Ancient Christian parody/mockery- we worship an ass?

In 1857, some early graffiti was discovered in an unearthed guardroom on the Palatine Hill. Known as the Alexamenos Graffito, it is an image which is scratched into the plaster of the wall and shows a man with the head of an ass being crucified, and then a man next to him- his hands possibly raised in prayer.  This graffito is thought to be conceived sometime between 50 CE and 200 CE  and is the earliest depiction of the crucifixion that we possess, with the first Christian depictions not arising until the early 6th century. The text in Greek reads:

ALE
XAMENOS
SEBETE
THEON

which means, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Interestingly enough,  this was a common charge against the Jews and later the Christians in the infancy of the Christian faith.  Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a pagan orator and rhetorician, condemned the Christians in a lost speech, fragments of which are preserved by Minucius Felix in the Octavius. In it he writes

“the religion of the Christians is foolish, inasmuch as they worship a crucified man, and even the instrument itself of his punishment. They are said to worship the head of an ass, and even the nature of their father” (Octavius IX).

Tertullian mentioned that the pagans think “our god is an ass’s head” (Apology, XVI). when he writes

“For, like some others, you are under the delusion that our god is an ass’s head”

Tertullian refers again to this notion that “our god is actually the head of an ass” in Book I of Ad Nationes, where he accuses pagans of being no better and in fact gets a little feisty at the end. [a quip that can’t help but make me smile.

Some of you have entertained the dream that our god is actually the head of an ass. Cornelius Tacitus first launched this fantasy in the fourth book of his Histories where he recounts the Jewish war. Starting with the origins of the Jewish people, he traces the source of their religion and its name. He relates how the Jewish people, hard-pressed for water and wondering abroad in desolate places, were delivered by following the lead of a herd of wild asses thought to be in search of water after feeding. For this reason the likeness of this animal is worshiped by the Jew. This is why I believe that we Christians, being linked to the Jewish religion, are associated with the same image. You in fact worship the ass in its entirety, not just the head. And then you throw in Epona, the patron saint of donkeys and all the beasts of burden, cattle, and wild animals. You even worship their stables. Perhaps this is your charge against us that in the midst of all these indiscriminate animal lovers, we save our devotion for asses alone!” (XI)

He also defends Christians against the charge of a Roman Jew.

There is now a new rumor about our God going the rounds. Recently a most depraved individual from Rome, your city, had defected from his own faith and allowed his skin to be shredded by wild beasts. Every day he would hire himself out for viewing while his skin was stripped. He would carry around a picture directed against us with the heading “Onocoetes,” meaning Donkey Priest. It was a picture of a man wearing a toga and the ears of the donkey with a book in hand and one leg ending in a hoof. And the crowd believed this Jewish man. Who else plants the seed of our infamous reputation? As a result the whole city is talking about the Donkey Priest.” (XIV)

The graffito also represents how contemptible and absurd the idea of a crucified god was to pagan thinking, and harkens pack to when St. Paul remarked that the crucifixion was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” [1 Corinthians 1:23].

The Lord’s Prayer in Old English

Old English” is version of English spoken from approximately AD 450 to about 1100, and was in use in much of England and southeast Scotland. It also known as “Anglo-Saxon”, and is a combination of the Germanic based languages of Old Norse and Old Frisian, and Latin.

Fæder ure

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;

Si þin nama gehalgod

to becume þin rice

gewurþe ðin willa

on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.

urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg

and forgyf us ure gyltas

swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum

and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge

ac alys us of yfele soþlice

*

*

Translation of Old English Text

Father our thou that art in heavens

be thy name hallowed

come thy kingdom

be-done thy will

on earth as in heavens

our daily bread give us today

and forgive us our sins

as we forgive those-who-have-sinned-against-us

and not lead thou us into temptation

but deliver us from evil. truly

Why I can’t sing the song “Lord I give you my heart” anymore.

I was at Church a few weeks ago and the song “Lord I give you my heart” was queued up and was sung by the congregation. Up to this point I had been worshiping and my mind was fairly centered on the adoration of Jesus, but this song caused my mind to become disengaged and spiritually….disentangled. It was an awful, profoundly disturbing feeling.

Because here’s the thing- I like to sing worship songs in Church which allow me to tell the truth. That is, when I am communicating by singing to the Lord, I do not like it when I am put in the position of having to lie or exaggerate my soundness of faith, my motives, my intentions, or my devotion to Christ.  I do not like it when I have to sing promises and declarations to Christ which exceed my promise to fulfill, as that leaves me feeling like a liar- a cause for immediate disconnect from the song itself. It is one of those things that I’m mindful of and sensitive to. I like worship music with theological lyrics. I like psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with words that tell of deep Biblical truths about God. I don’t like singing falsehoods about who I am, what I do, and what my heart’s inclination is to Christ.

In short, I don’t like singing things I don’t mean. When I sing these songs which are about me, I become painfully aware that  I’m declaring things that I can’t and don’t back up, or which my heart is not convinced that it is able to do. I’m also aware that I am singing things contrary to my own nature, and that I’m singing words which confess that I am doing and am willing to do things that I am not able or willing to do. For example, any songs that have the lyrics “I will always love you. I will always worship you. You’re all I want. You’re all I ever needed.  You’ll always be my all. I will always follow you. I’ll never want anyone but you.

I would not say that these are bad songs, or that the writers have ill intent. Rather though, when I consider these in a theological context they strike me as impossible promises for me to fulfill.  To do these I would have to be fulfilling the works of the law perfectly, which seemed to me as a wretched proposition. Because I don’t always love Christ. And I won’t always worship him. And he won’t always be all I want. And he won’t always be all I need. And I won’t always follow him. So why am I singing that I do and will? Case in point-

Lord I Give You My Heart

This is my desire, to honour You
Lord with all my heart I worship You
all I have within me
I give You praise
all that I adore is in You
Lord I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I’m awake
Lord have Your way in me

My desire to honor God does exist, as a new creation in Christ, so I’m fine with that, but the next line is problematic. I don’t worship the Lord with all my heart. Does anybody? I wasn’t worshiping him with all my heart that morning. Nor was I the week before. How about the next two lines? The third line is a bit wonky, as I’m not really sure what it means or how it connects with everything else, but that last line is also troublesome. I adore so many things that aren’t Jesus! I make idols out of sports teams, my family, my intellect., and I give adoration to things that rob Christ of glory rather than give him it. I raze the storehouses of this world for pleasure and peace- turning my affections towards inconsequential trivialities  instead of on my great God and savior. That does not strike me as the actions of a man who can say with honesty and with a straight face “All that I adore is in you”...

Line three of the chorus. “I live for you alone?” I don’t live for God alone. No one does. I can’t sing that with a straight face. I’m not sure how anybody else can. See- God knows our hearts and he knows the extent that we are “living for him”, so why am I declaring to my brothers and sisters that I’m living for him alone when I know that’s simply not true. I feel gross and deceptive when I sing that.  And assuming lines 4 and 5 are connected to line three- that is to say that with every breath that I take and every moment that I’m awake I’m living for God alone, that would be another false statement that I cannot bear to sing forth.

Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who is bothered by that? I’m not trying to nitpick, but rather to make a point that many of our worship sessions are loaded with songs that declare works, deeds, and intents  that our congregants have no intention of ever doing, or are simply by virtue of the nature of their will are unable to do. I don’t know if it makes sense that we’re singing the songs with the presuppositions that we’re only speaking of our best intentions, or in the present tense and not the future tenses. For some of the songs we sing I suppose it makes sense to look at them in the big picture, such as I generally love Jesus even if I don’t specifically do all the time, but that isn’t always the most helpful perspective.

I think this is why I prefer to sing songs that are Christ-centered, because I know that he is able to do them and has done all these things. This is opposed to  songs that are man-centered, because I know I have not done these things. With Christ-centered and Christ-focused songs, I have complete confidence in his ability to do as he says, and to keep his word and fulfill his promises. In this, I can sing those types of lyrics because I have a clean conscience when I do so. I don’t have to embellish or exaggerate my ability to complete and be faithful to the things that I am singing,  but rather I can breathe easily and rest in the grace that where my words and works fail, Jesus’ never do.

What do you guys think? Do you have any problem singing sons with lyrics like “I will always love you. I will always worship you. You’re all I want. You’re all I ever needed.  You’ll always be my all. I will always follow you. I’ll never want anyone but you.”? If not, how to you reconcile that with the reality and truth of the situation- which is that, quite frankly, you don’t?

What other songs do you have trouble singing, for similar-ish reasons?

*Note. The aforementioned post is a deconstruction and reconstruction of something I wrote last year, but with present day application.

April Giveaway!

This month’s giveaway features a bible leaf of 2 Esdras Chapters 8 and 9 from the 1595 Geneva Bible. Considered to be apocryphal by Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox groups, it is nonetheless viewed as an important part of genre literature.

In 2 Esdras chapters 1-2, [Also known as 5 Esdras] Ezra prophesies about God’s rejection of Israel as God’s people and its replacement by the Church. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the mid-second century C.E.

In 2 Esdras 3-14 [also known as 4 Ezra or The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra] Ezra engages in dialogue about the meaning of Israel’s sufferings and is granted visions that reveal what God is going to do in the near future on Israel’s behalf. This is a Jewish work written in Hebrew around 100-120 C.E and was written for consolation in a period of great distress [most likely Titus’ destruction of the Temple  in AD 70]

The material contained in 2 Esdras 15-16 [ also known as 6 Ezra] consists of oracles of doom against the enemies of God’s people [the Church] and advice on how those enduring persecution should behave. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the third century C.E

As per usual, we are dealing with a small field of potential winners and so your chances should be quite high. To be entered in the draw, all you have to do is answer this question in the combox in a sentence or two;

What was the last theological belief/ concept that you changed your mind on, and why?


Winners will be announced Thursday evening. Thanks all, and may God’s love be with you, always.

Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts

Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts

This is a reposting of an interesting brainpickings article. In it they list a number of curious notes in margins and colophons made by medieval scribes in whatever biblical manuscripts they were writing. [Note; a colophone is an endnote that might include the scribes name, or the place and date when he wrote and finished the manuscript. One could think of it as a scribe’s “signature.” Leaving a colophon is a  practice that is almost unknown in early biblical documents, but become relatively normal in late minuscules]

“New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.

“I am very cold.”

“That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.”

“Let the reader’s voice honor the writer’s pen.”

“This page has not been written very slowly.”

“The parchment is hairy.”

“The end of the book- Thanks be to God!”

“The ink is thin.”

“Thank God, it will soon be dark.”

“Oh, my hand.”

“Now I’ve written the whole thing; for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”

“Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims you sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.”

“St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.”

“While I wrote I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun I finished by candlelight.”

“As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.”

“This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, ‘The hand that wrote it is no more’.