It is great having interaction between authors and readers here on Brothers of John the Steadfast. One of our readers posted a thoughtful comment to the current article, “Talking about the Black Sheep of the Family.” The comment said the Romans crucified many who were not worthy of it, and because the common people knew this, many were sympathetic to Jesus. No doubt there is much truth in those observations.
The commenter went further, saying, “I do not believe most every common person looked upon crucified individuals with contempt.” That’s a great way to spur an author on to another article. Thanks for the nudge.
In this article, we look at some evidence of how the Roman world viewed not only crucifixion in general, but Jesus and his crucifixion in particular.
The Alexamenos Graffito provides an example. The images in this article show the Alexamenos Graffito and a tracing of it.
This wall-scratching was discovered in 1857 in a building called the Paedagogium that had been constructed by Nero. It was on Palantine Hill near Circus Maximus in Rome. Besides imperial offices, it housed a school for servants and barracks rooms where palace guards and gladiators lived while on duty. Soldiers scratched rough pictures and slogans, called graffiti, into the plaster walls of the barracks. Archeologists discovered a number of these graffiti in the fourth room on the left of the entrance to the Paedagogium.
One graffito shows a young man raising his hands as if in prayer or adoration. He is raising them to Jesus on a cross. This graffito is now housed in Rome’s Museo Kircheriano at the Collegion Romano. It is dated from 193 to 235 A.D. The text in Greek reads:
The soldier might have muffed his grammar a little bit. Whether the second plural verb, SEBETE, is intended as an imperative or an indicative is unclear, but this text is generally translated as “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”
The graffito depicts Jesus as a man with an ass’s head being crucified. “This comparison of Christ to an ass, so repulsive to believers today, vividly illustrates pagan contempt toward the crucified Christ whom Paul proclaimed.” (Donald E. Green, “The Folly of the Cross,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, 15/1 (Spring 2004) 64.)