Wednesday, July 1


In Other News, St. Paul's Tomb Discovered to Contain St. Paul

Perhaps this is less of a no-brainer than one might assume. One common line of argument I had read suggested the relics had been stolen and dispersed by Saracen pirates sometime during the early Middle Ages, so it is somewhat of a relief to discover they're still down there. More intriguing is the fact the bones, like St. Peter's, were wrapped in purple cloth, suggesting they were treated with reverence and swathed with costly fabric from a very early age.

I am also intrigued by the recent discovery of a fresco depicting St. Paul with many of the same characteristics most images of him possess today--long beard, high forehead, a bit balding. One scholar theorizes this image actually derives from depicting Peter and Paul with the ancient pagan iconography of the great philosophers--a fascinating idea, and one I even rather like, but one I am somewhat skeptical about, even if I love the idea as Peter playing the pragmatic Aristotle to Paul's more mystical, abstracted Aristotle or Plotinus. It may well be the case. But the splendid images of Christ as a young, majestic Phoebus Apollo and many other borrowings from Greek myth that pop up in early Christian symbolism, while they persisted fairly late in some quarters (I know of some quite charming Byzantine images that show the shepherd David being inspired by a muse-like figure while an allegorical representation of nature pops up amid the hills; there is occasionally a personification of the Jordan that looks like Neptune's brother shown in images of the Baptism of Christ as well), they did eventually die out, and much of our Christian iconography can be organically traced back to Syrian sources. I certainly see nothing wrong with this Greek heritage, and rather enjoy its revival for limited engagements (Christ the Sun of Justice, etc.) but I wonder if perhaps this portrait of Paul has a different origin. I just wonder why these visual traditions would make the cut, and not the others. I am speaking here as a rank amateur, and there may be a great deal I am missing.

Furthermore, much of this speculation seems to rest on the fact portraiture was forbidden to Jews of Paul's time. I am unsure if this is true, but I do know that around this time there was pretty substantial figural art appearing in the mosaic pavements of numerous synagogues, which suggests a laxer attitude towards the prohibitions against image-making than one might imagine at first glance. And Paul would be, anyway, the first one to remind you that Mosaic Law was no longer binding on the new Christians.

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