Early mosaic calls Jesus ‘God’

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Published: 15 March 2018 (GMT+10)
Early-mosaic-calls-Jesus-God

A remarkable mosaic was made in a Christian house of worship in Kfar Otnai (Village of Othnay), in modern-day Israel.1 Unfortunately, the British Mandatory government built Megiddo Prison over the site. However, excavations, helped by some of the prisoners, discovered the mosaic in 2005. And only now will it go on public display, because the overcrowded prison is being replaced by an archaeological park, while the prisoners are relocated to more modern jails.2

Scholars analyzed this mosaic soon after its discovery. The lead archaeologist on the dig, Dr Yotam Tepper of the University of Haifa, and Leah Di Signi,of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an epigrapher (expert in written inscriptions) wrote a monograph in 2006.3 They dated the mosaic to CE (AD)4 230, and their expertise to do so is well respected, and they still stand by their date, although some dispute it. Edward Adams, Professor of New Testament Studies at King’s College, London published an analysis explaining its Christian significance.5 Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh, and a specialist in early Christianity, wrote about it on his blog.6 But it is now in the popular news again because it will be on display.7

Importance

If the date holds up, then this mosaic is extremely important for the early history of Christianity, because it contains an inscription in Greek meaning, “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.” Akeptous seems to have been a woman who paid for a communion table for the house—i.e. she was a benefactor, as Paul describes Phoebe in Romans 16:1–2.

Notice at the end of the second-last line, there are words with a line over them. These are an ancient space-saving convention called nomina sacra (singular nomen sacrum), ‘sacred names’.8 That is, names for God would be abbreviated to the first and last letter, and a line drawn over them to indicate the shortening. These are found in many early papyri of the New Testament, and in a number of icons. In this mosaic the nomina sacra are clear. They are ΘΩ, ΙΥ, and ΧΩ. They are, respectively, the first and last letters of ΘΕΩ/Θεῷ (Theō, dative of Theos, God), ἸΗΣΟΥ/Ἰησοῦ (Iēsou, dative of Iēsous Jesus; this is one case where the dative and genitive have merged), and ΧΡΙΣΤΩ/Χριστῷ (Christō, dative of Christos, Christ).

This is further evidence against The Da Vinci Code tripe9 that the church imposed the deity of Christ under Constantine, because this mosaic is probably about a century earlier. So the biblical teaching10 was already well established even in house churches. Also, this house was built with some Roman style, near a Roman encampment, showing that in northern Israel at least, Romans tolerated Christians. Some Christians were even in the army, including officers. Indeed, the mosaic seems to have been donated by a Roman centurion, Gaianus, aka “Porophrius, our brother”, following Cornelius of two centuries previously (Acts 10).

Of course, this is far from the only evidence that refutes Dan Brown’s “preposterous” claims, as Professor Adams points out:

The term ‘God’ (theos) is applied to Jesus several times in the New Testament (John 1:1; 20:28; possibly Tit. 2:13), and his divine status is expressed in various other ways by New Testament and early Christian writers. Writing early in the second century, Ignatius freely applies the term theos to Jesus, using the formulae ‘our God Jesus Christ’ (Ignatius, Eph 18.2; Rom 3:3; Poly. 8:3) and ‘Jesus Christ the God’ (Smyrn. 1.1).53 Around the same time, the Roman writer, Pliny (Epistles 10.96–97), speaks of Christians singing to Christ ‘as to a god’. The divinity of Jesus was taken for granted in the mainstream Church (and even among so-called ‘Gnostic’ groups) during the second and third centuries CE, with debates focusing on how he was divine, and how to reconcile his deity with his humanity.

But he still says that this mosaic provides important further support:

Even so, the Akeptous inscription, as dated by Tepper, would be an important epigraphic attestation to belief in the divinity of Jesus in the first half of the third century CE.

References and notes

  1. Ancient mosaic describing Jesus Christ as ‘God’ to be unveiled in Israel, christianitytoday.com, 2 March 2018. Return to text.
  2. Schuster, R., A Jew, an early Christian and a Roman meet in archaeological park to be built on evacuated prison, haaretz.com, 1 March 2018. Return to text.
  3. Tepper, Y. and Di Segni, L. A Christian prayer hall of the 3rd century CE At Kfar ʻOthnai (Legio). excavations at the Megiddo Prison 2005, Israel Antiquities Authority, 2006. Return to text.
  4. bce and ce = bc and ad, where ce = Common or Current Era. In most cases, these are used for ‘politically correct’ reasons, not wanting to admit that these years are based on the birth of Christ. However, they can be defensible, since Christ was probably born around 5–6 “Before Christ”. Return to text.
  5. Adams, E., The ancient church at Megiddo: The discovery and an assessment of its significance, Expository Times 120(2):62–69, 2008 | doi:10.1177/0014524608097822. Return to text.
  6. Hurtado, L., Nomina Sacra in Early Graffiti (and a Mosaic), larryhurtado.wordpress.com, 18 August 2011. Return to text.
  7. Hurtado, L., The Megiddo mosaics … again?, larryhurtado.wordpress.com, 4 March 2018. Return to text.
  8. Wicker, J.R., Pre-Constantinian Nomina Sacra in a Mosaic and Church Graffiti, Southwestern Journal of Theology 52(1):52–72, 2009. Return to text.
  9. Grigg, R., The Da Vinci Code: Fiction masquerading as fact, Creation 28(3):12–17, 2006; creation.com/vinci-fiction. Return to text.
  10. Sarfati, J., The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? Creation 35(1):34–37, 2013; creation.com/incarnation. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Gian Carlo B.
Addressing what Oscar from Argentina said, I am not surprised that the Christ myth would even spread to Hispanic countries and Latinoamerican countries as well. Although I have yet to find personally in my country someone espousing the Christ myth; it doesn’t matter what surface arguments they put forth about Christ’s existence, the premise is all the same, and it’s all a bunch of rubbish coming from amateurs who have only a bachelors’s degree in humanities (Lol). They are not to be taken seriously not even by scholars. J.P. Holding wrote an extensive book (which I have yet to finish, it’s that huge) titled Shattering the Christ Myth, which he hardcore refutes and provides evidence that Jesus did exist and His divinity was also from Him and affirmed by Him.
Oscar M.
Hola, esto refuta el libro de Fernando Conde Torrens, un español que dice que Jesús fue un mito creado por Lactancio y Eusebio de Cesarea y también por constantino en el año 303, así se llama su libro 303 crean el cristianismo.
Jonathan Sarfati
Hola señor M.

Sí, ciertamente tienes razón; este ridículo sinsentido del mito de Cristo ciertamente es refutado por este mosaico. Sin embargo, fue refutado mucho antes de eso también. Vea este artículo de Veritas Fidei, ¿El Cristianismo se Inventó en el año 303?, que cita a otro ateo que dice que la idea de Fernando Conde Torrens es obviamente absurda.

PD: Tenemos alrededor de 80 artículos en español.
Ken C.
In the end we can either believe what Jesus said when He referred to himself as God—“I Am”, or we can choose not to. As C.S. Lewis vividly stated:


You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Norman P.
Thank you for the interesting article.
Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees precisely because he acted like God (forgave sins), and received worship, demonstrating his Messiah-ship through specific miracles—often done contrary to their man-made codification of the law, (e.g. on the Sabbath). Moreover, when we survey all that we see today, including this spurious and God-reviling apostasy, the question is clear: how close is Zechariah 14 to being fulfilled? Where will Brown and his ilk be then?

Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
That’s our Lord Jesus the prophet is talking about, returning in glory: which he so richly won at Calvary. How great is our GOD!

Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Philippus S.
The stones will cry it out, we have Sadducees and Pharisees in our day still.
Look what the Blessed King that cometh in the name of the Lord had to say about stones, and I will quote all of it that lead up to Him saying it. Jesus Christ the Son of God was entering Jerusalem on the 10 day of the First Month of the Israel New Year: Exo 12:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,
Exo 12:2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
Exo 12:3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:
Just as the Lambs that had to be slaughtered as the Passover was due to be inspected and be made ready, Jesus the Passover Lamb was entering Jerusalem to be "Slaughtered". And as he was entering the Jews found Him to be without Blemish, and shouted while He was entering Jerusalem
Luk 19:35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon.
Luk 19:36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way.
Luk 19:37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;
Luk 19:38 SAYING, BLESSED BE THE KING THAT COMETH IN THE NAME OF THE LORD: PEACE IN HEAVEN, AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.
Luk 19:39 AND SOME OF THE PHARISEES FROM AMONG THE MULTITUDE SAID UNTO HIM, MASTER, REBUKE THY DISCIPLES.
Luk 19:40 AND HE ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO THEM, I TELL YOU THAT, IF THESE SHOULD HOLD THEIR PEACE, THE STONES WOULD IMMEDIATELY CRY OUt.
graham P.
Excellent piece. It’s rare to see such legible characters, no guessing required. The words are typical of the era too: trapeza, (4th line) for example is a common word for an occasional table, which we find in the gospels—tax-collectors used them.
Oscar M.
Gracias Jonathan por responderme, estaré leyendo los artículos en español, y gracias también Gian Carlo por tu comentario.

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