April 6, 2012

Titulus Crucis: The King of the Jews

In preparation for Holy Week, a couple weeks back I made a titulus. I had wanted to make one for about a year, and was originally going to make it with letters carved into wood (as is often seen in pictures of the crucifixion). However, after some research I found that the titulus that was placed above the cross, was more likely a board covered with gypsum with red or black lettering. Below are the sources I found and the pictures showing how I made the final product:

“It was customary at Roman executions, at least in the case of remarkable prisoners, for the charge under which the prisoner was suffering to be written briefly on a tablet covered with gypsum. This was usually hung round the neck of the criminal, or carried before him to the place of execution. It was afterwards hung from, or fixed to, the top of the cross.” (A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels; page 732)

“A plaque (tabula; Greek pinax) was prepared indicating the charge against the prisoner, i.e., the crime or causa poenae of which he had been convicted. ... Blinzer (Trial 254) imagines the writing would have been in red or black lettering on the white gypsum surface of a board. From our chief references to a titulus outside the NT, it appears that such an inscription was frequent but not necessary, that there was considerable latitude in the wording (which could contain a note of sarcasm), and that it could be displayed in several ways.” (The Death of the Messiah, Raymond E. Brown; page 963)

To make the titulus, I first cut a pine board to about 9x18. 

I then took a chisel and tried to make the wood look like it was hand hewn. 

Then came the fun part, aging the board. To do this, I went out, covered it with dirt, and spread the slightly wet dirt all over the board until it was colored and old looking. To get the aged look you do have to rub the dirt in quite a bit.

Next, I used Sheetrock Patching Compound (the dry kind) and created a mixture of "gypsum" for the board. I then added a very small handful of dry dirt to help add specks, and then spread a thin layer of the mixture over the surface of the board.

Next, I created the lettering in Photoshop and printed the image on a sheet of paper. I then placed the paper on the slightly wet gypsum, and with a mechanical pencil, scored the letters into the gypsum. I then painted the letters using red paint. The translation is as follows:

Hebrew: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
Latin: REX (King) IVDAEORVM (of the Jews)
Greek: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ (King) ΤΩΝ ΙΟΥΔΑΙΩΝ (of the Jews)

Finally, I hung the board with old looking flax twine, making sure to have enough space so that the titulus could be hung over the neck.

How ironic that the title that Jesus carried on that Friday morning, could not be more true. Truly, he was the King of Jews, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Good Friday to everyone!


  1. Good job! One thing which is apparent to me, is that the person found the project to be personally meaningful and significant, and did research about the project so far as finding an historically authentic process. Just this evening, I was telling a friend about the importance of learning Hebrew, Greek, and Latin as one studies the Bible.

  2. The letters should have been carved from right to left like the original.

    1. Only the hebrew goes right to left.


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