• on March 20, 2018

From the Pastor

The Alexamenos Graffito was discovered in 1857 during excavations of Roman buildings near the Palatine Hill. It is graffiti, scratched into the wall of a building. It now resides in the Palatine Hill Museum. The Graffito dates to ca. 200 of the Common Era. The Graffito is intended to be derogatory of Christians and their God. It depicts a man to the left of a Roman cross, one arm raised in worship. On the cross is a man with the head of an ass. The crude Greek inscription reads “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Arthur Dewey, in “Inventing the Passion” (Polebridge Press, 2017, p. 9), notes that the Graffito is significant because it is one of only two depictions of the crucifixion which can be dated before the fifth century. (The other is a third century Syrian gemstone depicting Jesus tied to a Roman cross.) Dewey further explains that iconography in the first four centuries commonly depicted Jesus as a wisdom teacher and a healer. Oral and written tradition attested to the crucifixion of Jesus but in proper Roman society crucifixion was not written about or depicted artistically. Crucifixion was meant to utterly humiliate, dishonor and erase from social memory its victims. The Romans used it to strike fear into those they ruled. Crucifixion was reserved for slaves, rebels, and others who dared to speak against the empire. Crucifixion was public, traumatic, and common in the empire. The crucified were not to be remembered.

Resurrection was also common. It was not unusual for great men of antiquity to be raised into glory at death by the gods. The second century apologist, Justin Martyr, wrote that he claimed nothing different about Jesus than the Romans claimed of their heroes in proclaiming his resurrection (1 Apology 21).  But resurrection to heavenly glory was reserved for likes of Mercury, Asclepius, Bacchus, Hercules and the Caesars. Jesus was nobody. He was a common laborer. He wasn’t wealthy. He wasn’t powerful. He was an itinerant preacher (read: homeless). He was a social critic. He was a pretender who claimed to be a king. In the ancient world resurrection was something the gods did for good men. It was not something the gods did for crucified criminals.

When we speak of resurrection today most people think of Jesus. Even if it is hard to believe, the one person we do believe to have been resurrected is Jesus. We think that made him unique. But what made the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead unique was crucifixion. Crucifixion was dishonorable. It was humiliating. Its’ intent was to erase the crucified from memory. Crucifixion was not the noble death died by great men. In first century Rome it would have been impossible for someone who was crucified to be resurrected. Today we consider the Alexamenos Graffito repulsive. In the first century Roman Empire it was a pretty good joke.When we speak of resurrection today most people think of Jesus. Even if it is hard to believe, the one person we do believe to have been resurrected is Jesus. We think that made him unique. But what made the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead unique was crucifixion. Crucifixion was dishonorable. It was humiliating. Its’ intent was to erase the crucified from memory. Crucifixion was not the noble death died by great men. In first century Rome it would have been impossible for someone who was crucified to be resurrected. Today we consider the Alexamenos Graffito repulsive. In the first century Roman Empire it was a pretty good joke.

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