Thursday, May 31, 2012

Christian Graffiti in Smyrna before AD 125

An interesting graffito from Smyrna:


kurioj   w
pistij   w

This was incised into plaster in pier 100 in basement of the basicila in Smyrna. Three things of note: 

  1. firstly the date: the graffiti here was regularly plastered over, and Bagnall argues that this particular graffito lies on a layer below a layer which includes (admittedly in a different place) a dated graffito which makes reference to "year 210" (which he further argues corresponds to the customary dating - found in coins and inscriptions etc. - to the (re) conquest of Asia Minor by Sulla in 85/84 BC; so minus 84 plus 210 yields AD 125/6 [not worrying for the moment about the Bibfeldtian problem of the year zero]). If this is secure (the only problem would seem to be that the dated graffito occurs in Bay 16 and the above graffito, which is assigned to the layer below the dated graffito, occurs in Pier 100) this would be the earliest securely dated archaeological evidence for Christianity anywhere in the ancient world (unless someone can think of something earlier). 
  2. secondly the use of isopsephy in early Christianity - general interest in playing around with numbers is evident in the Apocalypse (from a similar setting), so this is interesting. By the way, this is how it works:
    kurioj  equals 20+400+100+10+70+200=800 (i.e. omega)
    pistij  equals 80+10+200+300+10+200=800 (i.e. omega)
    According to the principles as follows:
  3. Thirdly, the evident Paulinism of this isopsephy is rather striking evidence for the influence of Paul's theology (admittedly at a simple level) in Smyrna in this period.

    See R. Bagnall, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011, 2012 pb), 22f.
    Discussed at an early stage on this blog here; and elsewhere by Larry Hurtado, Ben Witherington (on the basis of an SBL session)


  1. Actually, I see an early attempt here to synthesize Pauline and Jacobean theology, giving equal weight to belief in Christ, and submitting to Christ's lordship.

    This would also argue for an early date for the Epistle of James.

  2. DB,

    I find it particularly striking that the Greek inscription uses a Latin alphabet of some sort. Perhaps, this is an early validation of the King James version?

    1. Chronologically, Greek language, hence alphabet, preceded that one of Latin.
      Evaluation of the language, hence letters, which now do not exist in the Greek alphabet, has resulted to be still remaining till our days, in the Latin one.
      Thank you._