Friday, June 23, 2006

1,000 skeletons found in Rome catacombs

From The Scotsman:
Archaelogists exploring one of Rome's oldest catacombs have discovered more than 1,000 skeletons dressed in elegant togas.

Experts are thrilled by the find - which dates from about the first century - as it is the first "mass burial" of its kind identified. Mystery surrounds why so many bodies were neatly piled together in the complex network of underground burial chambers, which stretch for miles under the city.

It was the custom then for Rome's upper classes to be burnt not buried, so it is thought the skeletons may be early Christians.

[…] "The skeletons were dressed in fine robes, many of which had gold thread in them, and they were wrapped in sheets and covered with lime.

"This was quite common with early Christian burials, as it was a form of hygiene, and the corpses were also anointed with balsamic spices. Again, this all shows a great amount of dignity and respect given to the dead."

[…] The discovery was made at the Catacomb of St Peter and Marcellinus on the ancient Via Labicana in the south-east of Rome. Ms Giuliani added: "We are trying to establish whether the skeletons were buried there following some form of epidemic or natural disaster.

[…] "It is possible they could have been persecuted and killed by the Romans and then buried there by fellow Christians - we just don't know."

Professor Andrew Wallace Hadrill, director of the British School in Rome which specialises in ancient history, added: "The fact that the skeletons were dressed in expensive togas is very unusual and would point to the fact that we are talking about the upper classes of ancient Rome.

Further study may or may not definitively establish whether these people really were early Christians. If so, it is interesting that they were apparently upper class. If they were Christians, this seems to debunk the popular notion that early Christianity was a religion of the losers and the disenfranchised. Acts and the Epistles seem to indicate that the new religion spread among all social classes, and had a number of wealthy patrons, even reaching into Nero’s palace (Phi. 4:22).

What I find really interesting are some of the reader comments on the article:

The skeletons were not Christian. Christianity did not spread to Rome until after the first century. As is true for many or most of the catacomb burials, the skeletons were very likely Jewish. Rome had an immense Jewish population before and after the destruction of Jewish independence in ancient Israel in the year 70.


Paul did not consider himself a Christian, and he would have been horrified to have been considered anything BUT a Jew. Jesus and His followers were all Jews, and the debates were about Judaism itslef, NOT a new religion. Christianity as a seperate (sic) religion CANNOT be considered to develop, per se, until Constantine identified it as such.

Paul's own letters and teachings were based upon his epiphany that strict dietary codes, circumcision and Jewish birth were not the basis of Judaism, and that it was possible for "gentiles" to become Jews without these things.

Paul was a Jew. His audiences were Jews and Gentiles who wanted to become Jews, and other interested parties.

It's quite possible that those skeletons were Jews who died or escaped Nero's purges of Jews. It's also possible they belonged to some other Roman cult.

Regardless, they were certainly NOT Christians, at least not in any way that we would recognize that term today. Then, they would have considered themselves Jews, or, at most, a branch of Judaism.”

I have no idea where these “tidbits of knowledge” come from, but I have to conclude there are plenty of people who really do look at The DaVinci Code and similar things as history, and no amount of real historical evidence or scholarly opinion will ever convince them otherwise. To contradict them means you are ignorant, duped, or part of the plot. It’s the same mindset that’s convinced the CIA killed Kennedy, but with eternal ramifications.