Carrying of the Cross


I thought of this while I was in the hardware store yesterday. How did Our Lord carry the cross to Calvary? The classical depictions show Him carrying or dragging the entire cross, but looking at lumber yesterday and looking at the crucifix on my wall, it would have been near impossible even for a fit man (as I’m sure Jesus was) to move the entire thing. Seems more feasible that he would have been forced to carry the crossbeam and that it would have been attached at Calvary. What was the Roman custom at the time?


In Palestine at the time the Romans would have used a permanent, stationary upright beam to which a crossbeam would be attached. In Jesus’ case he carried the crossbeam to his own crucifixion. That beam would have been from one of the kinds of trees that grew there–dogwood, olive, cedar, etc.

The crossbeam need not have been a large, thick beam, but perhaps a branch strong enough to hold a man’s weight. Still, branches can be pretty heavy–heavy enough to kill a man who might be hit by one falling from the tree. Anyway, Jesus had been beaten and flogged, so carrying it would have been hard, which is why he fell in the attempt, and so Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry it.


There are numerous theories on what the actual cross looked like. I watched a show about this not long ago, they went thru all the popular theories and came up with a cross in the shape of an ‘X’ being the most probable, it being able to fully support a human body until death.

But I do think Jesus only carried a portion of the cross thru the streets. Wood is heavy, but one would be surprised how large a piece someone can move around fairly easily…


If it was on the History Channel you can bet that they came up with their conclusion based more on yet another attempt to debunk Christianity than on history. In any case, we cannot know just what form, of the various ones employed, was used to crucify Jesus, but tradition tells us it was the one that has been depicted for centuries. There’s no good reason to reject it. :wink:


Yeah, I have trouble trusting the channel that has more shows about pawn shops and repo than about actual history.


LOL! That too. :smiley:


I’ve heard and read that the crossbeam or patibulum used at that time was in fact a repurposed door-bar or doorway lintel. These would have been about an arm-span in length, and tied across the victim’s shoulders. The vertical shaft was permanently set at the execution site.

Like Isaac, who carried the wood of his sacrifice upon his shoulders, Our Lord carried the wood of His death.

Also, the crosses were not nearly as tall as now popularly imagined, but the victim’s head was at approximately doorway height. Therefore, the blood on the lintel at Passover prefigured the wine and myrrh (the “last cup”) offered to our LORD at his death.



Yeah, that was a theory by the (in)famous Simcha Jacobovici. About which we had a little conversation a little while back on another thread. (I recommend anyone curious about what this whole thing is about to check the link.)

To sum, Simcha Jacobovici in a certain documentary claimed that the Roman cross was actually an X or rather, an asterisk: an X supported by a vertical beam. (the third one on the pic below). The T or t-shaped cross we are all familiar with, he claims, was pure fantasy - it supposedly only became “a symbol of Christianity after crucifixion stopped, when people actually hadn’t seen crucifixion.”

Problem was, Jacobovici tried so hard to push this little theory of his on the documentary that he virtually ignored ancient descriptions or depictions of the Roman cross - Jesus’ cross specifically - that imply or show it to be T or t-shaped.


Here’s a repost (with some modifications) of something I wrote a while back.

[LIST]*]In classical, non-Christian Latin texts that talk about crucifixion, you encounter two intimately related terms: crux and patibulum.

*]Crux, in its original sense, refers to an upright stake or post, but in its extended sense, can mean a T/t-shaped gibbet formed by an upright post with a horizontal beam attached to it.

*]Nowhere do these texts speak of people condemned to crucifixion as carrying a crux, whether in the sense of ‘upright post (only)’ or ‘upright post + transverse beam’. Victims are said to be ‘led to the crux’ (agere in crucem), ‘lifted up on a crux’ (tollere in crucem), or ‘fastened to a crux’ (cruci figere - where we get the terms ‘crucifixion’ and ‘crucify’), but cruces were not something they are said to carry. Instead, when the classical texts do mention an object the person carried before they were ‘led to’ the crux to be ‘fastened to’ / ‘lifted up to’ it, they consistently refer to it as patibulum.

*]Patibulum (‘spreader’, from pateo ‘to stretch out / spread open’), as its name implies, apparently refers to a kind of horizontal beam (the people who are made to carry it are said to do so with their arms outstretched and fastened to it), but it also has an extended sense similar to crux: ‘transverse beam + upright post’.


One theory is that the patibulum originated from a custom of parading a slave or a criminal while he is bound to a kind of yoke or pillory. It was just one step from that to the idea of hanging or exposing the victim while he is still bound to this yoke-like contraption. Roman crucifixion is thus a combination of two punishments: tying (and parading) the slave/criminal to a ‘yoke’ '(= patibulum) and hanging or impaling a person onto a post or stake (= crux).

*]From this we can infer that at least in some crucifixions, the victim was first made to carry a horizontal beam called a patibulum with his stretched-out arms fastened to it. This transverse patibulum might have then been combined with an upright stake, a crux, and the resulting combination is called … a crux. :smiley: The victim did not bear a crux - they did not carry the upright stake, nor did they bear the beam already attached to the stake. At least, that’s what the classical texts tell us.

*]Christian Latin texts, by contrast, speak of Jesus carrying His crux; the word patibulum rarely appears in the vocabulary of Latin Christian authors. This curious usage of crux could be explained by Latin-speaking Christians using crux as a literal equivalent of the Greek word stauros (σταυρός), which apparently encompasses all possible nuances of both crux and patibulum: upright stake, transverse beam, upright stake + transverse beam.

That’s because one common characteristic of many early Christian translations of scriptural books and other works into Latin is their excessive literalism: these translations render their source texts so literally, without any regard for how clunky, unnatural and ungrammatical the resulting translation would be. One such literalism that apparently stuck among Latin-speaking Christians was using crux as a direct equivalent for the Greek stauros. While the classical authors distinguished between crux and patibulum, Latin-speaking Christians did not and instead mechanically followed the way the word stauros is used in Greek.

*]The gospels speak of Jesus (and/or Simon) carrying a stauros and then being fastened to a stauros. Given what we know about crucifixion from the classical Latin sources, it is more likely that the stauros Jesus/Simon carried = patibulum.[/LIST][/INDENT]

So in other words, yes, your hunch is correct.


That is what I assumed before watching it, however they based their experiment on known facts, like what kind of structure could support a human body in such a position, weight bearing capacity, etc. I cannot recall all the details, but I do remember their results made sense.

And really I dont think the shape of the actual cross is that important, we know it was a wooden structure, Jesus carried a section of it thru town, and he died on it.


If by ‘experiment’ you mean “a farce made up 90% of much praising of Simcha Jacobovici’s asterisk cross because he was so insistent on having his theory validated that they didn’t really exhaust all other possibilities,” then yeah.

If there is anything in that documentary, “known facts” is not it.

And really I dont think the shape of the actual cross is that important, we know it was a wooden structure, Jesus carried a section of it thru town, and he died on it.

Theologically it’s not important whatever shape or height Jesus’ cross is, yes. Academically speaking, however, what Mr. Jacobovici pulled in the documentary is SLOPPY scholarship at best and DECEPTION at worst: (no amount of bolding or uppercaps could express how I’m so annoyed right now :p) he never once mentions that there are texts and artistic depictions predating the 4th century that do show the Roman cross to be T- or t-shaped just so he could bandy around his ‘asterisk cross’ theory which has no support in any ancient text whatsoever. Seriously, his only ‘proof’ for the asterisk cross is the chi-rho (☧) and the IX monogram (, which were never even depictions of Jesus’ execution device in the first place!

Heck, that’s why the documentary was so focused on experiments - because if Mr. Jacobovici had actually done his homework he would very well see that there is no text or artwork from the Roman period - Christian or pagan - that shows the crux or the patibulum to be X-shaped, much less asterisk-shaped. When they do describe the shape of the cross they consistently depict it as a T or t. ‘Experiments’ is what all he’s got.

(St. Andrew’s cross doesn’t count: the idea that the apostle Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross was only something that came about during the Middle Ages. Early texts and artworks show Andrew crucified on the same kind of cross as Jesus and other apostles who were crucified: a t.)

Learn fully then, children of love, concerning all things, for Abraham, who first circumcised, did so looking forward in the spirit to Jesus, and had received the doctrines of three letters. For it says, “And Abraham circumcised from his household eighteen men and three hundred.” (Gen. 17:23) What then was the knowledge that was given to him? Notice that he first mentions the eighteen, and after a pause the three hundred. The eighteen is I (=10) and H (=8) - you have ‘Jesus’ (IHCOYC) - and because the cross was destined to have grace in the T (=300) he says “and three hundred.” So he indicates Jesus in the two letters and the cross in the other.

  • Epistle of Barnabas 9.7-8 (AD 70-131)

Men weep and bewail their lot and curse Cadmus over and over for putting Tau into the alphabet, for they say that their tyrants, following his figure and imitating his build, have fashioned timbers in the same shape and crucify men upon them; and that it is from him that the sorry device gets its sorry name (stauros, cross). For all this do you not think that Tau deserves to die many times over? As for me, I hold that in all justice we can only punish Tau by making a T of (i.e. crucifying) him.

-Pseudo-Lucian (ca. 125-after 180), Trial in the Court of Vowels aka Consonants at Law

The quotes above, the picture above right there, are the known facts. Not Simcha Jacobovici’s purely hypothetical fantasy.

Sorry if I sound very snarky and hotheaded here, it’s just that this kind of pseudo-science (I won’t mince words) really, really, really annoys me. I wouldn’t have an issue with the documentary at all if Mr. Jacobivici had actually backed up this thesis of his with solid arguments instead of ‘experiments’ that were not even completely exhaustive or performed properly. Hell, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ idea that Jesus was hung on a torture stake? Even that at least has some foundation in the ancient texts than Mr. Jacobovici’s asterisk cross theory.

I’m no scholar, I’m just a random person on the internet, but even I know where to look when I want to find ancient references to crucifixion. I know that we do have references regarding its shape. So why is Simcha Jacobovici pretending that the t cross we are all familiar with was a post-Constantinian, post-4th century invention that came about after crucifixion was no longer a thing (that was what he pretty much said at the end of the documentary)?


To add it was much worse - he was beaten , hungry , thirsty, had a crown of thorns with blood running down his face - with a blood thirsty crowd taunting him and spitting on his as he went - he was truly alone also while carrying the heavy beam - but he was was determined to do the Fathers will for us.


Funny thing is, this was a Discovery Channel documentary. There actually was a History Channel documentary on crucifixion, and it was way better than Jacobovici’s. (Given the general track record of HC when it comes to this stuff that’s saying something.)

Speaking of which, I don’t think Simcha Jacobovici is out to attack Jesus per se, or even Judaeo-Christianity in general. (I mean he did try to ‘prove’ the biblical Exodus was real using the same ol’ pseudoscientific tactics he usually does once …) I think he mostly has a beef with traditional orthodox Christianity.

To be honest, I don’t even know whether Mr. Jacobovici really believes all these outlandish claims he’s making about Jesus (“Hey! I found Jesus’ crucifixion nails!” “Hey! The story of Joseph and Aseneth is actually a code for Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s married life!”) or he’s just being a sensationalist troll, doing it for nothing but kicks and giggles anymore. :shrug:


The Discovery Channel doesn’t care about historical accuracy any more than the History Channel does, but they do sometimes have some reliable programs. I’ve found them very hit-and-miss. A person has to know something about the subject before watching either channel’s programs, especially about the Bible and early Christianity, since all either seems to care about is ratings.


To be honest, just about everybody and their mother could make ‘documentaries’ these days, so I wouldn’t really single out the Discovery Channel, the History Channel or National Geographic. You really have to take any information you see on any documentary with a grain of salt, especially if it involves religion and/or history (not specifically Judaeo-Christianity). Seriously, I think the only unbiasedly ‘safe’ documentaries to watch these days are those that involve animals or plants. :smiley:


I’ve found that most documentaries push someone’s agenda–and I’m sorry to disagree, but the animal ones are the worst. It’s preach, preach, preach about disappearing habitats, and how we terrible humans are killing off every species on the planet except our own–and even that isn’t true with abortion on demand, or even mandated, around the world. I take everything I see/hear in media with not just a grain of salt but with a huge dose of incredulity. :wink:



Still, I’d take a documentary about, say, lions in the African savanna than a bunch of talking heads. :cool:

Speaking of which, documentaries nowadays aren’t educational anymore. Seriously, most of them are about as true to facts as your average Ridley Scott or Mel Gibson ‘historical’ movie. :smiley:


I’d enjoy documentaries about animals–David Attenborough’s are usually reliable enough–if they’d resist telling us humans how wicked we are in destroying habitat or hunting to extinction, etc. It gets old.

As for most others, you have to have some knowledge of the topic first, so you can sort out those making ridiculous claims, such as the one about carrying the cross, from the better ones.


Made another picture. (Click for full size)

aka ‘The stuff that Simcha Jacobovici ignored in his documentary’. :smiley:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit