Sunday, May 14, 2017

Vivat Crux Graffito

This meanwhile is another graffito, this time found in a house in Pompeii (Insula 13, Regio I [= Block 13, Precinct I]). It shows the letters VIV alongside the drawing of a †-shaped crux, and what looks like a V intersecting with the †. The cross figure could be taken as a rebus for crux. There is some uncertainty as to whether the sketch is a Christian work or not (it could be read either as the acclamation vivat crux vivat "Long live the cross" or as the insult viv(as in) cruce "may you live on the cross"), or whether the V intersecting with the cross in really a letter or a representation of the sedile.

-          Patrick457, posted in "I heard someone say Christ was not crucified on a cross but an upright stake" on Catholic Answers Forums, dated February 8, 2013, accessed December 5, 2015 (formatting and brackets mine)

First, we shall look at an argument that the graffito is a Christian work:
“Sign of the Cross Used in Pompeii” John Herbert Roper, William C Weinrich The New Testament Age. Essays in Honor of Bo Reicke (Macon, Ga.: Mercer Univ. Press, 1984) pp. 25-26 (formatting, reconstruction of images, and all comments and notes in brackets mine):


Monogram  (chrismon) found in excavations 1951-1956. Not with certainty they are Christian – appears on Amphorae jars. [chrismon = chrestos = good]
House Insula XIII Region I, 1955: (illustration on page 25)

VT                                    TP                                        XP

"The excavator of Pompeii, della Corte, took this as proof of the existence of Christians in Pompeii [79 ce] by reading: “VIV(at) crux V(ivat),” which he thought was an acclamation of the cross.29  Dinkler disputes this interpretation on the grounds that such a development of Pauline or Johannine theology would have been highly improbable at such an early period.30  However Dinkler does not explain the undisputed existence in this graffito in the sign of the cross.  It is very unlikely that this is Jewish (+ or x), and we have no pagan parallels[1] to [VT, above] as is the case with [TP, above] and [XP, above].  If it is not Christian, what is it?[2]  I can see no reason for denying that the figure of the Vivat Crux refers simply to Christ’s death and resurrection.  The early kerygma, which can be reconstructed behind New Testament documents,  undoubtedly referred to this.  We do not need to find in this figure an elaborate cult of the cross, or a development of Pauline or Johannine theology.  What we have here is a simple acclamation of faith that Jesus, who died on the cross, is alive.  The reason that no figure of Jesus appears on the cross is due to the fact that the early Christians had no knowledge of his physical appearance, beyond a few details about his clothes, and they were loath to portray him.  While it would be unscientific to bring the Cross of Herculanaeum to support a Christian interpretation of the “vivat crux” graffito at Pompeii, a view of both crosses independently does not rule out the possibility that they may be Christian and therefore the earliest archaeological witness to the Christian religion in the Roman Empire.  Perhaps we should mention here also the similar cross at Pompeii made long ago by Mazois but now lost.31

29 della Corte, “Inscrizione,” 113, 183 pl. 5 no. 181; see also Agnello Baldi, La Pompeii Giudaico-Christiana (Di Mauro Editore, 1964) p. 67. [Graffito was discovered 1955, Insula XIII, Region I, Pompeii.]
30 Dinkler, Signum Crucis, 144-145. [Dinkler, Signum Crucis: Aufsätze zum Neuen Testament und zur Christlichen Archäologie. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1967 pp. 136-145, esp. pp. 144-145, within: Graffiti in Pompeii using sign of the cross is not Christian. “Sodom and Gomorrah” was etched by a pagan (?)]
31 François Mazois, Les Ruines de Pompei, 4 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1824-1838), v. 2 p. 84. [This cross was discovered on the exterior of an oven at the House of the Baker. It appears to be a hybrid of a Tau and Club of Hercules; given another graffiti, apparently Jewish, and plastering-over of a sexually rude relief at this house, this cross appears to serve as an instruction to slaves on roasting animals, such as the Passover lamb---see David W. Chapman, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), pp. 207-8, where he explains that formerly the apparatus for the roasting of the lamb was in the shape of a cross.]

[1] “no pagan parallels to…” Yes we do – Orpheos Bakkikos gem (Dionysius crucified), now lost due to Allied bombings of Berlin during World War II.
[2] “what is it?” I think the argument that it is an obscene curse or rebus--vivas in cruce--is the better of the two.

And now a counter argument that the Vivat Crux is a rebus:

From an article written by Gino Zanniotto, “The Shroud and Roman Crucifixion: A Historical Review” in: The Turin Shroud past, present and future. International Scientific Symposium Torino 25 March 2000 (Cantalupa: Effatà Editrice, 2000), pp. 285-324, esp. pp. 307. (formatting mine):

This type of cross with a seat is depicted in a graffito35 at Pompeii.  In shape it is like that of the crux immissa or “Latin” cross which recalls a ship’s mast.  Here again on the stipes there is a sign that looks like the “sedile (seat)” and which would also justify the writing VIV superimposed on the cross and which might be interpreted as a rebus VIV[AS IN CRUCE] (“That you may live a long time on a cross”) on the lines of “IN CROCE FIGARIS” (May you be nailed to the cross) found in the same city.

35 M Della Corte (“Notizie Scavi” 1958 p. 113) found in July 1958 in a house on insula 13 (Regio I) and he interpreted it as “VIV(at crux) V(ivat)”, taking for a V the sign of the stipes. The graffito may be seen in the Corpus Inscriptionorum Latinarum (CIL IV … [remainder of note not reproduced].

Note: the Vivat Crux can be found on p. 306 of the referenced volume; images within this blog’s article are reverse-direction reproductions from page scans posted on the Yahoo! ANE-2 forum by Antonio Lombatti.  Credit and locational information kindly provided by him via private email correspondence on December 16, 2012.

Now as a rebus: if the Vivat Crux Graffito were drawn to scale to reflect actual construction, with the transom 72” in length, here is what we obtain for dimensions:

When we set the patibulum (transom) at 72” wide to accommodate the condemned’s arms, the rise above the sedile would be 40” – high enough to give the one crucified quite an upper-body racking – and the elevation of the transom would be 62” above the ground.  At this transom there appears to be a representation of two branches or brackets[3] – projecting out at an angle to support the transom as if it were an antenna (ship’s yard).  Furthermore, at the end of the sedile there appears to be a spike (cornu) standing about 7” in front of the pole, 10” tall and 2” in diameter, which would lock the person in place by anal penetration. If the “crucified” person were to stand on his nailed or bound feet to relieve the strain in his arms, given an assumed torso height above the perineum of say 32”, he probably would still be penetrated.

On the other hand if this representation of the sedile-cornu was actually meant to be a V and the intent Christian, the way this graffito was drawn is most peculiar.

[3] If the whole graffito were intended to be a depiction of an actual crux immissa (lap-jointed two-beam cross) and originated from a Christian animus, this representation to the best of my knowledge cannot be accounted for except as an accidental stray marking.

In my reasoned opinion, this graffito is a rebus intended as an insult, not a Christian faith-inducing epigraph.  And as such, it means that the Roman crux is more than just a cross, and at the same time not a cross at all.

Next epigraph: the Puteoli Graffito.  

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