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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If you are posting on Atheist Nexus, you by accepting the site agreement are an atheist or will at least not post religious tripe. As an atheist, you know that all religions are creations of man usually stitched together from pieces of preceding religions. While there is no evidence that a Jewish Zombie and unmarried Rabbi named Jesus ever walked the Earth, there is overwhelming evidence that Constantine and his ever ambitious mom created christianity borrowing heavily from the other religions of the time and place, and declared "holy" sites, artifacts and events at will because there was NO WRITTEN EVIDENCE TO CONTRADICT HER INVENTIONS. In fact there was nothing but a few contradictory verbal traditions that had been circulating about a jewish messiah even before Jesus was supposed to have existed.

Sorry there MVB, but you are either a closet Christian or choose to believe myths and inventions can be real and both positions are unconnected to reality.
Hi there Dan,

You're either really new to the site or just phenomenally clueless about this subject (and about me). In the latter case I have free license to be heavily sarcastic, but I'm going to be nice and give you the benefit of the doubt (since I'm such a nice chap). Either way, I expect the same courtesy from you in return. Continue this bullshit about me being a "closet Christian" and you'll find me getting very uncivil very fast. Oh, and you'll get reported to the mods: I don't take kindly to insults.

First off, being an atheist just means that I don't believe in God and the supernatural (which I don't). It doesn't say anything about my positions on ethics, philosophy, art, or history; it doesn't mean I have to cluelessy accept anything anti-religious that I hear, and it sure as hell doesn't mean I have to buy into discredited scholarship and amateur historians who don't have a clue. That scepticism is something that I've constantly and consistently advocated since I first arrived here - I follow the evidence where it leads, and I don't have an emotional attachment which causes me to dismiss things just because I don't want them to be true.

Second, assertions are cheap. There are certainly plenty of people on this site who will uncritically accept anything they hear if only it means they can hate religions even more, but I am not one of them. You say Constantine created Christianity? Okay, let's see some evidence that this is the case. You say there was nothing but verbal traditions before the Council of Nicea (where Constantine legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire)? Make a case that it is. And please explain why - if there is such overwhelming evidence to support your case - there's not a single academic scholar in the world who takes that thesis seriously.

I advise you to really do your homework though, since this isn't the first time I'm going over this, and underestimating me is just going to lead to a cold and unpleasant awakening when you realise that I know what the fuck I'm talking about.

Looking forward to you substantiating those statements. Over to you. Make it good.

Matt

Thanks for this post Dan DuPree,

I must have missed it earlier.

 

 

"The example that you gave of each of the elements being non christian yet the total picture capable of being seen as "definitely christian" is illogical. Look at it this way - that the whole picture is a house. In separate rooms we have each of the non christian motifs which constitute the whole house. You are trying to claim that your assumption is true (that the overall rooms of the house is christian) without any evidence as precedent."

Which is exactly what I'm saying all along: looking at this like a house is wrong. It's what we get taught as engineers but it's an approach that fails in art.

You never have any evidence "as precedent" on whether or not something is Christian or pagan (unless you have an explicit statement by the author, but that's obviously very rare): you see what makes the most sense given a certain interpretation.

An invidual symbol can be interpreted any number of ways. Two symbols in conjunction lessen the amount of possibilities. Even more symbols lessen the amount of possibilities in which they can be combined even further. Therefore, analysing an artwork has to be, by definition, an analysis of the complete picture and an analysis of how the various symbols interact with each other.
Trying to analyse every symbol individually, on the other hand, will leave you with nothing but vague and incoherent interpretations (the kind you've been indulging in) and misses the point of art completely.
Which is why I've asked you four times already to stop the nitpicking you've been doing all along and give us an actual explanation of what the sarcopaghus is, what it means, how the symbols interact and what the overall message is. Unless you actually do the hard work of presenting a coherent alternative explanation, all you're doing is worthless.

I don't know how many people are watching this conversation, but I can pretty much guarantee that you're the only one who's not grasping this simple concept.

This is now the fifth time I challenge you do this hard work. The four last times, you've either ignored my question, tried to shove the burden of proof on me (while I've already put forward a perfectly valid interpretation of the artwork), dodged or engaged in feeble hand-waving (i.e. "there was an interpretation but it's unknown because all the evidence has been erased!!"), or most recently tried to engage in amateur psycho-analysis.
So, fifth time: make an actual case. No more dodging, hand-waving, setting up strawmen or other non-responses. Don't count on another reply from me if you do either of those again.

Put up or shut up time for you pal. Make it good.
You never have any evidence "as precedent" on whether or not something is Christian or pagan (unless you have an explicit statement by the author, but that's obviously very rare): you see what makes the most sense given a certain interpretation.


What do you know about the disciplines of history and historical methodology?



Do you recognise this as "non-literary evidence"?
What assumptions would you like to make about it?
Here's another angle ....


.... I've already put forward a perfectly valid interpretation of the artwork), dodged or engaged in feeble hand-waving (i.e. "there was an interpretation but it's unknown because all the evidence has been erased!!"), or most recently tried to engage in amateur psycho-analysis.

Really? Has it ever occured to you that at least some evidence is capable of being interpretted in more than just one way? For example ....



Are we looking at a "younger Christian lady" or an "older Pagan lady"?
History is about chronology of evidence and its interpretation.

Your interpretation of the evidence is that it may be reasonably assumed to be christian. My interpretation of the evidence is that it may more be reasonably assumed to be non christian.

We might just agree to disagree ....
I Googled "sarcophagus Sta. Maria Antiqua". Every description of the depiction describes the 2 rightmost figures as Jesus and John the Baptist. The scene itself appears to definitely be a Christian one. Starting at the left, we have: Jonah after being vomited by the whale; a woman with outstretched hands standing next to a seated man holding a scroll; the Good Shepard; and, finally, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

According to one description: "The female figure beside him who holds her arms outstretched combines two different conventions. The outstretched hands in Early Christian art represent the so-called "orant" or praying figure. This is the same gesture found in the catacomb paintings of Jonah being vomited from the great fish, the Hebrews in the Furnace, and Daniel in the Lions den."

This might not look Christian to the untrained eye but to experts there appears to be no question about it. They draw from other examples of Christian art to make their conclusions.

The Good Shepard did not originate with Christianity but early Christians did adopted the symbol.

You can read more about the art piece (as well as see the similarities with other Christian art) here or here.
According to one description: "The female figure beside him who holds her arms outstretched combines two different conventions. The outstretched hands in Early Christian art represent the so-called "orant" or praying figure. This is the same gesture found in the catacomb paintings of Jonah being vomited from the great fish, the Hebrews in the Furnace, and Daniel in the Lions den."

Have a look at this article on the ORANTE:
http://www.depts.drew.edu/jhc/AbrahamsenOrante.pdf

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. While many early Christians super-imposed Christian meaning on her, it is likely that other Christians still viewed her in conjunction with the earlier Nature goddess of birth, life, death and rebirth, even as they worshipped God in male form.


This might not look Christian to the untrained eye but to experts there appears to be no question about it.

Yes but we must understand that these earliest "experts" were in the employ of the 19th century Popes, and obviously coloured their "Captions" accordingly. We must also understand that although the caption says we are looking at a presentation of a "small nude Jesus next to John the Baptist", the caption was authored by people who had managed to convince themselves, and their pope, that the little guy was Jesus. It's like a WHERE's WALLY picture.

I do not buy it as being "christian".

The Good Shepard did not originate with Christianity but early Christians did adopted the symbol.

It was the most common form of Jesus symbol used in the 4th century, but the Good Shepherd was used as far back as 1000 BCE. It is thought to relate to Hermes, and we know that a reasonable percentage of the Graeco-Roman populace were familiar with Hermes up until the 4th century, when the THRICE GREAT description passed to the emperor Constantine, in Eusebius's "Life of Bullneck" .

It's presence is thus by no means indicative of a "Christian presence" before 312 CE.

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