- The graffiti in question are on plastered surfaces in the basement of a city structure, and there are multiple layers of plaster laid on across time.
- One graffito includes a date, which Bagnall correlates to 125/126 CE.
- The layer of plaster beneath the layer on which this dated graffito is written is partially exposed, and on this exposed plaster is “a most remarkable graffito, incised into the plaster rather than written with ink or charcoal.” This graffito reads:
- The first word, ισοψηφα, means “of equal value/number”, indicating that the graffito is an example of “isopsephy”, the ancient practice of comparing words of equal numerical value (by adding up the value of their letters). The letters of each of the two words, κυριος and πιστις, = 800, which is expressed by the omega after each one (the omega = 800).
- The distinguishing centrality of these two Greek words in early Christian vocabulary (as well as the interest in 8 and multiples of 8) combine to prompt Bagnall’s judgment that the graffito “can only indicate a Christian character” (22).
- As this graffito is on a layer of plaster just beneath the layer with the dated graffito, it must be dated earlier than 125 CE, perhaps some years earlier. This would make this certainly the earliest identifiable Christian graffito, and perhaps also likely the earliest artifact of Christian writing.
John W. Martens
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