The execution of Jesus-what could have been.

So I have just learned about Poena Cullei*. *For certain crimes, the criminal is tied into a sack along with a few animals (best known being a dog, a rooster, a monkey, and a snake) and tossed in a river.

So that got me thinking how much more fun Christian imagery would be if that was the execution method for Jesus instead of being crucified. Would Christians wear little pouches around their necks containing animal and Jesus figurines? Hang big sacks full of stuffed animals on the walls of churches? Now we have people reinacting being nailed to a cross (some times tied, some times really nailed.) Imagine the dedication of animal river sack reenacters!

Any other ideas about the modern culture in this alternate timeline?

I’ve heard variations of this before-What if Jesus had been hanged or had been beheaded-and it has always been difficult to get those who call themselves Christian to participate in such “what ifs”.

Great hypothetical. My first thought is that instead of making the sign of the cross, a Christian could pull a sock over his fist, stick it in a bowl of water and wiggle his fingers.

That comment confuses me. What do you mean? Are they offended by the question? Is it lack of imagination? Do they think there is something magical about specifically death on a cross?

As a Christian myself, I don’t mind speculating. However, there is so much OT imagery that recognized as foreshadowing or prophesying Jesus’ death on the cross, that those interpretations would have to be re-evaluated. Though I imagine that if Jesus had been stabbed or beheaded we may be able to find similar echoes in the OT for that manner of death. I’d have to put more thought into it.

Another aspect of the what-if is that for many Christian traditions, Jesus’ physical suffering is an important facet of his sacrifice. Beheading is death, but it doesn’t necessarily entail a great deal of suffering. Thrown in a river in a sack of wild animals comes closer, but is still over much more quickly than crucifixion which could take days.

The cross as a symbol of Christianity is not anything necessary to faith or dogma. The early church used the symbol of a fish, and that could have easily continued through the centuries in the absence of a simple, elegant alternative like the cross. If Jesus had been drawn and quartered or killed in any number of other ways I can imagine Christians in the 21st century wearing little fish pendants around their neck or stylized fish sculptures on the walls of their churches.

Or(to be not so silly) it could be a simple fist-with thumb-inside(thumb representing Jesus).

In all seriousness, I don’t think that the symbols would have taken off in the same way. A cross is, by its nature, held high, and shows the person on the cross very prominently. Had Jesus been executed in this way, though, he’d be obscured from view by both the sack and the river. And a bag full of Our Lord and Savior doesn’t look any different from a bag full of anything else.

Probably in such an alternate history, the fish would have remained as the most prominent symbol of Christianity, or possibly the Chi Rho, with neither being displaced by the execution device.

Be glad they didn’t execute him in the Brazen Bull. Then every time the faithful would make tea, they’d be reenacting the Bible.

(PS Don’t hate me, Jesus! It’s a joke)

But the cross is normalized because we are accustomed to it. Back in the era when crucifixion was common, it may have been seen as odd, but by this point it has become unremarkable.

Ehhh, Jesus would just compel the rooster to tear open the sack with its beak and spurs to make an opening large enough for the dog to escape. It would then doggy-paddle the whole works back to shore using the snake as a rope, with the monkey hanging on to the tail end.

Yes, but if Jesus could only walk one animal across the water at a time, what order would he do it? (Yes, there is an XKCD for that.)

IIRC Jesus was crucified because it was the Romans who executed Him - the Jews didn’t have the right to execute anyone on their own. If the Jews had executed Him, they would have stoned Him, which I think consisted of dragging a prisoner up to the top of a precipice, throwing him down, and then dropping/throwing stones down to finish the condemned person off. I can see stones becoming a Christian symbol instead of the cross.

Had Jesus been a Roman citizen, He would have been beheaded, but He was not. Crucifixion was for slaves, political revolutionaries, and conquered people.


Probably just as well Jesus wasn’t executed after the invention of gunpowder. Try to imagine an entire congregation solemnly making the gun-to-the-head gesture.

The OP is not the only one to think along these lines.

Yeah, I agree. Imagine people walking around with small electric chairs dangling from chains around their necks.

On a more serious note, this raises one of the central issues of Christianity: what was the central event of Jesus’ incarnation as a mortal? Was it his life or was it his death?

Imagine two scenarios which have Jesus living an alternate existence during his time on Earth. In one, he goes around preaching and performing miracles as he did in life - but he dies of natural causes. In the other, he lives a quiet life in his hometown working as a carpenter - but then he is executed by crucifixion. Which of these two scenarios is more in accord with God’s intent?

One argument would be that God’s purpose in appearing as Jesus was to spread his message and therefore the first scenario includes the important part of his manifestation. Others would argue that God’s message had already been given and he was just reminding people of it by preaching. They would say the important part of his manifestation was his execution because that was God’s sacrifice. These people would therefore argue that the crucifixion was what was necessary and the preaching was just incidental.

Or instead of crucifixes, there were giant rifles hanging in churches.

Since the Cross/Crucifix is a relatively late symbol, the fish and the the shepherd being earlier, I don’t think the excecution-method motif would’ve been picked up. I think we would’ve kept the fish.

It’s a good question, though. Many martyrs have very gruesome imagenry as their “official” symbol.

On the other hand, getting “stoned” as a religious sacrament… :smiley:

The purpose of the incarnation was Christ taking on man’s sin and saving us through His Death and Resurrection. Throughout His time on earth He brought about a new law (building on what was in place), but the purpose was what was lost through Adam is regained through Christ.

The former being a metaphor and the latter being real, right?