Thursday, September 18, 2008


(Image from Der Spiegel)

The New Testament scholar Jim West has called attention on Cross-Talk List to this archaeological 'find' -- discovered in the harbor seabed of Alexandria, Egypt by the German diver and treasure hunter Franck Goddio -- which bears the words DIA CHRESTOU OGOISTAIS. Jim also blogs briefly on this cup and links to Wieland Willker for the image. I'll not link directly to Wieland's copy of the image, because of an intrusive pop-up there, but will link instead to the original at Der Spiegel.

This 'find' apparently has some people excited because they think that the words refer to Christ. Wieland seems to take this 'find' seriously:
Franck Goddio found this cup on the ground of the harbor of Alexandria in May this year. It has a diameter of about 9 cm and weighs 200g. According to their report, it was found in layer 2 of the stratigraphy, which means that it is from the first half of the first century!

The epigraph André Bernand from Paris thinks that the biblical Messiah is meant. He considers the cup as some kind of witch’s cauldron which belonged to a fortune teller who was basing his authority on Jesus. The text means "Magician through Christ".
Wieland is here referring to André Bernand's speculation as reported in Der Spiegel. Bernand might be thinking of the sort of practice reported in Acts 19:13-14:
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
This passage in Acts implies that some non-Christians sought to use the name "Jesus" as part of a magical formula to exorcise evil spirits, though the incantation doesn't seem to have worked very well in this case, as verses 15 and 16 go on to report:
And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Be that as it may, my main point is that an attempt at a magical use of the name "Jesus" -- and therefore also of the title "Christos" -- is entirely possible in principle.

Antonio Lombatti, however, who maintains the website Pseudoscienze cristiane antiche e medievali, (Ancient and Medieval Christian Pseudoscience), expresses deep skepticism about this particular cup:
You don't need a microscopical analysis of that inscription: of course, it cannot be so neat if the object was found under the sea. Moreover, I also find the carving of the Greek letters to be quite unusual -- I mean, too perfect -- for a text on a 2,000 year-old cup.
Jim West agrees that the inscription is a fake, and I concur that the inscription looks awfully clear for being on an object supposedly under water for 2000 years, but I'm no expert.

Yet . . . I do wonder why the inscription reads "DIA CHRESTOU OGOISTAIS" rather than "DIA CHRISTOU OGOISTAIS." The word "chrestou" is the genitive singular form of "chrestos," which is an adjective meaning "good," and therefore not the title "Christos," which is what one would expect if this referred to Christ. Why would a forger choose to inscribe the word "good" rather than "Christ"? Was the supposed forger so inept?

The German article in Der Spiegel notes that "chrestos" was actually used rather often as a Greek name:
"Chrestos war in Griechenland ein gebräuchlicher männlicher Vorname", erklärt der Historiker Manfred Clauss aus Frankfurt am Main, "das muss nichts mit Jesus zu tun haben."
Translated, this says:
"Chrestos was commonly a man's given name in Greece," explains the historian Manfred Clauss of Frankfurt am Main. "That need not have anything to do with Jesus."
This is correct, but I do recall, from my time studying with New Testament Professor Otto Betz in Tübingen, that "Christos" and "chrestos" were sometimes interchanged as a wordplay since "Christ" was "good." Perhaps the putative forger was not inept but clever?

To be clear, however, let me emphasize that I am also skeptical about this inscription, and for the reason given by Antonio Lombatti. The letters simply look much too distinct to be nearly 2000 years old.

But what in the world does ogoistais actually mean? If this is a forgery, it's a very odd one.

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At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting; I have my doubts also about this cup. I was also wondering about that extra letter. Once again, we see only what we want to see. Thank you for your insight!

At 4:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mick. By extra letter, do you mean the "e" rather than an "i"?

Jeffery Hodges

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