Skull and Cross-bones on Crucifix?

I received a Crucifix from a friend and it has a skull and cross-bones at the bottom, just below the Corpus. Does anyone know why?

yes, i believe those are supposed to represent the bones of the first Adam through whom death came into the world, below the feet of the last Adam, Christ, through whom eternal life came into the world.

And this is why the place where Jesus was crucified was called Calvary or Golgotha.

The names mean “Skull Hill.”

The Lord was crucified over the place where Adam lay buried.

There are two possible ways to interpret it:
1.) The skull is a visual reminder of the place where Jesus was crucified, Golgotha (Skull Place). Based on an old tradition, the ‘skull’ would be that of Adam’s.
2.) The skull and crossbones are symbols of death; showing them under Jesus’ feet is a symbol of Christ conquering Death by His death.

The device is actually quite an old one. You can note that in many artworks depicting the Crucifixion you would notice a human skull, and perhaps some bones, at the foot of Jesus’ cross, either at the ground or on a cavity below.

I have a crucifix similar to this, but on either side of Christ, near his hands, are what appears to be a hammer and shears. Anyone have an explanation for these?

These, of course, represent the hammer that pounded the nails to the Lord’s hands and feet, and the ‘shears’, or rather the pincers, that took the nails out. These are but two of the Instruments of the Passion, aka the Arma Christi (Weapons of Christ).

Great replies! I have several. They were a common in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Usually done by nuns in monasteries. I wish they would make a comeback because, I think the symbolism is awesome. I know some Orthodox sellers have it as part of Orthodox symbols and crosses.

The only thing I can think of is that Christ was crucified at a place outside of the walls of Jerusalem as GOLGOTHA, which means “Place of the Skull.” In Jewish tradition, it is said that the skull of Adam was buried there.

The way I heard this is different.

Biblically, when David slays Goliath, he decapitates the body and carries the head back to Jerusalem and buries it someplace. The idea is, that THAT is to be a reminder to the enemies of Israel of the power of God.

So…by invoking scripture rather than tradition, you can be assured to that extent that there is some old skull buried around there someplace.

Now, put Jesus on that same spot and you have a deep theological meaning that Jesus is the new reminder to the enemies of God’s people of the power of God. Jesus, has, as it were, defeated Satan.

Take the word Goliath which has the root “Gol” and take the hill of crucifixion which has the name Golgotha and the root “Gol” and you may see the connection of events in the Bible.

This is my “level” of understanding of the matter. There may be a better and stronger “level” to stand on. I’m all ears, but this explanation (which I picked up in some Protestant author’s article) seems pretty interesting.

There is simply no Biblical hint about the bones of Adam, that I am aware of. Speaking of tradition, some might say that this hill is where or near where the garden of Eden was. That’s interesting, but I don’t see the support for it in scripture.

I believe the Jewish tradition of GOLGATHA being the place where Adam’s skull is buried. After all, Christ is referred to as the NEW ADAM, even by Saint Paul. It makes a lot of sense that Christ would be crucified at that spot, and redeemed the world. Adam = death. Christ triumphs over this by shedding his blood for our salvation.

To clarify and correct a bit of what I said in a preceding post.

The Goliath skull was supposed to be a reminder to Israel and to its enemies of what they did to the opponents of Israel.

So, part of Jesus shame of the cross was to be executed at the place where the enemies of Israel were to be executed, to be considered an enemy of Isreal (and Rome, for that matter).

Regarding the previous post and the Adam interpretation, well, believe what you want.

Scripture says that Goliath’s head was brought to Jerusalem and buried there. What else could “the place of the skull” mean? What other skull of significance do we know of from scripture? “**the **skull” What other “the skull” is there in scripture? If you think it’s Adam’s skull, what do you do with Goliath’s? Would you call it “the OTHER skull”? Is there a place in Jerusalem called “the OTHER skull”?

1SAM 17:54 David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he kept Goliath’s armor in his own tent.

Here’s my take on the two viewpoints:

1 Samuel does say that David did take Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, but does not tell where the head is deposited. Some view this as a sort of anachronistic error, but it was suggested (by James Hoffmeier) that there is no need to think of such, and that David did what ancient conquerors would have done with the heads of the defeated: tying them to their chariots or hanging them as a warning to potential enemies.
Also, the place where Jesus is crucified is called kraniou topos in Greek, with no definite article; hence it may be better rendered as “place of a skull” (the way some translations render it) or “Skull-place”. Luke’s version (kranion), while rendered as “The Skull” in many modern translations, also does not have a definite article, hence: “And when they came to the place that is called ‘Skull’…”

Now we go to the Adam tradition. This tradition is indeed an ancient, being already recorded by Origen:

Concerning the place of the skull, it came to me that Hebrews hand down [the tradition that] the body of Adam has been buried there; in order that “as in Adam all die” both Adam would be raised and “in Christ all will be made alive”.

Note, however, that only the Greek version has ‘Hebrews’. The Latin version makes reference to ‘a tradition’, but it is not specified that it is a Hebrew one. Out of all the literary references which place Adam’s burial at Golgotha, only St. Ambrose (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke X), pseudo-Athanasius, and Basil of Seleucia (Oration XXXVIII.3) say something to the effect that it was a ‘Hebrew tradition’.

But this tradition is not uncontested even in early Christianity: St. Jerome, while first accepting this story, later changed his mind and proposed instead that Golgotha received its name because of its function as an execution site. In this idea, Jerome instead proposes that golgotha is to be interpreted as “place of the beheading” (i.e. ‘execution site’), and that the golgotha where Jesus died was only one of such designated areas in Jerusalem. Furthermore, he argued against Origen that Jews do not have a tradition of Adam being buried at Golgotha (apparently, he is familiar with one tradition which places Adam’s tomb at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, recorded in tractate Sota 13a of the Talmud).

There is one Jewish tradition which has Adam being buried beneath the rock, the Even ha-Shetiyah, upon which the Temple of Jerusalem is built. This stone was, according to one opinion, also the place where the entire universe originated (the navel of the world). Some propose that Origen, or the ‘Hebrews’ who reported the tradition to him, transferred this tradition to Golgotha, either by accident (he identified the ‘Temple’ as being the Roman temple that was built over the site) or on purpose - to emphasize Christ being the ‘new Adam’ more:

God created the world as a human fetus. As a fetus begins from the navel and from there begins and expands, so the world began from its navel and from it stretched here and there.
And where is its navel? It is Jerusalem. Its navel itself is the altar.
And why did he call it Foundation Stone? Because the entire world was founded from it.

-Beit ha-Midrash 5:63-70

R. Itz’hak says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, threw a stone into the sea, and therefrom a world was made. As it is written (Job 38:6), ‘Upon what are her foundation-pillars placed at rest? or who threw her corner-stone?’

-Talmud, Yoma 5:2

One thing we do know about the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands is that it served as a stone quarry between the 8th and the 1st centuries BC, which supplied building stone for the city. The quarry was finally abandoned in the 1st century BC, and the excavated area filled in with arable soil, probably as an attempt to beautify the area by turning it into a garden. Various tombs were dug in the high walls surrounding this garden - one of which was the tomb where Jesus was laid. The ‘hill’ of Golgotha was actually a remnant of this quarry, left unquarried because of the poor quality of the stone.
Of course, this outcrop found some use as an area to execute criminals - it is outside the city in Jesus’ time, and is near a city gate (the so-called Gennath or ‘Garden’ Gate). People going through this gate would have seen victims hanging on crosses day after day, a visible warning not to question the authority of Rome.

It’s good to flush out an issue like this, lay all the cards on the table.

This is a rather naive question, but did I just do something wrong? :eek:

But to continue in more clearer terms (I was a bit behind schedule at the time of the former post, so I had to speed up):

1.) There are some who link Goliath’s decapitated head and Golgotha, but these are mostly for theological reasons. And based on a superficial similarity to the two words (some go further and suggest Golgotha is a contraction of Goliath of Gath, which supposedly is Goliath-Gath) - which however may not be actually related.

גָּלְיָת (Golyat) is of uncertain meaning, but it seems that it is a non-Semitic name. Some connect the name with the Lydian Alyattes and two names found in one potsherd (dating from 10th to mid-9th centuries BC) from Tell es-Safi, the Biblical Gath: alwt and wlt. Golgotha, meanwhile, is usually assumed to be Aramaic גלגלתא gûlgaltâ and the Hebrew gûlgôlet, ‘skull’ (though one proposal suggests gol goatha ‘mount of execution’, possibly the Goatha of Jeremiah 31:19).

Sure, David defeating Goliath is one type of Jesus defeating Sin and Death, but IMHO this is taking the whole thing too far - even calling linguistic false friends in the process.
(and BTW, “Goliath of Gath” would be Golyat mi-Gat in Hebrew)

2.) Origen was the first witness we have connecting the place of Jesus’ execution with Adam’s burial place. Ever since he made this identification, this interpretation spread like wildfire amongst many Christians (because of its admittedly rather beautiful symbolism) to the point that it is repeated a countless times, many of these sources using Origen almost verbatim.

Of course, this opinion is not without its detractors, few they may be: St. Jerome, for instance, who argues that Jews do not have such a tradition and instead looks for other explanations for Calvary’s cryptic name.

St. Jerome’s opinion is quite correct, in one sense: Jewish tradition itself is divided as to where Adam is buried. Some put his burial in Hebron in the Cave of the Patriarchs (this was the majority opinion among the rabbis); others believe he was buried beneath the Foundation Stone of the Temple in Jerusalem, i.e. in Mount Moriah, which was the center of the world in Jewish belief because it is the place where the world originated and where God took the dust He used to form Adam.

A number of people take note of the latter tradition and wonder whether Origen has transferred it from the Temple Mount to Golgotha either accidentally, taking the reference to a ‘temple’ as referring to the Roman temple which stood over the site of the modern-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre at that time (Herod’s Temple already being destroyed two centuries ago), or on purpose, because of its theological significance. IMHO, this is not unlikely, given that certain Christian traditions has also transferred the honor of being ‘the navel/center of the world’ and ‘Mount Moriah’ from the Temple Mount to Golgotha.

In his commentary to the Ephesians (XLVI.17), St. Jerome gives us an insight as to how the Adam tradition was passed in his time. He talks about someone who was preaching about the epistle in a church who told the story and added that the Lord leaned over Adam’s grave, and, paraphrasing Ephesians 5:14, said, “Rise up, Adam, you that sleep, and arise from the dead.” Eventually however, he came to dismiss this interpretation (as one can see in his commentary on Matthew, XXVII.33) as fable, but adding that it was a popular interpretation which was ‘pleasing to the ears’.

Personally, I am also starting to have my own qualms with the Adam tradition. For one thing, why would Jews use his supposed burial site as a stone quarry and then later let Romans use the area as an execution site if they had a tradition that it was Adam’s resting place all along?

I suppose the same sort of thing goes on all over – religion and science, in particular.

In an area where there is not total certainty, a lot of opinions and views circulate around.

Amongst the Jewish rabbis and sages, it’s common for them to have a lot of opinions circulating on a matter. They don’t have a central magisterium like the Catholic Church, although it seems that they do have deliberative body that is still called the Sanhedrin.

Certainly protestants just go their own way whenever it pleases them.

Over the course of time these things work themselves out in the court of public opinion, so to speak. You know, further study and archeology sheds light on a lot of questions.

Yes,In the mid 1800’s Our Lady appeared to two little children Maximin and Melanie who were tending cows on top of one of the slopes in the French Alps near the town of LaSalette. When they saw her they became freightened they didn’t know who she was and what she wanted but noticed she was crying. She raised her head and told them “Do not be afraid my children…I am here to tell you great news” As she rose they noticed she wore a crucifix around her neck that was more radiant then anything else in the vision. On the left of the crucifix hung a miniature hammer and on the right,pincers. While speaking to the children she told them of things that were to happen because of the sins of men. She mentioned specifically not going to Church and taking “My Son’s” name in vain. She foretold a great famine would come and many would die but if “my people” would heed this warning and be converted rocks and stones will turn into heaps of wheat. She also told them the importance of daily prayer. So I woud conclude that our sins our there on the cross each one as foretold by the hammer but through repentance and prayer they are removed by the pincers. A mother’s story to her children, our mother Mary telling us she is very much aware of the deeds and misdeeds of her own. God Bless. Our Lady of LaSalette please continue to inform your children; intercede for our renewal in Jesus!

I am looking for the source of this quote from Origen and am coming up dry. Can you help me locate it for another thread I am responding to?

I’m sorry for taking so long. :blush:
Well, I often see it cited as being from his Commentary on Matthew 126 (on Matt. 27:33). The original Greek can be found at Patrologia Graeca 13, cols. 1776-1777.

Patrick, come on now. YOU are the one who posted this quote from Origen. So, I am just trying to find the source. I have been searching through the Church Fathers websites and have not been able to find these words. I really need this for another thread. Now I am starting to think you just made this up.:shrug: