Alexamenos graffito

Alexamenos graffito

The Alexamenos graffito (also known as the "graffito blasfemo" [Harold Bayley, "Archaic England,: An essay in deciphering prehistory from megalithic monuments, earthworks, customs, coins, place-names, and faerie superstitions", Chapman & Hall, 1920, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC65992524&id=rfsgAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA393&lpg=PA393&dq=alexamenos p. 393] ] ) is an inscription carved in plaster on a wall near the Palatine hill in Rome. It is generally thought to be the earliest known pictorial representation of the crucifixion of Jesus [Walter Lowrie, "Monuments of the Early Church", Macmillan, 1901, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC18916902&id=cxIaAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA238&lpg=RA1-PA238&dq=alexamenos+earliest p. 238] ] [Dom Dunstan Adams, "What is Prayer?", Gracewing Publishing, 1999, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0852445024&id=tGQKHxcDcQ8C&dq=alexamenos+earliest p. 48] ] [Father John JPasquini, John J. Pasquini, "True Christianity: The Catholic Way", iUniverse, 2003, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0595305318&id=_rafFi_dt2gC&dq=alexamenos+earliest p. 105] ] [Augustus JohnCuthbert Hare, "Walks in Rome, Volume 1", Adamant Media Corporation, 2005, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1402186428&id=NjvP6cmXX94C&dq=alexamenos+earliest p. 201] ] [cite book
last=Viladesau
first=Richard
title=The Word in and Out of Season
year=1992
publisher=Paulist Press
isbn=0809136260
edition=
location=
url=http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0809136260&id=3FRi1eU4BYEC&pg=PA46&lpg=PA46&dq=alexamenos&sig=LUZ_GhWGBsQJWf9AJGVn0lQvomE#PPA46,M1
pages=46
] .

Content

The image depicts a human-like figure attached to a cross and possessing the head of an ass. In the top right of the image appears what has been variously interpreted as either the Greek letter upsilon or a tau cross [Harold Bayley, "Archaic England"] . To the left of the image is a young man, apparently intended to represent Alexamenos, [Rodolfo Lanciani, "Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries", 1898, chapter 5 'The Palace of the Ceasars'] raising one hand in a gesture possibly suggesting worship [Thomas Wright, Frederick William Fairholt, "A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art", Chatto and Windus, 1875, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC02153560&id=Pos741KQFtcC&pg=RA1-PA39&lpg=RA1-PA39&dq=alexamenos#PRA1-PA39,M1 p. 39] ] [Augustus John Cuthbert Hare, "Walks in Rome, Volume 1", Adamant Media Corporation, 2005, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1402186428&id=NjvP6cmXX94C&dq=alexamenos+earliest p. 201] ] .

Beneath the cross there is a caption written in crude
Greek: "Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον". In standard Greek, the word "ϲεβετε" is the imperative of the verb "worship". This would suggest a translation of the entire sentence as "Alexamenos, worship God".Rodney J. Decker, [http://faculty.bbc.edu/rdecker/alex_graffito.htm "The Alexamenos Graffito"] ] However it has been suggested by several scholars that "ϲεβετε" should be understood as a variant spelling (possibly a phonetic misspelling) of Standard Greek "ϲεβεται", which means "worships". As a result, the full inscription would then be translated as "Alexamenos worships [his] God". [David L. Balch, Carolyn Osiek, "Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue", Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN080283986X&id=VjMdbpzLhRQC&pg=PA103&lpg=PA103&dq=alexamenos&sig=wy9th3yPkBtg4frS_T26iK4_8lo#PPA103,M1 p. 103] ] [B. Hudson MacLean, "An introduction to Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman periods from Alexander the Great down to the reign of Constantine", University of Michigan Press, 2002, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0472112384&id=x2AD3M77TgMC&pg=RA1-PA208&lpg=RA1-PA208&dq=alexamenos&sig=BBohYqZwJkfRMaJkEwd8Q4HgR9g p. 208] ] . However, several other sources suggest a declarative statement "Alexamenos worshipping God", or similar variants, as the intended translation. [ [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01793c.htm Catholic Encyclopedia] , "The Ass (in Caricature of Christian Beliefs and Practices)" ] [ [http://www.ctsfw.edu/library/files/pb/1560 "The Crucifixion and Docetic Christology"] ] [ [http://www.sustain.ubc.ca/pdfs/seedreport04/dec04/Graffiti%20R%20Proj.pdf "A Sociological Analysis of Graffiti"] ] [Charles William King, "Gnostics and their Remains", 1887, [http://www.sacred-texts.com/gno/gar/gar71.htm p. 433 note 12] ]

Date

No clear consensus has been reached as to the date in which the image was originally made. Dates ranging from the late 1st to the late 3rd century have been suggested. [Michael Green, "Evangelism in the Early Church", Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0802827683&id=9F-nnE2dfqUC&pg=PA244&lpg=PA244&dq=alexamenos&sig=RUBibspJSosl4SG4p1bzffQupnI p. 244] ] [David L. Balch, Carolyn Osiek, "Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue", Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN080283986X&id=VjMdbpzLhRQC&pg=PA103&lpg=PA103&dq=alexamenos&sig=wy9th3yPkBtg4frS_T26iK4_8lo#PPA103,M1 p. 103] ] [B. Hudson MacLean, "An introduction to Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman periods from Alexander the Great down to the reign of Constantine", University of Michigan Press, 2002, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0472112384&id=x2AD3M77TgMC&pg=RA1-PA208&lpg=RA1-PA208&dq=alexamenos&sig=BBohYqZwJkfRMaJkEwd8Q4HgR9g p. 208] ] [Hans Schwarz, "Christology", Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0802844634&id=rcrsdlz041AC&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=alexamenos&sig=xtrfepVaotZ9n41804ELSOAp07I p. 207] ] [Rodolfo Lanciani, "Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries", 1898]

Discovery and location

The graffito was discovered in 1857 when a building called the "domus Gelotiana" was unearthed on the Palatine Hill. The emperor Caligula had acquired the house for the imperial palace, which after Caligula died became used as a "Paedagogium" or boarding-school for the imperial page boys. Later the street on which the house sat was walled off to give support to extensions to the buildings above, and it thus remained sealed for centuries. [Augustus JohnCuthbert Hare, "Walks in Rome, Volume 1", Adamant Media Corporation, 2005, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1402186428&id=NjvP6cmXX94C&dq=alexamenos+earliest p. 201] ] [Edward L Cutts, "History of Early Christian Art", Kessinger Publishing, 2004, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0766187217&id=zayvAvrH0EwC&pg=PA200&lpg=PA200&dq=alexamenos&sig=c0NKzmLfgS0qKD4rnXygRrjwcDQ#PPA200,M1 p. 200] ] . The graffito is today housed in the Palatine antiquarium in Rome. [Rodney J. Decker, [http://www.ntresources.com/alex_graffito.htm "The Alexamenos Graffito"] ]

Interpretation

The inscription is accepted by the vast majority of scholars to be a mocking depiction of a Christian. Both the portrayal of Jesus as having an ass's head and the depiction of him being crucified would have been considered insulting by contemporary Roman society. Crucifixion continued to be used as an execution method for the worst criminals until its abolition by the emperor Constantine in the fourth century, and the impact of seeing a figure on a cross could be compared with the impact today of portraying a man with a hangman's noose around his neck, or seated in an electric chair. [N. T. Wright, "What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?", 1997, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0802844456&id=gCsD4nkYeEQC&pg=RA1-PA46&lpg=RA1-PA46&ots=RHxAOLTOZu&dq=jesus+cross+hangman%27s+noose&sig=CW0apVCcpX004HDLNDeD8vIJTKk p. 46] ]

The accusation that Christians practiced "onolatry" (worship of donkey) seems to have been common at the time. Tertullian, writing in the late second or early third century, reports that Christians, along with Jews, were accused of worshipping a deity with the head of an ass. He also mentions an apostate Jew who carried around Carthage a caricature of a Christian with ass's ears and hooves, labeled "Deus Christianorum Onocoetes" ("the God of the Christians begotten of an ass") [Tertullian, "Ad nationes", [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian06.html 1:11, 1:14] ] .

Others have suggested that the graffito depicts worship of the Egyptian gods Anubis [B. Hudson MacLean, "An introduction to Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman periods from Alexander the Great down to the reign of Constantine", University of Michigan Press, 2002, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0472112384&id=x2AD3M77TgMC&pg=RA1-PA208&lpg=RA1-PA208&dq=alexamenos&sig=BBohYqZwJkfRMaJkEwd8Q4HgR9g p. 208] ] or SethCathEncy
wstitle =The Ass (in Caricature of Christian Beliefs and Practices)
first = Maurice
last = Hasset
authorlink = Maurice M. Hasset
accessdate = 2007-07-13
."Wünsch, however, conjectures that the caricature may have been intended to represent the god of a Gnostic sect which identified Christ with the Egyptian ass-headed god Typhon-Seth (Bréhier, "Les origines du crucifix", 15 sqq.). But the reasons advanced in favour of this hypothesis are not convincing."] or that the young man is actually engaged in a gnostic ceremony involving a horse-headed figure and that rather than a Greek upsilon it is a tau cross at the top right of the crucified figure. [Harold Bayley, "Archaic England,: An essay in deciphering prehistory from megalithic monuments, earthworks, customs, coins, place-names, and faerie superstitions", Chapman & Hall, 1920, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC65992524&id=rfsgAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA393&lpg=PA393&dq=alexamenos p. 393-394] ] .

ignificance

There is some controversy whether the veneration of the crucifix depicted in the graffito was actually practiced by contemporary Christians, or whether it was another element, like the ass's head, added to the image to ridicule Christian beliefs. According to one argument, the alleged presence of a loincloth on the crucified figure, in contrast to usual Roman procedure in which the condemned was completely naked, proves that the artist must have based his illustration on an activity he had observed Alexamenos or others performing [ [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04517a.htm "Archæology of the Cross and Crucifix", "Catholic Encyclopedia" (1917)] ] . Against this it has been argued that the cross was not actually used in worship until the fourth and fifth centuries [David L. Balch, Carolyn Osiek, "Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue", Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN080283986X&id=VjMdbpzLhRQC&pg=PA103&lpg=PA103&dq=alexamenos&sig=wy9th3yPkBtg4frS_T26iK4_8lo#PPA103,M1 p. 103, footnote 83] ] .

"Alexamenos fidelis"

In the next chamber, another inscription in a different hand reads in Latin "Alexamenos fidelis", meaning "Alexamenos is faithful" or "Alexamenos the faithful"CathEncy
wstitle =Graffiti
first = Maurice M.
last = Hassett
authorlink = Maurice M. Hassett
accessdate = 2007-07-13
] . This has been suggested as a riposte, by an unknown party, to the mockery of Alexamenos as represented in the graffito [Michael Green, "Evangelism in the Early Church", Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0802827683&id=9F-nnE2dfqUC&pg=PA244&lpg=PA244&dq=alexamenos&sig=RUBibspJSosl4SG4p1bzffQupnI p. 244] ] .

References

ee also

*Onolatry

External links

* [http://www.ntresources.com/alex_graffito.htm The Alexamenos Graffito: page by Rodney J. Decker]
* [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/gladiators/graffito.html Alexamenos and pagan perceptions of Christians]
* [http://www.aug.edu/augusta/iconography/2003additions/alexamenosGraffito.html Christian iconography: the Alexamenos graffito]
* [http://www.religionfacts.com/jesus/image_gallery/200_alexamanos_graffito.htm ReligionFacts: the Alexamenos graffito]
* [http://www.textexcavation.com/alexamenos.html Alexamenos: a Christian mocked for believing in a crucified God]
* [http://www.biblepicturegallery.com/pictures/ChristianW/Alexamenos%20worships%20his%20god%20-%20graffito%20from%20end%20o%20ca.htm Bible picture gallery page]


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