The Cross and Crucifix
In reality, the claims concerning cruciform Indian gods are not implausible but to be expected, as it is well known that the reverence for the cross can be found in numerous cultures, long prior to the Christian era. As is acknowledged by the Catholic Encyclopedia (“Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix”):
The sign of the cross, represented in its simplest form by a crossing of two lines at right angles, greatly antedates, in both the East and the West, the introduction of Christianity. It goes back to a very remote period of human civilization.
… It is also, according to Milani, a symbol of the sun…, and seems to denote its daily rotation.
The cross was in pre-Christian times a common symbol, revered as a divine sign, an emblem of the solar deity, representing the times of the year when the sun appears to be “hung on a cross,” i.e., the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.
The Catholic Encyclopedia (“CE”) continues:
In the proto-Etruscan cemetery of Golasecca every tomb has a vase with a cross engraved on it.
Thus, even the practice of marking graves with the cross precedes the Christian era by centuries.
There are a number of different shapes for the “sacred cross,” including the “crux gammata,” or swastika, which is found around the globe for millennia, and appears on Christian monuments as well. As CE further states:
Many fantastic significations have been attached to the use of this sign on Christian monuments, and some have even gone so far as to conclude from it that Christianity is nothing but a descendant of the ancient religions and myths of the people of India, Persia, and Asia generally; then these theorists go on to point out the close relationship that exists between Christianity, on the one hand, Buddhism and other Oriental religions, on the other…. [The crux gammata] is fairly common on the Christian monuments of Rome, being found on some sepulchral inscriptions, besides occurring twice, painted, on the Good Shepherd’s tunic in an arcosolium in the Catacomb of St. Generosa in the Via Portuensis, and again on the tunic of the fossor Diogenes (the original epitaph is no longer extant.
The “crux ansata” or ankh of the Egyptians, which is a cross with a loop on top resembling a human stick figure is likewise a common motif, representing eternal life.
Regarding the so-called Christian cross, the “crux immissa,” with the crossbeam above center, the CE says:
In the bronze age we meet in different parts of Europe a more accurate representation of the cross, as conceived in Christian art, and in this shape it was soon widely diffused.
The Bronze Age in Europe extended from around the 3rd to the 2nd millennia BCE; hence, this “Christian” cross was an important symbol long before the Christian era.
The cross has also been discerned in the Old Testament. As CE further relates:
The cross, mentioned even in the Old Testament, is called in Hebrew…”wood,” a word often translated crux by St. Jerome (Gen., xl, 19; Jos., viii, 29; Esther, v, 14; viii, 7; ix, 25).
Christian writers such as Barnabas asserted that not only was the brazen serpent of Moses set up as a cross but Moses himself makes the sign of the cross at Exodus 17:12, when he is on a hilltop with Aaron and Hur. As we can see, along with the sign of the cross in the pre-Christian world are represented gods and humans in cruciform, with arms extended. Concerning the cross and cruciform, CE also states:
The early Christians in their artistic labours did not disdain to draw upon the symbols and allegories of pagan mythology, as long as these were not contrary to Christian faith and morals. In the Catacomb of St. Callistus a sarcophagus, dating from the third century, was found, the front of which shows Ulysses tied to the mast while he listens to the song of the Sirens; near him are his companions, who with ears filled with wax, cannot hear the alluring song. All this is symbolical of the Cross, and of the Crucified, who has closed against the seductions of evil the ears of the faithful during their voyage over the treacherous sea of life in the ship which will bring them to the harbour of salvation.
Thus, CE asserts that the Greek hero Ulysses or Odysseus is bound to a cross and symbolizes “the crucified.” The cruciform image of a god or human with arms extended dates back at least several centuries prior to the common era. As CE also says:
Cruciform objects have been found in Assyria. The statues of Kings Asurnazirpal and Sansirauman, now in the British Museum, have cruciform jewels about the neck (Layard, Monuments of Nineveh, II, pl. IV). Cruciform earrings were found by Father Delattre in Punic tombs at Carthage.
It is evident that the images of gods in the shape of a cross were commonly used, likely for protection as well as eternal life. It is therefore not surprising to find crucifixes in Pagan iconography, especially as concerns the sun god, which we have shown Krishna to be. Indeed, it is clear is that a cross with a man on it, or a crucifix, was revered in pre-Christian times, thus rendering the supposedly Christian motif unoriginal. Such was admitted by early Christian writer Minucius Felix (c. 250) in his Octavius, in which Felix denied that Christians worship a “criminal and his cross,” which may signify a denial of Jesus being a “criminal,” rather than that Christianity did not then possess the tradition of a god crucified. Nevertheless, Felix thereafter asserts that the Pagans did so venerate the crucifix, which certainly indicates that the image of crucified man or god existed among the pre-Christians:
Chapter XXIX.-Argument: Nor is It More True that a Man Fastened to a Cross on Account of His Crimes is Worshipped by Christians, for They Believe Not Only that He Was Innocent, But with Reason that He Was God. But, on the Other Hand, the Heathens Invoke the Divine Powers of Kings Raised into Gods by Themselves; They Pray to Images, and Beseech Their Genii.
…in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God…. Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it.
Again, the pious Christian writer Felix, in the 3rd century, takes umbrage at the notion that Christians worshipped a “criminal and his cross,” and retorts that the Pagans’ own “victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it.”
Another early Christian authority, Tertullian, likewise confirmed the Pagan cross and crucifix, in his response to the charges that Christians adored the cross. As CE relates:
The Christian apologists, such as Tertullian (Apol., xvi; Ad. Nationes, xii) and Minucius Felix (Octavius, lx, xii, xxviii), felicitously replied to the pagan taunt by showing that their persecutors themselves adored cruciform objects.
In The Apology (Chapter XVI), Tertullian writes:
…Then, if any of you think we render superstitious adoration to the cross, in that adoration he is sharer with us. If you offer homage to a piece of wood at all, it matters little what it is like when the substance is the same: it is of no consequence the form, if you have the very body of the god. And yet how far does the Athenian Pallas differ from the stock of the cross, or the Pharian Ceres as she is put up uncarved to sale, a mere rough stake and piece of shapeless wood? Every stake fixed in an upright position is a portion of the cross; we render our adoration, if you will have it so, to a god entire and complete. We have shown before that your deities are derived from shapes modelled from the cross. But you also worship victories, for in your trophies the cross is the heart of the trophy. The camp religion of the Romans is all through a worship of the standards, a setting the standards above all gods. Well, as those images decking out the standards are ornaments of crosses. All those hangings of your standards and banners are robes of crosses. I praise your zeal: you would not consecrate crosses unclothed and unadorned. Others, again, certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude, believe that the sun is our god. We shall be counted Persians perhaps, though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth, having himself everywhere in his own disk. The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer. But you, many of you, also under pretence sometimes of worshipping the heavenly bodies, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise. In the same way, if we devote Sun-day to rejoicing, from a far different reason than Sun-worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant. But lately a new edition of our god has been given to the world in that great city: it originated with a certain vile man who was wont to hire himself out to cheat the wild beasts, and who exhibited a picture with this inscription: The God of the Christians, born of an ass. He had the ears of an ass, was hoofed in one foot, carried a book, and wore a toga. Both the name and the figure gave us amusement.
In this pithy paragraph, Tertullian has given an interesting picture of the Pagan impression of Christianity, as well as an acknowledgement of the Pagan reverence of the cross and cruciform or crucifix. This pious Christian writer must also address the allegation that Christians worship the sun, thus admitting that non-Christians perceived the solar orb to be the object of Christian worship, an assertion, therefore, that has existed essentially from the beginning of the Christian era and that has been made countless times since. Furthermore, Tertullian raises the issue of Christians being accused of worshipping an ass, not as blasphemous a notion as it may appear, since the ass-headed god was popular in Egypt as Set or Seth. Indeed, in the “quarters of the imperial pages” of Rome, there is an image of a crucified ass-headed god.
As the Catholic Encyclopedia points out, in images Christ was not represented as crucified until the 6th-7th centuries CE. The CE further says (“Ecclesiastical Art”):
But though with the triumph of Constantine the outline of the “chrisme” (chi-rho), or the Greek monogram of Christ, was universally held in honour and introduced into all Christian monuments and even into the coinage, the crucifix as a Christian emblem was as yet practically unknown.
The “chi-rho” (C+R) itself resembles a human cruciform, as CE implies, and examples of it may be found in ancient mason’s marks, such as at Phaestos on Crete, dating from the second millennium BCE.
Regarding the archaeological record, Lundy, an expert on early Christian monuments, concurs that the crucifix in Christianity is a late artistic development:
In the earliest monuments there is no scene of the Crucifixion….
…Neither the Crucifixion, nor any of the scenes of the Passion, was ever represented; nor the day of judgment, nor were the sufferings of the lost.
Nevertheless, CE relates that a “very important monument” dating to the early third century depicts the crucifixion “openly.” This image–the ass-headed god–is Pagan-made, states the Catholic Encyclopedia, not Christian, although it is apparently ridiculing the Christian religion. CE further describes the image:
On a beam in the Pedagogioum on the Palatine there was discovered a graffito on the plaster, showing a man with an ass’s head, and clad in a perizoma (or short loin-cloth) and fastened to a crux immissa (regular Latin cross). Near by there is another man in an attitude of prayer with the legend Alexamenos sebetai theon, i.e., “Alexamenos adores God.” This graffito is now to be seen in the Kircherian Museum in Rome, and is but an impious caricature in mockery of the Christian Alexamenos, drawn by one of his pagan comrades of the Paedagogioum.
…In fact Tertullian tells us that in his day, i.e. precisely at the time when this caricature was made, Christians were accused of adoring an ass’s head, “Somniatis caput asininum esse Deum nostrum” (Apol., xvi; Ad Nat., I, ii). And Minucius Felix confirms this (Octav., ix). The Palatine graffito is also important as showing that the Christians used the crucifix in their private devotions at least as early as the third century. It would not have been possible for Alexamenos’ companion to trace the graffito of a crucified person clad in the perizoma (which was contrary to Roman usage) if he had not seen some such figure made use of by the Christians. Professor Haupt sought to identify it as a caricature of a worshipper of the Egyptian god Seth, the Typho of the Greeks, but his explanation was refuted by Kraus. Recently, a similar opinion has been put forth by Wnsch, who takes his stand on the letter Y which is placed near the crucified figure, and which has also been found on a tablet relating to the worship of Seth; he therefore concludes that Alexamenos of the graffito belonged to the Sethian sect.