By: Kaufmann Kohler
- 1. The stake (σταῦρος = or ) used by the Romans at crucifixion. This was so familiar to the Jews in New Testament times that they spoke frequently of "men carrying their cross before them while going to be executed" (Gen. R. lvi.; Pesiḳ. R. xxxi., ed. Buber, 143b), as did Jesus (Matt. x. 38, xvi. 24, and parallels; see Crucifixion).
- 2. A specific Christian symbol: termed by Jews ("warp and woof"); also ("idol"). Concerning this the law is: "As far as it is made an object of worship by Christians, it is to be treated as an idol and prohibited for use; if, however, it is worn as an ornament without any religious object, its use is permitted to the Jews" (Isserles, Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yore De'ah, 141, 1: R. Mordecai to 'Ab. Zarah iii. in the name of R. Eleazar b. Jacob of Worms). However, being a Christian symbol, it has always been scrupulously avoided by Jews. Pious Jews would not even wear badges or decorations with the cross attached to them, whereas more liberal ones do not hesitate to wear either the Iron Cross as German soldiers, or the Red Cross as members of the Red Cross Society. To embroider ornamental crosses upon silk dresses for Christian ladiesis not forbidden to Jewish artists, according to Solomon b. Adret (see Berliner, "Aus dem Leben der Juden," 1900, pp. 13, 130). The Jewish aversion to using any sign resembling a cross was so strong that in books on arithmetic or algebra written by Jews the plus sign was represented by an inverted "ḳameẓ" ().The cross as a Christian symbol or "seal" came into use at least as early as the second century (see "Apost. Const." iii. 17; Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, "Apologia," i. 55-60; "Dial. cum Tryph." 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons (Tertullian, "De Corona," iii.; Cyprian, "Testimonies," xi. 21-22; Lactantius, "Divinæ Institutiones," iv. 27, and elsewhere). Accordingly the Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may be learned from Tertullian, "Apologia," xii., xvii., and Minucius Felix, "Octavius," xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the cross (see Apocalypse of Mary, viii., in James, "Texts and Studies," iii. 118). Nevertheless Jewish teachers in the Middle Ages declared that Christians must be believed when swearing by the cross, as, in reality, they swear by the true God (Isaac of Corbeil, in "Sefer Miẓwot Ḳaṭan," 119, quoted by Güdemann, "Gesch. d. Erz. u. Cultur in Italien," 1880, i. 90). The fact, however, that the cross was worshiped as an idol during the Middle Ages caused the Jews to avoid (compare Ex. xxiii. 13) the very word "Cross," as well as all derivatives of it; for instance, "kreuzer" they called "ẓelem" or, abbreviated, "ẓal"; and the town "Kreuznach" they called "Ẓelem-Maḳom."
Several forms of the cross appear to have been used: the simple form, like a plus sign, the so-called St. Andrew's cross, and the Latin cross, which is mentioned in Ezek. ix. 4 (Hebr.) as the "mark of life set upon the men to be saved" (compare Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and Vulgate, or St. Jerome, to Ezek. l.c.; and Tertullian, "Adversus Marcum," iii. 22; compare Job xxxi. 35). On the other hand, the oblique or St. Andrew's cross, resembling the letter "x," was used in Justin's time (see "Apologia," i. 60, where he compares the Christian cross with the cosmogonic starting-point in Plato's "Timæus," 36), and was known also to the Jews (see Anointing and Cabala), this form as the initial letter of Χριστός being preferably used. In Jewish circles the original connections of both the Latin and the St. Andrew's cross were quite naturally ignored.
- Zöckler, Das Kreuz Christi, 1875;
- Hastings, Dict. Bibl. s.v.;
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v.;
- Winer, B. R. s.v.;
- Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. s.v.;
- Krauss, Realencyclopädie der Christlichen Archäologie, s.v.