Greco-Roman Conceptions of Crucifixion: “The Barren Tree”

The Romans employed crucifixion as a death sentence for the lowliest of scum. To them, the crucifix was known as “the barren tree”, a name surely used to embody the hopelessness and loneliness present in such a manner of death. What else could one possibly see when they think of such a phrase? Most likely the first image that comes to mind is a leafless, lifeless tree. Such a tree is molting like a cicada shedding its past life. As the autumn comes, the leaves must wither and fall. Nature has deemed it time for the oak trees to shed themselves of the old so as to prepare for the coming of spring, when it will be time to give birth to the new. Was Christ on the cross not the exact embodiment of such natural processes? The shedding of the old—Greco-Roman fate— to make way for the new—Christian salvation. 

This conception, by the way, the concept of “the barren tree”, pre-dated Christ. Therefore the fact that Christ’s lonely death gave birth to a new, filial eternity mimicking the barren nature of an oak tree in the dead of winter is no coincidence, but fate. 

“The barren tree” is a tree void of any semblance of hope; for atop the hill towards which the criminal carries his crucifix, the post which will soon carry the entire weight of his being, awaits a black hole that will suck all hope from his body. Lying at the center of that crucifix is nothing but death; nothing but the extermination of that criminal’s future awaits him. “The barren tree” is soon to be barren of any life and only death will hang upon its frame. Such a tree is barren of any hope for the future, any hope of survival. Once a criminal is nailed to his crucifix and the buzzards begin to tear at his flesh, there is no hope of escape. Escape, thus the continuation of life, becomes an impossibility. The barren nature of the tree is herein made final. 

In this way, “The barren tree” is a tree completely void of any other conceptions of time outside the present. The future is extinguished via deaths impending arrival. The past now exists as nothing more than the confluence of events that has led to hell on earth(the pain, torture, and humiliation of being crucified.) All that exists for the crucified is the excruciating and weighted pain of the present, culminating in the one hundred pound cross carrying the full weight of the moment, the full weight of an extinguished human life.  

“The barren tree” is steeped in misery. All that exists upon it is pain. All that exudes from the persecutors below is evil, wickedness, and sadism. They poke and prod as life seeps from the hanging fruit that is the betrayer, that is betrayal personified. Through such sadism, the barren nature of the tree begins to affect not only the living body of the crucified, but the souls of the crucifiers; their souls become barren of any light as they morph into pits of darkness and revenge. Such an instantiation of reality is free of any happiness or joy. Upon such a barren tree, mirth hath no wellspring. And yet God made flesh, the bringer of the ultimate wellspring of mirth and salvation, hung upon such a barren, miserable tree and made good his promise. 

Here, man can see God’s ultimate power: the power of inversion. Through such a power, momentary death became eternal life. Through Christ’s moment upon “the barren tree” came multitudes of bounty. From utter misery came pure joy. From a moment of bloody libel and shame comes man’s ultimate source of pride. From a future cut short and ended in its prime, comes the ultimate primacy at the right hand of the Father. From a tree void of hope comes hope for all of mankind. For the most wretched among us, salvation becomes attainable and the barrenness of life is filled with hope. Life now becomes a glorious play in which barrenness is of no concern. The fullness of his Love now reigns supreme, giving flight to the once grounded and restless human heart.

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