The results of a new study are sure to be yet another dividing line between Christians and non-believers -- that Jesus may not have died on the cross.
Gunnar Samuelsson, a theologian at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, has spent more than three years studying texts dating back to around 800 BC to the end of the first century AD. He is the author of a 400-page thesis on crucifixion in antiquity. He doesn't doubt that Jesus was indeed put to death on Calvary Hill, but the method of death is in question.
"When the Gospels refer to the death of Jesus, they just say that he was forced to carry a "stauros" out to Calvary," he told AOL News. Many scholars have interpreted that ancient Greek noun as meaning "cross," and the verb derived from it, "anastauroun," as implying crucifixion. But Samuelsson is not so sure.
"'Stauros' is actually used to describe a lot of different poles and execution devices," he says. "So the device described in the Gospels could have been a cross, but it could also have been a spiked pole, or a tree trunk, or something entirely different." In turn, "anastauroun" was used to signify everything from the act of "raising hands to suspending a musical instrument."
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So Jesus could have been executed by any number of gruesome ways.
Samuelsson also found that crucifixion might have been an unusual form of punishment in the Roman Empire. "If you search for ancient texts that specifically mention the act of crucifixion, you will end up with only two or three examples."
Samuelsson's findings fly in the face of supposed facts in many books on the historical Jesus, as well as research that said Roman prisoners were routinely nailed to crosses. Samuelsson suspects that crucifixion was one of many methods of execution employed across the empire.
While fellow theologians have complimented his highly detailed research, many online critics say Samuelsson is undermining Christianity. Samuelsson says that is "stupid," and said he believes that "the man who walked this earth was the Son of God, and that he will return to judge the living and the dead."