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I am trying to check if the story of Saint Helena mother of Constantine 1 finding the true cross logically follows or not.

The most common story goes ( Wikipedia:Church of the Holy Sepulchre)

Following the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 during the First Jewish–Roman War, Jerusalem had been reduced to ruins. In AD 130, the Roman emperor Hadrian began the building of a Roman colony, the new city of Aelia Capitolina, on the site. Circa AD 135, he ordered that a cave containing a rock-cut tomb[d] be filled in to create a flat foundation for a temple dedicated to Jupiter or Venus. The temple remained until the early 4th century.

After allegedly seeing a vision of a cross in the sky in 312, Constantine the Great began to favor Christianity, signed the Edict of Milan legalising the religion, and sent his mother, Helena, to Jerusalem to look for Christ's tomb. With the help of Bishop of Caesarea Eusebius and Bishop of Jerusalem Macarius, three crosses were found near a tomb; one which allegedly cured people of death was presumed to be the True Cross Jesus was crucified on, leading the Romans to believe that they had found Calvary. Constantine ordered in about 326 that the temple to Jupiter/Venus be replaced by a church. After the temple was torn down and its ruins removed, the soil was removed from the cave, revealing a rock-cut tomb that Helena and Macarius identified as the burial site of Jesus.

If crosses were re-used then this part would absolutely mean nothing "three crosses were found near a tomb" ... like they just won't leave the same three crosses laying the same exact place especially after the absolute mess that happened in AD 70.

In addition that for wood to decompose upwards of 50-100 years if left whole. This is why for composting it's best to chip the wood and she is supposed to have found remains of the thing after 4.4 times the decomposition time!

I find it really oddly specific that they found the real tomb inside a pagan temple, like why of all places did the Roman emperor Hadrian pick Jesus's tomb to build a pagan temple on?

John 19:41-42 says:

41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

while it's said

Helena, later known as Flavia Julia Helena Augusta, mother of Constantine the Great, was credited after her death with having discovered the fragments of the Cross and the tomb in which Jesus was buried at Golgotha. Brown University.EDU

Does the verse contradict the location?

In addition that I read this reasoning:

it is far too close to the supposed site of the crucifixion. A rich and influential person like Joseph of Arimathea would never have chosen a site intended for his own burial so close to where the Romans executed criminals.

I need verified answers since I am using this for a research project.

(what matters now is the cross reuse part)

After doing more research I found that the story of Helena is missing from the earliest source and not mentioned up until a decade later.

Eusebius of Caesarea at the book of Life of Constantine 337-340 AD is the earliest source about the construction of the church. Eusebius only mentions Constantine and Macarius being involved. The story goes like this

The bishop of Jerusalem Macarius asked permission from Constantine to start an excavation to search for the tomb, after demolishing a template to Aphrodite built over the area the excavators soon made a discovery

Eusebius writes:

As soon as the original surface of the ground, beneath the covering of earth, appeared, immediately and contrary to all expectation, the venerable and hallowed monument of our Savior’s resurrection was discovered.

Source: life of Constantine(book iii p.133), while he did mention Helena elsewhere in the text but he only gives her credit for sponsoring two churches

  1. Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
  2. Chapel of the Ascension, on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Eusebius lavishes her with praise so if she were to have been involved with xxcavating the tomb of Christ, we would expect him to mention her as well, but that isn't mentioned until decades later by other Christian writers. ex. Socrates Scholasticus wrote about a century after Eusebius in his book The Ecclesiastical History which was finished in 439. Also the church was supposedly already being built by the time Helena arrived in Jerusalem around 326-327 (life of Constantine book iii 274 commentary) they don't say in what year/month she did actually arrive they just say "undertook a trip to Palestine" The Brown University.EDU says Which more confirms that she indeed did arrive in 327.

Traveling via Syria, she came to see for herself the churches which Constantine had ordered to be built in Jerusalem and to pray there for her son. Faust’s mother Eutropia also found her way to Jerusalem (but there is no indication that the two traveled together). The whole imperial court had returned to the east by the spring of A.D. 327 and Helena’s journey probably began in that year, no light undertaking for a woman in her late seventies.

Most References say that beginning in 325 or 326 CE Emperor Constantine commissioned his architect, Zenobius, to build a large church in a basilica style within Roman Jerusalem

So The Dates go like the following

  1. siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. In AD 130, the Roman emperor Hadrian began the building of a Roman colony. Circa AD 135, he ordered that a cave containing a rock-cut tomb be filled in to create a flat foundation for a temple dedicated to Jupiter or Venus
  2. 325/326 CE, the previous temple was found and after it was torn down by orders of Constantine the tomb of Christ was found underneath it and the church was ordered to be built
  3. 326/327 CE Saint Helena undertook a trip to Palestine (327 is more probably due to A.R. Birley lean on it in detail)
  4. 13 September 335 CE The church was finished and consecrated

The Date mixing rules the story of Helena even more. I think if we were to know the original date of Feast of the Cross it would help pin dates down even more.

A Reference That mentions most sources about the story of the finding of the tomb

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    – MCW
    Apr 23, 2023 at 22:56

1 Answer 1

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Did the Romans reuse crosses? Yes and no, in all possible senses. The data is unclear; they might have reused some parts and not others; practices probably differed depending on all kinds of contexts.

Two selections from John J. Collins, "Exegetical Notes: The archaeology of the Crucifixion," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 1:2 (April 1939):

During the siege of Jerusalem by Titus sometimes 500 Jews were captured and crucified daily before the walls of the city. The soldiers in their fury and mockery crucified them one in one positon [sic] and another in another until crosses were lacking for the victims and wood was lacking for the crosses.

The method of crucifixion included scourging, and the carrying of the cross to the place of execution [...] What is meant by carrying the cross? Greek and Rabbinic writers use this phrase but the older Latin writers mention carrying the patibulum or cross-bar. "Carrying the cross" may be a figure of synecdoche. Pļautus in his comedies indicates that the slave carried the patibulum [...] Other texts seem to indicate the cross, i.e., the upright beam, as fixed in the ground permanently and the crucified as lifted up to the cross. These citations have led some to conclude that the entire cross was erected first, the criminal then hoisted up and nailed to it. [...] [I]f the patibulum alone were carried, the hands would be nailed to the patibulum on the ground, then this piece with the victim dangling from it would be lifted up by means of ladders and forked poles (furcillae), fitted into the socket of the upright beam, and finally the feet nailed.

Per the first selection, it was apparently possible to run out of the apparatus, which would be difficult to do if the whole apparatus were reused over and over.

Per the second selection, there's a reasonable theory that the upright post (confusingly also known as the cross) might have been permanently fixed in the place of execution, and a new crossbar (or patibulum) used for each victim. On the other hand, we must remember that "the post was emplaced before the victim arrived" is different from "the post was permanently fixed in place and reused"; and we can't necessarily tell the difference based only on what we see "on-camera."

Now some unsourced speculation on my part: There are various economic models that could be involved here, and I don't know if we have any information on which one(s) it was.

  • You could have an itinerant "contract executioner" who supplies (and presumably reuses) his own props. (John Granger Cook, "Crucifixion as Spectacle in Roman Campania," Novum Testamentum 54:1 (2012); Jean-Jacques Aubert, "The lex Puteolana de munere publico libitinario," Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic (2004) [archive.org]) This would make sense for a Roman arena spectacle, but perhaps not for Pilate's purposes.
  • Wood from crosses would have economic value (e.g. as firewood); I wouldn't expect single-use crosses to just sit around and decay. You could prevent their immediate use-as-firewood if there were a social taboo around such wood; but then we'd expect some documentation of that taboo. (Which there might be, but I haven't found it.) Compare the much more recent use of temporary gallows for hangings in Britain and the U.S.; what happened to that wood? I fail to find anything on what happened to gallows-wood, taboo or otherwise.
  • Alternatively, the taboo could have been property law: Wood from crosses might remain "state property," with punishments for "stealing" it; this might come with a whole industrial organization for anonymizing and recycling it under the auspices of the state, or it might not.

(I'm sure that a trio of wooden crosses wouldn't actually have remained standing in the same place for >300 years; but then, you knew that.)

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    "it was apparently possible to run out of the apparatus, which would be difficult to do if the whole apparatus were reused over and over." Since crucification takes several days, it is quite easy to imagine a situation where the Romans temporarily run out of crosses, even if they re-use them.
    – Jan
    Jan 30 at 13:46
  • FWIW gallows wood in the UK and much of the USA would rot fairly quickly compared to the much drier environment of Israel. Not sure on the environment of Jerusalem ~2k years ago, but it's within the Roman Warm Period (280 BCE to 400 AD), so probably similar to today. Not to mention that if nails were used (a separate question in itself), the upright would have a limited number of reuses due to lack of places the nails might hold - though nails + rope would do the trick I guess.
    – bob1
    Feb 1 at 4:03
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    "Yes and no, in all possible senses. The data is unclear; they might have reused some parts and not others; practices probably differed depending on all kinds of contexts." This is a superb answer all by itself to almost any question to to whether any ancient civilization followed a standard practice! A tidy, systematic approach to government is a modern luxury that ancient societies rarely had -- and even if they did, the practice rarely lasted for long. History is messy because people are messy.
    – Mark Olson
    Feb 2 at 15:02
  • Really appreciate everyone's points here...I searched for so long but wasn't able to figure how Helen's story is simply accepted whilst not making logic. i am accepting the answer now , feel free to edit.
    – mina nageh
    Feb 2 at 21:23

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