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Jesus the Magician? Archaeological Find Unlikely As Earliest Reference to Jesus Christ
A newly discovered plate from Alexandria, Egypt, dated to the late 100s BCE to early 100s CE, contains an engraving that may be the world’s earliest depiction of Jesus Christ. The drawing is read dia chrstou ogoistais, translated by the excavation team as “through the magical Christ.” According to French archaeologist Franck Goddio, who co-founded the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, and Egyptologist David Fabre, the words may be referring to Jesus Christ, since he was known as he was the one who started magic.
The team found the plate during underwater excavations in the ancient port of Alexandria. They think that the magus of the first century may have used the plate for divination. They believe that the plate is very similar to the one depicted on two early Egyptian statues that are thought to depict a magical ritual. Ancient books describe how the soothsayer poured oil into the water and became very excited when he learned about the mixing of the whirlwind. In a magical setting, a fortune teller hopes to meet mysterious creatures who can ask questions about the future. Archaeologists say the text may have helped confirm the prophecy by mentioning the name of Christ, who was known to be a miracle worker.
How strong is the evidence?
o Is it “Christ” or “Good”? – Archaeologists may confuse one Greek word with another in their interpretation. A look at the image of the cup reveals a letter between rho (“P”) and sigma (“C”). The letter, although poorly made, appears to be the letter eta (“H”). If this identification is correct, then the lexical form of the written Greek word is not Christianbut chrestosmeaning “kind, loving, good, kind.”
Therefore, the statement that the plate was a gift, given “kindly” from another benefactor. It seems that chrestou is more acceptable than Christo for written words. Instead of talking about the power of Christ, words chrestou he may be referring to the person who gave the cup as a gift—as we would write on a gift “from Donald with good wishes.” This explanation seems to make sense because the method is impossible.
o References a Christian too vague to be certain – However, even Christo with the right words, we are still far from being sure that I am talking about Jesus Christ. We must remember that the word Christian it was not Jesus’ personal name but a title, a Greek translation of a Hebrew word masiyak (“Messiah, the anointed one”). Like the Hebrew word, this Greek word can mean any number of people. It appears in the Hebrew Scriptures more than 60 times, mentioning priests, prophets, and kings, as well as the expected Messiah. It also describes the pagan ruler of Persia, Cyrus (Is. 45:1, LXX). Call someone Christian it does not mean that the person has Jesus. Even the Greek Scriptures warn that many will call themselves honorifics ( Mark 13:21-22 ).
o Meaning of ghosts – In Theological Dictionary of the New TestamentGerhard Delling explains go-eslexical form in the background ghosts, as “a deceiver, a charlatan, one who practices magic by means of methods.” Only the New Testament can be found in 2 Timothy 3:13: “…evil and deceitful people will do worse and worse, leading astray and being led astray. Delling said that among the ancient people, those who believed in the possession of demons held the gods in high esteem, while educated people despised such a person. (See also note of go-es in the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon, which defines it as “magician, witch” and again as “juggler, cheat.”)
If this word ghosts, therefore, if there was a mention of Jesus Christ, it would be really inappropriate. Jesus did not perform miracles using such methods abracadabra, alacazamor Presto. When he spoke, he gave simple commands such as, “Heal! or “Get up and walk!” Even words ephah and we have finished kum Mark 5:41 and 7:34, respectively, are simply “Opened”! and that, “Girl, I say to you, Arise,” spoken in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Instead of using logic, Jesus always changed the way he healed people—sometimes working (e.g., Mark 1:31), or saying a few words (e.g., Mark 2:11), or healing without touching (e.g., Matthew 12 ). :13) or even absent (eg, Mark 8:13). Some scholars believe that it is possible that He changed His healing in order to avoid practicing magic.
It seems that archaeologists have forced their interpretation, so to speak ghosts with the genitive singular, as chrestou, and it functions in the text as a complement. Words ghosts, however, are many words, which makes their translation difficult. The word is and chrestou goistais probably means “[Given] because of the kindness of the magicians.
o Dating is probably too early – At the time of Jesus, decades before the printing press, and two thousand years before the digital age and its simultaneous communication, events in one part of the kingdom often had little effect beyond the surrounding area. It would take several years for the power of Jesus’ ministry to reach Alexandria, and at first it was heard only by Christians and Jews. It would take a long time for it to spread to the pagans as the owner of the prophet’s plate. And not only does the magician have to know about the miraculous power, but also enough time to convince him that the clients also know about Jesus.
However, the latest date for the plate is the beginning of the first century. Since the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ occurred earlier than 30 CE, that only allows 20 years to reach the middle of the century. It would take a hundred years or more for the noise to shake Alexandria’s pagan mind.
What can we say?
If the engraving was about Jesus Christ, it would be irrefutable biblical evidence that Jesus was a miracle worker. This is similar to the results of what is now known as Paris Magical Papyrus, around 300 CE. It describes an extensive ritual of exorcism, which begins, “I swear by the god of the Hebrews,” and then mentions many secret names, of which Jesus is the first. The oath continues with several references to biblical events and people, some of them confusing. The point of New Testament studies is to prove that in Egypt about 150 years after the resurrection, Jesus was known as a successful exorcist and was called “the god of the Hebrews.” This recent discovery could make the same argument as much evidence, much earlier.
Such evidence refutes what skeptics have been saying for generations that Jesus’ miracles all have logical explanations. Eyewitnesses found enough evidence in the works of Jesus to recognize the hand of almighty God. In the words of the apostle Peter, Jesus “went about doing good, healing all those possessed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) When Jesus did good, he was preaching. Even if it is accepted, this evidence cannot be proof that Jesus was a magician, although books such as Magical Jesus: Charlatan or Son of God? and Morton Smith, published in 1978. (See the negative review by Barry Crawford, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion [10/26/1978].)
The problem, however, is that the evidence is too primitive and too vague to be reliable. It seems to be another example of archaeologists trying to get headlines by putting their latest discovery in a sentence similar to the word “Jesus Christ.” This kind of unwarranted association often causes ignorant and unbelieving people to think wrongly about Jesus.
Want to Go Deeper?
It is recommended to buy
Howard Clark Kee. What can we know about Jesus? Cambridge, 1990. – Kee examines the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and work and the extraneous factors that influence them. Additional biblical references to Christ include writings by non-orthodox Christians, pagan writers, and Jews. Kee examines all relevant accounts to see what can be accurately said about Jesus from these various accounts, written by friends and enemies.
Craig L. Blomberg. A Reliable History of the Gospels. 2 ed. Inter-Varsity, 2008. – Blomberg exposes the flawed analysis and assumptions that have led to misconceptions about the Gospels, providing expert methods for judging these books and biblical answers to our most pressing questions. Readers will find that in the last twenty years, the issue of the historical integrity of the Gospels has grown significantly.
CK Barrett. History of the New Testament. HarperOne, 1989. Contains a discussion of the Paris Magical Papyrus with its text in English translation (pp. 34ff). It also has many other things related to New Testament studies.
Recommended to read online
Details of Paris Magical Papyrus to GA Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East. Hodder & Stoughton, 1910. pp. 254ff.
Gary R. Habermas, “Resurgence in the Late 2000s
Natural Responses to the Resurrection of Jesus.” Trinity Journal22 NS (2001):179-196.
Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ. Eerdmans, 2005, pages 358-364. – A short but useful discussion on the topic “Christ” (“Messiah”).
You may want to learn about the very old charge that Jesus was a magician, which the anti-Christian Celsus made in the third century. The Church father Origen rightly defended the orthodox view by saying that unlike the magicians, all the miracles of Jesus had a moral purpose. See Origen, Struggle with Celsusbook 1, chapter 68. See also Justin Martyr’s second-century anticipation of this conflict in his account. My deepest apologiesChapter 30.
If you are interested in Morton’s Smith book, check out Professor Smith’s exchange with Frank Kermode in the final review of Smith’s book in New York Review of Books. This exchange includes a summary of Smith’s main points and the essentials of Kermode’s criticism. Be sure to read all four articles, the first two of which were published on Dec. 21, 1978, and the second on Feb. 8, 1979. Unfortunately, Kermode’s original commentary, “The Quest for the Magical Jesus,” is not available without a subscription. Comments. Also available online is a review of Smith’s book by Terrance Callan from Library Journal (June 15, 1978).
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