Midweek Review
The Anuradhapura Cross

I have read with interest the thesis submitted by Prof. Ariyasinghe on the above topic [Saturday Island, page II of the Supplement of November 9th 2002] It may have been noted that the particular platform for his dissertation arose from and was based on the proposed date of the object’s appearance on the ancient stela and was not particularly dealing with its possible origin, intent or purpose. There seems no argument against the religious nature of that enigmatic symbol, while there was "supporting evidence" in favour of it being counted as a later interpolation. It is also deemed as fact, such a representation must obviously stem from the action of someone among Christendom’s agents: Portuguese visitors, or otherwise previously.

My response is intended only as a continuation of the discussion, and (hopefully) includes some well-researched facts having relevance; which in turn, may serve to illuminate whichever theory the author (Prof. Ariyasinghe) suggests.

The coincidence notwithstanding of another example of a cross (or crosses) as found among archaeological remains in India, the use of such an item as a religious symbol pre-dates the so-called "Christian" use of the same. Parallel with this same issue, it is worthwhile recognizing that no such use of religious symbols is sanctioned within the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, nor among the writings of his faithful followers among his contemporaries. Rather, the only sanctioned (approved and endorsed) or fitting memorial being the observance on the same date as the Jewish Passover, the anniversary of his death, the "Lord’s Evening Meal" or Last Supper, while using the emblems of unleavened bread and red wine.

In harmony with this line of reasoning, it should be no surprise that the New Catholic Encyclopedia comments thus: "The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument [cross] of the Lord’s Passion" - (1967) Volume IV, p 486. As further witness, there is yet another telling phrase as appears in J. F. Hurst’s respected History of the Christian Church which deals with the worship and practice among first century followers: "There was no use of the crucifix and no material representation of the cross". - page 366 Vol. 1. [italics added)

What though of the cross’s use in antiquity? Noteworthy is the submission as appears in the Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 6 p753 (edition of 1946)" Various objects, dating from periods long anterior to the Christian era, have been found, marked with crosses of different designs, in almost every part of the old world. India, Syria, Persia and Egypt have all yielded numberless examples.... The use of the cross as a religious symbol in pre-Christian times and among non-Christian peoples may probably be regarded as almost universal, and in very many cases it was connected with some form of nature worship". [emphasis added]

Further to this, a reference work which approaches the same topic from another perspective says, "It is strange, yet unquestionably a fact, that in ages long before the birth of Christ, and since then in lands untouched by the teaching of the Church (of Christendom), the Cross has been used as a sacred symbol.... The Greek Bacchus, the Tyrian Tammuz, and Chaldean Bel, and the Norse Odin, were all symbolized to their votaries by a cruciform device." -page 1, The Cross in Ritual, Architecture, and Art, by G. S. Tyack. [emphasis added]

Could it be then, that in oriental religious traditions, there may be found such evidence of the use of "a cruciform device" as could well have found its way into the scheme of things in Anuradhapura during medieval or even pre-Christian eras? Before venturing any further along such a hypothesis, it might serve to note research such as was done into Egyptian religious traditions. The book "A Short History of Sex Worship" by H. Cutner reveals in pages 16&17, "Various figures of crosses are found everywhere on Egyptian monuments and tombs, and are considered by many authorities as symbolical either of the phallus (a representation of the male sex organ] or of coition.... In Egyptian tombs the crux ansata [cross with a circle or handle at the top] is found side by side with the phallus". With regard to this correspondence toward symbols of fertility, one hardly needs to elaborate here, on the equally resonant use of these same among the Indian, and particularly Dravidian Saivite traditions of worship, in venerating the Sivalingam. (compare the linga and yoni concept).

Consonant with the knowledge of the ancient cultural crosscurrents as did prevail, attention has already been paid to the presence of Greek and Persian religious accommodation within Anuradhapura. [Cosmos lndicopleutus; see also The University of Ceylon: History of Ceylon Vol II edited by Prof. K. M. de Silva]. There has also been considerable research into the prevalence of Babylonian religious infusions within the mainstream of beliefs among the ancients of Lanka. The study of so-called "Buddhist iconography" has yielded much on this. For example symbolic motifs as are found in the Sandakadapahana is thought to be representative of many features of Babylonian belief systems; especially since none of these (symbols and motifs) has any direct relationship with the purity and simplicity of the Dhamma as propounded by Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who himself repudiated superstition and reliance on a pantheon as was commonly prevalent in his day within Hindu religious practice. (The concept of Sunya or Sunyabhava - Emptiness does not allow for any physical representation of Buddha or any saints or for the veneration of "symbols").

[There exists a sizeable body of research work in this area of Babylonian (Chaldean) antiquities and their concurrence with ancient Lankan iconography, collected by Mr. John Senaveratna, (sic) - Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Member of the Royal Asiatic Society (Sri Lanka Branch) & former Editor of "Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register" and Jt. Ed. "Historical Gazetteer of Ceylon", also, author of "The Story of the Sinhalese"].

Given the above, there is as much likelihood that the Cross symbol, as it appears in among the ruins at Anuradhapura, may have a non-Christian connotation, and could have stemmed from oriental and near Eastern sources. Two amazingly perceptive researchers of the Victorian 19th Century, Col. Wilford, and Sir G. Wilkinson have delved deeply into this matter of the "Eastern" cross, and published their observations in Asiatic Researches vol. x. p. 124., & vol. v. pp 283,284 . " The cross" says Wilford, "though not an object of worship among the Baudhas or Buddhists, is a favourite emblem and device among them. It is exactly the cross of the Manicheans, with leaves and flowers springing from it. This cross, putting forth leaves and flowers (and fruit also as I am told) is called the divine tree, the tree of the gods, the tree of life and knowledge, and productive of whatever is good and desirable, and is placed in the terrestrial paradise" (sic). Curiously, the illustrated sample that is appended with Wilford’s essay, is a very close approximation of the "floreate" cross that was shown with the article in The Saturday Island.

Wilkinson, on the other hand, is at pains to link the "Buddhist" cross with the "Babylonian", and the recognized emblem of Tammuz and its affinity with the Sun God of the ancients. [The present writer suggests additional reading on the subject of "Tammuz" and "tau"- the mystic initial of the name of Tammuz- which is discussed at some length in W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary (London 1962) p. 256). Wilkinson’s comments are corroborated in a statement by Tertullian writing in the 3rd Cent CE, about the corruption of the north African Church of Carthage by the adoption of "Pagan" religious symbols, and thus, explaining the appearance of Tammuz’s memorial cross inside the Church in Egypt. - see De Corona Militis, cap iii., vol. ii p.80. What is relevant in the foregoing digression is that, such cruciform devices came possibly from Babylonian [Mesopotamian] sources, and spread westward, in as much as it did, in all likelihood, into south Asia.

In this light, an associated symbol, namely, the Swastika (from the Sanskrit Svastika or Sauvastika) is found as a popular motif in Mesopotamian coinage, among the Maya of south America, the Navajos of the north American continent, is held sacred by the Jainas and Hindus alike, and, is found as a significant feature in a Gandhara period representation of the Buddha’s Foot, at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai; allowing one to appreciate the cross fertilization of concepts among ancient pre-Christian cultures.(Please pardon the pun!!)

Such as has occupied this discussion so far, is sufficient to foster further examination of the subject of the cross at Anuradhapura, as also would be adequately fertile to provoke some appropriate conclusions. However, it behoves one to touch on the subject of the instrument of Jesus’ torment and death, before closing.

Do not the Gospels and associated writings by first century Christians refer to the cross? Translations of the Greek Scriptures (the first-century Christians recorded their work in Koine Greek the non-literary vulgar tongue of the people) into English, have often been influenced by the term that was used in the Latin Vulgate, the early Latin version of the Greek language Bible. The Latin word for the instrument, which the Roman executioners used, is crux, and is rendered in English as cross. However, the vital question is whether the Latin crux is indeed correctly to be translated as cross. Able lexicographers admit that it should not.

The original koine Greek word used is "stau-ros"‘. It should also be noted that in a few occurrences in the Greek Scriptures, another word, namely "xy’lon" is used. Without lapsing into overweening argumentation, suffice it to note, that in classical Greek and in popular usage the noun stauros simply meant a ‘stake’ and the verb form stauro’o has been consistently meaning ‘to impale’. Similarly xylon was just a beam on which someone (e.g. a violator of the law) would be hanged. In neither case, was this supposed to be an upright beam with a crossbeam of any kind or at any angle.

As for the Latin rendition of the same koine Greek words, as crux - be it noted in this all too brief and fleeting an addendum to the main topic of the discussion- Livy, a Roman Historian of the first century BCE, in his writings implies that crux is a simple stake. We may reckon that any authoritative Latin dictionary will inform the examiner that the basic meaning of crux is a ‘tree, frame, or other wooden instrument of execution’, (hence, the term crux simplex; see the book De Cruce Liber Primus by the Roman Catholic scholar Justus Lipsius of the 16th Cent., who in page 647 deals with this method of execution using graphic detail). We may conclude that ‘cross’ is only a later meaning of crux.

There is an illuminating reference which appeared in a scholarly journal, a monthly publication for the Jesuits of Baltimore, known as The Ecclesiastical Review, which says in part: "It may be safely asserted that only after the edict of Milan AD 312, was the cross used as the permanent sign of our Redemption" [italics added]. What inference might one draw from such a statement (which was lengthily discussed in the text of that article in question)? That it would be unlikely that any agent of Christianity of the period prior to the 4th century, would have had any hand in the interpolation of a cross on a stela in ancient Anuradhapura. And too, there exists an equal possibility, that non-Christian sources were responsible for its appearance.