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The Cross Symbol

The cross is one of the oldest symbols found amongst historical civilizations and has served as an emblem of religious worship for many communities. While many are familiar with the cross as a Christian religious symbol, representing the crucifixion of Jesus, this Latin or Roman version of the cross has its origins in pagan imagery. The many variations of the cross appear in both ancient and contemporary societies, including Babylon, the Celtics, Scandinavia, Assyria and India. Various theories and findings have been proposed regarding the origins of the Christian cross on the basis of other civilizations.

The Tau Cross

The Tau cross is a T-shaped cross named after the ancient Greek letter T, which is also the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, X. The Tau is also known as St. Anthony’s cross or the Egyptian cross, and is believed to be an early version of what became the Christian cross. It is sometimes used to represent St. Anthony or St. Matthew in Christianity who are believed to have died on the Tau cross, and is often associated with Moses and the serpent of the Bible.

The Tau is believed to have been used by early Israelites of the Old Testament to distinguish themselves from those practicing paganism. The Tau was often marked on the foreheads of pagan priests during baptism rituals.

This cross once represented the Sumerian solar deity Tammuz, a forerunner of the Roman god Mithras and the Greek god Attis which the Tau also symbolized. It has appeared on ancient sculptures depicting Egyptian and Assyro-Babylonian divinity, such as Isis and Osiris, as a symbol of life and immortality.

The Greek Cross

The Greek cross predates the Latin cross and originally symbolized the four directions of the earth and the four platonic elements of air, water, fire and earth. Accordingly, this cross is depicted using four bands of equal length. It can also represent the twelve astrological signs of the sun, which in turn have been used to symbolize the twelve apostles.

The Greek cross dates back to ancient Babylon as the symbol of the sun god Shamash, and has been found on both Greek statues and coins. It has also been found in the Americas, the near-east, and the Euphrates-Tigris region dating as far back as 1500 BCE. It has additionally been found on Persian monuments and tablets. It has also made its way into Celtic art, both prior to and after the advent of Christianity, and was a common shape for the floor plans of many eastern churches.

The Egyptian Ankh

The ankh cross of Egypt is a Tau cross that is topped by an inverted tear shape and associated with Maat, the goddess of Truth. It also represents the sexual union of Isis, the Egyptian archetypal wife and mother, and Osiris, the Egyptian god of life, death, and fertility. The ankh is also an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph meaning "life."

The combination of the cross and circle that form the ankh are said to symbolize male and female elements of fertility and creative power. The loop also represents the sun and subsequently rebirth and reincarnation.

The ankh was later adopted by Coptic (Egyptian) Christians and Gnostics to symbolize holy marriage and the resurrection of Jesus. Some believe that the ankh represents the womb.

The Herculaneum Cross

In 1939, remains in the city of Herculaneum, the sister city of Pompeii, were uncovered, revealing a house or chapel that contained a wooden cross that had been nailed to a wall. Since the city of Herculaneum was destroyed by a volcano in 79 CE, the finding could have indicated that Christians had used the cross as a religious symbol prior to the time of Constantine, which is usually designated as the beginning of the cross’s popularization.

This finding is often coupled with the discovery of a picture in Palatine Rome dating to 200 CE, in which a crucified donkey is depicted. This is believed to have been a mockery of Christian followers as depicted by Romans, and the crucifixion scene is significant since it could prove that Christians worshipped the cross as early as 200 CE. Alternatively, since the cross had been in existence amongst many historical societies, the findings of such crosses could have been attributed to any number of these groups.


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