In 2008, marine archaeologists announced the discovery of a small pot that may contain the earliest reference to Jesus Christ.
The pot was found while excavating the ancient underwater ruins of Alexandria’s harbor located in Egypt. The submerged area also includes the sunken island of Antirhodos where some believe Cleopatra had her palace.
In an article posted on MSNBC, Jennifer Viegas of the Discovery Channel says the small pot had the words “DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS” engraved along its side.
Most believe the word CHRSTOU is a reference to Jesus Christ. The pot is dated between the Second century BC and the early part of the first century placing it within the ministry years of Jesus.
But it’s the remaining words that proved controversial because it has been interpreted to mean “by Christ the magician” or “the magician by Christ.”
Frank Goddio, a member of the European Institute of Submarine Archaeology and leader of the team working the site said magicians were very popular during this period and similar bowls were used for fortune telling.
He said soothsayers would pour oil into a bowl of water and then enter a trance-like state to interpret the oil formations. During resulting hallucinations, the magicians encountered divine beings who could be asked questions about a person’s future, which the magician would then relay — for a price of course.
He adds, “It is very probable that in Alexandria they were aware of the existence of Jesus.” Since stories were circulating about Christ’s miraculous powers — healings, deliverances and miracles such as turning water into wine — Goddio suggests this individual was trying to legitimize his abilities by associating them with Christ.
This is exactly how a magician from this period would look at Christ. He would be considered a top-flight magician — one worth mimicking.
Goddio says they looked upon Jesus as the “primary exponent of white magic.”
Simon wants the magic
In fact, this wasn’t the first time a magician from this era — intrigued by the miraculous elements of Jesus and the early church — tried to connect with Christianity.
In Acts 8, we have the curious account of the conversion of Simon, a magician in Samaria. He was probably the first Hollywood-type conversion of the early church.
Luke writes that Simon was infamous for his magical abilities:
“and they all from the smallest to the greatest, were giving attention to him saying, ‘This man is what is called the great power of God.’ And they were giving him attention because he had long astonished them with his magic arts.” (vs 10, 11)
When Philip — who was joined a short time later by Peter — showed up in Samaria, he immediately attracted crowds when miracles started happening.
Simon was intrigued and initially may have looked at Philip as little more than competition needing to be checked out. Simon quickly realized something significant was happening beyond his realm of experience and accepted Christ. However, his conversion was suspect.
Simon joined up with Peter and Philip and when the magician saw the powerful displays that followed the Holy Spirit baptism, Simon offered money to purchase the secrets to this incredible power (v 18, 19).
In a nutshell, Simon looked upon the Holy Spirit display as a magical ability whose secret could be bought, suggesting he wanted to include it in his repertoire of magical arts because of its profit potential.
Outraged, Peter said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the Gift of God through money. You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God” (vs 20, 21). After the sharp rebuke, Simon did repent.
This bowl along with Simon’s interest shows that magicians were curious about Christianity’s miraculous side — but perhaps with less than pure motives.