The Alexamenos Graffito

In 1857 archaeologists unsealed an ancient house on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Inside, carved into the plaster of one of the walls, they found this inscription.

It appears to show a donkey-headed figure attached to a cross. A young man raises his hand to it, perhaps in worship. Below this is written in crude Greek, “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

It’s believed to be one of the first representations of the crucifixion of Jesus.


Can praying improve your reasoning? I once questioned a student about his suspicious behavior during a logic examination. He confessed that he was praying for the correct answer. I felt this was cheating. Even if God did not give him the answer, the student was soliciting the answer from Someone Else.

— Dartmouth philosopher Roy Sorensen, in A Brief History of the Paradox, 2003

Mixed Blessing

I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ ‘No,’ said the priest, ‘not if you did not know.’ ‘Then why,’ asked the Eskimo earnestly, ‘did you tell me?’

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974

Devil’s Advocate

Calling Halloween “the devil’s holiday,” in 1986 Ralph P. Forbes of London, Ark., filed suit to prevent the public schools from letting kids wear costumes to school.

He filed the suit on behalf of himself, all Christian children, and Jesus Christ. The defendants included the Arkansas Department of Education, “high priests of secular humanism,” and Satan.

U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. continued the case, whereupon attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. offered to represent Satan pro bono. He pointed out that the Dark One doesn’t transact business, own property, or commit torts in Arkansas, and asked the judge to drop him as a defendant.

The Chicago Tribune reported drily that “efforts to reach Satan for comment were unsuccessful.”

For What It’s Worth

A paper received from Natal Africa contains an article by Rev. Josiah Tyler on the similarity of Jewish and Zulu customs. Among them we mention several: The feast of first fruits, rejection of swine’s flesh, right of circumcision, the slayer of the king not allowed to live, Zulu girls go upon the mountains and mourn days and nights, saying ‘Hoi! Hoi!’ like Jepthah’s daughter, traditions of the universal deluge, and of the passage of Red Sea; great men have servants to pour water on their hands; the throwing stones into a pile; blood sprinkled on houses. The authors’ belief is that the Zulus were cradled in the land of the Bible. Certain customs are mentioned which may be ascribed to the primitive tribal organism. These are as follows: Marriages commonly among their own tribe; uncle called father, nephew a son, niece a daughter; inheritance descends from father to eldest son. If there are no sons it goes to the paternal uncle. A surmise has been advanced by some that the relics of the Queen of Sheba’s palace may be found in certain ancient ruins described by Peterman, Baines and others, and the Ophir of scripture has been located at Sofala, an African port.

The American Antiquarian, January 1885

Gold Into Lead

Concerned that the men of 1768 no longer read the Bible, Edward Harwood decided to translate the New Testament into modern language. The result has been called “turgid,” “absurd,” “ridiculous,” and “one of the most discussed and insulted” Bibles of the 18th century. Samples of his work:

Before: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

After: “Since therefore you are now in a state of lukewarmness, a disagreeable medium between the two extremes, I will in no long time eject you from my heart with fastidious contempt.”

Before: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

After: “As thou hast hitherto most mercifully supplied our wants, deny us not the necessaries and conveniences of life, while thou art pleased to continue us in it.”

Before: “We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed.”

After: “We shall not all pay the common debt of nature, but we shall by a soft transition be changed from mortality to immortality.”

And here’s the Lord’s Prayer:

O thou great governor and parent of universal nature (God) who manifestest thy glory to the blessed inhabitants of heaven–may all thy rational creatures in all the parts of thy boundless dominion be happy in the knowledge of thy existence and providence, and celebrate thy perfections in a manner most worthy of thy nature and perfective of their own! May the glory of thy moral development be advanced and the great laws of it be more generally obeyed. May the inhabitants of this world pay as cheerful a submission and as constant an obedience to Thy will, as the happy spirits do in the regions of immortality.

Harwood said his translation “left the most exacting velleity without ground for quiritation.”

Practical Shipbuilding

Early editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica accepted Noah’s ark as real, to the point of discussing how the animals were arranged and fed:

Bishop Wilkins computes all the carnivorous animals equivalent, as to the bulk of their bodies, and their food, to 27 wolves; and all the rest to 280 beeves. For the former, he allows 1825 sheep; and for the latter, 109,500 cubits of hay; all which will be easily contained in the two first stories, and a deal of room to spare.

That’s from the 1797 edition. By 1860, realizing that an ark couldn’t possibly accommodate all the world’s species, Britannica suggested that the flood had covered only the parts of the earth inhabited by men. By 1911 it was describing the whole story as myth — and in 1960 it remarked on the “many ingenious and curious theories” that had once been advanced to support the story.