Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Alex Worships His God or The Alexamenos Graffito
The Alexamenos Graffito is a carving that was found on the Palatine Hill in Rome during excavations in 1857. The graffito was scratched into the plaster of a wall in the training school for page boys which was added to the Imperial Palace during the reign on Emperor Caligula (AD 37-41) but used for many years afterward. Archaeologist are uncertain of the exact date of the artifact because of the length of time that the building was in use. Dates range from the 1st to 3rd centuries, which the 3rd century seemingly the most likely.
The graffito is very warn and hard to read but says 'Alexamenos Worships His God' and depicts a man with hans raised, representing worship, in front of a cross on which hangs a human figure with the head of an ass
Though not of any particular significance to theological studies or apologetic arguments I think this is a very important piece of archaeological evidence that should not be overlooked. Firstly it reveals to us that there was an active Christian presence in Rome during these early centuries despite the persecution from the state and society. Secondly it reveals to us that Christianity was misunderstood by the general populace. There were rumours that Christians worshipped a a deity who had an asses head. Thirdly it reveals to us that Christianity was looked down upon by Roman culture as a foolish thing to be sneered at, confirming the words of the Apostle Paul when he wrote 1 Corinthians 1:23 'we preach Christ crucified, an offense to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles'.
As Christians we can be encouraged by this find that the persecution, misunderstanding and shame we sometimes suffer is not a new thing, and that we really have no right to complain. How often have you our your friends been thrown to the lions or dipped in tar and set ablaze?
If you are as yet unsure of the claims of Christianity then I hope that this little piece of evidence lends some legitimacy - if God is not behind Christianity how did it survive the Roman period? Why would people become Christians in the knowledge that they faced persecution and death if it was just another false religion following some whack job who claimed to be God. On top of the risk of death why would they knowingly alienate themselves from their culture, society, friends and family and confine themselves to life as out-casts for anything other than the truth. Don't tell me that men didn't act rationally back then, in an age that was characterised by logic and reason. These men and women made the choice to become Christians not because it was popular, safe or traditional but because they came to the conclusion, by a process of reasoning, with the knowledge of what their choice would mean for them as Romans, that there was indeed a God, that Jesus was His son and that the scriptures were His inspired word and could be trusted.
For more info on the Alexamenos Graffito visit:
Penelope U, Chicago