Cross your T’s

What is the cross? Is it original to Calvary or does it have older, more pagan roots?

There was once a boy born of a virgin. His mother’s name was Mari and her husbands name, Joseph. He was born in a cave and was heralded by angels foretelling his coming to shepherds who watched their flocks by night. At age 12, he attended a special write of passage and at the age of 30, he was baptized in a river – though sadly his baptizer was later beheaded. 

He had 12 disciples, performed miracles, cast out devils, and healed the sick. He was Called the Son of man, the good shepherd, the way, the truth, and the light. He delivered a sermon on a mountain. And on one dark day, he was crucified on a cross between two thieves, was buried in a tomb, and was said to have raised from the dead on the third day. His symbol became known throughout the world as a symbol of life and atonement. And of course, the man we are speaking of had a name. though it might not be the name you are expecting. His name was Horus, the Egyptian god of the air. 

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When you see a cross, what do you think of? Maybe its your old church, an Easter Sunday service, or an icon hanging on your grandparents wall. Or maybe its a sign of forgiveness, love, and life. The cross is the key symbol of the Christian faith. But how original is the cross to Christianity? Our opener for this episode was a bit deceptive, I understand that. But I wanted to bring to light just how real our love for symbology is and how personally attacked we feel when it is challenged. Oh, and if you are wondering, yes, what I mentioned about Horus is actually true to some degree but it comes from cherry picked passages scattered over multiple Egyptian documents, many of which were only discovered relatively recently. It would have been impossible for the early church to have scraped together this information that was practically lost on time to try and deceive the masses. So our Savior’s originality is left in tact.

Also, the story of Horus has more things dissimilar to Christ than similar. And some of the claimed associations between the two are completely speculative. The idea that Horus was crucified is loosely based on a hieroglyph depicting him standing with his arms to his sides; not exactly court tried evidence. Nevertheless, symbology and mythology alike blur the lines of what we deem as authentic and what has been borrowed over time. Don’t believe me? Go find a cross around your house if you have one. Notice the shape it makes: one line crossing over another to make two arms, a neck, and a body. That’s actually the primary reason it took over as the primary Christian symbol in 692 AD, in the fifth synod of Constantinople. Before then, the lamb would have been the primary symbol people associated with the Christ.

But just because the cross has become a worldwide symbol of Christianity doesn’t mean it has always been Christian. No, as a matter of fact the cross is one of the most pagan symbols in history. From the Celts and Egyptians to the native Americans and even the Buddhists, the cross has been used as a religious symbol far before the Christ was ever hung upon its arms.

In Central America, the Native Americans would tattoo a cross on their bodies when they were elected into their orders of ancient mysteries. In Europe, the ancient Druids would cut down a tree mid way and lat the top half over the remaining shaft to form a cross in worship of their god, Hu. Before the druids, the Egyptians used this same symbol in reverence to the ram god, Taurus.

The Egyptians had another cross known as the Crux Ansata. The Crux Ansata is a typical cross but the top shaft was fashioned into a loop. Crux Ansata translates to “Cross of Life”. It was viewed as a symbol of light that could cast out evil. This is the very symbol many historians belied to have inspired the idea of St. Peters golden key to heaven. It is said that whoever bore this cross shaped key above their head could drive back the powers of darkness.

The Early Mesopotamians also have their version of the cross. Ezekiel 8:14 reads, “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.” Tammuz is the goddess of fertility and her sign bore the first letter of her name which looks nearly identical to our version of the same letter to this day, the letter T. Oh, and if you are wondering, Tammuz has another closely associated influence on Christianity. See, not only does her name bare the same symbol as Christianity; she also shares a holiday. A springtime holiday where we immortalize her fertility by adorning our churches and homes with rabbits and eggs. Early Christian influencers were great marketers. They knew what they were doing when it came to festival placement and helping make conversion from paganism as easy as possible.

As we have seen in the previous examples, the cross has roots that run as deep as the foundations of religion. A symbol of intersection; from the earth to the sky and as far as the east is from the west. The arms of the cross stretch out in every direction inviting all to sit under its shadow and gaze at its encompassing reach. And this is why I believe it has became such an influential symbol throughout human history.

Not only does the cross take the shape of a man, it also takes the shape of divinity signifying the unity of God and creation. Its perfect symmetry has cosmological reference to the cardinal directions, the zodiac, and even the four primary elements. The ancients viewed the cross as a mark of completeness between creation and man symbolizing the mind, body, soul, and ether or spirit. The earliest references to the cross were used as a symbol of the sun: the life giver that brings forth sustenance from the earth.

So how does all this play into the Christian faith? If the cross is such a popular symbol, why has Christianity cornered the market on it? And does all this take away any significance from our version of such an ancient symbol?

Symbology is important to humanity. Let’s bring that a bit closer to home: We place our identity in symbols of all kinds.This is the very reason Peter requested he be crucified upside down: to maintain reverence for the symbol he said only a Savior had the ability to bare. Don’t believe me? Go to the mall and browse the isles of a major department store. Find any item and then go try to find a similar item in a specialty store. Which is going to cost more? Still need more proof? Go and google the cost of Gucci’s white undershirt. Here, I’ll help you out. It costs a measly $430 dollars. So what is so special about it might you ask? Well, it’s made of 100% cotton. Yes, the exact same material your 5 pack of Hanes undershirts you got at Walmart is made of. But the tag says Gucci so that makes it worth it, right?

We go above and beyond to adorn our bodies with the symbols that we identify with. There are entire stores making bank off of Christian symbolism and the hype from all these different ideologies-turned-slogans we parade around in to let people know what we believe about the world and ourselves. Symbology is a form of expression that taps into the core of who we are. It’s a way to take the thoughts we have and put them on display for all to see.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing; well, unless you go spending $430 dollars on a plain white T-shirt. There’s a problem with that. But to find comfort in a symbol doesn’t mean you are giving it some form of authority in your life. Rather, it serves as a reminder to us every time we see it of why it holds a significance to us in the first place. Symbols help us solve problems, communicate a message, and remember a part of us we desire to keep steadfast in the forefront of our minds. But sometimes I have to wonder: do we cling to certain symbols because they mean something to us, or is it that they are so ingrained in our person we can’t help but view them as something special?

The cross is one of those symbols I am talking about. One might argue that in essence, it is a rather simple shape destined to be repeated given enough time. Culture influences culture and small things linger in our subconscious just waiting to find the prime opportunity to jump out into the limelight. But to me, the cross is different. Across the globe this same symbol has shown up time and time again symbolizing the lifeforce we all desire.

If you are a regular listener, you have heard before my view that all streams of belief echo God, despite Jesus being the ultimate source, the spiritual ocean if you will. And if that theory rings true then the cross would not be a symbol passed down from person to person and belief to belief, but rather would be divinely placed in us like a street sign on a crossroads. No wonder so many people have came to identify the cross as universally meaning something so similar despite their separation. Because the cross is as ingrained in us as our very DNA. As a matter of fact, some would argue that it IS our DNA.

Have you ever heard of Laminin? Laminin consist of three separate subchains that wind together and split as they go up their chain. Laminin is the base that tissue is built of. It is the core of physical flesh. And it looks strikingly similar to a cross. As those three interwoven strands separate, they all go in their own direction spreading out to the left, right, and up forming the symbol we all know so well. A symbol that did not just hold the flesh of a savior but also quite literally by means of biology, seems to have bore the flesh of you and I.

Speaking of the cross and the triple stranded Laminin we just spoke of, I have one more story that I feel ties all tis together nicely.

The Aurea Legenda, or, the “Golden Legend” as it is called in English, is a hagiography compiled by the blessed Jacobus da Varagine. Soon after its compilation in 1260 AD, it became an integral part of Christendom in the Middle Ages, known as an Encyclopedia of the saints.

But as any good book might, the Aurea Legenda did not just talk about people but also events. Much of our early church folklore can be traced back to this time period so it was no doubt a piece of literature people would have enjoyed reading.

One of the most interesting legends contained in the pages of the Aurea Legenda speaks of Adam’s death. Upon realizing that he would soon die, Adam told his son, Seth to go back to the garden of Eden to retrieve the oil of mercy God had promised Adam that would restore mankind. Seth followed the trail of dead grass, the original trail Adam and Eve walked in which no life can spring forth after they touched it, and went to speak with the angel guarding the gate.

Upon his arrival the angel allowed Seth to enter the garden and led him to a great tree whose branches reached out in the shape of a cross. Its roots rested upon a precipice and beyond the cliffs and deep into the earth lied the pits of hell. The angel told Seth he could not yet give him the Oil of Mercy, but instead gave him three seeds from the great tree they stood looking at in wonder. A tree known as the tree of life. If you are a 90’s gamer, just picture the scene in The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time when you clear the first dungeon and the great Deku tree gives you a seed and passes away. At least in my mind that seems to be about what is going on here.

Seth took the seeds and rushed back to his father, Adam. When Adam saw the gift God granted him, he became overjoyed and no longer feared death. Three days later Adam passed away. But Seth had a command he did not share with his father. The angel that gave Seth the seeds had instructed him to plant the seeds in the mouth of Adam upon his burial and Seth did as he was instructed. Soon a small sampling made of three interwoven trunks, one from each of the three seeds, sprung forth from the ground, nourished by the blood left in Adam’s body.

It is said that before the flood, Noah dug up this small tree still contained in Adam’s skull and brought it with him on the ark. When the earth dried up, he found a hill with plenty of sun and planted it there. This is said to be the same plant Moses saw in the wilderness that burned and spoke. Later, king David discovered the now mighty tree and dug it up to use it in his son, Solomon’s construction of the temple. It was overlaid in gold and placed above the door of the temple until his grandson robbed it of its gold and buried it to hide his crimes. But this mighty tree was not done yet: after all, it was a seed from the tree of life.

From the ground where it was buried a spring burst that came to be known as Bethesda which means “flowing water of mercy”. It was here that Jesus performed the miracle of healing the bedridden man. After some time, the tree buried was worn loose by the water that gushed from its grave and floated to the surface and washed down the river where it became lodged between the banks of Calvary hill and Jerusalem. This is the same bridge Jesus would have crossed as He was paraded to his crucifixion. Oh, and there was no wood at Calvary. But part of the mighty tree actually broke off and was turned into lumber. The very lumber they used to construct a cross. A cross that a savior would soon carry across a bridge to a hill to be crucified. But if that isn’t enough, there is one more twist: You see, the hill of Calvary goes by another name, Golgatha, or “the place of the skull”. And how did it get that name? Well, when the ark landed and Noah found a hill to plant the seed of life on, that hill had a name. It was called Calvary. And in the exact spot where Jesus Christ was crucified, the soil in which his blood spilled out on was said to be the very place where the Skull of Adam was buried ages before. Three seeds, wrapped into one tree of life that was fashioned into a cross. And all this was written before we ever knew a thing about biology, Laminin, or what the human body was made of on a molecular level. I guess this story adds a certain chill factor to George Bennards famous lyric, I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.

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