Christ the Magician

Jesus-bowl-christ-magician

Was Christ a magician? News reports have started surfacing of an amazing discovery in the underwater ruins of the harbour of the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.

Its a bowl, possibly a fortune telling bowl, that was found engraved with what some archaeologists believe could be the world's first known reference to Christ.

If the word "Christ" refers to the historical Jesus, as is speculated, then the discovery could provide evidence that Christianity and Paganism were sometimes intertwined in the ancient world.  

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

You can read more about the magical Christ bowl here:

Earliest reference describes Christ as 'magician'
Earliest Reference Describes Christ as 'Magician'

Now, here are some questions:

  • Do you thing this legitimizes Christopaganism?
  • Does it threaten your understanding of Jesus?
  • Could it create opportunities for interfaith dialogue?
  • Could it enhance our understanding of early Christianity?
  • Do you think Frank Viola, author of Pagan Christianity, should update the cover art of his book during the next print run?

10 thoughts on “Christ the Magician

  1. Matt, this is what happens when we keep our own sensational discoveries to ourselves! We leave the field to amateurs…
    ‘Dia’ with the genitive case means ‘through’; an archaeologist I know online thought it probably just referred to anointing someone, and using the cup to do so.
    Looking at the inscription itself though, the first thing that strikes me is that it’s Chraestou (eta rather than epsilon for the middle letter), rather than Christou (of Christ) or Chrestou (Greek form of a common Latin slave name, meanign ‘worthy’).

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  2. Do you think the word “magician” was used simply because he performed miracles, i.e. unexplainable things? Could it be that for those of “pagan” traditions back then, the best word they would have had for miracles would be magic? So could this be evidence of Christ’s teaching reaching pagan communities? Those are the questions I come up with; just curious as to your thoughts on those.
    As to your questions, it doesn’t threaten me, and I think if that is what it truly is, yes it could definitely contribute to interfaith dialog, at least to bring up some interesting questions.

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  3. The New Testament (the gospels especially if I’m not mistaken) is the ancient text on which the most research was done. The complexity of dating texts (whatever it was written on), and of determining its origin, context etc, was clearly demonstrated in this process.
    Why do we always find people who love to grab onto the naive interpretations of extra-biblical material… think “Judas”… think “Da Vinci Code”:-)

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  4. Well, Matt, you do trawl some interesting stuff, I must say! The first thing my amateur interest in Ancient History made me think of was that Alexandria was a huge centre of learning and that therefore many “religions”, philosphies and sciences were studied by a wide variety of scholars and practisioners from around the then known world.
    Due to the parade of conquests of various ruling super-powers over the centuries both before and after the Christ we know of as Jesus, various religions gained popularity depending who was fighting whom… as we have heard “there are no atheists in foxholes” or who ascribed their victory to whom etc., Constantine being one example of empirical religious expediency with whom we are probably very familiar.
    Back to my discussion of your potty…
    magus/magic suggestive of more middle-eastern spirituality, along with all kinds of astrological, philosophical, medical and geometrical “discplines” was studied in hubs such as Alexandria and Tarsus etc. Finding a divination bowl that mentioned something akin to the word “Christ” could have a wide range of meanings. Maybe more likely to be related to Messianic, Anointed types of deities such as Mithras, which few modern day Christians would know had amazingly similar titles, attributes and expectations associated with his mystery- cult following as the Christ Jesus of the Gospels!
    In answer to your questions:
    1. If you mean, Christopaganism as a fusing of genuine Jesus Christ discipleship and other religio-philosophical/ritual concepts and practices and “legitimising” it means admitting that such syncretism occurs, then I say YES, authors like Frank Viola are right in their valid exposition of such fusion/conflation
    2. No, it doesn’t threaten my understanding of Jesus. In fact, my studies of ancient history (again, I say amateur – though enthusiastic)and such things as the truth about the meaning of the amazing constellations etc only confirm my belief in the transcendent and immanent Trinity God of whom Jesus Christ is/was incarnate!
    3. I think there are probably more exciting finds than this particular bowl that would spark any substantial interfaith dialogue… although I am not entirely sure which faiths you mean?
    4. It’s only likely to enhance our understanding of early Christianity if people look deeper and wider into the time period by accessing the tons of study material available. As with any history, it’s the sources that are important and the interpretations that are interesting.
    5. I’m not sure how important the cover is really… it’s more the magnitude of the marketing/media machinery that would bring it to the attention of the public. I would probably have read it even if there was absolutely no illustration on the cover, as it was given to me as a gift by a trusted friend.
    Once again, Matt, thanks for provoking interesting discussion and attracting some credible archaeological comment as well as thoughts by interested amateurs such as myself 🙂

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  5. Lucy, in mentioning interfaith dialogue I was principally referring to dialogue between Pagans and Christians.
    I am not sure if you have picked up on it yet but some of my regulars here are Pagans who are interested in dialogue with Christians, others are Christians who are interested in dialogue with Pagans. And by Pagans I mean self identified Pagans, that is, polytheists, people who worship many gods and goddesses. You know, witches, shamans, that sort of thing. I try to leave the welcome mat out for everyone here at Glocal Christianity, including those we would traditionally burn at the stake.
    Now, as for Christopaganism, there are others who genuinely call themselves Christopagans or Christian Witches and try to mix and match the two religions syncretistically, as contradictory as that may sound to others on both sides of the religious fence. I am wondering how some of them react to this.

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  6. Interesting discovery. However, to attribute this piece of pottery to Jesus Christ is a real stretch. Many have claimed to be the “Christ” throughout history. This doesn’t threaten my understanding of Jesus at all.
    Also, since you made note of Viola’s book, “Pagan Christianity”, I thought you might be interested to know that the sequel to it has just been released. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org. It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://frankviola.wordpress.com/ . Also, have you seen the spoof video for “Pagan”? Very funny. Check it out at http://youtube.com/watch?v=hslswIal9u4

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  7. Ta for clarifying, Matt. I did realise you entertained a variety of visitors. I really appreciate that here in Australia we are a comparatively free country and have comparatively free cyber-communication opportunities, so your site is a wonder to behold!
    Do you or anybody else think that our westernised consumer Mix’n’Match culture has impacted the proliferation of syncretism on “both sides of the fence”, so to speak?
    I mean there always has been syncretism (eg. Voodoo in Caribbean countries has strong Catholic Christian connections and then there is the info you posted on the “secret Christians” of Japan), but in post-modern post-industrial cultures, maybe the effects of commercialism and availability of so much information and communication through modern technology etc has made a very fascinating cocktail available to people interested in spirituality, rituals and practices that might not have previously been so readily accessible?

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  8. Jill, Ive actually been given a copy of “Reimagining Church” to review. Have some mixed feelings about it from what Ive read so far but I’ll have to leave that for another post.

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  9. Syncretism and consumer culture related? Oh, most definitely! The irreligious spirituality that’s so prevalent today had its birth in the New Age movement which was in many ways nothing more than the commercialization of theosophy-style occultism. The self is God, the consumer is sovereign, these two concepts have become deeply intertwined in the new millenium.
    This is also why I emphasize the need for identity clarification and hard core commitment to the evangelion and the creeds despite my otherwise permissive attitude towards experimentation. As a former New Age syncretist I know what it is to fall into syncretism, I am pretty street wise in that way, I know how it happens and I can spot where others are vulnerable. Emergent, with its resistance to definition, is vulnerable. When we make ourselves our own highest theological authority we leave ourselves vulnerable, both to religious consumerism and syncretism.

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