Apologetics, Archaeology, z10
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Early image of Jesus found?

Coptic image of Jesus courtesy Mission Oxyrhynchus

Coptic image of Jesus — courtesy Mission Oxyrhynchus

Archaeologists from the University of Barcelona (Spain) and the Catalan Egyptology Society believe they located an early painting depicting Jesus. They date the image to somewhere between the 6th and 7th century.

The large drawing was found in the remains of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt which was originally located on a ceremonial road that traveled from the Nile river to a Temple of Osiris — the Egyptian god of the underworld.

The painting was on a wall in an underground room. Because of the bones and other artifacts found there, the archaeologists believe this was the burial tomb for a number of Christian priests and a writer — based on an ink well and pens also found in the area. 

The city is home to thousands of ancient papyri and this young man, thought to be 17 when he died, is the first person discovered associated with copying these ancient writings.

The image pictures a young man wearing a short tunic. He appears to have curly hair and along with some Coptic priests has his hands raised giving a blessing.

Dr. Josep Padro a professor at the University of Barcelona said:

“We could be dealing with a very early image of Jesus Christ.”

Archaeologists will have a better idea once they translate the writings on the wall associated with the painting.

They found the ancient room after removing nearly 45 tonnes of rock. There also appears to be a staircase leading to other rooms which to this point have not been dug out.

The earliest image of Jesus

Perhaps the earliest depiction of Jesus found is actually quite slanderous. Dated between the 1st and 3rd century, it comes in the form of graffiti drawn on a wall of a building in Rome.

It appears Roman soldiers were mocking a Christian soldier in their midst. They drew a picture of a man with a donkey’s head hanging on a cross. It has a Roman soldier standing to the left of the scene with a hand raised.

Beneath the image they wrote the words in Greek:  “Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον. ϲεβετε.”  Translated it reads “Alexamenos worships [his] God”  or “Alexamenos worshiping God.”

Graffiti on a Roman wall dated to the first century. It depicts a man worshipping a crucified donkey. The words read "Alexamenos worships [his] god." It is believed Roman soldiers were mocking a Christian solder. Wikipedia

Graffiti on a Roman wall dated to the first century. It depicts a Roman soldier worshiping a crucified donkey. The words read “Alexamenos worships [his] god.” It is believed Roman soldiers were mocking a Christian solder. Wikipedia

Archaeologists discovered the image in 1857 on the wall of a building located on Rome’s Palatine Hill.

The building was significant. The Roman Emperor Caligula had initially purchased the house to be part of his palace. After he died, the building housed page boys who worked in the palace.

According to Roman culture of that day, Jesus’ depiction as a donkey was a deliberate insult. Early Christian apologist Tertullian (160 to 225 AD) wrote that both Christians and Jews were accused of worshiping a donkey.

In Ad Nationes, Tertullian cited an example of a Jew living in Carthage who had an image of a Christian with the ears/hooves of a donkey. Underneath the image he had the words: “The God of the Christians begotten of an ass.”

Considering Jesus’ warning that His disciples would be persecuted because people’s hatred of Jesus (Matthew 10:22), it should not surprise that such a blasphemous drawing of Jesus would be one of the earliest depictions found.

In a nearby room, another person had also written on a wall the words: “Alexamenos is faithful.” This may have been a rebuttal to the first graffiti and possibly written by the Christian soldier indicating he was remaining true to his faith despite the persecution.

It is ironic, considering a Roman soldier ordered to guard the crucifixion of Jesus may have also come away a believer:

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NASV)


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