The above clip speaks to our modern assumptions about the cross. And while we may see Maeby’s ignorance as a caricature, I think it also surfaces some of our own assumptions about the role of the cross in Ancient Rome. The cross is a counter-intuitive symbol around which to gather. In fact, it wasn’t iconic until centuries later. But the inversion of its significance is experimented with in the movement’s earliest days. To appreciate this play, we need to better understand the setting in life of the cross.
As Daniel Lynwood Smith informs us, crucifixion is a mechanism of shame. It is a public execution designed to illustrate what happens should one disturb the peace. Punishment is the seed of insurrection, so Rome did not hand out such extreme measures lightly. Crucifixion, thus, seems to be an extreme measure to curry fear among those who might even think about insurrection.
Historically, crucifixions happened in visible places–the outer city gates, along roads, hills, etc. The crucified were meant to be seen. It’s also worth noting that this being seen is the very opposite of glory (Gk. Doxa). In a Jewish sense, we might say that the crucifixion is a declaration that one is not right before authority (contrast this with ritual purity). In a Hellenistic sense, crucifixion reiterates the crucified’s limitations and lowliness (i.e. they are at the bottom of the “Great Chain of Being”/Aristotelian hierarchy). They are the very opposite of the honorable heroes whom we are to idealize.
As we continue to work through the early history of Christian collectives, I want you to think about the role of crucifixion, honor, and shame as they manifest in the Acts of the Apostles. Put differently, how would you redescribe the passages you have prepared as a ballad of honor and shame. Especially review p. 154 in DLS. I encourage you to do this in comic book form, combining word and image to articulate not just the story but your social-scientific critical analysis of the story in light of honor and shame.