The Earliest Image of Our Lord Jesus Christ Is… Anti-Christian Graffiti?

Public Domain, Wikipedia / ChurchPOP

This actually sort of seems fitting.

Ever wondered what Jesus looked like? Unfortunately, we don’t really know. All of the realistic depictions we have of him were made long after his Ascension (and they don’t agree anyway). It also doesn’t help that the earliest depiction we have isn’t exactly realistic.

The earliest artistic depiction of Jesus might just be this piece of anti-Christian graffiti:

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

If that’s hard to make out, here’s a colored version that makes it a bit clearer:

Public Domain, Wikipedia
Public Domain, Wikipedia

Here’s what’s going on here:

This is the Alexamenos graffito, and it was discoverd in 1857 etched into the plaster wall of a house from ancient Rome. It has been dated to somewhere between the 1st and 3rd centuries.

It says “Alexamenos worships God,” and it appears to show a figure with a donkey head being crucified. Scholars believe that this was intended to mock the Christian faith of someone named Alexamenos (who might be supposed to be the figure to the left of the crucified figure.)

Now, the fact the Christ figure has a donkey head might just be a way of mocking Jesus. But there might also be another element: the 3rd century Christian writer Tertullian records that people in ancient Rome believed that Christians actually worshipped a donkey. It’s not clear why people thought this.

But this graffiti didn’t have the last word. In the same ancient house, workers found another inscription which read “Alexamenos is faithful.” Some scholars believe this may have been a response to defend Alexamenos from the mocking of the first graffiti.

It seems fitting that the earliest depiction of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of mockery. As Scripture tells us, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2.6-8)

Christians should remember that we are called to follow Him, enduring the hatred and contempt of the world, all the way to the Cross.

[See also: 1,782 Years Old: Inside the Oldest Church in the World]

[See also: 8 of the Oldest Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary]

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