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Bullinger quote[edit]

Bullinger is in two vols. The (Polish) google link is fine for vol. 1 (A-M) referring to the entry from "Cross". However the entry for "Tree" is in vol. 2. A link would be good if anyone can find one. Rich Farmbrough, 02:03, 26 January 2012 (UTC).

word also translates to "pale"[edit]

as in impale — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:19, 24 July 2012 (UTC)

Jehovah's Witnesses[edit]

This article should certainly mention the Jehovah's Witnesses, who seem to be the main group insisting that this word should be understood to mean that Jesus was crucified on a single upright post. Unfortunately I don't know enough about the theological and linguistic controversy to add this myself, but the article appears incomplete without it. Credulity (talk) 16:10, 30 July 2012 (UTC)


In Wiktionary the word 'Stauros' and 'Stauron' are not recorded. Perhaps someone will be kind enough to enter them in Wiktionary. RCNesland (talk) 05:26, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

Timing of semantic change[edit]

The article currently reads:

In the Homeric and classical periods, it denoted an upright pale, pole, or stake, but by the time that Christianity appeared, it came to include a crossbeam.

and later

In Koine Greek, the form of Greek used between about 300 BC and AD 300, the word σταυρός was used to denote a cross. In the writings of the Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), Plutarch and Lucian, the word stauros is generally translated as "cross", although the passages quoted from the former two do not contain any specifics about the form of the device.

The first passage says that the cross-piece was included in this term before Christianity appeared. The second says that it was included in Koine Greek from 300BCE to 300CE. However, I do not believe there is any evidence before the Christian writers (i.e., some time after CE 100) that there was a cross-piece, certainly not in 300 BC. It's a little like saying that "In Modern English (1550-present), a 'bit' denotes a unit of information." The word 'bit' certainly existed in 1550, but it certainly didn't denote a unit of information until 1947.

I am not sure why translations of D.Siculus and Plutarch use the word 'cross' -- perhaps there is good reason to believe that that's what σταυρός meant in their time. (But at least one authority states that D.S. was referring to a stake.) If so, we should include that evidence. If not, we should be more precise in our language, something like:

In Ancient Greek, it denoted an upright pale, pole, or stake, but by 100 CE, it was being compared to the letter T. It is not clear when the meaning changed.

and later

By 100 CE, the word σταυρός was used to denote a cross. For some earlier texts (Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch), σταυρός is often translated as 'cross', but the form of the device in these texts is not clear.

Who knows? Perhaps it commonly meant a cross by 200 BCE, but I don't believe there is any surviving evidence of that. The article should stick to what is known, and not use the overly-broad term "Koine Greek" in this context. --Macrakis (talk) 14:25, 23 September 2014 (UTC

You may think the word did not mean "cross" in Diodorus Siculus. Liddell & Scott thinks it did. The latest source cited in Liddell & Scott for σταυρός as meaning exclusively "upright pole or stake" is Xenophon, who died in 354 BC. It seems that we can only say what the article says: that the use of σταυρός for a cross of the kind we are considering here came into use at some undefined point within the stage of the Greek language known as Koine Greek.
To echo you, who knows? Perhaps σταυρός was used to refer to a cross by 200 BCE, and I believe no surviving evidence contradicts that. The article should stick to what is known, and not use an overly-narrow date such as 100 CE on the basis of a very strained synthesis, citing no reliable source. Isn't it obvious that the year 100 didn't mark a revolution in language whereby the word σταυρός was suddenly given a meaning it never had before? Nor is there any reason to believe that the year 100 or thereabouts marked a sudden revolution in the way Romans crucified criminals. Every early writer who speaks of the specific σταυρός of Jesus takes it for granted that it must have had a horizontal as well as a vertical element. There is no indication whatever of a recent revolution either in the meaning of the word or in Roman crucifixion practice.
I wonder what word Xenophon would have used to speak of a cross for a Roman execution, complete with crossbeam, if he had seen one. The most likely word would be σταυρός. He might also use σανίς, at least if the wood were shaped and planed. But as I suppose crosses for Roman executions were generally left more or less rough, I think he'd be more likely to use σταυρός. Esoglou (talk) 17:02, 23 September 2014 (UTC)
Personally, I have no opinion (or competence to have an opinion) on what σταυρός meant in D.S. Certainly the context doesn't help. It just says that Stabrobates threatened to nail Semiramis to a σταυρός. Anyway, D.S. only dates from 60-30 BCE.
I never suggested that the meaning changed suddenly in the year 100 CE. All I said was that the only evidence we have for the new meaning dates from around 100 CE. That is the way word history is done: you cite the earliest attestation of a meaning. It is of course possible that the cross-beam meaning existed earlier; for all we know, it may even have had that meaning (in addition to the 'post' meaning) as early as Xenophon, as you suggest.
LSJ is a valuable and reliable source, but not the only source. There is clearly very strong evidence for the cross shape by the 2nd century CE, but before that, the evidence is inconclusive. Samuelsson, Crucifixion in Antiquity, argues against the cross shape. J.G. Cook Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World argues for it (and criticizes Samuelsson), and gives lots of evidence, but as far as I can tell, none of his evidence is earlier than the 1st century CE at best.
I agree with you that the article should reflect the evidence, and not include WP:OR or WP:SYNTH. I tried to summarize the evidence in my proposed text above, and am happy to work with you to make sure it reflects the sources accurately. Here is a somewhat revised version which might be better:
In Ancient Greek, it denoted an upright pale, pole, or stake. By the second century CE, it is clearly described as a T or †-shaped execution device, and it may have had that meaning earlier. (footnote Samuelsson and Cook)
This reflects the debate in our reliable sources, without speculation or synthesis. Of course, if there are better sources, we should use them (whatever they say). --Macrakis (talk) 21:45, 23 September 2014 (UTC)
Your comment is indeed helpful. There is in fact no evidence of a semantic change before Christianity. The word σταυρός, which was used in Homer etc. of a pole or stake, was also before Christianity used of what the Romans used for executing non-citizen criminals. That wasn't a semantic change: it was just the application of a word to an object that fitted into its already existing meaning. It was only later that people, Christians in particular, gave the word the meaning it has in modern Greek: "a design consisting of two lines crossing perpendicularly and producing four right angles". Xenophon would not have used the word σταυρός to describe what we call the Red Cross. Nor would, I'm sure, Diodorus Siculus. Nor would the four evangelists. (I imagine that for all of those a σταυρός was always a σταυρός, whether a transom was made part of it or not, whether it was decorated or not, painted in some colour or not ...) But it is likely that Justin Martyr would call the Red Cross a σταυρός, since he declares that the human body with arms outstretched "shows no other form than that of the σταυρός". At some time, maybe centuries after the coming of Christianity, but well before the present day, the word σταυρός lost its previous meaning and took on a meaning limited to a particular shape and thus no longer applicable to an upright stake with no transom. It was then that a semantic change, an alteration of meaning, occurred.
Accordingly, the section headed "Koine Greek" should begin:
"In Koine Greek, the form of Greek used between about 300 BC and AD 300, the word σταυρός was used of a structure on which ancient Romans executed non-citizen criminals".
What do you think of that? The 2nd-century or late 1st-century writings that show that the execution structure was thought of as normally cross-shaped or T-shaped do not have to be mentioned in the first sentence.
Were it not for the insistence by some people on including the statement that "in the literature of that time (i.e., the time of Homeric and classical Greek), σταυρός never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always one piece alone", we could do away with the division between Homeric and classical Greek and Koine Greek, and simply say that in ancient Greek the word αταυρός was used of stakes, palings, ... and a structure that ancient Romans used for executions. Is Diodorus Siculus the first writer to call that kind of structure a σταυρός? Esoglou (talk) 06:48, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
I agree that we don't need to explicitly mention "Homeric", "classical", and "Koine". These arbitrary periodizations are sometimes useful, but in this case, they just obscure the issue.
I think one (or more) of us needs to actually go to the library and read Samuelsson, Cook, and whoever else deals with these issues. I wonder if we're discussing the word too much, as opposed to evidence for the device used for Jesus' execution (under any name). --Macrakis (talk) 17:28, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
You need some periodization for the sentence, "In the literature of that time (what time?), σταυρός never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always one piece alone"? How do you propose we deal with it? It is clear that σταυρός, at least by the 1st century BC, was applied to an execution structure. It is clear that at least sometimes the structure was not just one piece alone, that at least sometimes it had a patibulum. In the 2nd century there are quite explicit descriptions not only by Christians but also by non-Christians of the execution σταυρός as cross-shaped, and there is no description of it as of any other shape. The latest time limit that can be set for the "it never means" statement is the first extant record of the application of the word σταυρός to an execution structure: "In extant Greek writing earlier than the 1st century BC, when it is found applied to an execution structure that could be composite and that, at least later, normally was composite, σταυρός never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always one piece alone." Maybe, after all, you prefer the present text that gives a pre-Koine/Koine periodization.
You don't have to go to the library for Cook. Google Books brings him to you. Esoglou (talk) 19:38, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
Yes, but not the full text. In particular, pp. 218-219, the beginning of the chapter "Crucifixion in Greek Texts" is unavailable.... --Macrakis (talk) 19:45, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
Agreed. However, this article is about the word σταυρός, not about crucifixion in general, and most, though unfortunately not all, of what Cook has to say about σταυρός and cognate words is given on pp. 5-11. Esoglou (talk) 20:02, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
True. Though I'm beginning to wonder whether it makes sense to have a separate article on stauros at all. After all, WP is not a dictionary. The reason people are interested in the meaning-history of the word stauros is that they are trying to clarify the mode of execution of Jesus, a topic which of course has its own article, which discusses among other things the meaning of the word stauros. That article could use some work -- it started out as an article about a dispute over the mode of execution -- but in the end it makes many of the same arguments we have here. What would you think of merging the two and improving it? --Macrakis (talk) 22:06, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
This article is about the word σταυρός in all the senses in which it has been used from the earliest records to today. The other article is about the instrument used in one particular execution. For the other article the meaning that the word σταυρός had in the time of Homer or Thucydides and the meaning it has today – two completely different meanings – are irrelevant. What concerns that article is the meaning the word σταυρός had in the period of the earliest extant mentions of that execution that employ the word σταυρός. It is generally agreed that the period of those writers extends from soon after 50 AD (Paul) to the end of the first century AD (John). Those writers obviously used words as understood in the decades immediately before and after them, but not necessarily in the meanings those words had centuries before or centuries after them. Except when referring to Shakespeare, we don't normally give a Shakespearean meaning to the words we use; and Shakespeare would be puzzled by the meaning we now give to several of the words that he used. But we can surely take it that the meaning given to σταυρός in 50–100 AD was the meaning given to it in the period 50 BC to 200 AD. The other article is concerned with the meaning of σταυρός in that period alone. This article covers much more than that period. The two articles overlap, but are not about the same thing. Esoglou (talk) 07:31, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
I have made bold at this stage to make the change I proposed. You should surely be pleased at it, for it no longer says that in Koine Greek σταυρός was used to denote a cross, and says instead that it was used to denote a structure on which Romans executed criminals. Esoglou (talk) 18:58, 28 September 2014 (UTC)