The discovery of what some are claiming may be the oldest known inscription that refers to Christ has been announced by a team of scientists led by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio. The inscription is on a bowl or wide cup dated to between the late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D., however, so it could predate Christ and refer to something else. The bowl was found in underwater ruins from the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.

The vessel was engraved with the Greek phrase dia chrstou o goistais — maybe. The letters are clear, but there is no vowel in the first word, and where the breaks are between words is not so clear. If the interpretation above is correct, the meaning could be something like “through (or by) Christ (or Chrest) the magician.”

The speculation is that the bowl could have been used by a fortune teller, perhaps to read the patterns of oil on water. The inscription suggests a possible intermingling of Christianity and paganism.

It’s also possible, however, that the “o” (which alone would mean “the”) should be read with the following word, so that the inscription may indicate that the bowl was donated by someone named Christ or Chrest, who may have belonged to a postulated religious group called “ogoistais.” It is known that some people of the time worshiped a god named “Osogo” or “Ogoa.”

The evidence at present is not sufficient to answer the question definitively. The inscription may refer to Christ, or it may not. It’s a very interesting find, but unlikely to have any impact on the Christian faith.

When I learned of the bowl’s discovery, the first thought that sprang to mind had nothing to do with archaeology. Rather, I thought of how many contemporary people could have the same phrase on their wide-mouth coffee mugs, because they think of Christ as a miracle-working magician who will protect them or make them rich, rather than as a Lord who calls them to service.

Maybe they should check the bottom of the bowl for cappuchino residue.

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