The Cross and The Donkey People

By Bro. Vince Kluth
The people of God have never been popular, and at every turn, men have sought to hold (suppress) the truth in unrighteousness.

The people of God have never been popular, and at every turn, men have sought to hold (suppress) the truth in unrighteousness.  Yet God often turns man's ways back around, converting his buffoonery to our credit. Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee (Ps 76:10a).  One example is that of Jesus' physical cross, and whether He was crucified on a stake, as the Jehovah Witnesses claim, or a traditional Roman crossbeam-styled cross. 

It was the Assyrians who were first recorded to impale their victims on stakes, but the Romans later perfected this to a degree of cruelty that exacted the most suffering over the longest period of time. Yet we find practically no archaeological remains of any skeletal evidence of crucifixion, even though many ancient texts refer to the practice. Two interesting pieces have survived: a 1st century AD ankle bone bearing an iron spike (left, with reconstruction to the right), and some Roman graffiti. The skeletal remains belonged to a man in his mid 20s, and the inscription on his ossuary (bone box) noted him as 'the one hanged with knees apart'. It is compelling evidence of this gruesome practice.  But was his cross just a stake, since only the ankle held a nail?


The 2nd piece suggests otherwise of the practice.  Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards wrote: "Crucifixion became a symbol of contempt and derision in the early centuries of the Christian church. The dishonor of crucifixion and Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey led to the Christians being referred to as assinari - donkey people. An example of this was discovered crudely scratched on the plaster in a boy's boarding school near the Palatine Hill in Rome (right). It portrays a donkey-headed man on a cross and beside him is a figure with an upraised hand, presumably in worship. The scrawled inscription in misspelt Greek reads, 'Alexamenos worships his god'. Whoever Alexamenos was, he was publicly ridiculed by this graffiti. Close by, someone wrote in Latin Alexamenos fidelis (Alexamenos is faithful) - perhaps by the hand of Alexamenos himself?" 


"The Jews were accused of worshipping their god as a donkey and Christians were associated with this. The Christian leader Tertullian (AD 155-220) commented, 'Some of you have entertained the dream that our god is actually the head of an ass. With biting sarcasm, he continued: You in fact worship the ass in its entirety, not just the head. And then you throw in Epona, the patron saint of donkeys and all the beasts of burden, cattle, and wild animals. You even worship their stables' (Tertullian To the Nations ch II)." [1] Josephus also defended the Jews against similar charges (Against Appion II.7). [2]


The etching clearly depicts a crossbeamed cross, not just a stake.  Though it was intended to mock brother Alexamenos for his faith, it ended up surviving the centuries to debunk a myth of our day, unwittingly contrary to the artist's original intention.


Furthermore, it is fascinating that Scripture predicted Christ's specific means of death.  David wrote 100 years before the start of the Assyrian Empire's existence, and a millennia before Rome's, this Messianic statement:  they pierced my hands and my feet (Psalm 22:16). Zechariah in ~487 BC [3] wrote they shall look upon me whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10).  This is long before crucifixion was invented. Our Sovereign God ordained even the very means of Jesus' death!


Behind the history lies a greater consideration; namely, Jesus' painful, shameful death on the cross of Calvary. Let us not belittle the seriousness of sin, nor the supreme sacrifice of the Savior. All praise, honor and glory to Him who was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and conquered death, hell, Satan – and all false accusers.


[1] Description adapted from Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards, Evidence For The Bible, Day One Publications, 2014, p.138-139. Pictures from the same.

[3] Date from Rose Publications "Bible Time Line" pamphlet, © 2001 RW Research.

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