail. Impalement is conducted or attended most likely by Greek mercenaries.

The biblical testimony as well as other ancient sources attest that the Persian empire was built on a more tolerant, pluralistic and mostly benevolent model. This situation, nevertheless, changed quickly when the hegemony of the empire was challenged. In need of exercising control, it quickly reverted to use of more violent and tested tool of dehumanizing terror.

In this lecture I also use well-known pieces of art. Here Mark Chagall depicts and prophetically anticipates the upcoming unspeakable persecution of Jews in the Ukraine and Western Russia.

Report of the Seleucid persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes.

Unfortunately crucifixion was not used only by large empires to terrorize subjugated and difficult-to-rule populations. It became expedient way to treat and terrorize people into obedience. This slide presents an example of the use of crucifixion to terrorize political opponents within one society.

Here is an biblical example, where David is implicated in reverting to this hideous practice. And the highlighted gloss tries to explain and also shift responsibility on outsiders. Although certain features of the story seem to be quite old, the crucifixion points to the Persian, perhaps even Hellenistic period of the authorship of the saga of the unified monarchy of David and Solomon (As text-critically suggested by John Van Seters and from the perspective of Near Eastern Archeology by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Crucifixion was widely used by Romans to govern subjugated and rebelling nations. These two texts report the same incident; one time Josephus speaks about crucifixion, the next time he uses a more indirect and circumspect way of speaking about it. Clearly direct references to “crucifixion”are like the tip of an iceberg. Crucifixion should be often suspected even though it is not directly mentioned.

Josephus Flavius describes the siege of Jerusalem and highlights utilitarian (unable to keep them in camp) as well terrorizing (to instill fear) reasons for this gruesome form of execution. And even if we control for his notorious propensity to exaggerate, the total number of crucified during the six-month-long siege was undoubtedly large.

Roman taste for large exemplary and punitive (terrorizing) execution during or after suppressed rebellion is probably best documented in the aftermath of the Third Servile War, the famous Spartacus uprising. Again, numbers might be exaggerated although the distance between Rome and Cappua on Via Appia was about  120 miles or almost 200 km (that would mean a cross every 33 meters on one side or if both sides of the road were used, every 60 meters).

With so many reported executions by crucifixion throughout ancient history, it is surprising that there is only one known skeletal remains of a crucified person. Even if we control for all the variables (not all crucifixion would leave skeletal traces, not all traces might be recognized and discovered etc) this discrepancy remains quite great. This absence of skeletal remains actually confirms the testimony of our few written sources which are describing crucifixion as an execution which resulted in the absence of a proper burial. The absence of proper burial was to ancient sensitivities substantial part of disgrace and horror of this type of execution.

Within the context of Roman civilization this worship of a crucified person was a direct affront of everything this civilization wanted to represent and achieve. It had to be considered as a direct subversion of the very structure of Roman society. It would be similar to the worship of an officially condemned serious criminal or terrorist in our times. It was indeed a peaceful, none the less radical, dangerous and in the end very effective rebellion against the oppressive brutality and alienation of Roman civilization.

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