the history of the cross and its use by the christian church

In 1896 a man by the name of John Denham Parsons wrote a book on the history of the cross. Since he had been a young man several questions regarding the cross had puzzled him and when he was older he determined to try and and answer them for himself.

The first of those questions was why John the Baptist, who was beheaded before Jesus was executed, and so far as we are told never had anything to do with a cross, is represented in religious pictures as holding a cross.

The second question was whether this curious but perhaps in itself easily explained practice had in its inception any connection with the non-Mosaic initiatory rite of baptism; which Jesus accepted as a matter of course at the hands of his cousin John, and in which the sign of the cross has for ages been the all-important feature. And it was the wonder whether there was or was not some association between the facts that the New Testament writers give no explanation whatever of the origin of baptism as an initiatory rite, that this non-Mosaic initiatory rite was in use among Sun-God worshippers long before our era, and that the Fathers admitted that the followers of the Persian conception of the Sun-God marked their initiates upon the forehead like the followers of the Christ, which finally induced the author to start a systematic enquiry into the history of the cross as a symbol.

The third question was why, despite the fact that the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed can have had but one shape, almost any kind of cross is accepted as a symbol of faith.

The last of the four questions was why many varieties of the cross of four equal arms, which certainly was not a representation of an instrument of execution, were accepted by Christians as symbols of the Christ before any cross which could possibly have been a representation of an instrument of execution was given a place among the symbols of Christianity; while even nowadays one variety of the cross of four equal arms is the favourite symbol of the Greek Church, and both it and the other varieties enter into the ornamentation of our sacred properties and dispute the supremacy with the cross which has one of its arms longer than the other three.

Pursuing these matters for himself, he eventually found that even before the christian era the cross was venerated by many as the symbol of Life; though works of reference seldom mention this fact, and never do it justice.

He moreover discovered that no one had ever written a complete history of the symbol, showing the possibility that the stauros or post to which Jesus was affixed was not cross-shaped, and the certainty that, in any case, what eventually became the symbol of christian faith owed some of its prestige as a Christian symbol of Victory and Life to the position it occupied in pre-Christian days.

HERE is the full transcript of the book THE NON-CHRISTIAN CROSS: AN ENQUIRY INTO IT'S ORIGIN AND HISTORY by John Denham Parsons

This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in the early history of the church and the origins of its symbols, particularly the cross (with some surprising answers) and is written in very accessible language and I can thoroughly recommend it.

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Tags: christian, church, cross, history, origins, religion

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Comment by Ian Mason on January 4, 2009 at 3:52pm
How about the Egyptian Ankh? That is regarded as a symbol of life, is obviously the shape of a human being and is said in Egypt to be a symbol of the Nile, its flooding and delta. I've got a tattoo of one with my daughter's name underneath, as I think our children are the only way our life continues after death. I'm also going to have a Phoenix, ready for if and when grandchildren come.
Ah yes! Crosses. The Romans used this form of execution for rebels and subversives, so a wandering prophet and supposed Messiah could have ended up on one, but two thieves? No, not a chance. Whatever the historical reality - Roman imperialism, Quisling priesthood, rabble-rousing holy men - the story's been so twisted that it can't be trusted. And by the way, Pilate: the Senate called him home for being too oppressive, even by Roman standards, so no hand-washing. That's a later edit from Paul, trying to suck up to the Empire. Politics and backstabbing existed then, too.
Comment by Larry Huffman on November 12, 2008 at 12:35pm
Very good questions he brought up...I am not surprised that there is little data available on this subject. I am going to run off now and read the link you provided, thank you!

The more one looks at christian practices and stories, the more it is discovered that almost all of it came from previous methods of worship and systems of belief. Christianity does not hide the fact that it ripped off judaism to a high level...but it is not really a continuation of judaism. No matter what chrisitans tell themselves, the old and new testaments clearly depict two distinctly different imaginary gods. So they ripped of the jews...then began to change what they needed to co-exist. They removed the circumcision requirement...the dietary laws...etc. Not with canon...they just did away with it...as they did with much of the old testament law. They just kept the parts that fit and ignored the rest. Still do...and they ignore lessa nd less all of the time.

In conjunction with the book you reference I can also recommend a book myself. It is called "God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism" by Jonathan Kirsch. The book discusses religoon from the standpoint of Rome, primarily. It discusses some known but seldom compiled information about christians and the early church in Rome. It is amazing just how easy it is to see why certain beliefs and practices are what they are...and you find that many of the practices were merely initiated in efforts to make the church appealing. Today some of those same practices, that do not have divine origin, are now guarded as divine.

I think the use of the cross...as with anything in chrisitanity...comes from an overdeveloped sense to revere things. Saints, symbols, places, passages, books, pictures...so much gets turned into something to revere...hell, have a shape that looks something like jesus appear on your toast and people will revere it. This is why I think there is no distinction between crosses...if it even remotely resembles a cross, then it could very possibly be revered as one...even if it has little to no resemblance to the actual cross...if there ever truly was a jesus hung on a cross in the first place. :-)

(And yes...why would anyone portray John the Baptist with a cross other than the artist, in a fit of adoration for god, decided everyone holy and worthy of reverence should also have a cross.)

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