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People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Cross. The frightful mode of punishment by the cross appears to have been practised from the earliest periods well known to history. Crosses were made of two beams of wood, crossing each other either at right angles, or obliquely in the shape of the letter X; with various modifications of form. There was sometimes also a kind of bracket attached near the bottom of the upright piece, as a partial support to the sufferer. Crucifixion was inflicted among the ancient Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Indians, Scythians, Greeks, and Macedonians. Among the Romans, it prevailed from very early times down to the reign of Constantine the Great, by whom it was abolished; and from the Romans it most probably passed to the Jews; though some have imagined that they could trace the punishment in such passages as Deuteronomy 21:22-23. The mode of execution by the cross may be thus described. Sometimes the sufferer was fastened to the cross as it lay on the ground: it was then lifted, with the body attached, and dropped into the hole, so prepared that the feet were not more than about half a yard from the earth. But sometimes the cross was first set up; and then the criminal was attached to it. Tying and nailing were both in use. Our Lord was nailed. A medicated draught was offered to stupefy the senses: this Jesus refused. Mark 15:23. It was merciful to break the legs: death would come the sooner. The cross on which our Lord suffered was, if we may credit a legend, made of the aspen; which is said hence to be continually trembling. More reasonably, it may be believed to have been of oak, which was plentiful in Judea. The cross of Christ was honored by his disciples. It was Christ crucified whom the apostles preached; the divine Redeemer stooping so low as to endure this shocking death, in order to make a sufficient sacrifice, satisfaction, and oblation, for the sins of the world. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 1 Corinthians 2:2. Hence they gloried in the cross of Christ, Galatians 6:14, and willingly, for love of him, took up the cross (a figurative expression) and followed him, suffering for his sake persecution even to the death. 2 Timothy 2:11-12. Some centuries elapsed before the symbol was turned into an image, the cross into the figure of Christ suspended on it. It may be added that though among other nations bodies were generally suffered to rot upon the cross, the rites of sepulture being denied, the Jews observed the precept of Deuteronomy 21:23, and took down the corpse before sunset. When the Roman empire became Christian, the cross, heretofore so shameful, was adopted as a symbol of honor; it glittered on the helmets of the soldiery, was engraven on their shields, and interwoven into their banners.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Cross'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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