Hanging and Hanging God (John Eric Killinger, 2014)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, pp. 768-771:

41

Deriving from two Old English words hangian and hon, and supported by the Old Norse hengja/hanga, “to be suspended,” hanging is also influenced by the Sanskrit sankata, “hesitate,” and the Latin cunctari, “to delay, defer, suspend.” Despite the fact that the terminology “hanged” is usually reserved for legal language, the word has also extended into metaphoric usage (e.g., I’ll be hanged, hang-up, and hanging out). There are affinities in Hebrew ( לה , ta¯laˆ, “hang up, let down, dangle, put to death by hanging,” Genesis 40:22, 2 Samuel 21:12; Esther 9:14) and Greek kremamai and kremannymi (κρέμαμαι in the LXX (Septuagint), but seven times as Kremάnnumi (κρεμάννυμι) in New Testament, referring to dependence on the entire law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40), execution of the two crucified with Jesus (Luke 21:39), and specifically to “crucifixion” in Galatians 3:13, even though it is derived from the Deuteronomic code (,לױולא ta¯laˆ ’al in Hebrew for “hanging after execution”)). With the prepositions around and on, this Greek usage also literally meant hang, as in the millstone hung around one’s neck (Matthew 18:6) and the snake that bit Paul on the hand (Acts 28:4), respectively. Hanging upside down, as St. Peter reputedly suffered, is a mark of humiliation and derision, a reversal of what the person stood for prior to being hanged. Such a method of hanging was called “baffling” (Spenser 1978, p. 956).

Crucifixion

Hanging was, according to the Old Testament, allowed but seems to have occurred after a person was executed. In compliance with Deuteronomic law, the body was to be removed before nightfall so as not to pollute the land given by God as an allotment. Even as early as the story of Joseph in Egypt, hanging consisted primarily of beheading followed by the displaying of the decedent’s head on a pike. King David’s eldest son Absalom caught the long locks of his hair in the low branches of an oak tree during his flight and was left hanging “between heaven and earth.” Disregarding the order to spare the king’s son, Joab, David’s chief general, kills Absalom with three spears to the heart (2 Samuel 18:9–15).

Death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:9–15).
Death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:9–15).

A liminal feature occurs in hanging. This is particularly true with regard to hanging gods such as Jesus the Nazorean who claims oneness with God, Odin the Norse All-father, Attis, and Osiris, who prior to his Dionysian dismemberment hung like Jesus for 3 days. According to Frazer (1914/1936, 1922/1996), the Phrygian satyr of Lydia, Marsyas, along with Adonis, Artemis, and even the fair Helen, ought to be included in this list of hanging gods. We might ourselves include Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab who had a crucifixion in his face (Melville 1967, p. 111) and the twelfth card of the Major Arcana in Tarot known as the Hanged Man. This liminal feature is intermundia, a state of being suspended between worlds suffused with death and rebirth – it is the presence of the absence of ananke, or necessity. It is not-space space and not-temporal temporality in much the same way as the alchemists called the lapis philosophorum the not-stone stone, or lithos ou lithos (λίθος oύ λίθος). Cicero (2000), in his De natura deorum, translates Epicurus’ term intermundia as metakosmios (μετακόσμιος), the place wherein he consigns the Greek pantheon. Metakosmios is derived from the verb metakosmeo (μετακοσμέω), rearrange, modify, and changed in aspect. Metaphorically it is a new arrangement, a change of condition, even a change of character, indicating its transformative aspect.

Dionysus hung on tree with sacrament of loaves of bread and jars of wine.
Dionysus hung on tree with sacrament of loaves of bread and jars of wine.

Hanging, this pathos of the god, even human hanging, often occurs outside the city wall. Jesus was crucified on the green hill of Golgotha outside of Jerusalem. Odin underwent hanging on the windswept World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil, away from human and divine contact, yet rooted to all and none. Osiris was encased in Set/Typhon’s beautifully wrought sarcophagus that became hung up and further entombed in the trunk of a tamarisk tree after floating down the Nile, which is also “up” as it would be northward, for as above, so below. Attis, who in alchemy is synonymous with the Egyptian god Osiris, performs his self-mutilation under a sacred pine tree and, in accordance with later ritual, is portrayed in effigy and hung on the pine tree as the officiating leader of the Attis-Cybele rite sheds his own blood to promote the fertility of the crops for the coming year. The Attis-Cybele myth is linked to the Artemis-Actaeon myth (and that of Isis-Osiris) and those of the respective fragmentations of Dionysus and Orpheus, whose misogynistic “madness” causes the Thracian maenads to tear him apart. The spirit of union not yet extracted is still part of the greatest dilemma of human beings today, according to Schwartz-Salant (1995). This is the “conclusion” to the problem and recognition that fragmentation, rather than repression, has a greater significance for development and pathology. Thus, being wounded to the point where one is branded a heretic or even an apostate necessarily moves the soul to action.

Hanged Man Tarot, Effigy of Dionysius on Stake, Attis on a Stake

Prayers and other cultic acts carried out in the hope of fertile land and crop abundance occur in the rites of Tammuz. Ezekiel 8:14 refers to the lamentation of the women over the death of Tammuz ( תּמּזוּז , Θαμμούζ) as an abomination to the Lord in the kingdom of Judah. Tammuz, or Dumuzi (whose name means “proper son [or child]”), was the Sumerian shepherd who married Inana, died, and was resurrected by her. Even Inana must be executed and hung like a piece of rotting meat in the underworld. When she ascends, she gives up Tammuz in her place. He escapes, then is captured, only to be freed by the love of Inana. Like Persephone, Tammuz is to spend half the year in the underworld, the other half upon the earth. The mythology of Inana-Tammuz is reckoned to date back to 3000BCE and encroached upon ancient Palestine, being given some recognition in various circles of the culture of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s astonishment is at seeing the lamentations of the Tammuz cult infringe upon the sacred center of Jewish religion. Despite such lamentations being viewed as supplementary to the worship of YHWH, the abomination of it lies in its being an insult to the “living God” and nothing short of apostasy.

Inanna on the Ishtar Vase French museum Louvre
Inanna on the Ishtar Vase
French museum Louvre

Tammuz is related to Osiris and also to the mythology of the Phoenician Adonis, whose origins are not of the Greek classical period but semitic. According to Zimmerli (1969/1979), the lament of the death of Adonis (the Phoenician vegetation god type) is also attested in the Septuagint versions of 1 Kings 14:13 and Jeremiah 22:18 (242). Adonis’ name derives from adon אדװ) ), meaning “master, ruler, lord.” Ado¯n is the aleph and tav, alpha and omega, the one who was, is, and is to come. The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) uses Adonai to refer to the tetragrammaton YHWH, and this would connect Tammuz/Adonis/Osiris with Jesus in this respect. Not only this, it freights the reading of Ezekiel 8:14 with difficulty, imbuing it with a kind of fundamentalist repression, for example, “If you are not with me, you are against me.”

Etruscan Statue of Adonis, Semitic God that Dies and Resurrects Every Year
Etruscan Statue of Adonis, Semitic God that Dies and Resurrects Every Year

The liminal state involved in hanging may be long or short. The unusual swiftness of Jesus’ execution, which only lasted a matter of hours, comes as both a surprise and astonishment. Performed as a deterrent against rebelliousness, many Roman crucifixions lasted as long as 3 days. Jesus was forced to carry the patibulum, or crossbeam (also “dungeon,” “torture”), probably several hundred meters to the execution site where the seven-foot-tall stipes (vertical beam) would have been erected and awaiting him. Curiously, the vertical pole, called stipes in Latin, means both “tree trunk” and “instrument of torture.”

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The chronicling of Osiris the great Egyptian god of resurrection, found primarily in Plutarch (1936), had nine watchers and nine mourners, aligning it with Odin’s nine whole nights and nine songs. Like the division of the uroboros in the Pistis Sophia into twelve aeons, Osiris’ night realm was divided into twelve parts. In Kabbalah, the number twelve represents the philosopher’s stone. Twelve also is represented by the Hebrew letter lamed ( ל). Lamed is the heart and central letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Because it towers over the other letters, it represents the King of kings, an attribute also given to the Hanged Man, the twelfth trump of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. The poles of this Tarot card could refer to the Egyptian two-finger amulet that was placed either in the swaddling of the mummified remains of the deceased or loose in the coffin. These amulets represented the two fingers of the god who helps Osiris ascend the Ladder of Re¯.

The resurrection of Osiris, from a bas-relief carving in the temple of Sethos I at Abydos, Nineteenth Dynasty c. 1300 BC.
The resurrection of Osiris, from a bas-relief carving in the temple of Sethos I at Abydos, Nineteenth Dynasty c. 1300 BC.

The Norse god Odin’s hanging lasted nine whole nights, according to the Ha´vama´l of the Poetic, or Elder, Edda. Like Jesus, Odin suffered impaling with a spear, screamed as he reached for the runes, which might perhaps have been tinged with the horror of forsakenness (as he received no bread or drink-filled horn), and sacrificed himself to himself. In the process, he learned nine powerful songs. As his wisdom grew he came to know 18 powerful charms or runes, the twelfth of these, curiously, concerning the freeing of a hanged man for conversation. This death of god to become god is not unlike the death of Jesus on the cross. It is the death of God effected in God, the breaking of old patterns that bind, limit, or restrict one’s nature – the interface of religare (religion as tied or bound back to a previous state of existence) punishing religere (religion as embodiment of reflection and connection) or remembering versus unforgetting, as in the alchemical representation of the winged and wingless birds forever attached to one another. Odin, like Teiresias, goes through a purgation through suffering in token of new insight. Thus the metaphor of hanging as transformative act demonstrates that the hanged god moves through a transition from knowing about to becoming being, as in the movement from knowledge/curiosity to unknowable ultimate reality (K! O).

Odin hanging on the World Tree.
Odin hanging on the World Tree.

Like Odin, the Hanged Man card of Tarot’s Major Arcana is often depicted with his head deep in the earth, seeing its secrets as Odin saw the secrets of Yggdrasil. With the card turned upside down, the hanged man appears to be dancing in the abyss over which he had been suspended. This curiously links Odin with trickster associations. Connected with this is the sense of eutony (eu´tone_o, eutoneo¯), meaning “having or possessing faculties.” Its shadow aspect includes the meaning “distension.” Kestenburg (1978) describes eutony as a stretching out, “transsensus.” Characterized as breathful flowing, eutony/transsensus is similar to the diaphragmatic breathing practiced in yoga and tai chi, as well as choral and opera singing, and the playing of wind instruments that spiral us back to the Phrygian satyr Marsyas and the vanity of his musical challenge of Apollo. As a follower and comforter of Cybele following the death of Attis, he was renowned as a flautist, and because of his fame, he provoked Apollo into a musical contest. Marsyas would have won had not Apollo dared Marsyas to play his pipes upside down. Marsyas lost the duel, with the result that Apollo hung and flailed him upon a pine tree.

The Torment of Marsyas (Le Supplice de Marsyas), Louvre Museum, Paris.
The Torment of Marsyas (Le Supplice de Marsyas), Louvre Museum, Paris.

Such suffering, then, is helpful to us. It can indeed, as Moltmann (1974) asserts, be spiritually healthy. Despite being vulnerable, afraid, and alone, we wait for what will come and we are on the verge of something greater than we can know or about which we can think or attain through action. That is beginning to experience a new level of consciousness without preventing the advent of what can come, if indeed it is on its way.

Sarcophagus from 200’s or 300’s of Dionysus pole being lifted at Spring Festival
Sarcophagus from 200’s or 300’s of Dionysus pole being lifted at Spring Festival

Bibliography

  • (2000). De natura deorum, Academica. (trans: Rackham, H.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Elliger, K., Rudolph, W., Ruger, H. P., & Weil, G. E. (Eds.). (1977). Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Funditus renovata ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. (Original work published 1967).
  • Frazer, J. G. (1936). The hanged God. In Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the history of oriental religion, (Vol. 1, 3rd ed., pp. 288–297). London: Macmillan. (Original work published 1914).
  • Frazer, J. G. (1996). The golden bough: A study in magic and religion (Abridged ed.). London: Penguin. (Original work published 1922).
  • Kestenburg, J. (1978). Transsensus-outgoingness and Winnicott’s intermediate zone. In S. A. Grolnick, L. Barkin,&W. Muensterburg (Eds.), Between fantasy and reality: Transitional objects and phenomena (pp. 61–74). New York: Jason Aronson.
  • Larrington, C. (Trans.). (1996). The poetic edda. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Melville, H. (1967). Moby-Dick (H. Hayford & H. Parker, Eds.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1851).
  • Moltmann, J. (1974). The crucified God: The cross of Christ as the foundation and criticism of Christian theology (trans: Wilson, R. A. & Bowden, J.). New York: Harper & Row.
  • (1936). Isis and Osiris (trans: Babbitt, F. C.). In Moralia (Vol. V, pp. 7–193). London: William Heinemann.
  • Rahlfs, A. (Ed.). (1979). Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes (Duo volumina in uno ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. (Original work published 1935).
  • Schwartz-Salant, N. (1995). Jung on alchemy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Spenser, E. (1978). The faerie queene (T. P. Roche, Jr., Ed.). London: Penguin.
  • Wansbrough, H. (Ed.). (1985). The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday.
  • Zimmerli, W. (1979). Ezekiel 1: A commentary on the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapters 1–22 (F. M. Cross & K. Baltzer, Eds.; trans: Clements, R. E.). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Mosaic from “The House of Dionysus” in Paphos, Cyprus, dated 300s A.D. A halo of light surrounds Dionysus’ head similar to popular Christian iconography
Mosaic from “The House of Dionysus” in Paphos, Cyprus, dated 300s A.D.
A halo of light surrounds Dionysus’ head similar to popular Christian iconography
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Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion (Biblical Archaeological Society, 2011)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Bible History Daily, 07/17/2011:

The practice of crucifixion in antiquity was brought to life as never before when the heel bones of a young man named Yehohanan were found in a Jerusalem tomb, pierced by an iron nail. The discovery shed new light on Roman crucifixion methods and began to rewrite the history of crucifixion in antiquity. Photo: ©Erich Lessing
The practice of crucifixion in antiquity was brought to life as never before when the heel bones of a young man named Yehohanan were found in a Jerusalem tomb, pierced by an iron nail. The discovery shed new light on Roman crucifixion methods and began to rewrite the history of crucifixion in antiquity. Photo: ©Erich Lessing

Crucifixion in Antiquity

What do we know about the history of crucifixion? In the following article, “New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” Hershel Shanks looks at evidence of Roman crucifixion methods as analyzed from the remains found in Jerusalem of a young man crucified in the first century A.D. The remains included a heel bone pierced by a large nail, giving archaeologists, osteologists and anthropologists evidence of crucifixion in antiquity.

Crucifixion in antiquity was a gruesome execution, not really understood until a skeletal discovery in the 1980s that gave new insight into the history of crucifixion. Photo: Courtesy Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 35, No. 1 (1985)
Crucifixion in antiquity was a gruesome execution, not really understood until a skeletal discovery in the 1980s that gave new insight into the history of crucifixion. Photo: Courtesy Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 35, No. 1 (1985)

What do these bones tell us about the history of crucifixion? The excavator of the crucified man, Vassilios Tzaferis, followed the analysis of Nico Haas of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem suggesting Roman crucifixion methods: a contorted position: arms nailed to the crossbeam; legs bent, twisted to one side, and held in place by a single nail that passed through a wooden plaque, through both left and right heel bones, and then into the upright of the cross.

However, when Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles reexamined the remains, looking for evidence of Roman crucifixion methods, they found no evidence that nails had penetrated the victim’s arms; moreover, the nail in the foot was not long enough to have penetrated the plaque, both feet, and the cross. And, indeed, what were previously thought to be fragments of two heel bones through which the nail passed were shown to be fragments of only one heel bone and a long bone. On the basis of this evidence, Zias and Sekeles suggest that the man’s legs straddled the cross and that his arms were tied to the crossbeam with ropes, signifying the method of crucifixion in antiquity.

Literary sources giving insight into the history of crucifixion indicate that Roman crucifixion methods had the condemned person carry to the execution site only the crossbar. Wood was scarce and the vertical pole was kept stationary and used repeatedly. Below, in “New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” Hershel Shanks concludes that crucifixion in antiquity involved death by asphyxiation, not death by nail piercing.

Scholars’ Corner: New Analysis of the Crucified Man

By Hershel Shanks

Drawing of the contorted crucifixion position proposed by Vassilios Tzaferis, based on the analysis of Nico Haas, which has since been challenged by Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles. For full caption, see drawing from Israel Exploration Journal 35:1. Photo: Courtesy Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1–2 (1970)
Drawing of the contorted crucifixion position proposed by Vassilios Tzaferis, based on the analysis of Nico Haas, which has since been challenged by Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles. For full caption, see drawing from Israel Exploration Journal 35:1. Photo: Courtesy Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1–2 (1970)

In our January/February 1985 issue, we published an article about the only remains of a crucified man to be recovered from antiquity (“Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence,BAR, January/February 1985). Vassilios Tzaferis, the author of the article and the excavator of the crucified man, based much of his analysis of the victim’s position on the cross and other aspects of the method of crucifixion on the work of a medical team from Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School headed by Nico Haas, who had analyzed the crucified man’s bones. In a recent article in the Israel Exploration Journal, however, Joseph Zias, an anthropologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, and Eliezer Sekeles of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem question many of Haas’s conclusions concerning the bones of the crucified man.a The questions Zias and Sekeles raise affect many of the conclusions about the man’s position during crucifixion.

According to Haas, the nail in the crucified man penetrated both his right and left heel bones, piercing the right heel bone (calcaneum) first, then the left. Haas found a fragment of bone attached to the right heel that he thought was part of the left heel bone (sustentaculum tali). If Haas’s analysis is correct, the two heel bones must have been penetrated by the same nail, and the victim’s legs must have been in a closed position on the cross.

But according to the new analysis of the bones just published in the Israel Exploration Journal, the bone fragment Haas identified as part of the left heel bone was incorrectly identified. “The shape and structure of this bony fragment is of a long bone; it cannot therefore be the left [heel bone],” say the most recent investigators. Their conclusions are confirmed by x-rays, which reveal the varying density, structure and direction of the bones.

Haas also incorrectly assumed that the nail is seven inches (17–18 cm) long. In fact, the total length of the nail from head to tip is only 4.5 inches (11.5 cm). A wooden plaque less than an inch thick (2 cm) had been punctured by the nail before it passed through the right heel bone. After exiting from the bone, the nail penetrated the cross itself and then bent, probably because it hit a knot. As the new investigators observe, given the length of the nail, “There simply was not enough room for both heel bones and a two centimeter wooden plaque to have been pierced by the nail and affixed to the vertical shaft of the cross. … The nail was sufficient for affixing only one heel bone to the cross.”

In short, only the right heel bone was penetrated—laterally, or sidewise—by the nail. Accordingly, the victim’s position on the cross must have been different from that portrayed by Haas.

The new investigators also dispute Haas’s conclusion that a scratch on the bone of the right forearm (radius) of the victim, just above the wrist, represents the penetration of a nail between the two bones of the forearm. According to Zias and Sekeles, such scratches and indentations are commonly found on ancient skeletal material, including on the right leg bone (fibula) of this man. Such scratches and indentations have nothing to do with crucifixion.

How then was the crucified man attached to the cross?

As the new investigators observe:

“The literary sources for the Roman period contain numerous descriptions of crucifixion but few exact details as to how the condemned were affixed to the cross. Unfortunately, the direct physical evidence here is also limited to one right calcaneum (heel bone) pierced by an 11.5 cm iron nail with traces of wood at both ends.”

According to the literary sources, those condemned to crucifixion never carried the complete cross, despite the common belief to the contrary and despite the many modern reenactments of Jesus’ walk to Golgotha. Instead, only the crossbar was carried, while the upright was set in a permanent place where it was used for subsequent executions. As the first-century Jewish historian Josephus noted, wood was so scarce in Jerusalem during the first century A.D. that the Romans were forced to travel ten miles from Jerusalem to secure timber for their siege machinery.

According to Zias and Sekeles:

“One can reasonably assume that the scarcity of wood may have been expressed in the economics of crucifixion in that the crossbar as well as the upright would be used repeatedly. Thus, the lack of traumatic injury to the forearm and metacarpals of the hand seems to suggest that the arms of the condemned were tied rather than nailed to the cross. There is ample literary and artistic evidence for the use of ropes rather than nails to secure the condemned to the cross.”

According to Zias and Sekeles, the victim’s legs straddled the vertical shaft of the cross, one leg on either side, with the nails penetrating the heel bones. The plaque or plate under the head of the nail, they say, was intended to secure the nail and prevent the condemned man from pulling his feet free.

As Haas correctly suggested, the nail probably hit a knot which bent the nail. However, as Zias and Sekeles reconstruct the removal of the dead man from the cross:

“Once the body was removed from the cross, albeit with some difficulty in removing the right leg, the condemned man’s family would now find it impossible to remove the bent nail without completely destroying the heel bone. This reluctance to inflict further damage to the heel led [to his burial with the nail still in his bone, and this in turn led] to the eventual discovery of the crucifixion.”

Whether the victim’s arms were tied, rather than nailed to the cross is irrelevant to the manner of his dying. As Zias and Sekeles point out:

“Death by crucifixion was the result of the manner in which the condemned man hung from the cross and not the traumatic injury caused by nailing. Hanging from the cross resulted in a painful process of asphyxiation, in which the two sets of muscles used for breathing, the intercostal [chest] muscles and the diaphragm, became progressively weakened. In time, the condemned man expired, due to the inability to continue breathing properly.”
New Analysis of the Crucified Man” by Hershel Shanks first appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1985.
Notes

  1. “The Crucified Man from Giv‘at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal,” Israel Exploration Journal Vol. 35, No. 1 (1985), pp. 22–27.

Zias and Sekeles also note a number of other errors in Haas’s report:

  1. The victim’s legs were not broken as a final coup de grâce. The break so identified by Haas was postmortem.
  2. The victim did not have a cleft palate. The upper right canine was not missing, despite Haas’s report to the contrary.
  3. The wood from which the plaque under the nail head was made was olive wood, not acacia or pistacia, as Hans suggested.
  4. The wood fragments attached to the end of the nail were too minute to be analyzed. Haas suggested the vertical shaft of the cross was olive wood. This is possible, but unlikely.