Reactions » The Graffito of Alexamenos


1st-3rd century AD, etching on marble, Paletine museum in Rome

The Alexamenos Graffito is generally held to be the earliest known pictorial representation of Christ. It consists of a crudely drawn image of a crucified man with the head of an ass and a few words in Greek, ‘Alexamenos worships [his] God.’  Although the artist is unknown, it could have been the crass work of a common page mocking the faith of a fellow slave (Tertullian reported that the pagans of his day ‘foolishly imagine that our God has the head of an ass’).

Perhaps it is fitting that the earliest known visual representation of the crucifixion echoes the apostle Paul’s stark admission:  ‘we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). But is that the case any longer? Have we so packaged and marketed the Gospel that Christ’s death ceases to be the scandel that prompted the taunting of this ‘Alexamenos’?



5 thoughts on “Reactions » The Graffito of Alexamenos

  1. It seems to me that the Western church has gone to great lengths to be so “relevant” to the culture that it often ceases to rock the boat enough to evoke this kind of response. Sometimes we get a glimpse of this type of persecution and ridicule (ie. the Passion of the Christ). I think that if churches were to start preaching the gospel which Paul preached to the Corinthians without regard for their clever marketing strategies and attrational model modes of operation, we would see more ridicule and scandel. As it stands, the church is creating its own scandel (with every televangelist or mega church pastor who falls) and the ones being portrayed as asses are us.

  2. Nick, thank you for your comments. Having been a pastor for some time, I know the pressure of the latest church marketing scheme. I find it interesting as well that in the next room adjacent to the Graffito there another inscription that lauded the faith of Alexamenos (the exact words escape me at the moment). It might be a good reminder that the church bears a great responsibility to stand up with those being persecuted – whatever kinds of persecution that might be.

    Thanks again for stopping in, Nick, and we hope to see you around again.

  3. Pingback: Mark’s Big Question « Phil Whitehead

  4. First, the word is “scandal.”

    But “scandal” of this type IS exactly what made Christianity so appealing in its infancy. Unlike many of the “pagan” cults, which were socially exclusive, Christianity began as a religion open to slaves and criminals. It reassured the dregs of society that all the values of this life were askew, that a better life awaited them upon death. And indeed the main rite of early Christianity was martyrdom – direct imitation of the “ignominy” of Christ on the part of the worshipper – simultaneously a middle finger to the oppressive Roman social structure, a glorification of the low status that had been a lifelong source of humiliation, a self-willed termination of the sufferings of this life, and a ticket of admission to God’s House in the afterlife.

    • Thank you for your comments, but I don’t agree that martyrdom was considered a “rite” among early Christians constituting as you say, “a self-willed termination of the sufferings of this life, and a ticket of admission to God’s House in the afterlife.” This sounds more like radical Islam than early Christianity. Jesus taught to expect persecution and to see it as “sharing” in the sufferings of Christ, but he never taught his followers to seek martyrdom as a way to access a heavenly home.

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