Adam below the Cross on Calvary

crucifix traditional

I’m sure you’ve seen the skull and cross bones on traditional crucifixes. That’s Adam being redeemed by the New Adam. “James T” on stackexchange says this:

According to Emmanouela Grypeou and Helen Spurling (The Book of Genesis in Late Antiquity, Brill 2013, p71ff), the earliest Christian reference to this idea is Origen (c. 184-253), who traces it to Jewish tradition:

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’. (Commentary on Matthew, 27.32, original in Greek; later Latin translation here does not mention any Jewish tradition)

Essentially the same story is recounted by:

  • A text of c.325-350 attributed, probably falsely, to Athanasius of Alexandria (c.297-373)
  • John Chrysostom (c.347-407) in a homily on John’s gospel, 19:16, says “Some say that Adam died there, and there lies; and that Jesus in this place where death had reigned, there also set up the trophy.”
  • A fifth or sixth century commentary on Isaiah, attributed, again probably falsely, to Basil the Great (329-379)
  • Epiphanius of Salamis (c.310-403) in his Panarion 46.5, against the Tatianists, says Adam “was buried there, on the site of Golgotha. This is probably the way the place, which means ‘Place of a Skull’, got its name, since the contour of the site bears no resemblance to a skull.”
  • Basil of Seleucia (d. 458) in his Sermon 38 (Patrologia Graeca 85.409)
  • Jerome (347-420) in his commentaries on Matthew 27:33 and Ephesians 5:14, both written in 398; though he finds the story doubtful.

Even at this stage of Christian history, there was some doubt about the archaeological truth of the story, despite its tempting doctrinal resonance (Christ as the second Adam).

Whatever with all that, I think this has to do with a certain rock to be found in the crevice atop the rocky knoll of the quarry where the cross was inserted to give it stability. In that chapel built above that rocky knoll in the Church of the Resurrection (The Holy Sepulcher) in the old city of Jerusalem, there is an altar over the spot. Underneath that altar there is an opening in the floor and a fairly deep hole. If you go down on your knees and crawl under that altar, you can reach down into this hold and touch the rock below. Having done that, camera ever in hand, I also took a picture. It seems to me that the apt tradition about Adam being buried here came from this rock. And I don’t think anyone back in the day ever thought for a second that this was Adam himself, but that this rock lent itself to being a great reminder of why Christ Jesus had to redeem us.

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Meanwhile, longtime readers will be acquainted with Brake-Man (another symbolic symbol of the Adam of olden day), who is not particularly in his glory, nor should he be before the Friday we call Good.

3 Comments

Filed under Jesus

3 responses to “Adam below the Cross on Calvary

  1. sanfelipe007

    This is what extreme Priesthood looks like, I think. Another Thomas – “unless I put my hand…” 😉

  2. Gina Nakagawa

    I have not seen a crucifix with the skull and cross bones under the Christus for many years. It was a great reminder of why Jesus died for us. Though we are dead through sin, we are given new life through our being beneath Christ on His Cross. ” We praise Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee, because by Thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.”
    C

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