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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It's still apophenia.
Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.

In this case then, my position is that those who see in these archaeological relics meaningful "Biblical Christian" patterns or connections (eg: Snyder et al) are suffering from Apophenia. My position is that we are just dealing with random Graeco-Roman (non christian) data.

What you call Apophenia is in this specific instance here what I call Wearing "Christian Glasses" in a Pagan archaeological landscape.
I agree that it's not exactly apophenia. Apophenia would be if you thought the pagan symbols meant that there was some kind of necessary connection between pagan thought and Christian thought. Here you're just saying that there's no Christian thought at all and that it's all an interpolation.

I actually think that you're being influenced by your engineering training too much. I'm nearly an engineer myself so I can sympathise.
What we often tend to do as engineers is break a given problem up in specific sub-problems, then fix each sub-problem for a specific variable and then combine the sub-problems back to the original problem.

It's how engineering works but it's not how art analysis and historical analysis is done, however. There you have to look at the entire picture and get a coherent explanation for all of it. You can't just look at every specific scene of a painting and come up with an interpretation of each one: you need to look

So I have no problem with the charge that I'm assuming that it's Christian: I am; and it makes the most sense that way: everything has an explanation and it makes for a coherent total message. On the other hand, if we assume that it's pagan and we have to interpret everything in that vein, we get nonsensical results.
You've even avoided doing it at all. You haven't explained what the total sarcopaghus is meant to signify. You haven't explained what Hercules is doing in there. You haven't explained what the Shepherd is doing there and what its connection to Hercules is.

All you're doing now is trying to explain every individual scene away and dodging the responsibility of coming up with a way of how it all works together.

An altogether trickier proposition and one that you keep avoiding.
So I have no problem with the charge that I'm assuming that it's Christian: I am; and it makes the most sense that way: everything has an explanation and it makes for a coherent total message.

My point is that an assumption on your part (or for the author of the book) that it is Christian is not "evidence" that it is Christian.

On the other hand, if we assume that it's pagan and we have to interpret everything in that vein, we get nonsensical results.

No we just get unknown results which were perhaps a little unexpected. The results appear non sensical immediately the "Christian Glasses" are removed - get fuzzy and blurry and lack any form of characteristics - so one must take some time to adjust one's (conceptual) vision. Education helps in this process. I am sure there would be specialists in the field of Graeco-Roman and Classical Studies who could provide a better explanation of the pagan motifs than I. For example, see that article on the "ORANTE".


You've even avoided doing it at all. You haven't explained what the total sarcopaghus is meant to signify. You haven't explained what Hercules is doing in there. You haven't explained what the Shepherd is doing there and what its connection to Hercules is.

The Shepherd is also known as the "criophorus".
Its use has been traced as far back as 1000 BCE.
Many have linked the Shepherd to Hermes.

Ditto for the central female "Orante" figure.
My purpose in this thread is not to explain them.
My purpose is to point out they are non christian.
They have been "assumed" Christian by "early Papal archaeologists".

Our historical heritage is pagan, and we dont know what that heritage is because it was usurped by the victory of the christian state church over the Roman empire in the year 324/325 CE.

All you're doing now is trying to explain every individual scene away and dodging the responsibility of coming up with a way of how it all works together.

What I have been doing for many years is examining in detail the "evidence" which is being published in the current academic and scholarly circles as pertaining to the existence of "Christian Church Life before Constantine.

I find this "evidence" tenditious, conjectural and/or "assumed".

I am glad that in this instance you appear to agree on this issue.
"My point is that an assumption on your part (or for the author of the book) that it is Christian is not "evidence" that it is Christian."

Actually, when we make that assumption and it makes all the evidence fall together and makes for a coherent interpretation, that is good evidence that the assumption was correct.
I'm perfectly willing to make your assumption too, and look at the evidence in that vein (in fact, I just did) and it makes no sense whatsoever, which is a strike against your idea.

However you try to explain this away by saying:

"No we just get unknown results which were perhaps a little unexpected."
and
"Our historical heritage is pagan, and we dont know what that heritage is because it was usurped by the victory of the christian state church over the Roman empire in the year 324/325 CE."

So basically you're now setting yourself up for an "argument from conspiracy". Explaining every specific scene on a painting or a sculpture is not difficult. Explaining it all together in a coherent way is the real test for whether or not your conclusions are valid and your position has merit.

But when I challenged you to do this, and to show us exactly how the hell there's a coherent message on that sarcopaghus which includes Hercules, a pagan Good Shepherd, a teaching of the law, a random guy and his son,... you now avoid the question by saying "We don't know how this all fits together because it was wiped out in a giant conspiracy!!"

So you wind up doing all the easy work, then realise that you can't do the hard work, and then explain that failure away with the possibility that you maybe could have done it if all the evidence hadn't been destroyed a long time ago. In short, you dodged the falsification mechanism.

It's those farfetched and simplistic reasonings that form the main weak point of your thesis and are the reason that you haven't convinced anyone here.
Actually, when we make that assumption (that its "christian") and it makes all the evidence fall together and makes for a coherent interpretation, that is good evidence that the assumption was correct.

Yes, its a nice fuzzy warm feeling, but utterly without logic. Your problem here is that a coherent christian interpretation is unsupported because of the widespread use of motifs which are clearly non christian and which were already in use in the epoch BCE. Do you not understand the implication of these basic facts? Were Zeus and Apollo and Asclepius "christians"?

Do you really think we are looking at a child Jesus and John the Baptist? Why - because an authority in a book SAYS IT IS SO? If you do, then I suggest you need your head read - you may be suffering from Christian Apophenia.
@MATT ...

Is this a picture of Jesus grown up?



Others have stated their opinion that this picture of Jesus
looks very similar to the Lord God Caesar Constantine.
[Jack, I'll continue our conversation here since we've gone too far to the right already]

"Yes, its a nice fuzzy warm feeling, but utterly without logic. Your problem here is that a coherent christian interpretation is unsupported because of the widespread use of motifs which are clearly non christian and which were already in use in the epoch BCE."

This great "problem" of mine exists entirely in your head, actually. We both agree that various pagan motifs were adopted by Christians at some point ("the Good Shepherd" being an example), we just profoundly disagree on when and why.
What you don't seem to understand is that which side used a specific symbol first is utterly irrelevant. The Swastika was invented by buddhists and the Eagle has been used by Romans for centuries, but if I see an eagle and a swastika in conjunction I'm still going to associate it with Nazi Germany.

Similarly, it doesn't make a lick of difference if the Good Shepherd was an often used pagan motif or if the scenes of Jonah (boat, ketos, rest) can be interpreted in some farfetched other way, and if the baptism scene can be interpreted otherwise if we try really hard... The fact that we see them occuring together and that we know that they are Christian symbols (whether they have pagan roots is again irrelevant) and that they make a coherent message is a point in favour of my hypothesis, and your failure to come up with an alternative explanation for their coexistence in this sculpture is a point against yours.

So again: if I see a Good Shepherd alone, I might doubt that it's Christian. If I see an Orante alone, I might doubt that it's Christian. And if I see a son and a father alone in a baptism pose, I might doubt that it's Christian. If I see them all together in a coherent way, I am going to think it's Christian.

Now tell me Jack, why is this not a reasonable statement? And give us an actual reasonable counter-explanation this time, other than the nitpicking and conspiracist hand-waving you've been doing all this time.

"Do you not understand the implication of these basic facts? Were Zeus and Apollo and Asclepius "christians"?""

Were the Romans Nazis? The fact that symbols are shared by different groups or that one group's symbol and iconography is taken over by another group has no implications at all, except that humans are less creative than we sometimes like to think.

"Do you really think we are looking at a child Jesus and John the Baptist?"

Yes actually, I do.

"Why - because an authority in a book SAYS IT IS SO? If you do, then I suggest you need your head read - you may be suffering from Christian Apophenia."

Whatever. No, not because an authority says so. Because we have a confluence of Christian symbols that are best explained by it being a Christian design. And because the only alternative is apparently saying "Uuuuuuuuum, it's just some guy and his son doing something which is relevant in some unknown way to the rest of the design, but we'll never figure it out because the explanation was WIPED OUT IN A GIANT CONSPIRACY!"
We both agree that various pagan motifs were adopted by Christians at some point ("the Good Shepherd" being an example), we just profoundly disagree on when and why.

The archaeologists tell us that the Good Shepherd has been a motif in art since 1000 BCE, that the motif is most likely related to Hermes - the humanitarian god, and that - in the fourth century after the Christian state religion was legalised by Emperor Constantine - the "Good Shepherd" became the most popular representation of Jesus Christ.

So again: if I see a Good Shepherd alone, I might doubt that it's Christian. If I see an Orante alone, I might doubt that it's Christian. And if I see a son and a father alone in a baptism pose, I might doubt that it's Christian. If I see them all together in a coherent way, I am going to think it's Christian.

This is a ludicrous statement. Apophenia is an apt description for it.


"Do you really think we are looking at a child Jesus and John the Baptist?"

Yes actually, I do.



Matt, were you at any stage in your life a "saved christian"?
"The archaeologists tell us that the Good Shepherd has been a motif in art since 1000 BCE, that the motif is most likely related to Hermes - the humanitarian god, and that - in the fourth century after the Christian state religion was legalised by Emperor Constantine - the "Good Shepherd" became the most popular representation of Jesus Christ."

They also say that it was a popular Christian motif long before that. It was even used to represent a popular Christian book "The Shepherd of Hermas". So let's not pretend that your position is the most in accordance with "the archaelogists".

"This is a ludicrous statement. Apophenia is an apt description for it."

Reeeeeeeeally? So how do you know that this is a Nazi symbol? The Eagle is not necessarily a reference to Nazism, and the Swastika is not necessarily a reference to Nazism. It's their conjunction that makes it clear that this is without a doubt a Nazi symbol.
So this line of reasoning, which is precisely what I'm doing with regards to the sculpture, is apophenia according to you? That's nonsense: it's a perfectly reasonable way of thinking, as the above example shows.

"Matt, were you at any stage in your life a "saved christian"?"

No, declared atheist since I was 12, though a little bit theistic before that (I was a kid, for goodness' sake).
So don't even try to make an ad-hominem. Previous attempts at psycho-analysis into my character have failed miserably.
They also say that it was a popular Christian motif long before that. It was even used to represent a popular Christian book "The Shepherd of Hermas". So let's not pretend that your position is the most in accordance with "the archaelogists".

The actual date of authorship of "The Shepherd of Hermes", which Eusebius as Editor-In-Chief of the 50 Constantine Bibles oversighted publication in the 4th century, is not known. It could be as early as the 2nd century and as late as the 4th century --- nobody is yet completely sure although there are many conjectures floating around. However the "Good Shepherd" as associated by the archaelogists with Hermes the humanitarian god of the Graeco-Roman culture as an independent motif from as early as 1000 BCE.

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.

It's obvious that the christian culture adopted "The Shepherd of Hermes" but it is not obvious exactly when this happened. This is the entire point of my argument.
Reeeeeeeeally? .... Nazi symbol? .... a reference to Nazism, and the Swastika is not necessarily a reference to Nazism. It's their conjunction that makes it clear that this is without a doubt a Nazi symbol.

Since you appear to be interested in Nazism you may be interested to read Some Quotes of Hitler from the twentieth century that may fairly be placed directly into the mouth of Constantine in the fourth century.

And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

--- Acton

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