Friday, March 5, 2021

I Corinthians 1.18-25: Stumbling Block

We preach Christ crucified, Paul wrote, a stumbling block...and foolishness. (I Corinthians 1:18) It does seem foolish to worship one who was put to death. It's not the marketing strategy that makes the most sense. Jesus - even his crucifixion and resurrection - may be too "normal" after a couple thousand years for us to really hear the scandalous nature of who it is that we worship. 

The radicality was not lost on the earliest non-Christians, though. They fully understood just how unseemly it was to claim as God (or even Son of God) one who had been crucified. 

A piece of early-century graffiti helps us see that. We think of graffiti as something spray painted, but the word graffiti comes from the Italian graffio, "a scratch."

Scratched into a plaster wall in a building on the Palatine Hill in Rome is a crucifixion scene. The figure on the cross has a human(ish) body but the head of a donkey. Also scratched into the wall are the words ΑΛΕ ξΑΜΕΝΟϹ ϹΕΒΕΤΕ ϑΕΟΝ" loosely "Alexamenos worships his god." The Y in the upper right corner has been interpreted as both a cry of pain and a pitchfork.

The image and tone seem to be ridiculing Alexamenos for worshipping one who has been (or is being) crucified. Stumbling block. Foolishness.

Though there are some who believe the graffito shows worship of other deities. There is no definitive identification of the artist or the context. We don't know who Alexamenos is or who the "artist" is. 

A stumbling block. Foolishness. That should have been the story. But Paul knew. Paul and Alexamenos may have had the last laugh.

The Alexamenos graffiti is dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century, making it among the earliest depictions of a crucifixion. The plaster panel is in the collection of the Palatine Museum in Rome, Italy. 

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