Lent: The Alexamenos Graffito
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This is a continuing Lenten exploration of non-religious artists' take on religion.
This is how I’ve suggested one engages these meditations.
About the Artist:
Some Roman idiot with a knife, some time to kill, and a desire to make fun of someone back around 200 AD.
About the Art:
This is ancient graffiti mocking someone who is a Christian. It is considered the earliest depiction of Christ on record.
First off, I promised non-religious takes on religion. I did not promise it would be “good.” Secondly, I put this piece right up there with The Book of Mormon: the Musical. If you are new here, you might think it’s a dig at Matt Stone and Trey Parker, but that could be further from the truth. As I’ve already written, The Book of Mormon: the Musical was written to be a love song to organized religion. ALL organized religion. It’s a reflection.
We use reflections all the time. Our mirror in the morning tells us if we need to clean up a bit more. The camera on our phone is a reflection of an event we are witnessing. Our problem isn’t reflections, it’s unflattering reflections.
South Park actually. I’ve scoured the internet for the title of this episode, so if you know it, comment below and I’ll tag.
In the episode, everyone has a social media profile, including Wendy. The only problem is, everyone has a DOCTORED social media profile EXCEPT Wendy. More than that, the kids are judging beauty not by actually looking at the person, but by looking at their altered photo online. Wendy fights it the entire episode, telling everyone that the pictures are fake, but she is real. The episode ends on a terrible downer, as it finally shows her changing out her authentic photo for a doctored one.
The whole Christian faith has been doctoring their image for years now. The individuals have kept a squeaky clean profile. Our churches have tucked away the evil and darkness. We have not done a great job simply being true, and because of that, we don’t take truth well.
We also look at the truth like it’s all Christ with the head of a donkey. We puff ourselves up, call it trash and walk away. Meanwhile, someone has made a statement that never went away. It exists. It persists. In the case of the donkey-headed-Christ, it is now the oldest depiction of Jesus on record. It’s much more valid to look at it, and learn something from those reflections, especially the ones that are just showing the unflattering visages of us.
This is what the Alexamenos Graffito teaches me: Around 200 AD, someone was bold enough in their faith to be the subject of someone else’s boredom. It wouldn’t be until Constantine in the 300’s that being a Christian would be a legal faith. That means Alexamenos is in dangerous territory. Now the viewer has to wonder if Alexamenos was even alive at the creation of this piece, or if he lived much longer after it was finished.
We do know that part of the reason Constantine was compelled to legalize Christianity was that the followers by 325 AD were mostly rich and powerful. Now we have to wonder about this man who scratched the image, and was bold enough to write a name. Did he live that much longer after he was finished?
This reflection allows us to ask so many questions about early Christians and their faith traditions. About a century and a half after Paul and nearly a century and a half before the council of Nicea. This exists.
How does the Alexamenos Graffito preach the Word of God to the people of God?