Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Markus Vinzent, Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity ...: what does he argue and [why] does it matter?' Judith Lieu and James Carleton Paget from Cambridge

It is nice to see people discussing the book that I published last year, here at the New Testament and Patristics joint seminar in Cambridge on Tuesday (01/05/2012). Prof Judith Lieu and Dr James Carleton Paget lead the seminar with the title: 'Markus Vinzent, Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament (Ashgate, 2011): what does he argue and [why] does it matter?'

As Frederik Mulder kindly posts on his blog (, both Prof Lieu and Dr Paget are commissioned to write review articles of the book for important journals. Indeed, these will add to the existing ones:

M. Edwards, Church Times 2.12.2011;

F. Mulder, Theology 115 (2012) 123-124;

L. Wickham, TLS 6.1.2012

Please also note some of my answers that I have published in response to these reviews here on my blog. Also glad to read that other colleagues like Prof Richard Bauckham, Prof Morna Hooker, Dr Peter Head, Dr Simon Gathercole and Dr Thomas Graumann attended the seminar. So I am looking forward to continue the discussion with them and anybody interested in engaging on this topic.

Early Christian Art: An international Conference

with special regard to the early Christian Cemetery in Sopianae (Pécs – Hungary)
Cella Septichora Visitor Centre, Pécs, Hungary, 24-25. May, 2012.

Organised by Cella Septichora Visitor Centre and University of Pécs, Centre for

Patristic Studies

Conference program

24. May, Thursday

Welcome speeches - György Udvardy (Bishop of Pécs) and Róbert Somos

(University of Pécs, Centre for Patristic Studies)

Visiting the World Heritage exhibition with the guidance of Zsolt Visy and Olivér


Lunch – House of Arts and Literature

– House of Arts and Literature

13:00 – 13:30 Zsolt Visy,
The Paradise in the Early Christian cemetery of Sopianae.

13:30 – 14:00 Olivér Gábor,
Early Christian Buildings in the Northern Cemetery of

Sopianae (Pannonia, Valeria Provincia.)


Coffee break

14.30-15:00 Allen Brent,
Klauser’s methodological perspective in his interpretation of

early Christian artefacts.

15:00-15:30 Eileen Rubery,
From catacomb to sanctuary: the orant figure and Rome's

virgin saints.

15:30-16:00 Reita Sutherland,
The Christian Orant: Prayer and Piety.


17:00 –
Sightseeing in Pécs (optional)

25. May, Friday

9:00 – 9:30 Levente Nagy,
Zoltán Kádár and the Early Christian Iconography of

Roman Pannonia: some problems of interpretation.

9:30 – 10:00 Gaetano Bevelaqua,
Observations on Christian Epigraphy in Pannonia.


Coffee break

10:30 – 11:00 Krisztina Hudák,
Technical observations on the paintings in the St. Peter

and Paul (No. 1.) Burial Chamber of Sopianae.

11:00 – 11:30 György Heidl,
Remarks on the iconography in “Peter-Paul” (No. 1.) Burial

Chamber of Sopianae.

11:30 – 12:00 Péter Csigi,
Iconographic approaches to the early Christian artefacts in


12:00 -12:30

12:30 –

13:30 – 14:00 Isván Bugár,
Theology on Images?

14:00 – 14.30 Markus Vinzent,
Battle and Conquest or the Power of Frames – On

Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christian Art.


17:00 Departing for Vylian Winery in Kisharsány

Supper and wine tasting

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Staurogramm and nomina sacra in Marcion's Gospel manuscript

Tertullian, unfortunately, gives us little insight into the codicology of the manuscript of Marcion's Gospel that he had at hand. Recent research in preparation for a new book (authored together with Allen Brent, Demi-monde of Late Antiquity: The social and historical phenomenon of ambiguity in Early Christian Art) has revealed that we can, indeed, find some traces not only of what Marcion's theology and liturgy looked like, but also palaeographically, how his text was written. It seems, if I am not mistaken, that he was the first who introduced nomina sacra and also the staurogram into the writing of his Gospel, hence produced, what is being seen, the earliest Christian visual art.
Recently Larry Hurtado went through the evidence of The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2008) and looked specifically at papyrological evidence to discover that the earliest forms of Christian visual representations were four nomina sacra (Theos, Kyrios, Christos, and Iēsous) and abbreviations of Jesus and Christ.[1] The question has been raised whether or not this has to be regarded as a ‘Christian innovation’ (Hurtado) or a borrowing from Judaism (Kurt Treu, Robert Kraft), although the boundaries are blurred when Hurtado himself admits that it derives from ‘Jewish-Christian circles’.[2] While the tachygraphic shortcut for Christ, Chi (Χ) and Rho (Ρ) had precursors in Greco-Roman times, carrying the sign of the cross (Χ), the Iota (Ι) and Eta (Η) for Jesus is otherwise unattested and may not only ‘be a Christian innovation’, but a Jewish form of gematria as attested in the Epistle of Barnabas and Clement of Alexandria. They both refer to the numerical value of Iota (Ι) and Eta (Η) which is 1 and 8, and see in it a a reference to Genesis 14:14 where the 318 servants in some of the Greek copies were written as Tau, Iota, Eta Ι Η).[3] Barnabas and Clement ‘see in this letter compendium a foreshadowing of Jesus and his cross, Τ (= 300) = his cross, and ΙΗ (= 18) = Jesus’ name’, which equates to the Hebrew word of ‘life’ (חי) at the value of 18.[4] In addition, we also find the combination of Iota (Ι) and Chi (Χ), another combination of Jesus and the cross. Hurtado concludes: ‘Along with the nomina sacra, the first uses of these devices, which take us back to the late second century and quite possibly earlier, represent the earliest extant expression of what we may term a Christian “visual culture”’,[5] and, we can add, they all focus on Jesus and his cross. No surprise, then, that Hurtado adds to the nomina sacra and the shortcuts of the name of Jesus Christ the so-called Staurogram a combination of two other Greek letters, Tau (Τ) and Rho (Ρ) which are no longer shortcuts for Jesus Christ, but with the superimposing of the Greek letter Rho upon the Tau, it becomes visually and contentwise directly representative of the cross. The Staurogram is also present in very early Christian manuscripts, Papyrus Bodmer II or P66 with portions of John, dated to the end of the 2nd c., and similar in Papyrus Bodmer XIV or P75 with portions of Luke and John, as can be seen here (at the end of the fourth line):

[1] L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 95-134.
[2] See the discussion L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 101-34, 111. 115.
[3] L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 114. 138.
[4] L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 114-5; Barn. 9:7-8; Clem. Alex., Strom. VI 278-80.
[5] L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 139.
‘Contrary to some widely influential assumptions’, the Staurogram is earlier than the Chi-Rho, ‘not as a freestanding symbol and general reference to Christ but in manuscripts dated as early as around 175-225 CE, where it functions as part of the abbreviation of the Greek words for “cross” and ‘crucify’, written (abbreviated) as nomina sacra … [and] a visiual reference to Jesus’ crucifixion’.[1] We have confirmation in early Christian writings how the Staurogram was understood and even an indication by whom it was introduced. As I will show in a forthcoming paper on Marcion's early Roman liturgy, exclusively in his work Against Marcion Tertullian explains that Marcion had used in his baptismal rite the cross as the sign on the forehead, but, as he wants to show, that this should not be seen as an innovation and distinction from Judaism, but as something, already foretold by the prophet Ezekiel (9:4) and Tertullian adds:

For this same letter TAV of the Greeks, which is our T, has the appearance of the cross, which he [Ezekiel] foresaw we should have on our foreheads in the true and catholic Jerusalem.[2]

Knowing the signification of the Tau (Τ), what, however, was the meaning of the superimposed Rho? Ephrem of Syria gives us a clue as he explains the R (Rho) of the cross in harmony with an old pagan interpretation as the sign of salvation, luck and help: ‘The R over the cross means βοήθια (help), which conforms to the value of 100.’[3] The Greek character R carries the value of 100 because that is the sum of the values of the characters that spell βοήθια, an example of antique isopsephy:[4]

β         ο         ή        θ         ι         α

2   +   70   +   8   +   9   +   10   +   1   =   100   =   R

Already Franz-Joseph Dölger had pointed out this reference in Ephrem and Hurtado agrees – the Staurogram seems to mean ‘salvation is in the cross’ or ‘the cross is our help’.[5] That we have nobody else in the second century referring to this interpretation and adopting it, but only Ephrem in Syria in the 4th c. could be an indication that this might have been a Marcionite notion which the copyists did not adopt, while they accepted the sign as ‘a kind of pictogram, the image of a man’s head upon a cross’,[6] a staurogram or ‘a visual reference to the crucified Jesus’.[7]

[1] L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 136.
[2] Tert., Adv. Marc. III 22.
[3] Ephraem, In sanctam Parasceven (Ephraem Syri opera omnia quae exstant graece – syriace – latine III, Rome 1746, 477).
[4] F.J. Dölger, Sol (1925), 74.
[5] L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 149; see F.J. Dölger, Sol (1925), 74.
[6] R.M. Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art (2000), 138.
[7] The latter is the suggestion by L.W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006), 151; similar already (without reference to Marcion) E. Dinkler, Signum Crucis (1967), 177-8 (referring to previous studies by Kurt Aland).

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The cross on the forehead - a Paulinist novelty introduced by Marcion?

Until now, relatively little has been done to explore Marcionite liturgy. In a forthcoming article I am trying to detect what the sources reveal about this topic. Here just one example, the signing of the baptized with a cross on the forhead: 
Tertullian gives us some glimpses about what Marcion's community practiced: one bears, as Tertullian states, ‘the sign on the foreheads’ and the one who is

baptized in water for God is spreading out his hands towards the sky to … God, bows down upon … the soil to a God whose soil it is not.[1]

A little later in the same work Against Marcion (and only in this work), Tertullian explains that the sign on the forehead Marcion uses is the cross and tries to argue that this was not only used since Christ, but already predicted by the Prophet Ezekiel:

The Lord said unto me, Pass through in the midst of the gate in the midst of Jerusalem, and set the mark TAV on the foreheads of the men (Ez. 9:4). For this same letter TAV of the Greeks, which is our T, has the appearance of the cross, which he foresaw we should have on our foreheads in the true and catholic Jerusalem, in which the twenty-first psalm, in the person of Christ himself addressing the Father, prophesies that Christ's brethren, the sons of God, will give glory to God the Father.[2]

Erich Dinkler, following Franz-Joseph Dölger, has commented on Tertullian’s note about the ‘sign on the foreheads’. As according to Rev. 14:1, the sign on the forehead is the name of the Lamb and the Father[3] and in all his works outside his Against Marcion Tertullian does not equate it with the cross, but only states: ‘we are carrying the sign on the forehead’ without mentioning the kind of sign,[4] it becomes likely that, when he comes to talk about the cross as the sign on the forehead, he refers to something that Marcion did in fact not only use, but probably even introduce.
Dinkler has shown that the sign of the cross was already a pagan symbol and sign that marked a property, also used by some Jews as a symbol of salvation and rescue in the future judgement, even a cult signet placed on hands and foreheads before it became used amongst Christians.[5] As the last character of the Hebrew Alphabet, the ת, signified both ‘sign/signet’ and ‘cross’, the cross was used to hint at this last Hebrew character. One of the recurring scriptural reference texts was, indeed, the very same that Tertullian used in his writing against Marcion Ezekiel 9:

9:4 The Lord said to him: Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a mark [תו] on the foreheads of the people who moan and groan over all the abominations practiced in it.

9:5 While I listened, he said to the others, Go through the city after him and strike people down; do no let your eye pity nor spare anyone! 9:6 Old men, young men, young women, little children, and women – wipe them out! But do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary! So they began with the elders who were at the front of the temple.

According to Ezekiel, the sign of the תו marks those who resisted atrocities (Ez. 9:9: ‘The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is extremely great; the land is full of murder, and the city is full of corruption’) and will, therefore, be spared by the executors of God’s death sentence. The powerful prophetic text left traces in the Jewish Haggadah and can also be found in the Damascus Document of Qumran were the sign of the cross signifies those who have part in the New Covenant.[6] Dinkler, however, does not see an unmediated connection between this Jewish symbol and the Christan sign of the cross, because he notices the contrast between the old typus and the Christian innovative use of it:

Already the term σταυρός for the cross as an instrument of martyrdom [in Christianity] makes the break with the sign of the Tav obvious. The Greek term σταυρός does not provide any notion which we would normally associate with this word, namely the crossing of two lines or two stems. Rather, σταυρός first only indicates a single stem, the wooden stem, horizontally planted into the ground … Only the use of this stem for capital punishments make the σταυρός to an instrument of torture for the punishment through crucifixion, by putting a horizontal second beam to the horizontal stem, on which the crucified is being bound or to which he is nailed. Therefore, the form of this σταυρός is adequately expressed by the Greek capital letter of Τ.[7]

In short:

The Christian symbol of the cross is a novelty that does not build on the Jewish σημείωσις τοῦ θαῦ, but on the Pauline λόγος τοῦ σταυροῦ.[8]

And yet, Dinkler’s explanation gives us the right hints on which to build. As the first reference to the liturgical Christian use is Marcion it is possible and even likely that he introduced this sign to demarcate the break between old and new, precisely what Tertullian contradicted. Marcion seems to have developed Paul’s theology by combining 1Corinthians and 2Corinthians:[9]

1Cor. 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. 1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

2Cor. 1:21 But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, 1:22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

Paul does not state that we are sealed with the cross, on the contrary to him not Baptism was core, but the preaching of the Gospel. Preaching, however, was making use of the Cross, as the message about the cross (λόγος τοῦ σταυροῦ) ‘is the power of God’.[10] Hence, the abolishing of sins in the water was only the sign of the all-loving God, but the signing of the forehead with the cross was the communal establishing of the anointed ones ‘in Christ’ ‘who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment’.

[1] Tert., Adv. Marc. I 23.
[2] Tert., Adv. Marc. III 22.
[3] See also Rev. 7:3-11.
[4] Tert., De cor. 3,4: ‘frontem signaculo terimus.
[5] Erich Dinkler, Signum Crucis: Aufsätze zum Neuen Testament und zur Christlichen Archäologie (Tübingen, 1967), 16-7; 40-1.
[6] Bab. Sabbat 55a; Babylonische Talmud Keritot 5b; Horajot 12a; CD IX 10-2; E. Dinkler, Signum Crucis (1967), 19-20.
[7] E. Dinkler, Signum Crucis (1967), 35-6.
[8] E. Dinkler, Signum Crucis (1967), 25.
[9] See also E. Dinkler, Signum Crucis (1967), 99-117.
[10] See Robin S. Barbour, ‘Wisdom and the Cross in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2’, in Carl Andresen and Günther Klein (eds), Theologia Crucis – Signum Crucis: Festschrift für Erich Dinkler (Tübingen, 1979), 57-71.