A scholar isn’t so sure...
Of the four Gospels, only one has Jesus dragging a cross to his crucifixion: John 19:17. The others have some poor schlep named Simon of Cyrene doing it. Now, this iconic image is being further questioned by theologian Gunnar Samuelsson of the University of Gothenburg, who wonders if a cross was involved at all.
In the original Greek, the New Testament says Jesus carried a “stauros” to the site of his crucifixion. The word is usually translated as “cross,” and the verb derived from it—anastauroun—is thought to imply crucifixion. But in his 400-page study on crucifixion in the ancient world, Samuelsson found that these words had more than one meaning. He says that the word “stauros” was used to describe anything from a spiked pole to a tree trunk, and that crucifixion was far less common in ancient Rome than usually thought. Skewing victims on pikes may have been the more likely method of execution. Ew.
I for one hope this isn’t true. First of all, how do you explain all those stigmata victims? That’s a lot of horror movies and nuns suffering from possession that got it wrong. It means all those bloody wrists missed the target and that these victims should have been bleeding from their—eh, well, okay…maybe that’s why they opted for the cross over the spike. Furthermore, nobody is going to wear a gold Jesus-kabob around their neck—it’s too gristly. And since Protestants use only the cross and not the Jesus as an icon, their central symbol of worship would be a simple pointed stick. That’s not gonna move product.
The cross was not the symbol of Christianity until centuries after the time of Jesus. It’s a Church add-on. The fish was the original emblem of the early Christians but, somehow, if you marched into battle with a fish on your battle standard, the enemy just wasn’t going to take you seriously. You needed a logo with a certain crusading oomph! The cross is much effective for that, and I imagine most believers will stick with that image. Also, pay no attention to the claims that the Romans used Crazy Glue.
For more on the study: