2016-07-31

The Other Side of Early Christianity

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by Neil Godfrey

So Christianity and paganism were not at all necessarily incompatible in the Roman empire. Our focus on biblical texts, the writings we have inherited from selected “church fathers” and sporadic persecutions in the later empire do not prepare us for early third century tombstones like this:
Funerary stele of Licinia Amias, one of the most ancient Christian inscriptions. ΙΧΘΥC ΖΩΝΤΩΝ Ikhthus zōntōn fish of the living

You recognize the fish, and possibly the inscription IXΘYC, ichthus, which means fish as well as being an acronym for Jesus Christ Son of God, Saviour.

So what’s it doing parallel to D.M. above, Dii Manes, To the Spirits of the Dead? It reminds me of a sarcophagus I used as an illustration way back in another post which depicts a series of Christian reliefs either side of the pagan image of the Orante or Orans female figure at prayer. Notable also on that sarcophagus is the absence of Jesus crucified. No crucifixes at all. The only suffering figure appears to be Jonah who is recovering beneath a pleasant gourd tree after his regurgitation from a great fish. Fish again. Jesus is a boy being baptized by an elderly John.

So much we don’t know. Thanks to Mary Beard’s documentary on Rome I am reminded of artifacts like these.

Details of the funerary stele above can be seen here:

 

2 Comments

  • Bob Jase
    2016-07-31 21:16:43 UTC - 21:16 | Permalink

    Christianity on day 1 clearly wasn’t any Christianity known today.

  • 2016-08-02 18:44:56 UTC - 18:44 | Permalink

    Not to mention the Julian tomb ‘M’ in the Street of the Dead underneath St Peter’s in The Vatican, which has a depiction of Jonah, the Sailboat and the Great Fish; a depiction of Christ as the Sun God Apollo in his Chariot with brown sunbeams coming out of his head and surrounded with grape vines everywhere in the yellow mosaic ceiling.

    I have a hunch that the Christianity before 325 ce was nothing like the Imperial Christianity which followed or like the Christianity today.

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