Thursday, October 02, 2008

Earliest reference describes Christ as 'magician'
Bowl dated between late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D.

By Jennifer Viegas (MSNBC)
updated 10:23 a.m. ET Oct. 1, 2008

A team of scientists led by renowned French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio recently announced that they have found a bowl, dating to between the late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D., that is engraved with what they believe could be the world's first known reference to Christ.

If the word "Christ" refers to the Biblical Jesus Christ, as is speculated, then the discovery may provide evidence that Christianity and paganism at times intertwined in the ancient world.

The full engraving on the bowl reads, "DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS," which has been interpreted by the excavation team to mean either, "by Christ the magician" or, "the magician by Christ."

"It could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, in that he was once the primary exponent of white magic," Goddio, co-founder of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, said.

He and his colleagues found the object during an excavation of the underwater ruins of Alexandria's ancient great harbor. The Egyptian site also includes the now submerged island of Antirhodos, where Cleopatra's palace may have been located.

Very interesting, especially given that for a change the bowl has a provenance established by excavation. But, as the article notes, other interpretations are possible. The spelling of "Christ" is not standard (the transliteration should be CHRESTOU, i.e., χρηστου) – we would expect "CHRISTOU" (χριστου). But this alternate spelling is not unknown; Suetonius may use it (in Latin) in reference to Jesus.

They think the bowl may have been used to induce trances:
According to Fabre, the bowl is also very similar to one depicted in two early Egyptian earthenware statuettes that are thought to show a soothsaying ritual.

"It has been known in Mesopotamia probably since the 3rd millennium B.C.," Fabre said. "The soothsayer interprets the forms taken by the oil poured into a cup of water in an interpretation guided by manuals."

He added that the individual, or "medium," then goes into a hallucinatory trance when studying the oil in the cup.

"They therefore see the divinities, or supernatural beings appear that they call to answer their questions with regard to the future," he said.
Bowls used for this purpose are also known from the Greek Magical Papyri

(Via the Agade list.)

UPDATE (3 October): This one's getting lots of attention. Douglas Mangum has a roundup at the Biblia Hebraica blog. April DeConick thinks it could be Sethian Gnostic. Dorothy King thinks it could be a fake. Nobody seems to think it refers to Jesus Christ. Like Ed Cook, I don't know what GOISTAIS means. I wanted to try to look it up yesterday, but didn't get a chance. Jared Calaway has thoughts on possible meanings at Antiquitopia.