Ante pacem: archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine [CRITICAL REVIEW]

In his book Ante pacem: archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine (via: amazon.co.uk) the author, Graydon F. Snyder, presents what others (here and elsewhere) have termed an exhaustive collection of the archaeological footprint of Christianity prior to the 4th century.

As many of you are aware, I have attempted to refute this evidence over the last few years in norder to explore the hypothesis that the Roman Emperor Constantine in fact was responsible for the sponsorship of the fabrication of the New Testament and the "Church History" which wa assembled by Eusebius of Caesarea between the years of 312 and 324 CE.

Having obtained a copy of this work a few weeks ago, I have gone through this book in a meticulous manner to examine and review the detailed elements of the evidence assembled by Graydon Snyder with the view in mind to either find that I have been mistaken in exploring this hypothesis or to vindicate (at least to myself) the integrity of this hypothesis.

The result of my critical review of the evidence presented by Graydon Snyder is that, as far as I am able to determine, it is quite reasonable to dismiss each and every citation therein presented, on a common sense basis. I have presented my findings, and the reasons by which I am unable to accept the view of Snyder and the mainstream "Early Christian History" tradition, that this evidence actually supports the tradition. The review I have conducted is quite exhaustive and runs to many pages and is thus not conducive to posing en masse in this forum.


However I have collated all the references and citations presented by Snyder's monumental work in a web article entitled A Critical Review of Ante pacem: Archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine which I invite any interested parties to peruse at their leisure. I further invite anyone who may be interested in this issue to re-present any arguments that I have brought to bear in the assessment of this evidence, which I consider insufficient for the purpose of proving the historical existence of the Pre-Nicaean Christian church, alluded to in the writings of Eusebius and his subsequent continuators in the 4th and 5th century State Catholic Christian church.

I will conclude this notice with one and one only example, and that is the claim by Graydon Snyder that in the archaeology of this "Early Epoch" there indeed are relics which depict the figure of Jesus. This example and image is as follows:


Plate 13 -- "The sarcophagus located in Sta. Maria Antiqua, Rome

It is summarily described by the author as being "Likely the oldest example of Early Christian plastic art", and a full description is given is as follows:

"The Teaching of the Law stands in the center, with a Good Shepherd immediately to the right and an Orante immediately to the left. Continuing left is a Jonah cycle, first Jonah resting, then Jonah cast out of the ketos, and finally Jonah in the boat. To the extreme left side stands a river god. To the right of the Good Shepherd there is a baptism of Jesus with a dove descending. Jesus is young, nude, and quite small next to the older, bearded John the Baptist. A pastoral scene concludes the right end"


The Image of the Young Nude Jesus

In a concluding section of his book Snyder remarks:
"In fresco and plastic art Jesus is depicted as a youth, often nearly nude, who performed remarkable acts -- events described artistically in a New Testament context. This had appeared by 200 CE ........

"It is remarkable that the Constantinian era kept that picture of Jesus"

"It was only after Constantine, about the time of Damasius, that the picture of Jesus was changed to from the youthful wonder-worker to the royal or majestic Lord. At that time, Jesus shifted more to a bearded, elderly, dominant figure"
(Thanks Clive!)

I find it extremely difficult to see this "young nude figure of Jesus standing beside John the Baptist, who wears the garb of the Greek philosophers". To my mind this image is simply of a man and his son, and the conjecture that we are looking at Jesus and John the Baptist is simply some utterly misdirected poetic licence. ("Christian Glasses")

Anyway, I have been asked many times to recant this hypothesis that we have no pre-Nicaean evidence on the basis of the contents of Graydon Snyder's "ANTE PACEM" and have finally managed to locate the book and to conduct a critical and skeptical review of it. This task I have now competed, with the result that I can find no element of the archaeological evidence which does not rely upon such "Christian poetic licence".

The "Orante" and the "Good Shepherd" occuring everywhere in "Early Christian art, etc" are non-christian!

At the end of the day, I can find no evidence here (or elswhere) by which the hypothesis --- that there were no Christians before Constantine --- can be reasonably refuted. However, I welcome constructive criticism of my criticism, and hope to be proved wrong, so I can forget all about this ancient historical material, put my thesis down forever, and return to the present century, and live my life in blissful ignorance and peace. Both I and my surfboard have been missing routine workouts on the dawn patrol.

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I can't go so far as to say right now there were no Xians before Constantine,

May I suggest to take the time to peruse my full review?

http://www.mountainman.com.au/essenes/Ante%20pacem%20Review.htm

We have no evidence WHATSOEVER.
It has been presumed and some of it has been FABRICATED BY THE CHURCH itself.


but I am willing to think outside of the box: I like to say, 'I wonder', rather than 'definitely not...'

This is all I am asking ---- for people to think outside the box of church delivered dogma in a scientific and logical manner using the evidence available in the field of ancient history, none of which is more compelling IMO that the C14 citations which may be summarised as a BELL CURVE centered on the WAR COUNCIL of Nicaea in the years around 325 CE.

where do you go surfing? how far from Falls Creek?

There is a Falls Creek in NSW near J-Bay. My favorite break is "The Island" aka "Green Island" aka Cunjurong Point. However I spend alot of time in Sydney, and find myself more often than not at Long Reef and at Newport Beach. This ancient historical research has cut into my surfing habit a great amout unfortunately and I would like nothing better than to be proven incorrect in my hypothesis so that I can forget about the whole deal and return to the world of nature.

Thanks for being objective Kid.
And if you surf yourself --- keep paddling into them.
Best wishes
@KID ..... It's all heavy going stuff, and masses of reading, which I think might put a lot of people off from persuing your thesis.

I was thinking instead of writing a story about the invention of a time machine and a daring fundamentalist plan to go back in history and save Jesus from the cross - you know, one good turn deserves another type of attitude - and not being able to find him in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd centuries ..... but perhaps Monty Python's "Life of Brian" has already suggested something like that.

The high country is closer to the sky - and a nice place to be peaceful :)
Give us the title of that movie! It sounds hilarious.
Behold the Man A book ???

Thanks! I'll check it out.
"I find it extremely difficult to see this "young nude figure of Jesus standing beside John the Baptist, who wears the garb of the Greek philosophers". To my mind this image is simply of a man and his son, and the conjecture that we are looking at Jesus and John the Baptist is simply some utterly misdirected poetic licence. ("Christian Glasses")"

OK, so what does it signify then? Each and every scene on the sarcopaghus is a Biblical story: there's Jonah and the fish, we get Jonah and the boat, etcetera... and then there's the Good Shepherd and a Baptisement. Now, these are quite clearly references to the New Testament and to Jesus; but if you disagree, then you must now explain what both of these scenes reference.

You can't just say "Ummm it's just a scene of a shepherd and a scene of a father and son, and none of it has any significance". Ockham's Razor chops that explanation to pieces.

So what does it mean?
You can't just say "Ummm it's just a scene of a shepherd and a scene of a father and son, and none of it has any significance". Ockham's Razor chops that explanation to pieces.

Ockam's razor points to a Graeco-Roman scene, in the Graeco-Roman city of Rome, preserved on the sarcophagus of a [non christian] Graeco-Roman. I will outline the evidence in further detail ....

So what does it mean?

p.36

3.3 Sarcophagi



Plate 13: "The sarcophagus located in Sta. Maria Antiqua, Rome.
"Likely the oldest example of Early Christian plastic art"

Description:

"The Teaching of the Law stands in the center, with a Good Shepherd immediately
to the right and an Orante immediately to the left. Continuing left is a Jonah
cycle, first Jonah resting, then Jonah cast out of the ketos, and finally Jonah
in the boat. To the extreme left side stands a river god. To the right of the
Good Shepherd there is a baptism of Jesus with a dove descending. Jesus is young,
nude, and quite small next to the older, bearded John the Baptist. A pastoral
scene concludes the right end"

The above conjecture that we are looking at a "Young Nude Jesus" is unreasonable
since there is nothing to suggest anything but Graeco-Roman non christian motifs
and is could be simply a father and his son. There is no compelling reason to
read into the motif of this scene anything to do with the christian bible. The
Orante and the Good Shepherd and the "Teaching of the Law" are Greek motifs.

Let's go through the elements of scene again, as described in the caption:

Central figures: "The Teacher of the Law", "Orante" and "The Good Shephers".

(1) The teacher of the law who reads from an open scroll is not a christian motif
and there is no attempt to describe this figure as a "christian".

(2) The "Orante" is certainly not a christian motif. The term Orante refers to
"a standing female figure with arms stretched above her head." The author
states the following about the "Orante" ....

(a) "In the Christian culture that emerged about 180 CE, no symbol
occurs more frequently and integrally that this female figure with
lifted arms."

(b) "She must be the most important symbol in early Christian art."

(c) "Since the Orante has no integral meaning in most biblical,
pictorial art, (except Susannah), one must conclude that the
Orante symbol has been inserted into biblical scenes."

The Orante occurred as the obverse of coins struck from the time
of Trajan to the time of Maximian. That is between 98 CE to 310 CE.
The immediate implication of this is that the Orante symbol cannot
possibly be considered as an exemplar of "Christian Symbology"

Other articles on the "Orante" suggest that the female symbol is most
ancient and relared to the mother goddess through whom all life emerges.
Perhaps one of the better articles I have reviewed on this matter is:

***************************


(3) "The Good Shepherd" is also certainly NOT a Christian symbol.

"Andre Parrot has traced the Near Eastern use of the Good Shepherd
also known as the ("criophorus") as far backs as 1000 BCE."

NOTE: The Good Shepherd carries a horned animal, not a sheep.



The author writes ...

(a)"Klauser supposes the Good Shepherd ("criophorus") to be derived from Hermes,
the humanitarian god. So as the Orantes referred to pietas, the Good Shepherd
pointed to philanthropia.... The connection to Hermes seems likely ...

(b) "The early Christians pulled these two powerful symbols from their Roman social matrix".

One may alternatively deduce that these three central figures are non christian motifs.
Let's move on to the rest of the scene ....


LEFT SIDE: (from the caption)

"Continuing left is a Jonah cycle, first Jonah resting, then Jonah cast
out of the ketos, and finally Jonah in the boat. To the extreme left
side stands a river god."

The identification of "Jonah" and a "Jonah cycle" is haphazard since
there is absolutely nothing in the scene to support this assertion.
The "Ketos" is a non biblical sea monster, and the figure might just
as well be indentified with the legend of Hercules, whom the Roman
Emperors (up until Diocletian) variously patronised.

The river god at the extreme left is another very strong indication
that the motif is non christian.

RIGHT SIDE (from the caption)

"To the right of the Good Shepherd there is a baptism of Jesus with a dove
descending. Jesus is young, nude, and quite small next to the older, bearded
John the Baptist. A pastoral scene concludes the right end"

The identification of Jesus as the small young nude child being baptised
by the older bearded John the Baptist is exceedingly rediculous. The biblical
account does not narrate anything about the childhood of Jesus (of course
some of the "Infancy Gnostic Gospels and Acts" do make such mention) but it
is generally accepted that Jesus, if he was baptised by John, was not a child
at the time. I cannot see any dove descending upon the young nude child who
is being misconstrued as Jesus. Finally the pastoral scene is hardly
symbolic of christianity, and in fact is far more suggestive of "Pagan"
(ie: country) motifs.

SUMMARY:


Looking back across the above analysis of the scene there appears to be absolutely
nothing compelling the objective skeptic from concluding that the evidence being
presented as "Christian" is in fact totally unconvincing. The scene is full of
motifs from the Graeco-Roman social matrix, which dominated Rome and the Roman
empire until the beginning of the fourth century.



Further Background Information

It may be expedient to cite the author Graydon Snyder and thereby disclose
that the bulk of all these citations stem from the mid 19th century, and the
Papal sponsored archaeologist de Rossi.

"The real founders of the science of early Christian archaeology came in the 19th century: Giuseppe Marchi (1795 - 1860) and
Giovanni de Rossi (1822 - 1894) .... it was de Rossi who published
the first great mass of data.... Between 1857 and 1861 he published
the first volume of Inscriptiones christianae urbis Romae.

Pope Pius IX moved beyond collecting by appointing in 1852 a commission
(Commissione de archaelogia sacra) that would be responsible for
all early Christian remains."
Here is a good background reference to the central figure of the "Orante" ...


THE ORANTE AND THE GODDESS IN THE ROMAN CATACOMBS - Valerie Abrahamsen

ABSTRACT The Orante, or Orans, figure, a very common and important symbol in early Christian art, is difficult to interpret. Theories of what she meant to early Christians, especially Roman Christians who buried their dead in the catacombs, range from a representation of the soul of the deceased to a symbol of filial piety. In this article, I will attempt to show that the Orante figure originates with the prehistoric goddess, the all-encom-passing Nature deity worshipped for millennia throughout the Mediterranean world.
Just as I thought. See, Jack, all you're doing now is looking at every scene on the sarcopaghus individually and trying to come up with any non-Christian interpretation that you can find no matter how farfetched or disconnected from any of the other scenes.

The fact of the matter is that every scene on the sarcopaghus has a perfectly valid Christian interpretation and it makes for a coherent totality: it's a tale about triumph and resurrection: that's why it has Jonah on the left (representing triumph over adversity) and Jesus' stories on the left (about being saved), and in the middle various Christian symbols like the Orante. The whole thing makes for a coherent message and we can see why someone would put it on a sarcopaghus.
The pagan inspiration we see on the sarcopaghus is of course obvious, but this is nothing new: early Christian art often borrowed its symbols from pagan instances. However, this only goes to prove how lazy artists can be and how uncreative we sometimes are as a species.

You, on the other hand, have had to explain every scene away using various different interpretations: you've had to appeal to a random Good Shepherd (meaning???), a random pseudo-Orante (meaning???), friggin' Hercules, pastoral scenes (what the hell is that doing on a sarcopaghus???), a random teaching of the law (again, connection to the rest???)...
It doesn't make for a message at all which anyone would want on his sarcopaghus: it would be nothing more than various images from totally distinct and disconnected parts of mythology (Hercules <--> pastoral scene <--> pseudo-Orante?). What message it could ever bring that is any way relevant to death and to a sarcopaghus is a grand mystery.

Even aside from the obvious counter-points I could make, like that (i) I don't see any clear reference to a river God on that sarcopaghus at all, I would attribute that to speculation on your part and (ii) the idea that you can explain the references to Jonah's life (the boat, the ketos and resting) away by appealing to Hercules of all people (?? what the hell does any of that have to do with Hercules?? I can come up with a few dozen obvious references to Hercules and none of those is anything remotely close to what we see on the sarcopaghus) is very "creative" to put it mildly... even aside from all that, your speculative, farfetched and disconnected interpretation loses against a coherent interpretation.
Just as I thought. See, Jack, all you're doing now is looking at every scene on the sarcopaghus individually and trying to come up with any non-Christian interpretation that you can find no matter how farfetched or disconnected from any of the other scenes.

Apophenia.

It made Dan Brown rich.
It made Dan Brown rich.

Dan Brown cites the gnostic and "heretical" "Gospel of Mary" in which Peter appears to be really and truly peeved that Jesus' secret knowledge has been given to Mary and not to the male dickheads.

Dan Brown has exposed only the very tip of the iceburg. All the "Gnostic Gospels and Acts" were authored in opposition to emergence of the orthodox state christian religion, and each of them exhibit beneath their "christian veneers" an anti-christian Greek polemical satire. (Think along the lines of Monty Python's "Life of Brian"). We can be absolutely and precisely sure what it was that the orthodox christian Photius thought about these "Gnostic Gospels and Acts".

Photius' BIBLIOTHECA OR MYRIOBIBLON 114. [Lucius Charinus, Circuits of the Apostles: Acts of Peter, Acts of John, Acts of Andrew, Acts of Thomas, Acts of Paul]
Read a book entitled Circuits [1] of the Apostles, comprising the Acts of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, and Paul, the author being one Lucius Charinus, [2] as the work itself shows. The style is altogether uneven and strange; the words and constructions, if sometimes free from carelessness, are for the most part common and hackneyed; there is no trace of the smooth and spontaneous expression, which is the essential characteristic of the language of the Gospels and Apostles,
or of the consequent natural grace.

The contents also is very silly and self-contradictory. The author asserts that the God of the Jews, whom he calls evil, whose servant Simon Magus was, is one God, and Christ, whom he calls good, another. Mingling and confounding all together, he calls the same both Father and Son. He asserts that He never was really made man, but only in appearance; that He appeared at different times in different form to His disciples, now as a young, now as an old man, and then again as a boy, now taller, now shorter, now very tall, so that His head reached nearly to heaven.

He also invents much idle and absurd nonsense about the Cross, saying that Christ was not crucified, but some one in His stead, and that therefore He could laugh at those who imagined they had crucified Him. He declares lawful marriages to be illegal and that all procreation of children is evil and the work of the evil one. He talks foolishly about the creator of demons. He tells monstrous tales of silly and childish resurrections of dead men and oxen and cattle. In the Acts of St. John he seems to support the opponents of images in attacking their use.

In a word, the book contains a vast amount of

childish,
incredible,
ill-devised,
lying,
silly,
self-contradictory,
impious, and
ungodly statements,

so that one would not be far wrong in calling
it the source and mother of all heresy.
The fact of the matter is that every scene on the sarcopaghus has a perfectly valid Christian interpretation and it makes for a coherent totality: it's a tale about triumph and resurrection

To your mind it may obviously be a tale about the triumph of a small dickless child's resurrection. To me it is not that obvious. For a start, the literal description of the scene on the sarcophagus are not my words - they are taken from the Caption to the Plate in Graydon Snyder's book. The central figures described as the "Orante", the "Reader of the Law" and "The Good Shepherd" are taken from that caption, and Snyder readily admits that these three central motifs are non christian. You on the other hand appear to disagree on this fundamental point.

In fact, if you read my review notes here you will see that the author states the following ....

"Since the Orante has no integral meaning in most biblical, pictorial art, (except Susannah), one must conclude that the Orante symbol has been inserted into biblical scenes."

The reason that one must conclude (like you are doing so well) that the Orante has been INSERTED into biblical scenes is because one is starting with the premise (or hypothesis) that we are dealing with a "biblical scene" in the first place.

The central figure of the Orante occurred as the obverse of coins struck from the time of Trajan to the time of Maximian. IMPLICATION: The Orante was on the coinage of emperors between 98 CE to 310 CE.

QUESTION: How can the Orante possibly be considered as an exemplar of "Christian Symbology"?

ANSWER: It cant.

YOUR ANSWER (and Snyders'): It was INSERTED !!!!!

MY ANSWER: There is no christian symbology present.
Those who see such are seeing their own preconceived notions.

Here is the source data again.
The source data =


p.36 of Ante pacem: archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine -- by Graydon F. Snyder 3.3 Sarcophagi

Plate 13: "The sarcophagus located in Sta. Maria Antiqua, Rome.

DESCRIBED by Snyder as ....

"Likely the oldest example of Early Christian plastic art"

Graydon Snyder's Caption Description:

"The Teaching of the Law stands in the center, with a Good Shepherd immediately to the right and an Orante immediately to the left. Continuing left is a Jonah cycle, first Jonah resting, then Jonah cast out of the ketos, and finally Jonah in the boat. To the extreme left side stands a river god. To the right of the Good Shepherd there is a baptism of Jesus with a dove descending. Jesus is young, nude, and quite small next to the older, bearded John the Baptist. A pastoral scene concludes the right end"

FWIW, unless there is a second figure in the boat, I too do not see the "River God" or indeed the "Dove descending" however my bet is that the photograph we are looking at has been slightly cropped at the edges, and another photo of the same sarcophagus scene may readily establish this to be the case.

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