Contrary to current popular belief, the Latin or “Passion” cross was not a Christian emblem from the beginning. It was not assimilated into the Christian religion until the seventh century A.C., and was not fully authorized until the ninth century. Primitive churches preferred to represent Christ by the figure of a lamb, or else a “Good Shepherd” carrying a lamb, in the conventional manner of Hermes and Osiris. In several places the New Testament says that Jesus was hanged on a tree, not a cross (Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24) and some sects believed this tree to be literal, not metaphorical.
This would have envisioned Jesus rather closer to such tree-slain savior figures as Krishna, Marsyas, Odin and Dodonian Zeus.
Some early Christian fathers specifically repudiated the Latin cross on the ground that it was a pagan symbol. On a coin of Gallienus, it appeared as the scepter of Apollo. On the Damietta stone, it set off the words “Ptolemy the Savior”. According to the Greeks, this cross signified “the life to come” in the Egyptian religion of Sarapis.
Once the Latin cross was accepted by Christianity, all kind of pious nonsense began to accrete around the symbol. It was claimed, for example, that the very wood of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden had been preserved by Adam and all the patriarchs after him, in order to be fashioned into Jesus’ cross – for Jesus was declared the second or reincarnated Adam designed to correct the fault of the first one.