Examples in Archaeology: The Multiple Burial in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath (Gully Bastion)

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 When and where the feature was found

The multiple burial (Grave 2 Gully Bastion) is located in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath at Isthmia.  The grave cut into what is assumed to be ground level at the time of the construction of the Hexamilion wall which is a hard white soil.  The grave itself was excavated in the 1970 season and was found under a later kiln or oven.

Location of Grave 2 in corner of the Hexamilion wall,
Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993)

 Topelev = 41.08

Botelev = 40.18

 Brief Description

Located in a corner of the Hexamilion wall the Gully Bastion Grave Two has the interior face of the wall forming both the West and the North sides with the North side slightly undercutting the Hexamilion by around 20cm. The sides of the grave are lined with large tiles, these tiles also included in their number one stamped tile[1]  and another which being heavily smoke stained indicates that it may have originally been part of the nearby Roman Bath.[2] The interpretation of this tile as formerly of the Roman Bath is also suggested by how the smoke staining does not extend to the corners of the tile where it would have been resting on top of hypocausts.

 The grave is actually split into two irregular sections, North and South.  These two sections were split by a line of vertical tiles which ran West to East across the grave.  Within the north section was found two skeletons with their heads to the west and within the south compartment eight skeletons were uncovered also with their heads to the west.  There is some debate to who these individuals were, whether they were part of the garrison assigned to guard or build the Hexamilion or from some other associated part of society.

 Underneath the lowest body in the southern section a number of artefacts were found, namely an Athenian glazed lamp fragment which shares much of the characteristics of other lamps found in the Roman Bath (IPL 70-100)[3] which can be dated to the second half of the fourth century after Christ. There is debate over the function of the lamp in the grave.  Was it part of some religious ceremony for the deceased or simply just lost or for another reason yet to be thought of? Either way this lamp fragment allows for the best dating of the grave in relation to similar lamps found in the Roman Bath as mentioned previous.  Several other items were found in the same area as the lamp fragment including a coarse dark reddish bowl (IPR 70-26) which like the lamp can be dated to the second half of the fourth century.[4]  A bronze buckle (IM 70-32) and a bead on a wire (IM 70-54) were also excavated.


The north side of the grave undercutting the Hexamilion along with the relation between the lamp fragment found in the south section of the grave in relation to lamps found in Roman Bath dating to the fourth century suggest that the grave was contemporary with the construction of the Hexamilion.  This is further indicated by how the grave sides are the interior of the wall on two sides.  The graves construction can hence be placed either at the time the Hexamilion was being built or slightly after but before the kiln/oven was placed on top.

The position of the skeletons within the grave suggests primarily a Christian burial with the skeleton’s heads to the west. Christian burials of the period were generally orientated East-West with the head to the West end of the grave in order to mirror the layout of the Christian Church and the direction from which Christ is meant to come on judgement day.


Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993), pp.42-45


                  Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.2 – pp.47-72 May 1970

                  Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.3

 Wohl ‘Deposit of Lamps’ No. 24

Fraser, P.M., Archaeology in Greece, 1970-71, Archaeological reports, No.17 (1970-71), p.9

[1] Gully Bastion Notebook Vol.2, p.47 and 53

[2] Ibid., p.49

[3] Ibid., p.55

[4] Ibid., p.68

Welcome to GraecoMuse!

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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

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SSEC (Society for the Study of Early Christianity) Conference 2013

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English: Macquarie University sign

SSEC Conference 2013 

SSEC 2013 conference brochure – Link to PDF

Conference Curtain Raiser
Thursday 2 May 7.05pm

Museum of Ancient Cultures.

Professor James McLaren (ACU) Jewish actions against the
followers of Jesus: reassessing the evidence within the context of
the Roman Empire

Dr Don Barker 9850 9962
Professor Alanna Nobbs 9850 8844

Notes on Speakers
James McLaren Professor of Ancient History and
Biblical Studies in the Faculty of Theology and
Philosophy at Australian Catholic University. Currently
the Associate Dean (Research) for the Faculty and
member of the Centre for Early Christian Studies.
Dr John Dickson Honorary Fellow, Department of
Ancient History, Macquarie University; Founding
Director of the Centre for Public Christianity
Dr Chris FORBES lectures in New Testament history,
the Classical Tradition and the Hellenistic Age at
Macquarie University.
Dr Rosalinde Kearsley Honorary Research Fellow,
Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University
Dr Brent Nongbri Macquarie University Research
Mary Jane Cuyler PhD student at University of Sydney
& Field Director of OSMAP excavations of the
synagogue at Ostia
Dr Marianne Dacy University of Sydney
Rev Dr Erica Mathieson Honorary Research Fellow,
Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University
Jennifer Turner Migliore PhD Student University of


Differentiation of Christians and Jews in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries

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Pontius Pilate asked ‘What is truth?’ Both Christians and Jews viewed themselves as the portrayers of truth; The Romans viewed both as conveyers of false religion.  But how and why did the Christians differentiate themselves from Jews in the second and third centuries and how did the Romans distinguish the Christians and the Jews from each other? This essay will explore the how these groups were differentiated and distinguished in this period and what implications the Roman perspective has for the way we view the relationship between Christians and Jews.

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...
Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus to the people.

In order to assess how and why Christians differentiated themselves from Jews in the second and third centuries it is necessary to explore texts by Christian writers in this period. Unfortunately there is a limited corpus of texts available from the second and third centuries. Despite this, the words of writers such as Aristides, Tertullian, Ignatius and Justin give us some understanding of the differentiation made and why they were distinguished by the Christians.  Regardless of which group is being referred to, the overriding theme is prescription of correct practices.

In examining the Christian texts, one of the main points of differentiation relates to the concept of truth.  The Christians saw themselves as the conveyors and students of truth and the Jews as a people who had erred from true knowledge.  Aristides, a second century writer, asserts that the Christians have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations and the Jews have strayed from truth and instead make observances to angels and not to God.[1]  Tertullian, writing from the end of the first century and into the second, in his Apology also makes this differentiation, explaining that with truth comes hatred of truth, Jews are strangers to the truth and hence Christians are the enemies.[2]

The Christians also differentiated themselves from the Jews in terms of origins.  Tertullian explains that the Christians traced the origins of their religion to the reign of Tiberius, from Jesus the ‘son of God.’[3]  Aristides also expresses this in his Apology, saying that the Christians trace their religion to the Messiah.  Aristides explains that this is a significant difference between the Jews and the Christians as the Jews trace their origins of their religion from Abraham, ‘who begat Isaac, of whom was born Jacob. And he begat twelve sons who migrated from Syria to Egypt; and there they were called the nation of the Hebrews, by him who made their laws; and at length they were named Jews…’[4]  The Christians appear to be very determined, moving through the second and third centuries to express that there was little place in the Christian religion for Jewish laws and customs, this may be a significant reason why the Christians differentiated themselves in relation to origins.  But Christian writers in most cases do not attempt to completely divorce themselves from origins from Abraham.  Justin, for instance, asserts that Christians are the true spiritual descendants from Abraham; this terminology though still gives a distinct sense of differentiation between the Christians and the Jews.[5]

Christian texts from the second and third centuries illustrate that customs and laws were also used as a basis for differentiation. Frend assesses that Christians saw themselves as the ‘true Jews’, ‘the true vine’, but rejected Jewish ceremonial law.[6]  It was the rejection of this claim by Jews and Romans alike that led to the Christian’s often precarious situation.[7] One of the most evident of these differences is that of food laws.  Barnabas lays out the food-laws of the Jews; “Ye shall not eat swine, nor an eagle, nor a hawk, nor a crow, nor any fish…”[8]  Jews were also distinguished often by their clothes and dwellings in a separate quarter of the urban community, distinctions that the Christians rejected explicitly.[9]  Aristides also outlines some of these distinctions; he explains that unlike the Christians, the Jews celebrate the beginning of months, feasts of unleavened bread and a great fast, and fasting and circumcision and the purification of meats.[10]  Tertullian again illustrates how the Christians differentiated themselves from Jews in this way, stating that ‘we neither accord with Jews in their peculiarities in regard to food…sacred days…bodily signs, nor in the possession of a common name;’ which he suggests surely the Christians would if their God and religion were the same.[11]  The Didache even lays out the situation in reference to fasting and how Christians should make a point of fasting on days which are not fasting days of Judaism, of ‘hypocrites.’[12]

Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr wrote that the Jews ‘did not recognise Christ even when He came…He was crucified by them.’[13] In examining how the Christians distinguished themselves we see that many saw the Jews’ unrecognition of Jesus as Son of God as a key point. The Jews were seen as having rejected Christ and so were rejected by Christ.  The rejection of Christ by the Jews is an important point when assessing why the Christians took the liberty to differentiate themselves from the Jews so explicitly.  Aristides expressed that the Jews were the murderers of Jesus; pierced and crucified by them.[14]  Not only did the Jews reject the basis for the Christians origins but expressed it as blasphemy as Justin notes with Barchochebas, the leader of the Jewish revolt, who gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy.[15]

Melito in relation to the Jews and their rejection of Christ appears to even accuse them of deicide.[16]  The Jews are said not to have understood that which their own prophets predicted and therefore did not recognise Christ when he did come and so in seeing Jesus treated him with contempt.[17] In comparison, the Christians embraced him despite their lack of knowledge and prophecy.  In the minds of the Christians the Jews had killed Christ which is probably why this accusation of deicide appears in the likes of Melito. It seems a fair assessment that this ideology of the Jews would have been a key factor in why the Christians wished to be defined apart from the Jews as they had rejected the saviour, especially since the Christians saw themselves as the chosen people, despite lacking the wealth and the antiquity of the Jews.  Whether this rejection was out of ignorance or divine will is a subject which was debated and questioned even in the period under examination.

Throughout the majority of Christian texts addressing the Jewish religion a recurring theme of differentiation is the idea of old and new.  For instance, Tertullian asserts that the Jews had false trust in their ‘noble ancestors’; and Ignatius advises in his letter to the Magnesians not to be led astray by ‘old fables’ and that the Jewish converts walked in ‘ancient customs’ where as the Christians walked in a ‘new hope’.[18] The Christians did not have the antiquity that the Jews had and differentiated themselves through a sense of newness and regeneration.  Barnabas illustrates this stating that he made us new by the remission of sins he made us ‘another type’, that we should have the soul of children, as though he were creating us afresh.”[19] This idea of Christianity as new is also seen in the Roman texts but is seen in a different, more negative light.  Ignatius in his letter to the Philadelphians expresses that in the end Christianity was seen by the Christians as the superior group and their teachings and religion was to be preferred before all others.[20]  The Jews were seen as the lesser group and should only relate to the Christian teachings to show the superiority of the Christians.

The question remains of how the Romans distinguished the Jews and the Christians in the second and third centuries. The Romans distinguished the Jews as a special people in contrast to other groups due to their imageless worship (ἀθεότης), refusal to participate in the traditional and their exclusiveness (ἀμιξία). This exclusiveness and separation from the rest of society was a key point of differentiation that the Romans made between the Christians and the Jews.  The Jews kept to themselves whereas the Christians interacted with the rest of the community.  Caecilius illustrates this, describing the Jews as a people who ‘skulk and shun the light of day, silent in pubic…the lonely and wretched race of the Jews…but the Christians! What marvels, what monsters to they feign!’[21] This indicates that the Jews were distinguished from the Christians as not only a separate group but as a people who purposely isolated themselves from society.  Tacitus also expresses this idea of isolation, explaining that the Jews sit apart at meals, sleep apart and do not associate with strangers and foreigners.[22]  The exclusivity of the Jews seems to have been also a way that the groups were distinguished.  Jews were exclusive, Christians were not.

There are unfortunately few pagan references to Christianity in the second century but from the few sources available it appears that Romans also distinguished the Christians from the Jews in relation to the idea of a third race the ‘genus tertium’, though this idea is often debated by modern scholarship. The Treatise Scorpiace, for instance, indicates that the designation of Christians as a third race was common in Carthage in the third century.[23]  This designation was made on the grounds of faith and is implicit of a distinction between the Jews and the Christians; the Romans being the first race, the Jews the second, and the Christians the third. Tertullian also refers to this distinction made by the Romans, stating ‘Tertium genus [dicimur] de ritu.’[24] This distinction of Ἕλληνες, Ἰουδαῖοι, and Γαλιλαῖοι is seen throughout literary evidence, both Christian and Roman, and appears to be a key way that the groups were distinguished by the Romans.  This distinction is one that was made in relation to Roman society and is not to be confused with other ideas of race distinction based on locality which was also a common distinction in the period, as the Christians and the Jews were ‘genos’ based within the Roman populace.

The Christians differentiated themselves from the Jews in terms of presenting themselves as a new hope, a new faith.  The Romans also made distinctions between Christians and Jews by distinguishing Christians as new.  Benko explains that Christianity was seen as a new superstition that could not claim the sanction of antiquity like Judaism could.[25]  Even Tacitus who describes the Jews as ‘perverse and disgusting’ admits that ‘Jewish worship is vindicated by its antiquity.’[26]  Christianity, like Judaism, was seen by the Romans as ‘perverse and disgusting’ but was distinguished by also being ‘foreign and new’ and therefore much worse than Judaism.[27]  Frend also asserts that in the second and third centuries the Jews needed not the introduction that the Christians did.  This further suggests that the Romans distinguished the Jews and the Christians as old and new.  The newness of Christianity and that Christians did not offer tangible substitute of loyalty to the Empire like the Jews did was regarded as proof of subversive intent.[28] Saying this, Christianity was seen as a new thing but not necessarily as a new religion in itself but an invading one, new to society, and Christians were seen as people who had turned their backs on the traditions of their forefathers.

Literary sources also indicate that the Romans distinguished Christians and Jews in relation to physical attributes, for instance, circumcision and imagery. The pagan writer Tacitus shows this distinction by asserting that the Jews adopted circumcision as a mark of difference from other men.[29]  A difference between the Jews and the Christians that the Romans also exhibited knowledge of was the idea of imagery and idolatry that was practiced by the Christians but not by the Jews.  Tacitus again alludes to this distinction, stating that the Jews ‘do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples.’[30]  This indicates that the Romans, not unlike the Christians, made distinctions between the two groups on a basis of customs as well as beliefs.

The Romans also distinguished Christians from Jews as they regarded Judaism as a genuine faith and Christianity as a subversive counterfeit.[31]  This, along with the distinction of old and new, relates significantly to the large number of stories about the Christians which contributed to the distinctions made.  Tertullian shows this distinction through accusations that the Christians killed children as part of holy rites, practiced incest and impious lusts.[32]  He explains that this was the type of thing that Christians had long been accused of and that no pains had been taken on the part of the Romans to elicit the truth of the accusations.  Frend also alludes to Octavius 150-160 which distinguishes the Christians as users of black magic, initiators of scandal and Bacchanalianism.[33]  Suetonius also accuses Christians of using magic and introducing a new and dangerous superstition.[34]  This is indicative of one means of distinction used by the Romans.  The Jews do not seem to be subject to such explicit accusations in this period as they were regarded as a genuine faith; the Christians on the other hand were distinguished as a superstitio through rumours and ideas created through distinct lack of knowledge.

The majority of points of distinction made by the Romans are of a particularly negative nature during this period, especially in regards to the Christians, who they regarded as new and dangerous.  Examination of some texts though illustrates namely two things; firstly that little was known about the Christians and so many distinctions were made in relation to rumours or other groups such as the Jews, and secondly that in this period there appears to have been a sense of leniency towards the Christians that distinguished them from the Jews on behalf of the Romans. For instance, under Hadrian in the second century the Roman imperial powers appear to have made a distinction in favour of the Christians.[35] Granianus thought it unjust to kill Christians without accusation or trial, to appease popular clamour. Hadrian wrote back saying that petitions and popular accusations should not be recognised.[36]  In light of the suppression of Jews in Asia Minor at the time this presents a distinction lenient to the Christians, despite Hadrian leaving the general question of Christianity rather vague.  It also expresses that while popular view was that Christians were a threat, Roman imperial powers saw them more as just a nuisance.

This sense of distinction is also seen in Pliny and Trajan’s correspondence.  These letters display a lack of knowledge in regards to the Christians and a leniency by imperial powers.  Pliny shows this lack of knowledge, stating that he does ‘not know what offenses it is practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent.’ Whether it is the name itself, even without offenses or only the offenses associated with the name that are to be punished.’[37] Pliny and Trajan do not appear to believe that Christians constituted a threat to the security of the State, though popular belief was that Christians detracted from the unified empire.[38]  Trajan almost seems tolerant and tells Pliny that Christians aren’t to be hunted but if denounced put to trial.[39]  The Roman perspective in many cases appears to be that the Christians were not a religious problem but one of disloyalty where as the Jews still paid their due to the Empire.  This suggests that the rulers were mostly acting on the demands of the pagan majority and common opinion.  In a period where the Jews were revolting and causing extensive problems, these ideas indicate a differentiation between groups.

The list of ways that the Romans distinguished Jews and Christians is diverse and variable throughout time and localities, so what is discussed above is a collection of some of the most widely spread and explicit ideas.  The way that the Romans saw the Jews and the Christians in the second and third centuries cannot be fully recognised in the present day, even when one attempts to fully explore these ideas and the branches of information and ideologies that spring from them.  Like the modern scholar, the writings of the second and third centuries were greatly hampered by bias and influence, and this again makes it difficult to assess how and why differentiations were made.  In order to create a better picture of how and why, a more extensive study needs to be made than is possible here.

The Roman perspective that we can reproduce from texts does have a variety of implications on the way we view the relationship between Christians and Jews in this period.  At first thought one might think that the Jews and Christians were both groups separate from Roman society and so understood each other’s predicaments.  This is the kind of idea the Roman perspective often implies.  There is the distinction of races; Romans as the first, Jews as the second and Christians as the third; despite this being a somewhat clear distinction by the Romans, the idea remains of there being the Romans and then the others.  The implication here is that the relationship between the Jews and the Christians was not a bad one, as they both fell into the category of degraded foreign cults.[40]  Other distinctions though are implicit of bad relations between Jews and Christians.  The distinction of old and new which is often imposed by the Romans has the implication that we view the relationship between Christians and Jews in this period on those terms, as a contest between old Israel and the new.[41]

As you can see, there are several ways that the relationship between Christians and Jews in this period can be viewed.  This is particularly influenced by whether one is looking at the Roman perspective as seen through the eyes of the Romans or of the Christians and Jews.  For instance, when looking at the Roman perspective of Christians in relation to accusations of magic, from the Roman writings we see mainly ignorance and rumour; but from looking at the Roman perspective from Christian writings we see an accusation of spreading rumours and hatred, accusations spread by the Jews to downsize and hurt the Christians, displaying a very negative relationship.  When looking at Roman writings, the implication is that we look onto the relationship between Jews and Christians with a limited knowledge and habit of distinguishing groups only to a certain point. When looking at the Roman perspective from Christian and Jewish texts, the way we view the relationship is fairly different, more severe and distinct but is influenced by the perspective of the groups in question themselves.  The Roman perspective in general implies a sense of ignorance or subjective thought in the way we view the relationship between Jews and Christians.

1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews (i...
1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews (identifiable by Judenhut) being massacred by crusaders

The Christians differentiated themselves explicitly from the Jews in the second and third centuries as can be seen in numerous Christian texts from the period.  This was done in relation to differences in customs, ideologies and philosophies such as origins, physical differences like circumcision and the idea of truth.  This differentiation was made based on ideas of competition and rivalry of old and new as well as clashes in ideology.  The Romans also took time to distinguish them on the basis of antiquity, origins, customs and accusation and this Roman perspective, which is seen in Roman, Christian and Jewish texts, has implications on how we view the relationship between Christians and Jews as the Roman perspective presents a different picture of the relationship than the Christian and Jewish perspectives and is generally a more available perspective due to the limitations of sources.



Modern Sources:

Adler, M., The Emperor Julian and the Jews, in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol.5, No.4 (Jul.1893), pp.591-651

Barnes, E.W., Rise of Christianity (London, 1948)

Barnes, T.D., Legislation against the Christians, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.58, Parts 1 and 2 (1968), pp.32-50

Benko, S., Pagan and the Early Christians (London, 1984)

Bickerman, E.J., The Name of Christians, in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol.42, No.2 (Apr., 1949), pp.109-124

Cochrane, C.N., Christianity and Classical Culture (London, 1968)

Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1967), pp. 155-172, 461-466

Hazlett, I., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD 600 (Nashville, 1991), pp.52-64

Janssen, L.F., ‘Superstitio’ and the Persecution of the Christians, in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol.33, No.2 (Jun., 1979), pp.131-159

Keresztes, P., The Imperial Roman Government and the Christian Church, I: From Nero to the Severi, in ANRW II 23.1, pp.247-315

Keresztes, P., The Jews, the Christians, and Emperor Domitian, in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol.27, No.1 (Mar., 1973), pp.1-28

Lane Fox, R., The Spread of Christianity: Pagans and Christians (Canada, 2006), pp.428

Macmullen, R., and Lane, E.N., Paganism and Christianity 100-425CE: A Sourcebook (Minneapolis, 1992), pp.74-78

Macmullen, R., Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100-400) (London, 1984), pp.25-42, 132-138

Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), pp.17-37

Poteat, H.M., Rome and the Christians, in The Classical Journal, Vol.33, No.3 (Dec., 1937), pp.134-144

Sanders, J.T., Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire: A Conversation with Rodney Stark, in Sociological Analysis, Vol.53, No.4 (1992), pp.433-445

Sherwin White, A.N., The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary (Oxford, 1966)

Sordi, M., The Christians and the Roman Empire (London, 1986), pp.57-60

Wilken, R., Pliny: A Roman Gentleman, in idem., The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, 1984), pp.1-30

Wilken, R., The Christians as the Romans saw Them (Michigan, 1984)


Ancient Sources:

Aristides, The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, (Trans. From the Syriac Version, by Kay, D.M., University of Edinburgh) []

Barnabas, Epistle of Barnabas, from: Apostolic Fathers, Kirsopp Lake, (Loeb Classical Library) (1912)

Caecilius (in Minut. Felix, viii. f.), []

Diadache (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. J. E. L. Oulton, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass. 1932)

Ignatius, The Letter to the Magnesians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

Ignatius, The Letter to the Philadelphians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

Josephus, trans H. St. J. Thackeray et al., Loeb Classical Library, Vols 1-10 (Cambridge, Mass, 1926)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

Melito, From the Discourse on Soul and Body (Trans. Roberts-Donaldson) []

Pliny, Letters, Book X, 96-97 (Trans. Melmoth, W., Harvard Classics Series, reproduced from: Internet Medieval Source-Book, ed. P.Halsall [])

Polycarp, The Epistle of Polycarp (Trans. Lightfoot, J.B.,) []

Tacitus, The Histories []

Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) []

Tertullian, Apology (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) []

Tertullian, Scorpiace (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) []

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (Trans. Hoole, C.H., (1885))

[1] Aristides, The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, (Trans. From the Syriac Version, by Kay, D.M., University of Edinburgh) [] Chapter XV

[2] Tertullian, Apology (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [] Chapter 7

[3] Ibid., Chapter 7

[4] Aristides, op.cit., Apology

[5] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

[6] Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1967), p.130

[7] Ibid., p.130

[8] Barnabas, Epistle of Barnabas, from: Apostolic Fathers, Kirsopp Lake, (Loeb Classical Library) (1912), Chapter 10 – the food-law of the Jews

[9] Frend, op.cit., p.146

[10] Aristides, op.cit., Apology

[11] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 21

[12] Diadache (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [] 8:1

[13] Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [] Chapter 36

[14] Aristides, op.cit., Apology

[15] Justin, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 31

[16] Melito, From the Discourse on Soul and Body (Trans. Roberts-Donaldson) [] II 224-44

[17] Justin, Apology, op.cit., Chapter XLIX

[18] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 21 and Ignatius, The Letter to the Magnesians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) [] 8.1 and 9.1-2

[19] Barnabas, op.cit., 6.11

[20] Ignatius, The Letter to the Philadelphians (Trans. Roberts and Donaldson) []

[21] Caecilius (in Minut. Felix, viii. f.), []

[22] Tacitus, The Histories [] Book 5

[23] Tertullian, Scorpiace (Trans. Rev. Thelwall, S., (Canterbury)) [] x.: a word to heretics who shunned martyrdom

[24] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., I.xx

[25] Benko, S., Pagan and the Early Christians (London, 1984), p.21

[26] Ibid., p.22

[27] Ibid., p.22

[28] Frend, op.cit., p.192

[29] Tacitus, op.cit., Book 5

[30] Tacitus, op.cit., Book 5

[31] Frend, op.cit., p.208

[32] Tertullian, Apology, op.cit., Chapter 7

[33] Frend, op.cit., p.187

[34] Ibid., p.124

[35] Ibid., p.169

[36] Ibid., p.168

[37] Pliny, Letters, Book X, 96-97 (Trans. Melmoth, W., Harvard Classics Series, reproduced from: Internet Medieval Source-Book, ed. P.Halsall []) Book X, 96

[38] Sordi, M., The Christians and the Roman Empire (London, 1986), p.58

[39] Trajan in Pliny, op.cit., Book X, 97

[40] Benko, op.cit., p.21

[41] Frend, op.cit., p.133

The Transfiguration: Mark 9.2-10 and Parallels

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Form critics have asserted that the Transfiguration pericope may have been a misplaced resurrection account.  If this is so then it may allude to the resurrection appearance in 1 Peter 1.3.[1] By considering the subject matter of Mark’s transfiguration account, and Luke’s and Matthew’s, we gain a better understanding of why such critics have formed this opinion. There are parallels between the resurrection and transfiguration accounts, but the majority of these can be dismissed when considering a misplaced resurrection account. For instance, it has been argued that the transfiguration and the resurrection are the only occurrences where a miracle is done to Jesus. This can be debated due to the occurrences of miracles, such as during the baptism accounts. Stein even firmly argues that there stronger dissimilarities between the transfiguration and resurrections than there are similarities.[2]

Mosaic of the Transfigration, St. Catherine's ...
Mosaic of the Transfiguration, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai

Theories concerning the placement of the time reference in Mark 9.2 are numerous.  It may come from a Pre-Markan tradition following the six days Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:16); the six days preceding the Sabbath.  It could also refer to the seventh day which could in turn relate to the Sabbath.  However, the form of the Greek of this time reference actually makes this theory unlikely as the Sabbath would more likely be represented by the term ‘after the sixth day.’ Which begs the question: the sixth day after what?

If the Transfiguration is a misplaced Resurrection narrative, then the period of six days is unusual.  Most Resurrection accounts have very distinct temporal references to three days, the first day and during forty days but never six days. This time reference is also not unique in appearance as it occurs throughout the synoptic accounts in places with no association with the Resurrection. This suggests that what is seen as an indicator of resurrection is more an indicator of tradition.

There is also the hypothesis that James and John are later additions to the transfiguration story as only Peter speaks and if all three were present at the transfiguration how then could they have later denied their Lord? The three disciplines appear firmly embedded in Mark’s version despite only Peter speaking.  This is seen in the use of numerous third person plural terms and phrase which reflect the presence of multiple disciples; James, John and Peter. Such words as αυτους (them), μονους (by themselves), αυτων (of them), αυτοις (to them), εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο (for they were exceedingly afraid) and αυτοις ακουετε (You (pl.) listen), reflect that there is small ground for the view that the Transfiguration was originally only associated with Peter.

The two passages, Mark 9.2 and Mark 14.33, tell similar narratives in that Jesus took Peter, James and John along with him.  There have been theories concerning the Transfiguration occurring not at the time given in Mark but originally on the last night of the Lord’s life at Gethsemane when the three were alone with Jesus on the hillside. This would coincide with Luke’ account of the sleeping disciples.  There are several agreements between the two stories; notably, the presence of Peter, James and John, and the idea of not knowing what to say in Mark 9.6 and 14.40.

Whatever the case, the centrality of the characters is implicit in these two theories of the relation to the parallels between the two passages in Mark mentioned.  Not knowing what to say is indicative of the almost foolish nature of the disciples witnessed throughout Mark.  This parallel and the presence of the characters at the transfiguration could be seen as exemplar of their inability to understand despite how clearly it is laid out for them.  Could this be why they could have later denied their Lord anyway? If the Transfiguration did occur around chapter 14 as suggested, Mark could have separated them as an emphasis technique to make privy the nature of these disciples.

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration has a number of parallels with the ascension story in Acts 1.9-10.[3] The first notable comparison is seen in the inclusion of a cloud in Luke 9.34 and Acts 1.9, which blocks the disciples’ sight.  Some critics assert that this is an indication of a misplaced resurrection story in Luke but it appears more likely that it is an allusion to Old Testament tradition.  The idea of the cloud overshadowing is seen also in Exodus 40.34[4] and 1 Kings 8.10.[5] One of the most significant and obvious differences, which indicates that to the transfiguration belonging in its own category, is that in Luke the cloud leaves Jesus when it departs while in Acts the cloud hides Jesus from sight and he is taken up. A cloud regularly symbolises the presence of God and is not an indication of resurrection.

There is also the parallel of the two men which appear beside them, which is often taken similarly as an indication of misplaced resurrection.  While both appearances represent sinless and perfect beings, the type of which Jesus also belongs as a representation of the exemplar, the stories differ surrounding their actions and placement.  In Luke 9.30, the two men, Elijah and Moses, talk directly with Jesus and have no dialogue in the version.  In Acts 1.10, the two men remain unnamed and talk directly to the disciples; they appear after the ascension of Jesus rather than beside him.

The third comparison which holds scholars in debate is the physical appearance of the two men described in Acts and Jesus’ appearance in Luke 9.29. Jesus is described by Luke as having the ‘appearance of his countenance altered, and his raiment became dazzling white’ which parallels the white garments of the two men in Acts. Yet again the appearance in white could be alluding to Old Testament tradition, as paralleled in Daniel 7.9 where the Most High has clothing ‘as white as snow.’ It is a sign of holiness and sinlessness but it does not necessarily represent resurrection.  Jesus is acknowledged in Luke as the perfect man; in the presence of god it seems that occasion called for such an appearance.

Mark 9.9 is indicative of the Messianic secret found in Mark (paralleled in Matthew 17.9 and Luke 9.36).  This is the final time in Mark that we see the idea of secrecy surrounding Jesus as the Messiah.  The passages in Mark and Matthew clearly tell of the Son of Man being raised from the dead, asserting knowledge of the resurrection was presented to the disciples. The implication of this is that after the resurrection has occurred, the risks of letting the secret out no longer are issues.  The passage also provides the disciples with an explanation for finding the tomb empty after the Crucifixion (Jn.20.8). The passages announce the upcoming death of Jesus; notably in Luke with the preceding passage (Luke 9.31-31). It is directly related to knowledge of the Passion of Christ as well as the Messianic secret in the words “Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

The message from the heavenly voice in Mark 9.7 addressed to the disciples is implicit of the importance of listening to the Lord, especially when he speaks of the approaching passion. This is particularly of significance in relation to Peter who had previously been unwilling to do so.  For instance in Mark 8.32, ‘He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him,’ after Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.

The occurrence of the voice in Mark 1.11 is implicit of the presence of God, but the focus differs to the occurrence in Mark 9.7. Here the voice is directed at Jesus rather than the disciples and while it introduces the heavenly voice, it does not have the same purpose.  Mark 15.39 does not include the heavenly voice but instead echoes the message of the voice. It is as if the voice in these three passages is part of a formula that is implicit of the message that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark 1.11 introduces the idea and presents it to Jesus himself, Mark 9.7 presents the idea directly to the disciples though in Mark they fail to fully comprehend, and Mark 15.39 conveys the understanding of the message. This idea presents an argument against the idea that the transfiguration is a misplaced resurrection story as it makes no sense for the incomprehension to appear after the acknowledgement.

The Markan narrative of the Transfiguration story appears to have a significant function in the overall set out of Mark’s gospel. As discussed below, the words of God especially emulate the baptism and resurrection accounts.  This suggests that the transfiguration functioned as a link between the periods of Jesus’ life. It has been asserted that the transfiguration represented the climax of Mark’s gospel because afterwards it was all downhill, but this seems terribly unimaginative. Its function is more likely a prediction of events to come, an introduction to the glorified Jesus Christ and the explanation of the Messianic secret. Whether or not it was a resurrection account originally; the transfiguration in all three accounts has received a conscious placement which indicates that to the writers it was not misplaced.

Peter offers to build three shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.[6] When one looks at the following line concerning Peter’s lack of knowing what to do, one questions Peter’s motives for this statement.  Mark 9.6 reads ‘He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.’ This shows that Peter and the disciples were confused and fearful, suggesting that the proposal was probably not made with consideration as it was made out of fear of an unusual event.  Such proposals generally don’t involve a judgement call.

The confusion that is seen is the result of Peter’s recent awakening from sleep to witness the strange event. Peter thinks of all three figures as if they were the same, but Jesus differs from Elijah and Moses and this grouping is made without thought. Jesus is seen as more important than his companions in this passage and yet Peter fails to differentiate. Peter’s proposal though is logical in the situation and practical; if these figures were to remain on the mountain-top for the night then they would indeed benefit from shelter.

The term ωφθη which is used preceding Peter’s proposal in 9.4 has also been said to indicate that this account was originally a resurrection account.  It is true that the verb ωφθη is often used in relation to resurrection appearances, though in this case the argument is dismissed by its agreement.  The verb in Mark 9.4 refers to Elijah and Moses rather than to Jesus as it would in a resurrection account.

The title that Peter gives to Jesus here is interesting when one considers the Greek.  While English translators often translate Mark’s version to read ‘Master’, the term is actually Ραββί (teacher, preacher). This suggests that Mark was not relating a misplaced resurrection story for two main reasons.  Firstly, the term likely belongs to a Pre-Markan tradition because Mark only makes use of it on two other occasions (Mark 11:21 and 14:45).  Secondly, it seems unrealistic to assume that a resurrection story would refer to Jesus as a risen Rabbi; there are far more suitable titles.

Matthew and Luke treat the issue of the fear and lack of understanding of the disciples differently to Mark though they also make mention of the issues.  Mark stresses that the disciples and Peter were afraid with the use of the adverb ‘exceedingly,’ or at least this is what one thinks until they refer back to the Greek text and find that the adverb is here missing, reading only ‘ου γαρ ηδει τι αποκριθη, εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο,’ but the emphasis remains. Mark’s placement of these issues though illustrates the point of the additional adverb by placing them together at the beginning of events and he attributes the issues to each other, ‘For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.’

Luke separates the issues and presents them as logical actions in the space of occurring events unlike Mark who presents the disciples as fearful and thoughtless from the first instance.  The not knowing what to say in Luke is a logical reaction to the appearance of Moses and Elijah, just as the fear is a logical reaction to the overshadowing of them all by a mighty cloud that basically blinds them.  Their fear in Luke is more an effect of awe in the presence of unexplained phenomena and the presence of the voice of God.

Matthew in turn presents the issues differently from Mark, but has some parallel in Luke.  Matthew ignores the ignorance issue altogether and excludes the idea of not knowing what to say in order to overshadow the ignorance theme seen in the Markan version.  This is a theme seen throughout Matthew.  The issue of fear is similar in appearance to that in Luke.  It appears as a logical reaction to awe rather than ignorant fear.  Matthew relates this clearly, saying ‘When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”

Matthew, Mark and Luke have similarities which demonstrate that all three share the same essence of the text. They also contain some interesting differences.  Luke starts his account by displaying one such differentiation; the temporal designation of ‘after eight days’ (Luke 9:28). We see parallels throughout the New Testament which may explain the eight days in context. Eight days was known as a week in the period. John 20:26 also includes the appearance of the divine after a period of eight days when Jesus appears to Thomas.  This suggests that Luke may have been taking from a known tradition or independent source which he believed to be a more suitable inclusion.

Luke alone records that Jesus was praying when his appearance changed. Luke appears to be indicating that Jesus was in contact with the heavenly world.  This passage is also exemplar of Luke’s independence from the other synoptic gospels as it is presented as a narrative in the past tense.  ‘Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῳ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἰδος του προσώπου αὐτου ἑτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτου λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων.’ (Luke 9:29)

Luke’s version of the transfiguration is the longest account, followed by Mark, with Matthew being the shortest in length.  The extra length in Luke’s version is due to the dialogue reported in Luke 9:31-32 and the experience of the disciples. This material expresses the upcoming departure of Jesus which he will accomplish in Jerusalem. The addition of this material from a possible independent source contributes to the argument that the transfiguration is not a misplaced resurrection story by emphasising Luke’s agreement with Matthew and Mark that the transfiguration was an event in the life of Jesus.

Luke does appear to use Mark in parts but is generally different in wording and focus. The Markan material is mostly found towards the end of the account with Peter’s conversing with Jesus.  This material also appears in Matthew and all three versions use similar wording with the exclusion of Matthew’s addition of ‘if you wish, I will…’ This addition in Matthew suggests a more conscious motive in Peter to prolong the experience rather than the confusion and ignorance that is expressed in Mark and Luke in the phrase ‘οὐ γὰρ ἤδει τὶ ἀποκριθη’ (Mark 9:6). Luke 9:33 echoes Mark in expressing that Peter has misunderstood the occasion.

The transfiguration account in Luke is again exemplar of Luke’s use of sources, his motive and audience.  We see a use of Markan and independent material which could be extracts from Q.  Matthew does express independent material in his account but not at the same points as Luke which is illustrative of his Markan priority. This is seen, for example, in Matt.17:1-2 where the wording is primarily Markan with few diversions. Luke expresses in his introduction a desire to present an orderly narrative to benefit those with prior knowledge of the faith and to narrate the life of Jesus historically.  The narrative form of the transfiguration and the lack of metaphorical and descriptive terms which are found in Mark and Matthew show this further. For instance in Luke 9:29 in comparison to Mark 9.3, with the description of Jesus’ transformation in appearance.

Matthew echoes Mark in the temporal inclusion of six days and the generally character of the text (Paralleled in Ex. 34:29-35). Matthew does differ from the Markan description of Jesus’ appearance. He reports that Jesus’ face ‘shone like the sun,’ which is a simple simile unlike Mark’s multiple descriptive phrases.[7] Matthew maintains a Jewish character in his text and presented his gospel as a teaching tool which did not require the descriptive disposition of Mark’s gospel. Mark, writing for a gentile audience, needed to provide explanations. The face being compared to the Sun is paralleled in Rev.1:16, which could suggest that a link to resurrection and the coming of Jesus.  But it is just as plausible that the description belonged to earlier traditions.  It is not enough to base the hypothesis, concerning a misplaced resurrection story, on the wording of descriptive phrase and the context of a few parallels.  The sun is a subject which appears throughout the Old Testament tradition (Jdg.5:31, Ps.84:11, 136:8, Mal.4:2).

Matthew exhibits the use of independent source material.  For instance, he is the only one of the synoptic accounts that records ‘with whom I am well pleased’ in God’s address to the disciples (Matt.17:5). This verse makes a link to the baptism account where God addresses Jesus in Matthew 3:17.[8] The ‘ακουετε αυτου,’ which appears alongside this addition, occurs in all three synoptic accounts and echoes Dt.18:15 which reports a promise that a prophet like Moses would one day come.[9]

[1] “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

[2] Stein, R.H., Is the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) a Misplaced Resurrection-Account? In Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol.95, No.1 (Mar., 1976), p.83

[3] “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.”

[4] “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

[5] “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.”

[6] And Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

[7] “…and his garments became glistening white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.”

[8] “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

[9] “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their people, and I will put my words in that prophet’s mouth. My prophet will tell them everything I command.”