A New Oldest Christian Inscription?

03 Oct
As far as we know, the oldest Christian inscription is Marcionite and dates to c. 313 CE. However, there might be one that dates almost 200 years earlier, and is Valentinian:
Here is a CBS Live article on an old Christian inscription found in Rome in the 1953, NCE 156. Gregory Snyder has recently published a updated analysis of it in the Journal of Early Christianity in which he argues for a 2nd century date and Valentinian provenance. His translation is as follows: 

To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,

[here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.

Synder, according to CBS, thinks that it is the oldest Christian object we possess.
Coolness! The heretic Valentinus is more than likely also the earliest Christian to quote and use the gospel of John, and is possibly also the earliest Christian to use a trinitarian formula for the Christian god.

Posted by on October 3, 2011 in early Christianity, marcion


2 responses to “A New Oldest Christian Inscription?

  1. Michael W. N.

    October 4, 2011 at 3:27 am

    The Abercius inscription (c. 200 CE) is widely regarded as the earliest known example of a Christian inscription; see

    The Marcionite inscription (c. 313 CE) you mentioned in your blog is probably the earliest known “church inscription.”

    According to the CBS, Gregory Snyder analyzed an inventory of inscriptions from Naples, and found two examples of third-century Greek inscriptions with the classical letter forms found in NCE 156. Hence, it cannot be excluded that NCE 156 is a third-century inscription.

    Snyder, who now agrees with Margherita Guarducci (1902-1999) that NCE 156 should be dated to the latter half of the second century, published a book on early Christian artifacts in 2003: Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life before Constantine (2nd edn; Mercer UP). Interestingly, in this book, Snyder does not speak well of the late Mrs. Guarducci, the very lady who completed the excavations on Saint Peter's Tomb:

    “Guarducci attempted to find in these simple graffiti a total complex of Catholic piety, pointing toward Peter. As others have pointed out, her work has been a labor of love that likely will have little scientific or historical reward” (p. 263).

    What is certainly true is that many Christian artifacts, papyri, inscriptions, and graffiti have routinely been dated too early.

  2. H. Gregory Snyder

    March 28, 2012 at 3:40 am

    If I may weigh in just a bit, the heart of the article is not so much the date of the inscription, but its literary qualities, which owe a hitherto unappreciated debt to Hellenistic funeral poetry. It gives us some idea of the literary pretensions of the authors. Re Guarducci, Michael is right to say she was a bit fixated on that St. Peter business, as I've heard from people who knew her. Nevertheless, her work as an epigrapher is highly regarded: her four-volume treatise on Greek epigraphy remains definitive. My work on the date is mostly supplementary to hers: her article was published before Luigi Moretti (a student of Guarducci) edited and published Inscriptiones grace urbis romae, and I merely confirm her results with reference to that collection and extend it somewhat by including a corpus of recently published inscriptions from Naples. And re the Abercius inscription being the earliest christian inscription… I'll just have to go out on a limb and differ with the authorities at Wikipedia. Are you saying that no earlier inscription than Abercius can possible exist?

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