Sunday, August 31, 2008

Alexamenos worships his God

I thought this little extract from a piece by Diogenes on the crucified frog of Bolzano was quite poignant.

In point of fact, the plastic frog of the Bolzano museum mockery, and the contempt that employed it, have very ancient precedents. What is purportedly the oldest known image of the crucifix is a graffito scrawled into a the wall of an excavated guardroom near Rome's Circus Maximus; it's usually dated to around 200AD. It shows a man standing beside a crucified figure with a head of a donkey, and (in shaky Greek) the words "Alexamenos worships (his) God." In mocking the Christian Alexamenos, the anonymous graffitist is a spiritual forebear of the Andres Serranos and Steve Rosenthals and Martin Kippenbergers of our own day. The paradox is that in each case their malice backfires, and eventually comes to bolster the piety it sets out to belittle. Today the Alexamenos graffito is treasured by Christians; it is a testimony to an embattled faith. Were it to be defaced or destroyed it is believers, not sneering heathen, who would mourn the loss. It's not impossible that the Bolzano Imposture might be accorded a similar value two millennia from now.

Blasphemy never fully attains its goal, because it never takes the full measure of its object. There's something poignant in the theological misunderstanding betrayed by the attempt to mock Jesus as a crucified donkey or frog. The crucifixion itself was a humiliation, a humiliation Christ willingly embraced ("He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross"). To trick out the crucified one as a figure of ridicule confirms rather than undercuts the Christian understanding of the event. A century and a half before the Alexamenos graffitist St. Paul had already instructed us that the crucifixion was folly to the Greeks. Pagan mockery proves his point. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him." It's not the Son of Man who's diminished by blasphemy, but his assailant.

1 comment:

JARay said...

I have always enjoyed (if that's the right word) the postings of Diogenes.
I fully agree with his sentiments that it is the "artist" who is diminished by his/her "art'. They are all to be pitied. As the psalms say "they say in their hearts :God does not see". But He does and He does not forget either.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God"


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