"Crucified Donkey-Man and Martyrdom in the Circus: Late Antique Images of Jesus as a Donkey and a Mule."

Lecture with Dr. Tuomas Rasimus, University of Helsinki

2015.03.04 | Sita Malene Jensen

Date Mon 13 Apr
Time 13:15 16:00
Location Aarhus University, Jens Chr. Skous Vej 3, building 1453, Room 415

Two images from antiquity that seem to depict an asine Jesus survive: 

the famous Alexamenos graffito depicting a crucified donkey-headed man, and an amulet showing Mary and Jesus in an asine form. Further, Tertullian spoke of an image shown in the arena that apparently depicted a “donkey-begotten god of the Christians.” Some scholars have interpreted these as instances of a strange Christology, while most think they are examples of anti-Christian propaganda. The imagery derives partially form an ancient piece of anti-Semitism claiming the Jews to worship a donkey’s head as their divinity, an accusation that was applied to the new Christian movement as well. But this paper proposes that since all three images in question can, in fact, be connected with Roman circuses, the images were likely inspired or accompanied by occasional executions of Christians there. This may, to some extent, owe its starting point to Nero’s execution of Christians in his private circus and gardens, but the specific use of asine mock imagery here may well be due to the contrast it created with the main attraction of the circus, namely, the celebrated horse races.