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Crucifixion Or 'Crucifiction' In Ancient Egypt? Print E-mail
Written by mquran.org   
Sunday, 19 November 2006

1. Introduction

It has been claimed by some people that the Qur'an is in error when it mentions crucifixion as a form of punishment in Egypt. They say:

We have, however, no record that Egyptians used crucifixion as punishment in the time of Moses (1450 BC, conservative date; 1200 BC at the latest) or even Joseph (1880 BC, conservative date). Crucifixion only becomes a punishment much later in history and then first in another culture before it has been taken over by the Egyptians. Such threats by a Pharaoh at these times are historically inaccurate.

The Qur'an talks about crucifixion as a method of punishment in Egypt during the time of Joseph and Moses. In the story of Joseph, Joseph interprets the dream of his companion in the prison and says:

O my two companions of the prison! As to one of you, he will pour out the wine for his lord to drink: and as for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case judged concerning which you both did enquire. [12:41]

As for the mention of crucifixion in the time of Moses, when the Pharaoh's magicians believed in the message of Moses, the Pharaoh threatened them by saying:

Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on apposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross. [7:124]

(Pharaoh) said: Ye put your faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! he doubtless is your chief who taught you magic! But verily ye shall come to know. Verily I will cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and verily I will crucify you every one. [26:49]

(Pharaoh) said: "Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this must be your leader, who has taught you magic! be sure I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will have you crucified on trunks of palm-trees: so shall ye know for certain, which of us can give the more severe and the more lasting punishment!" [20:71]

The Qur'an also supplies a very important piece of information concerning the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh is addressed as the Lord of the Stakes.

Before them (were many who) rejected apostles,- the people of Noah, and `Ad, and Pharaoh, the Lord of Stakes... [38:12]

Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the `Ad (people),-Of the (city of) Iram, with lofty pillars, The like of which were not produced in (all) the land? And with the Thamud (people), who cut out (huge) rocks in the valley? And with Pharaoh, Lord of Stakes? (All) these transgressed beyond bounds in the lands, And heaped therein mischief (on mischief). [89:6-12]

A key tool of Qur'anic exegesis is the internal relationships between material in different parts of the Qur'an, expressed by Qur'anic scholars as: al-Qur'an yufassiru ba`duhu ba`dan, i.e., different parts of the Qur'an explain each other. In other words, what is given in a general way in one place is explained in detail in another place. What is given briefly in one place is expanded in another.

Using this principle, we can see that the Pharaoh, who is addressed as the Lord of Stakes, perhaps used stakes for crucifying people. Also why is the Pharaoh called the Lord of the Stakes in the Qur'an? Was it because he was the one who had the supreme authority over who meted out the punishment of crucifixion? Did the mutilation of a person precede his crucifixion? This is something that we would like to investigate in this essay.

2. What Is Crucifixion? What Is A Cross?

The terms 'Crucifixion' and 'Cross' are widely used but what do they really mean? In the sections which follow we shall attempt to define these terms as accurately and as concisely as possible. Although crucifixion did not originate with the Romans, many reference works tend to discuss only the Roman method of crucifixion used in the time of Christ. To avoid such a limited understanding, numerous references were consulted in order establish the correct meaning and interpretation of these terms.

WHAT IS CRUCIFIXION?

Crucifixion is the act of nailing, binding or impaling a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross, stake or tree whether for executing the body or for exposing the corpse. Crucifixion was commonly practiced from the 6th century BCE until the 4th century CE, when it was finally abolished in 337 CE by Constantine I. It was intended to serve as both a severe punishment and a frightful deterrent to others and was unanimously considered the most horrible form of death.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible defines "Crucifixion" as:

The act of nailing or binding a person to a cross or tree, whether for executing or for exposing the corpse.[1]

Similarly, the Anchor Bible Dictionary defines "Crucifixion" as:

The act of nailing or binding a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross or stake (stauros or skolops) or a tree (xylon).[2]

This is completely opposite to the Christian missionary Vargo's definition of crucifixion, who claimed that it is a method of "putting a living person on a cross in order to kill him".

The New Catholic Encyclopaedia defines "Crucifixion" as:

Crucifixion developed from a method of execution by which the victim was fastened to an upright stake either by impaling him on it or by tying him to it with thongs... From this form of execution developed crucifixion in the strict sense, whereby the outstretched arms of the victim were tied or nailed to a crossbeam (patibulum), which was then laid in a groove across the top or suspended by means of a notch in the side of an upright stake that was always left in position at the site of execution.[3]

And in discussing the Christian belief in the crucifixion of Christ, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines "Crucifixion" as:

the method of torture and execution used by the Romans to put Christ to death. At a crucifixion the victim usually was nailed or tied to a wooden stake and left to die...

Crucifixion involved attaching the victim with nails through the wrists or with leather thongs to a crossbeam attached to a vertical stake...[4]

WHAT IS A CROSS?

The word cross is the translation of the Greek stauros. The cross (Greek stauros; Latin crux) was originally a single upright stake or post upon which the victim was either tied, nailed or impaled. Regarding the meaning of this word Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines the "Cross" as:

an upright wooden stake or post on which Jesus was executed... the Greek word for cross referred primarily to a pointed stake used in rows to form the walls of a defensive stockade.[5]

Vine's Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words defines the Greek word stauros as:

Stauros denotes, primarily, "an upright pale or stake." On such malefactors were nailed for execution...

The method of execution was borrowed by the Greeks and Romans from the Phoenicians. The stauros denotes (a) "the cross, or stake itself," e.g., Matt. 27:32; (b) "the crucifixion suffered," e.g., 1 Cor. 1:17,18, where "the word of the cross," RV, stands for the Gospel; Gal. 5:11, where crucifixion is metaphorically used of the renunciation of the world, that characterizes the true Christian life; Gal. 6:12,14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 3:18.[6]

According to A Dictionary of Bible, Dealing With Its Language, Literature And Contents, Including The Biblical Theology, in New Testament usage the word stauros seems only to refer the true "cross":

[Stauros] means properly a stake, and is the tr. [i.e., translation] not merely of the Latin crux (cross), but of palus (stake) as well. As used in NT, however, it refers evidently not to the simple stake used for impaling, of which widespread punishment crucifixion was a refinement, but to the more elaborate cross used by the Romans in the time of Christ.[7]

The opinion is that the New Testament usage of stauros refers only to the true "cross" is not strictly true. The term stauros actually has a much wider application, being used to refer to both a single stake and a crossbeam. In Hastings' Dictionary Of The Bible he states:

The Greek term rendered 'cross' in the English NT is stauros (stauroo = 'crucify'), which has a wider application than we ordinarily give to 'cross' being used of a single stake or upright beam as well as of a cross composed of two beams.[8]

In New Testament usage stauros primarily refers to an upright stake or beam used as an instrument for punishment:

The Greek word for 'cross' (stauros; verb stauroo; Latin crux, crucifigo, 'I fasten to the cross') means primarily an upright stake or beam, and secondarily a stake used as an instrument for punishment and execution. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament.[9]

The word stauros had at least three different meanings in the New Testament alone. The plank which supports the arms of the victim (patibulum in Latin) was itself called stauros (Luke 23:26); the stake or tree trunk on which the patibulum was nailed was also called stauros (John 19:19); and the whole complex together (patibulum and stake) was also called stauros (John 19:25).[10]

The Catholic Encyclopaedia (under "Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix") mentions that a primitive form of crucifixion on trees had long been in use, and that such a tree was also known as a cross:

The penalty of the cross goes back probably to the arbor infelix, or unhappy tree, spoken of by Cicero (Pro, Rabir., iii sqq.) and by Livy, apropos of the condemnation of Horatius after the murder of his sister. According to Hüschke (Die Multa, 190) the magistrates known as duoviri perduellionis pronounced this penalty (cf. Liv., I, 266), styled also infelix lignem (Senec., Ep. ci; Plin., XVI, xxvi; XXIV, ix; Macrob., II, xvi). This primitive form of crucifixion on trees was long in use, as Justus Lipsius notes ("De cruce", I, ii, 5; Tert., "Apol.", VIII, xvi; and "Martyrol. Paphnut." 25 Sept.). Such a tree was known as a cross (crux). On an ancient vase we see Prometheus bound to a beam which serves the purpose of a cross. A somewhat different form is seen on an ancient cist at Præneste (Palestrina), upon which Andromeda is represented nude, and bound by the feet to an instrument of punishment like a military yoke – i.e. two parallel, perpendicular stakes, surmounted by a transverse bar. Certain it is, at any rate, that the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end. Mæcenas (Seneca, Epist. xvii, 1, 10) calls it acuta crux; it could also be called crux simplex. To this upright pole a transverse bar was afterwards added to which the sufferer was fastened with nails or cords, and thus remained until he died, whence the expression cruci figere or affigere (Tac., "Ann.", XV, xliv; Potron., "Satyr.", iii)...

ORIGINS OF THE ENGLISH WORDS "CRUCIFIXION" & "CROSS"

The Greek word for cross stauros (Latin crux) refers primarily to an upright stake or pole.[11] The noun "crucifixion" does not occur in the New Testament, but the corresponding verb "to crucify" appears frequently.[12] In Classical Greek usage the root verb stauroo actually means "to impale" or "to fence with pales" (Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek). However, there appears to be no common word for the "cross" in the Greek, as the word crux (cross) is Latin. The Concise Dictionary Of The Bible states under "Cross":

Except the Latin crux there was no word definitively and invariably applied to this instrument of punishment [i.e. cross].[13]

Concerning the origin of the Latin crux Merriam-Webster's Word Histories states:

..the Latin noun crux 'cross, gibbet' was taken into Old French as crois and into Spanish as cruz...

The original sense of crux in classical Latin was an instrument of torture, whether gibbet, cross, or stake. By extension it meant 'torture, trouble, misery'. With this in mind, English borrowed crux in the sense of 'a puzzling or difficult problem'. From this sense developed its use for 'an essential point requiring resolution', as in "the crux of a problem," and the sense of 'a main or central feature', as in "the crux of an argument."[14]

Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary also mentions the same meanings:

a tree, frame, or other wooden instruments of execution on which criminals were impaled or hanged.[15]

Furthermore, the word crux is the core of several English words including "crucifixion":

The Latin crux is also the core of the English words crucial, crucifix, crucifixion, cruciform, crucify, and excruciating. The English cross derives from crux through either Old Irish or Old Norse. The English cruise also derives from crux, which became crucen 'to make a cross' in Middle Dutch and kruisen 'to sail crossing to and fro' in Modern Dutch before being borrowed into English in the seventeenth century.[16]

SUMMARY

Crucifixion is the act of nailing, binding or impaling a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross, stake or a tree, whether for executing the body or for exposing the corpse. Crucifixion was intended to serve as both a severe punishment and a frightful deterrent to others. It was unanimously considered the most horrible form of death. The procedure of crucifixion was subject to wide variation according to the whim of the executioner, but victims were often executed by being impaled on a stake.

The cross (Greek stauros; Latin crux) was originally a single upright stake or post upon which the victim was either tied, nailed or impaled. This simple cross was later modified when horizontal crossbeams of various types were added. Scholars are not certain when a crossbeam was added to the simple stake, but even in the Roman period the cross would at times only consist of a single vertical stake.

From ancient Greek and Roman writers (such as Herodotus and Seneca) we learn of several forms of crucifixion. Some forms being impalement rather than what we would today describe as crucifixion.[17] In many cases, especially during the Roman period, the execution stake became a vertical pole with a horizontal crossbar placed at some point, and although the period of time at which this happened is uncertain, what is known is that this simple impalement became known as crucifixion. Whether the victim was tied, nailed or impaled to the stake, the same Greek words were still used to described the procedure.

Although in New Testament usage the Greek word stauros (cross) is said to refer to a crossbeam, the term actually has a much wider application, being used to refer to both a single stake and a crossbeam. The four most popular representations of the cross are: (i) crux simplex |, a "single piece without transom"; (ii) crux decussata X, or St. Andrew's cross; (iii) crux commissa T, or St. Anthony's cross; and (iv) crux immisaa or Latin cross upon which Jesus was allegedly crucified.[18]

A primitive form of crucifixion on trees had long been in use, and such a tree was also known as a cross (crux). Different ideas also prevailed concerning the material form of the cross, and it seems that the word had been frequently used in a broad sense. The Latin word crux was applied to the simple pole, and indicated directly the nature and purpose of this instrument, being derived from the verb crucio, "to torment", "to torture." The practice of crucifixion was finally abolished in 337 by Constantine I out of respect for Jesus Christ, whom he believed died on the cross.

3. Crucifixion In Egypt

According to some people, their evidence that the Qur'an is in error when it mentions crucifixion in Egypt is based on "archaeology and history". If one reads their material, it is neither based on any archaeological evidence nor any historical investigation! Another example of the missionary's unparalleled arrogance about the historical investigation on this issue can be seen here and here. So much for their "crucifiction" theories!

Rather ironically, those have even managed to misrepresent the evidence used to forward their own "facts". Those, referring to the famous Encyclopaedia Britannica, proclaimed they were providing "one authoritative reference":

Crucifixion, an important method of capital punishment, particularly among the Persians, Seleucids, Jews, Carthaginians, and Romans [was practiced] from about the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD. Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, abolished it in the Roman Empire in AD 337, out of veneration for Jesus Christ, the most famous victim of crucifixion. ... [The earliest recording of a crucifixion was] in 519 BC [when] Darius I, king of Persia, crucified 3,000 political opponents in Babylon.

By the use of [] brackets, those hoped to convey that the first recorded incidence of crucifixion was in 519 BCE during the reign of Darius I, King of Persia. All they managed to convey however was their own distortion of source material. Let us see what Encyclopedia Britannica actually says:

an important method of capital punishment, particularly among the Persians, Seleucids, Carthaginians, and Romans from about the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD. Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, abolished it in the Roman Empire in AD 337, out of veneration for Jesus Christ, the most famous victim of crucifixion. ... In 519 BC Darius I, king of Persia, crucified 3,000 political opponents in Babylon.[19]

So this "one authoritative reference" championed by those turns out to be a reference to their own misunderstanding and distortion. Now that it is abundantly clear that Encyclopaedia Britannica does not provide information in relation to the first recorded instances of crucifixion in world history, let us now deal with the issue of crucifixion in Egypt using the information obtained from Egyptology.

HIEROGLYPH FOR CRUCIFYING OR IMPALING A PERSON UPON A STAKE

The first thing to establish is whether there exist any hieroglyph that mentions impaling people on stakes. The best place to start is Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch, a concise Egyptian-German dictionary. The hieroglyph depicting impalement on a stake is shown below.[20]

Figure 1: Hieroglyph writing for "Stake. rdj hr = To put on the stake (for punishment)"; det. = determinative, hieroglyph for classifying Egyptian words. Here it shows an impaled man bent upon a stake.[21]

A recent edition of Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch gives even more information on the hieroglyphs showing impalement as shown below.[22]

Figure 2: Hieroglyph writing for Pfahl, i.e., "Stake". The interesting ones of 2, 3, 5, and 6. Also see "Pfählen".

This is the clearest example that people in Egypt were crucified by impaling them on stakes. What about the times in which this punishment was imposed in Egypt?

EVIDENCE OF IMPALEMENT IN ANCIENT EGYPT

In order to understand the evidence of crucifixion by impaling people on a stake in Egypt, we present a simplified chronology of ancient Egyptian history containing royal names associated with the period for easy reference. Unless otherwise stated, specific dates for particular Dynasties and Kings that we quote within this paper are taken from Nicolas Grimal's book, A History of Ancient Egypt.[23] Please note that the exact Egyptian chronologies are slightly uncertain, and all dates are approximate. The reader will find slightly different schemes used in different books.

DynastiesDates BCE (approx.)PeriodSome Royal Names Associated with Period
1 & 2c. 3150 - 2700Thinite PeriodNarmer-Menes, Aha, Djer, Hetepsekhemwy, Peribsen
3 - 6c. 2700 - 2190Old KingdomDjoser, Snofru, Khufu (Cheops), Khafre (Chephren), Menkauhor, Teti, Pepy.
7 - 11c. 2200 - 2040First IntermediateNeferkare, Mentuhotpe, Inyotef
11 & 12c. 2040 - 1674Middle KingdomAmmenemes, Sesostris, Dedumesiu
13 - 17c. 1674 - 1553Second IntermediateSobekhotep II, Chendjer, Salitis, Yaqub-Har, Kamose, Seqenenre, Apophis. Hyksos formed 15th and 16th Dynasties
18 - 20c. 1552 - 1069New KingdomAhmose, Amenhotep (Amenophis), Hatshepsut, Akhenaten (Amenophis IV), Horemheb, Seti (Sethos), Ramesses, Merenptah

Table I: Chronology of Egyptians Dynasties

Keeping this in mind, let us now look at the evidence of crucifixion by impaling people on a stake in Egypt. The evidence is arranged in chronological order.

A. Theban Account Papyrus (Papyrus Boulaq 18)

Papyrus Boulaq 18 is dated to the early Second Intermediate Period reign of Chendjer / Sobekhotep II; both of them kings from the 13th Dynasty. The account in Papyrus Boulaq is given below.[24]

Figure 3: Mentioning of impalement in the Theban account papyrus (Papyrus Boulaq 18).

a blood bath (?) had occurred with (by?) wood (?) ... the comrade was put on the stake, land near the island ...; waking alive at the places of life, safety and health ...

B. Stela Of Amenophis IV (Akhenaten)

Amenophis IV or Akhenaten was known as the Heretic King. He was the tenth king of the 18th Dynasty in the New Kingdom Period. This is an interesting stela showing the Nubian prisoners of war being impaled.

Figure 4: Excerpts from the Stela of Amenophis IV, showing impalement of Nubian prisoners of war.

List (of the enemy belonging to) Ikayta: living Nehesi 80+ ?; ... | ... their (chiefs?) 12; total number of live captives 145; those who were impaled ... | ... total 225; beasts 361.[25]

Interestingly, The New International Dictionary Of The Bible says:

Crucifixion was one of the most cruel and barbarous forms of death known to man. It was practiced, especially in the times of war, by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and later by the Romans. So dreaded was it that even in the pre-Christian era, the cares and troubles of the life were often compared to a cross.[26]

C. Abydos Decree Of Sethos I At Nauri, Year 4.

Sethos I belonged to the 19th Dynasty in the New Kingdom Period. His rule preceded the rule of Ramesses II. Below is his interesting decree at Nauri.

Figure 5: Excerpts from the Abydos Decree of Sethos I at Nauri, Year 4.

... Now as for any superintendent of cattle, any superintendent of donkeys, any herdsman belonging to the Temple of Menmare Happy in Abydos, who shall sell of any beast belonging to the Temple of Menmare Happy in Abydos to someone else; likewise whoever may cause it to be offered on some other document, and it not be offered to Osiris his master in the Temple of Menmare Happy in Abydos; the law shall be executed against him, by condemning him, impaled on the stake, along with forfeiting(?) his wife, his children and all his property to the Temple of Menmare Happy in Abydos, ...[27]

D. Amada Stela Of Merenptah: Libyan War (Karnak)

Merenptah, son of Ramesses II, defeated the threat posed by the Libyans. He belonged to the 19th Dynasty in the New Kingdom Period. Here the prisoners were impaled on the stake on the South of Memphis.

Figure 6: Excerpts from the Amada Stela of Merenptah; Libyan War (Karnak).

... Never shall they leave any people for the Libu (i.e., Libyans), any who shall bring them up in their land! They are cast to the ground, (?) by hundred-thousands and ten thousands, the remainder being impaled ('put to the stake') on the South of Memphis. All their property was plundered, being brough back to Egypt...[28]

E. The Abbott Papyrus

This is an account of the Great Tomb Robberies of the 20th Dynasty in the New Kingdom Period. Notice that the oath includes mutilation before the actual impalement.

Figure 7: Excerpts from the Abbott Papyrus that deals with the oath on pain of mutilation and impalement.

... The notables caused this coppersmith to be examined in most severe examination in the Great Valley, but it could not be found that he knew of any place there save the two places he had pointed out. He took an oath on pain of being beaten, of having his nose and ears cut off, and of being impaled, saying I know of no place here among these tombs except this tomb which is open and this house which I pointed to you...[29]

F. Papyrus BM10052

This is an account of the Great Tomb Robberies of the 20th Dynasty in the New Kingdom Period. Notice that the oath includes mutilation before the actual impalement.

Figure 8: Excerpts from Papyrus BM10052.

The scribe Paoemtaumt was brought. he was given the oath not to speak falsehood. He said, As Amun lives and as the Ruler lives, if I be found to have had anything to do with any one of the thieves may I be mutilated in nose and ears and placed on the stake. He was examined with the stick. He was found to have been arrested on account of the measurer Paoemtaumt son of Kaka.[30]

These hieroglyphs are by no means the only ones. There exist others from the New Kingdom Period showing impalements.[31]

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN ANCIENT EGYPT

Ancient Egypt was known for some of the worst kinds of capital punishments. The ancient Egyptians understood the necessary deterrent that these punishments provided. It appears that punishment in ancient Egypt became more severe with the times, especially with the advent of the New Kingdom Period. The punishments in the New Kingdom Period were very brutal and included beatings, mutilation, impalement, and being treated as a slave. The Lexikon Der Ägyptologie - an encyclopaedia of Egyptology, gives a brief overview of the different forms of punishment in Egypt under the heading "Strafen" (i.e., punishment / penalties). It says:

Decrees and trial documents, in the latter particularly from oath formulas, have given us the following judicial punishments. Physical punishments, as the most severe for capital crimes ... the death penalty by impaling, burning, drowning, beheading or being eating by wild animals. Only the King or the Vizier had the right to impose such punishment. High ranking personalities were granted by the King to commit suicide.

Physical punishments were also mutilation punishments by cutting off hands, tongue, nose and or ears, castration as well as beatings in the form of 100 or 200 strokes, often with 5 bleeding wounds, occasionally with 10 burn marks. Sometimes also the part of the body, e.g. the soles of the feet, which had to be beaten.

Frequently there were prison sentences in addition to physical punishments, such as exile to Kusch, to the Great Oasis or to Sile, with the obligation of forced labour as mine worker or stone mason as well as loss of assets. Women were banished to live in the outbuildings at the back of the house. Prison sentences as we know them were unknown. There were just remand prison for the accused and witnesses for serious crimes before and during the trial. Abuse of office was punished by loss of office and transfer to manual work.[32]

Similarly Lurje in his Studien Zum Altägyptischen Recht (Studies In The Ancient Egyptian Law) states:

Among others we find mutilation, mutilation and deportation to forced labour in Ethiopia, just deportation to forced labour in Ethiopia, impaling (tp-ht), punishment in form of 100 beatings and adding 50 wounds, punishment in form of 100 beatings and withdrawal of part or all of the disputed assets, punishment in form of 100 beatings and payment of twice the value of the matter in dispute, asset liability, cutting off of the tongue, loss of rank and transfer to the working class, handing over to be eaten by the crocodile and finally living in the outbuildings of the house.[33]

It is clear that one of the severest penalties in ancient Egypt included mutilation, mutilation and then impalement especially in the New Kingdom Period. The mutilation includes cutting off hands, tongue, nose and ears or even castration. Harsh penalties such as crucifying by impalement would be imposed only by either the King or the Vizier. John Wilson had discussed the authority of the King or the Vizier to impose punishments which the interested readers might find useful.[34] Thus the Qur'anic address of referring to Pharaoh as "Lord of Stakes" certainly fits very well with the available evidence. It also adds irony due to the fact that even though the Pharaoh claimed to be god, the greatest act of his lordship was confined to killing people by putting them on the stake.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

When did Joseph and Moses enter Egypt? As far as those are concerned, they had claimed the dating provided by them is "conservative".

We have, however, no record that Egyptians used crucifixion as punishment in the time of Moses (1450 BC, conservative date; 1200 BC at the latest) or even Joseph (1880 BC, conservative date).

The "conservative" dating of those correspond quite closely with the New Chronology proposed by David Rohls in his book A Test of Time.[35] This is the revisionist dating not the "conservative" dating. Fortunately, we have A Waste of Time homepage on the internet that includes a collection of articles written by scholars of Egyptology such as Professor Kenneth Kitchen as well as amateurs refuting many of the claims of Rohl. Even the evangelical Christians do not take Rohls' work seriously. We wonder why those insist on using such discredited scholarship to advance their fictitious arguments.

The majority of scholars say that Joseph entered Egypt during the time of the Hyksos. The Hyksos belonged to a group of mixed Semitic-Asiatics who infiltrated Egypt during the Middle Kingdom and became rulers of Lower Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. They formed the 15th and 16th Dynasties. The generally accepted theory appears to be that Moses lived during the reign of at least two kings, Rameses II and his successor Merneptah in the New Kingdom Period.

Let us now gather the evidence that we have acquired so far about crucifixion in Egypt. Table II shows the ruler of Egypt when people were crucified by impaling on stakes as well as the time when Joseph and Moses entered Egypt.

DynastiesDates BCE (approx.)PeriodRuler When Crucifixion HappenedProphet
3 - 6c. 2700 - 2200Old Kingdom  
7 - 11c. 2200 - 2040First Intermediate  
11 & 12c. 2040 - 1674Middle Kingdom  
13 - 17c. 1674 - 1553Second IntermediateSobekhotep II, Chendjer (13th Dynasty).
Hyksos formed 15th and 16th Dynasties
Joseph
18 - 20c. 1552 - 1069New KingdomAkhenaten (Amenophis IV), Ramesses, MerenptahMoses

Table II: This Table provides information about the ruler of Egypt when people were crucified by impaling on stakes and the time when Joseph and Moses entered Egypt.

What is interesting to note is that the earliest available evidence of the occurrence of crucifixion in Egypt is seen in the Papyrus Boulaq 18 from the time of Sobekhotep II / Chendjer of the 13th Dynasty in the Second Intermediate Period. Joseph, according to majority of scholars, entered Egypt during the rule of the Hyksos who formed the 15th and 16th Dynasties in the Second Intermediate Period. This means that crucifixion happened in Egypt even before Joseph entered Egypt.

Crucifixion also happened before Moses came to Egypt, during the Amenophis IV (Akhenaten). It also happened after the event of Exodus as seen in the papyri related to the Great Tomb Robberies of the 20th Dynasty. This completely refutes the claim of some people that the mention of crucifixion in the Qur'an during the time of Joseph and Moses is historically inaccurate.

4. Conclusions

Contrary to those' own imaginative definition, crucifixion, as attested in a variety of sources, can be understood as the act of nailing, binding or impaling a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross, stake or tree, whether for executing the body or for exposing the corpse. Consequently, the cross was originally a single upright stake or post upon which the victim was either tied, nailed or impaled. Accordingly, as we have demonstrated, it would not only be inappropriate but also historically inaccurate to restrict our understanding of the scope and application of crucifixion as it was practiced during Roman times, especially throughout the early Christian period.

With regard to ancient Egyptian history, we can observe a progression in the 'cruelty' of punishments with time, acutely so during the New Kingdom period (c. 1552 – c. 1069 BCE). Without delving into the intricacies of ancient Egyptian criminal law, we can undoubtedly observe that one method of punishment was crucifying people by impalement. The earliest extant evidence for this severe form of punishment is found during the reign of Sobekhotep II / Chendjer in the Second Intermediate period (c. 1674 – c. 1553 BCE), as indicated by the Papyrus Boulaq 18. Moving forward to the New Kingdom period (c. 1552 – c. 1069 BCE), we have numerous papyri, including the Abbot Papyrus and Papyrus BM10052, as well as numerous stele including the Stela of Amenophis IV, Abydos Decree of Sethos I at Nauri and Amada Stela of Merenptah, indicating the punishment of crucifixion by impalement. These dates correspond well with the dates the majority of scholars attribute to Joseph and Moses entry into Egypt. Therefore, based on this historical appreciation of ancient Egyptian history, crucifixion, as evidenced in a variety of hieroglyph papyri manuscripts and stela, was practiced as impalement, and, this form of punishment was already well established by the time Joseph entered Egypt. In sum, the story as narrated in the Qur'an correlates very well with the available evidence.

Equipped with an academically accepted chronology of ancient Egyptian history and an accurate historical understanding of what the words 'cross' and 'crucifixion' actually mean, once again, we find those making unsubstantiated claims.[36] Their "facts" are based on unproven ancient Egyptian chronologies that have received scathing reviews from fellow academics not to mention their own theologians. Combined with a superficial understanding regarding the concepts of "cross" and "crucifixion", and how this form of punishment was expressed by different cultures and civilisations (both ancient and modern), those struggle to form any type of cogent argumentation and instead distort source material and make extensive use of soundbites. In fact, the only thing in error here is those' "research methodology", which, in this particular instance, can properly be characterised as lightweight and schizophrenic.

Perhaps it is best to conclude with H.S. Smith's observation in his book The Fortress Of Buhen: The Inscriptions:

... I think the sense of nty hr htw 'those who are on the stakes' cannot be mistaken; the evidence for the Egyptians impaling their enemies is far too strong to be doubted.[37]

And Allah knows best!


References & Notes

[1] "Crucifixion", in B. M. Metzger and M. D. Coogan (eds.), Oxford Companion To The Bible, 1993, Oxford University Press: Oxford & New York, p. 141.

[2] "Crucifixion", in D. N. Freedman (ed.), Anchor Bible Dictionary On CD-ROM, 1997, New York: Doubleday (CD-ROM Edition by Logos Research Systems).

[3] "Crucifixion", New Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1981, Volume IV, The Catholic University of America: Washington, p. 485.

[4] "Crucifixion Of Christ", in H. Lockyer, Sr. (General Editor), F. F. Bruce et al., (Consulting Editors), Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] "Cross", in H. Lockyer, Sr. (General Editor), F. F. Bruce et al., (Consulting Editors), Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] "Cross, Crucify", Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Click here.

[7] "Cross", in J. Hastings et al. (eds.), A Dictionary of Bible, Dealing With Its Language, Literature And Contents, Including The Biblical Theology, 1898, Volume I, T. & T. Clarke: Edinburgh, p. 528.

[8] "Crucifixion", in J. Hastings (Revised by Frederick C. Grant and H. H. Rowley), Dictionary Of The Bible, 1963, 2nd Edition, T. & T. Clarke: Edinburgh. p. 193

[9] "Cross, Crucifixion", J. D. Douglas (Organizing Editor), The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980, Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester (England), p. 342.

[10] Only the cross-beam was actually carried to the site of the execution, not the entire cross: "..after being whipped, or 'scourged,' dragged the crossbeam of his cross to the place of punishment, where the upright shaft was already fixed in the ground." Encyclopaedia Britannica.

[11] "Cross, Crucifixion", J. D. Douglas (Organizing Editor), The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, op cit., p. 342.

[12] "Crucifixion", The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962, Abingdon Press.

[13] "Cross", in W. Smith (ed.), Concise Dictionary of the Bible, Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, Condensed from the Larger Work, 1880, 5th Edition, John Murray: London.

[14] "Crucifixion", The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, © 1989-1995 Merriam-Webster, Inc., (Multipedia, CD-ROM Edition by Softkey 1995).

[15] "Crux", C. T. Lewis & C. Short, A Latin Dictionary, Click here.

[16] "Crucifixion", The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, © 1989-1995 Merriam-Webster, Inc., (Multipedia, CD-ROM Edition by Softkey 1995).

[17] "Cross", in W. Smith (ed.), Concise Dictionary of the Bible, Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, Condensed from the Larger Work, 1880, 5th Edition, John Murray: London.

[18] "Cross" in The Easton's Bible Dictionary. Available online.

[19] "Crucifixion", Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2004 DVD, © 1994 – 2004 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

[20] R. Hannig, Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch - Deutsch (2800-950 v. Chr.), 1995, Verlag Philipp Von Zabern: Mainz, p. 929.

[21] It seems that this hieroglyphic determinative is quite rare. Joyce Tyldesley, while discussing the crime and punishment in Egypt, says:

The preferred method of execution was by impaling on a stake. The rare hieroglyphic determinative for this type of execution shows a man suspended by the centre of his torso on the point of a pole. The man lies face down so that his arms and legs dangle towards the ground. Death would have been quick if the spike pierced the heart or a major blood vessel. If not, the condemned faced a long, excruciating demise.

See J. Tyldesley, "Crime And Punishment In Ancient Egypt", Ancient Egypt: The History, People & Culture Of The Nile Valley, 2004 (June/July), Volume 4, Issue 6, p. 31; For a similar treatment albeit in slightly more detail, please see J. Tyldesley, Judgement Of The Pharaoh: Crime And Punishment In Ancient Egypt, 2000, Phoenix: London, pp. 64-66.

[22] R. Hannig, Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch - Deutsch (2800-950 v. Chr.), 2000, Verlag Philipp Von Zabern: Mainz, p. 964.

[23] N. Grimal (Trans. Ian Shaw), A History Of Ancient Egypt, 1988 (1992 print), Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, pp. 389-395.

[24] The image is taken from W. Heck's Historisch-Biographische Texte Der 2. Zwischenzeit Und Neue Texte Der 18. Dynastie, 1975, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, p. 10.

For a detailed study and translation of Papyrus Boulaq 18 see A. Scharff, "Ein Rechnungsbuch des Königlichen Hofes Aus Der 13. Dynastie (Papyrus Boulaq Nr. 18)", Zeitschrift Für Ägyptische Sprache Und Altertumskunde, 1922, Volume 57, pp. 51-68. Relevant material is on p. 62. The translation in German reads

gemacht wurde dort ein Blutbad(?) mit (durch?) Holz(?)... der Genosse tp-ht, landen bei der Insel ...; lebend erwachen an den Stätten des Lebens, Heils und der Gesundheit ...

Scharff left the "tp-ht" untranslated. He compares it with Papyrus Abbott and says "wo es etwa 'Marterpfahl' bedeutet", i.e., where it signifies possibly "stake", see p. 62.

[25] H. S. Smith, The Fortress Of Buhen: The Inscriptions, 1976, Forty Eighth Excavation Memoir, Egyptian Exploration Society: London (UK), pp. 125-127 and Plate 29.

[26] "Cross", in J. D. Douglas, M. C. Tenny, The New International Dictionary Of The Bible: Pictorial Edition, 1987, Regency Reference Library (USA) & Marshall Pickering (UK), p. 242; Also see "Crucifixion", New Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1981, Volume IV, The Catholic University of America: Washington, p. 485.

[27] K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical And Biographical, 1975, Volume I, B. H. Blackwell Ltd.: Oxford (UK), No. 56, 1. The image was taken from here; K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Translated & Annotated (Translations), 1993, Volume I (Ramesses I, Sethos I and Contemporaries), Blackwell Publishing Ltd.: Oxford (UK), p. 48 (No. 56, 1).

[28] K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical And Biographical, 1982, Volume IV, B. H. Blackwell Ltd.: Oxford (UK), No. 1, 13. The image was taken from here; K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Translated & Annotated (Translations), 2003, Volume IV (Merenptah & The Late Nineteenth Dynasty), Blackwell Publishing Ltd.: Oxford (UK), p. 1.

[29] T. E. Peet, The Great Tomb Robberies Of The Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty: Being A Critical Study, With Translations And Commentaries, of The Papyri In Which These Are Recorded, 1930, II Plates, The Provost & Fellows Of Worcester College At The Clarendon Press: Oxford, Plate III, Papyrus Abbott No. 5, 7; T. E. Peet, The Great Tomb Robberies Of The Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty: Being A Critical Study, With Translations And Commentaries, of The Papyri In Which These Are Recorded, 1930, I Text, The Provost & Fellows Of Worcester College At The Clarendon Press: Oxford, p. 40.

[30] T. E. Peet, The Great Tomb Robberies Of The Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty: Being A Critical Study, With Translations And Commentaries, of The Papyri In Which These Are Recorded, 1930, II Plates, op cit., Plate XXXIV, Papyrus BM10052 No. 14, 24; T. E. Peet, The Great Tomb Robberies Of The Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty: Being A Critical Study, With Translations And Commentaries, of The Papyri In Which These Are Recorded, 1930, I Text, op cit., p. 156.

[31] See D. Lorton's "The Treatment Of Criminals In Ancient Egypt Through The New Kingdom Period", Journal Of The Economic And Social History Of The Orient, 1977, Volume XX, Part 1, pp. 32-35. Apart from the stela and papyri that we have discussed, there are also other examples where crucifixion by impaling people took place.

[32] "Strafen" in W. Heck & E. Otto, Lexikon Der Ägyptologie, 1986, Volume VI, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, Columns 68-69. The original in German reads:

Aus Dekreten und Prozeßakten, dort vor allem aus Eidesformeln, sind uns folgende Rechtsstrafen überliefert: Körperstrafen, als schwerste für todeswürdige Verbrechen ... die Todesstrafe durch Pfählen, Verbrennen, Ertränken, Köpfen oder Gefressenwerden durch wilde Tiere. Ihre Verhängung blieb allein dem König oder dem Wesir vorbehalten. Hochgestellten Persönlichkeiten gestattete der König den Selbstmord.

Körperstrafen waren auch die Verstümmelungsstrafen durch Abschneiden von Händen, Zunge, Nase und oder Ohren, Kastration sowie die Prügelstrafen in Form von 100 oder 200 Schlägen, vielfach mit 5 blutenden Wunden, gelegentlich mit 10 Brandmalen. Manchmal war auch die Körperstelle, z. B. Fußsohlen, angegeben, auf die zu schlagen war.

Als Nebenstrafe zu einer Körperstrafe traten vielfach Freiheitsstrafen, wie die Verbannung nach Kusch, zur Großen Oase oder nach Sile, die mit der Verpflichtung zur Zwangsarbeit als Minenarbeiter oder Steinbrecher sowie dem Verlust des Vermögens verbunden waren. Frauen wurden zur Unterbringung im Hinterhof des Hauses verurteilt. Gefängnisstrafen in unserem Sinne waren unbekannt. Es gab lediglich eine Untersuchungshaft für Angeklagte und Zeugen bei schweren Straftaten vor und während des Strafverfahrens. Amtsdelikte wurden mit Amtsverlust und Versetzung in den Arbeiterstand bestraft.

 

Also see "Hinrichtung" in W. Heck & E. Otto, Lexikon Der Ägyptologie, 1977, Volume II, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, Columns 1218-1219.

Die alte tituelle Form des, "Erschlagens des Feindes" wird auch späterhinnoch als Strafe durchgeführt, wobei die Leichen dann (kopfüber) aufgehängt werden. Die übliche Form des "Tötens lebender Menschen", angewandt bei Verbrechern und (gefangenen) Feinden, war das Pfählen; daneben wird Verbrennen erwähnt oder das dem Krokodil Vorwerfen. Im Harimsprozeß z. Z. Ramses' III. wurde hochstehenden Verurteilten gestattet, Selbstmord zu tun. Das Töten durch Verbrennen gilt in der SpZt als rituelle Vernichtung des Bösen vor dem Gott.

 

The translation reads:

The old titular form of "beating the enemy to death" is executed even later on as punishment where the corpses are hanged up (upside down). The usual form of the "killing of living people" used for criminals and (captured) enemies, was impaling, burning at the stake is also mentioned or being thrown to the crocodile. In the Harim trial at the time of Ramses III the high ranking convicting criminals were allowed to commit suicide. Later the killing by burning was regarded as ritual destruction of evil before God.

[33] I. M. Lurje, Studien Zum Altägyptischen Recht Des 16. Bis 10. Jahrhunderts v. u. Z., 1971, Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger: Weimar, p. 146. The quote reads:

Wir finden u. a. Verstümmelung, Verstümmelung und Deportation zur Zwangsarbeit nach Äthiopien, einfach Deportation zur Zwangsarbeit nach Äthiopien, Pfählung (tp-ht), Strafe in Form von 100 Schlägen und Beifügung von 50 Wunden, Strafe in Form von 100 Schlägen und Entziehung eines Teils oder des gesamten umstrittenen Vermögens, Strafe in Form von 100 Schlägen und Bezahlung des zweifachen Wertes des Streitgegenstandes, Vermögenshaftung, Abschneiden der Zunge, Verlust des Ranges und Versetzung in den Arbeiterstand, Übergabe zum Fraß durch ein Krokodil und schließlich Unterbringung im Hinterhofe eines Hauses.

Also see W. Booch, Strafrechtliche Aspekte Im Altägyptischen Recht, 1993, Academia Verlag: Sankt Augustin, pp. 73-74. These pages deal exclusively with impalement in ancient Egypt; For impalement as a punishment for perjury see J. A. Wilson, "The Oath In Ancient Egypt", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1948, Volume VII, No. 3, pp. 129-156.

[34] J. A. Wilson, "Authority And Law In Ancient Egypt", Supplement To The Journal Of The American Oriental Society, 1954, No. 17, pp. 1-7.

[35] D. M. Rohl, A Test Of Time, 1995, Volume I: The Bible - From Myth To History, Random House UK Ltd.: London.

[36] Robert Morey confidently claims that "crucifixion was not used in the time of Pharaoh although the Quran says so in Sura 7:124." See R. Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting The World's Fastest Growing Religion, 1992, Harvest House Publishers: Eugene (OR), p. 142; Also see D. Ali & R. Spencer, Inside Islam: A Guide To Catholics, 2003, Ascension Press: West Chester (PA), p. 73. According to Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer, "the Koran has Pharaoh threatening with crucifixion, a punishment that was not devised until centuries later - and then by the Romans, not the Egyptians"; According to Newman, the mention of crucifixion in Moses' time "appears to be an anachronism of Muhammad, since crucifixion was known to the Jews through the Romans, who had in turn taken it from Carthage." See N. A. Newman, Muhammad, The Qur'an & Islam, 1996, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute: Hatfield (PA), p. 367.

The only exception that we have come across is a Christian apologist Mateen Elass. He says circumspectly:

The question of whether the practice of crucifixion was known and applied in Pharonic Egypt need scholarly investigation.

See M. Elass, Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide To The Muslim Holy Book, 2004, Zondervan: Grand Rapids (MI), p. 181, Chapter 8, note 2;

[37] H. S. Smith, The Fortress Of Buhen: The Inscriptions, 1976, op cit., p. 127.

M S M Saifullah, Elias Karim & `Abdullah David

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