Early mosaic calls Jesus ‘God’
Published: 15 March 2018 (GMT+10)
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
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
- Ancient mosaic describing Jesus Christ as ‘God’ to be unveiled in Israel, christianitytoday.com, 2 March 2018. Return to text.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hurtado, L., Nomina Sacra in Early Graffiti (and a Mosaic), larryhurtado.wordpress.com, 18 August 2011. Return to text.
- Hurtado, L., The Megiddo mosaics … again?, larryhurtado.wordpress.com, 4 March 2018. Return to text.
- 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.
- Grigg, R., The Da Vinci Code: Fiction masquerading as fact, Creation 28(3):12–17, 2006; creation.com/vinci-fiction. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? Creation 35(1):34–37, 2013; creation.com/incarnation. Return to text.