Early References of Christ Name Him a Magician

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A bowl dating back to the time of Christ bears an intriguing description: “Christ the magician.” What could it mean?

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Archaeologists excavating the underwater ruins of Alexandria’s ancient harbor turned up something of divine interest: a bowl engraved with what could be the earliest reference to Christ.

Scientists dated the bowl to between the late second century BC and the early first century AD. According to the team, the full inscription reads “DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS,” which has been translated as either “by Christ the magician” or “the magician by Christ.”

The Associated Press reports that if the “Christ” on the bowl is a reference to Jesus, “the discovery may provide evidence that Christianity and paganism at times intertwined in the ancient world.”

Frank Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, who led the team, explained, “It could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, in that he was once the primary exponent of white magic.” (That comment obviously betrays Goddio’s belief about Christ and Scripture.)

Egyptologist David Fabre has identified the bowl as similar to those depicted in two early Egyptian statuettes that are thought to show a divining ritual. Thus, perhaps an Egyptian magician who had heard of Christ’s miracles attempted to invoke the name of Christ to legitimize his own supposed powers. Goddio noted that it is “very probable that in Alexandria they were aware of the existence of Jesus” and His miracles.

An alternative hypothesis has been presented by Oxford University archaeologist Bert Smith and Berlin-Brandenburg Academy Greek expert Klaus Hallof. Smith suggests the “Chrstou” inscription may refer to the inscription’s author—someone named Chrestos who may have belonged to a religious group called Ogoistais, which Hallof connects to known polytheistic religious groups during the time period. There was even a god known as “Osogo” or “Ogoa” in ancient literature, which may have been the origin for one of the terms on the bowl.

So, looking at the hypotheses presented so far, and recognizing the near impossibility of determining for certain what the inscription means, there seem to be four possibilities.

WHAT IT MEANS “Chrstou” refers to Jesus Christ “Chrstou” refers to another individual
“o goistais” means “the magician” The bowl was used by an Egyptian fortune-teller who cited Christ (known for His miracles) to legitimize his trade; or, someone who knew of Christ (but not the biblical account of Him) cited Him as a magician. The bowl could refer to another individual, such as a “Chrestos,” who was associated with or performed magic/fortune-telling.
“o goistais” refers to polytheists A polytheistic cult that also worshipped Christ (again, known for His miracles, but without knowing the full biblical account of Him) cited Him along with a false god. The bowl belonged to a polytheist perhaps named “Chrestos” in a group called Ogoistais.

While Fabre comments that “paganism, Judaism and Christianity never evolved in isolation” in Alexandria, and that each involved “magical practices,” this bowl doesn’t challenge the gospel accounts; in fact, it fits with them, since we would expect the knowledge of Jesus to have spread during His initial ministry, as He performed amazing miracles. No wonder a magician would want to amplify his credibility by adding a forged “testimonial” of sorts!

And that’s only true if the inscription does refer to Jesus Christ, which may never be determined for sure. The same goes for its actual age.

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