Spanish archaeologists have discovered what may be one of the oldest painting of Jesus Christ (possibly 6th century AD) in an ancient Egyptian tomb.
Painted on the walls of a mysterious underground stone structure in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, about 100 miles south of Cairo, the image shows a young man with curly hair and dressed in a short tunic.
“He raises his hand as if making a blessing,” said Egyptologist Josep Padró, who has spent over 20 years excavating sites in the area.
What does Jesus look like ?
In this expedition, he led a team of archaeologists from the University of Barcelona, the Catalan Egyptology Society and the University of Montpellier.
“We could be dealing with a very early image of Jesus Christ,” Padró added.
Oxyrhynchus is known for the worship of the Egyptian god of the afterlife Osiris: indeed the underground structure was located in the middle of a processional route that joins the Nile with the Osireion, the temple dedicated to Osiris.
But the painting is from much later, dating from between the sixth and seventh century A.D.
To get to the underground chamber, Padró’s team removed over 45 tons of stones.
Finally, the archaeologists reached a rectangular crypt measuring about 26 feet long and 12 feet deep. They are unsure what the function of the structure was originally, but believe it might have possibly been another temple dedicated to Osiris.
Once inside, the archaeologists found five or six coats of paint on the walls, the last of which was from the Coptic period of the first Christians.
In addition to the image of the curly man, the walls feature symbols and images of plants and inscriptions written in the Coptic language, which are currently being translated.
This tomb, carved out of rock, could be “directly connected to Jesus’ first followers, those who knew him personally, and to Jesus himself,” according to researchers. Located beneath a modern condominium complex less than two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem, this first-century burial, now named “patio tomb,” is only 200 feet away from a second tomb, dubbed the “Jesus Family Tomb.”
Lying beneath a garden area in the same condominium complex, the burial was discovered in 1980. It contained 10 ossuaries, six of them inscribed with names associated with Jesus and his family. Critics dismissed the synchronicity of names as mere coincidence.
Map of the Lost Tomb of Jesus
Typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 B.C. until 70 A.D, the tomb had a single central square chamber with a very shallow “standing pit” area. It contained nine carved burial niches with skeletal remains and several limestone ossuaries, or bone boxes.
Jonah and the BIG Fish
One ossuary was finely carved with a decoration which the researchers believe is “a clear image of a fish, complete with tail, fins, and scales.” It has “a stick-like human figure with an over-sized head coming out of its mouth.” It is interpreted as a representation of the biblical story of Jonah and the “big fish.”
In the earliest gospel materials, the “sign of Jonah,” as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection.
“As Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights, but emerged alive, Jesus would likewise emerge from the tomb/death,“.
Jonah images only appear in the third and fourth centuries A.D., but never earlier, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals. In this view, the fish would represent the oldest Christian art ever discovered, predating the earliest Christian symbol in the catacombs of Rome by at least 200 years. It would also represent the first archeological evidence related to faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead , presumably by his contemporary 1st-century followers.
Greek Inscriptions on Ossuary
Another finely decorated ossuary contained an intriguing four-word Greek inscription. There are several ways to read the inscription, almost all of them have to do with resurrection, some linking directly to Jesus. The most likely readings are: “The Divine Jehovah raises up from (the dead)” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place” or “God, Jehovah, Raise up! Raise up!” or “Lord, Jesus, Rise up! Rise up!“.
We are dealing here with a family or clan that is bold enough to write out the holy name of God in a tomb, with a declaration about ‘raising up‘ or resurrection, something totally unparalleled in any of the 900 tombs from the period known in Jerusalem.
The family buried in the tomb was undoubtedly Jewish. Apart from the Greek epitaph and fish image, the style of the tomb, the ornamentation of the ossuaries, and everything else about it is nothing out of the ordinary.
The fish image and the inscription represents the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection, the first witness to a saying of Jesus that predates the New Testament gospels, and the oldest Christian art ever discovered.