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Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross


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In a comprehensive and detailed survey on its remarkably widespread employment in the Roman empire, Dr. Hengel examines the way in which “the most vile death of the cross” was regarded in the Greek-speaking world and particularly in Roman-occupied Palestine.

His conclusions bring out more starkly than ever the offensiveness of the Christian message: Jesus not only died an unspeakably cruel death, he underwent the most contemptible abasement that could be imagined. So repugnant was the gruesome reality, that a natural tendency prevails to blunt, remove, or domesticate its scandalous impact. Yet any discussion of a “theology of the cross” must be preceded by adequate comprehension of both the nature and extent of this scandal.

Logos Bible Software dramatically improves the value of this resource by enabling you to find what you’re looking for with unparalleled speed and precision. Scripture passages link directly to your English translations and to the original-language texts, and important theological concepts link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. In addition, you can perform powerful searches by topic and find what other authors, scholars, and theologians have to say.

Resource Experts
  • Gives a survey of the use of crucifixion as a penalty in the Graeco-Roman world
  • Provides an in-depth concluding summary
  • Includes bibliographical references and indexes
  • The ‘folly’ of the crucified Son of God
  • Prometheus and Dionysus: the ‘crucified’ and the ‘crucifying’ God
  • Docetism as a way of removing the ‘folly’ of the cross
  • Crucifixion as a ‘barbaric’ form of execution of the utmost cruelty
  • Crucifixion as the supreme Roman penalty
  • Crucifixion and Roman citizens
  • Crucifixion as a penalty for rebellious foreigners, violent criminals and robbers
  • The ‘slaves’ punishment’
  • The crucified national martyr and metaphorical and philosophical terminology
  • Crucifixion in the Greek-speaking world
  • Crucifixion among the Jews

Top Highlights

“A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish.” (Page 10)

“It is the crucifixion that distinguishes the new message from the mythologies of all other peoples.” (Page 1)

“It should be noted that in Roman times not only was it the rule to nail the victim by both hands and feet,25 but that the flogging which was a stereotyped part of the punishment would make the blood flow in streams. Binding the victim to the cross only with bonds remained the exception.26 Presumably Jesus was so weakened by loss of blood that he was unable to carry the beam of the cross to the place of execution; this is also the best explanation of his relatively speedy death.” (Pages 31–32)

“In Roman times, crucifixion was practised above all on dangerous criminals and members of the lowest classes.” (Page 88)

“Crucifixion was and remained a political and military punishment” (Page 86)

The book is rewarding both for the extensive amount of historical information about crucifixion which is provided and for an appreciation of the stigma which would have been attached to this punishment.

Religious Studies Review

The author’s formidable survey of the classical literature gives new eloquence to Origen’s description of crucifixion as mors turpissima (more vile death), or to Paul’s preaching of the ‘scandal of the Cross.’

The Bible Today

This valuable book deserves a wide circulation. It is worth reading and rereading. Its implications within the theological framework and message of the New Testament need to be most carefully thought through and meditated on.

Concordia Journal

One can probably find more about crucifixion in this book than anywhere else. . . . Teachers and ministers will not want to deal with the crucifixion of Christ again without first reading Hengel.

Christianity Today

  • Title: Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross
  • Author: Martin Hengel
  • Translator: John Bowden
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress
  • Publication Date: 1977
  • Pages: 112
Martin Hengel

Martin Hengel (1926–2009) was emeritus professor of New Testament and early Judaism at the University of Tübingen. He specialized in early Christianity and the origins of Christianity. 

Hengel began studying theology in 1947 in Tübingen before moving to the University of Heidelberg in 1949. He eventually earned his Ph.D. in 1959 from the University of Tübingen.

Hengel’s works include Studies in Early Christology, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, and The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon


9 ratings

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  1. Charles Stock
  2. HongIl



  3. Charles Puskas
  4. Faithlife User
  5. Jan Nunley

    Jan Nunley


    I'd love to, really, I would. But after clicking everything I have been told to click, once again, I can't access the book I just bought--and that's on top of being told I can't access the three volumes I thought I already had in my library and paid $140 for a year ago. Really, in frustration and difficulty of use, this program is exceeded only by my denomination's liturgical software--and that's going some!
  6. David Sloan

    David Sloan


  7. Everett Headley
    This is by far the best study on the crucifixion I have read. It traces the form of capital punishment from its history, to its implementation and on to the context that it was used during Jesus' time. It is much more a history of the general practice than it is of the use of it in Christ's passion. However, the wealth of details will do anyone well who is studying the practical aspects of the crucifixion. John Stott in The Cross of Christ, refers to this book several times.
  8. Andy



  9. André Kamphuis
  10. Wild Eagle

    Wild Eagle


    It's a very good book, but the only problem I had was that the author kept some key words in Latin instead of English and many times it was hard to get the meaning of the text


Print list price: $19.00
Save $1.01 (5%)