Jesus the Magician? Improbable archaeological find as the first reference to Jesus Christ

underwater find

A newly discovered bowl in Alexandria, Egypt, and dating to the period between the end of the 2nd century B.C. C. and the beginning of the 1st century AD. C., has an engraving that may be the oldest known reference in the world to Jesus Christ. The engraving says day chrstou ogoistais, translated by the excavation team as “through Christ the magician”. According to French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, co-founder of the Oxford Center for Maritime Archaeology, and Egyptologist David Fabre, the phrase could well be a reference to Jesus Christ, as he was one of the leading exponents of white magic.

The team found the bowl during underwater excavation of the ancient port of Alexandria. They speculate that a first century wizard may have used the bowl to tell the future. They point out that the bowl is very similar to one depicted on two early Egyptian statuettes that are believed to show a divination ritual. Ancient divination manuals describe a technique in which the diviner would pour oil into water and then enter a state of ecstasy while studying the swirling mixture. In the hallucinatory state, the diviner expected to meet mystical beings who could raise questions about the future. The inscription, archaeologists theorize, may have served to legitimize divination by invoking the name of Christ, recognized as a wonder-worker.

What weight does the evidence have?

oh Is it “Christ” or “Good”? – Archaeologists may have confused one Greek word with another in their interpretation. A look at the photograph of the cup reveals a letter between the rho (“P”) and the sigma (“C”). The letter, although ill-formed, looks unmistakably like the letter eta (“H”). If this identification is correct, then the lexical form of the inscribed Greek word is not christsobjective crestswhich means “kind, caring, good, grateful”.

The prepositional phrase, then, probably indicates that the bowl was a gift, given “out of kindness” from some benefactor. it seems obvious that Christ it is much more likely that Christ for the recorded word. Instead of referring to the power of Christ, the word Christ it could be a reference to the person who gave you the mug as a gift, as we might write “from Donald with best wishes” on a gift. This explanation seems as plausible as his alternative seems unlikely.

or references to christs too vague to be certain – However, even if Christ is the correct word, we are still far from being certain that it is a reference to Jesus Christ. We must remember that the word christs was not a personal name for Jesus but a title, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashiach (“Messiah, anointed”). Like its Hebrew counterpart, this Greek term could apply to any number of people. It appears in the Hebrew Scriptures more than 60 times, designating priests, prophets, and kings, as well as the anticipated Messiah. It even describes the pagan ruler Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 45:1, LXX). calling someone christs it does not necessarily identify that person with Jesus. Even the Greek Scriptures warn that many would claim that title (Mark 13:21-22).

or the meaning of I was going -In New Testament Theological DictionaryGerhard Delling defines goesthe lexical form behind I was going, as “imposter, charlatan, the one who makes magic through formulas”. The only appearance of him in the New Testament is in 2 Timothy 3:13: “…evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Delling says that among ancient people, those who believed in demonic possession tended to have great respect for the gos, while educated people tended to look down on that person. (See also the entry for goes in the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon, which defines it as “sorcerer, magician” and secondly as “juggler, trickster”).

If this term I was going, therefore, if it were a reference to Jesus Christ, it would be highly inappropriate. Jesus did not perform miracles through formulas like abracadabra, alacazamPrayed presto. When he spoke, he gave simple commands, like “Be healed!” or “Get up and walk!” even the words efanta Y talita kum of Mark 5:41 and 7:34, respectively, are simply “Open!” and “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”, said in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus. Instead of using formulas, Jesus constantly varied the means by which He healed people: sometimes by touching (eg, Mark 1:31), or by saying a few words (eg, Mark 2:11) , or healing without touching (eg, Matthew 12). :13) or even without being present (eg, Mark 8:13). Some scholars believe that he probably varied his healing procedures for the purpose of avoiding magical associations.

Archaeologists have apparently forced their translation, as if I was going is genitive singular, as Christ, and it functions in the sentence as an appositive. The word I was going, however, is dative plural, which makes the suggested translation impossible. The phrase day chrestou goistais probably means”[Given] through kindness to wizards.”

o The dating is probably too early – In the time of Jesus, tens of centuries before the printing press and two millennia before the digital age with its instant communication, events in one part of the empire often had little impact beyond the immediate neighborhood. It would take a few years for the domino effect of Jesus’ ministry to reach Alexandria, and it would be felt at first only in Christian circles and then in Jewish circles. For him to reach the pagans as the owner of the diviner’s bowl, he would take even more time. And not only would the magician have to know about the miraculous power, but he would have to spend enough time convincing him that the patrons would also be aware of Jesus.

However, the latest assigned date for the bowl is early in the first century. Since the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ did not happen before 30 CE, that only allows 20 years before we get to the middle of the century. It could take a hundred years or even more for the wave to flood the pagan consciousness of Alexandria.

What can we conclude?

If the engraving referred to Jesus Christ, it would constitute extrabiblical confirmation that Jesus was a miracle worker. This is similar to the impact of what is now known as the magic paris papyrus, dated around AD 300 Describes an elaborate exorcism ritual, beginning: “I conjure you by the god of the Hebrews”, and then lists a series of mystical names, of which Jesus is the first. The oath continues with numerous references to biblical events and people, some of which are confusing. The point for New Testament studies is the confirmation that in Egypt, some 150 years after the resurrection, Jesus was known as a successful exorcist and called “the god of the Hebrews.” This latest discovery would make a similar argument from evidence much, much earlier.

Such evidence flies in the face of claims skeptics have made for generations that all of Jesus’ miracles have rationalistic explanations. Eyewitnesses found enough evidence in the works of Jesus to discern the almighty hand of God. In the words of the apostle Peter, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Even if legitimate, this evidence would not constitute proof that Jesus was a magician, despite the claims of books like Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? by Morton Smith, published in 1978. (See the largely 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 early and too ambiguous to be credible. It seems to be another example of archaeologists trying to grab headlines by placing their latest discovery in the same sentence with the words “Jesus Christ.” Such unwarranted union often contributes to unwarranted conclusions about Jesus among the ignorant and gullible.

Do you want to go deeper?

recommended for purchase

Howard Clark Kee. What can we know about Jesus? Cambridge, 1990. – Kee explores both the biblical accounts of the life and work of Jesus and related extra-biblical material. Extra-biblical references to Christ include the writings of non-orthodox Christians, pagan and Jewish authors. Kee analyzes all the relevant material to determine what precisely can be deduced about Jesus from these various accounts, written by both friend and foe.

Craig L. Bloomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Inter-Varsity, 2008. – Blomberg reveals the flawed analyzes and presuppositions that have led to erroneous conclusions about the Gospels, providing scholarly criteria for judging these books and biblical answers to our tough questions. Readers will find that during the last twenty years, the case for the historical reliability of the Gospels has become much stronger.

CK Barrett. The background of the New Testament. HarperOne, 1989. Contains a discussion of the Paris Magical Papyrus along with its text in English translation (pp. 34ff). It also contains a great deal of material relevant to New Testament studies.

Recommended for online reading

details about the magic paris papyrus at G.A. Deissmann, Light of the Ancient East. Hodder & Stoughton, 1910. pgs. 254ff.

Gary R. Habermas, “The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of

Naturalistic responses to the resurrection of Jesus”. trinity diary22NS (2001):179-196.

Larry W. Hurtado, lord Jesus Christ. Eerdmans, 2005, pp. 358-364. – A brief but useful discussion of the title “Christ” (“Messiah”).

You may want to study the oldest charge that Jesus was a magician, made by the anti-Christian polemicist Celsus in the 3rd century. The church father, Origen, cleverly defended the orthodox view by pointing out that, in contrast to the magi, all of Jesus’ miracles had a moral purpose. See Origin, against Celsusbook 1, chapter 68. See also Justin Martyr’s second-century anticipation of this argument in his first apologychapter 30

If you’re curious about Morton’s Smith book, take a look at the exchange Professor Smith had with Frank Kermode about the latter’s review of Smith’s book in the New York Book Review. This exchange includes a summary of Smith’s main points and the gist of Kermode’s critique. Be sure to read all four essays, the first two published on December 21, 1978, and the second on February 1. 8, 1979. Unfortunately, Kermode’s original review, “The Quest for the Magical Jesus,” is not available without a Review subscription. A short review of Smith’s book by Terrance Callan of the Library Journal (June 15, 1978) is also available online.

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