Earliest Images of Jesus’ Apostles Found

27/06/10 | Posted by MattPage

Archaeologists in Rome have uncovered the earliest known images of Jesus’ apostles Andrew and John. It’s the latest discovery in the Saint Tecla/Thekla catacomb deep below the streets of Vatican City where last year an image of the apostle Paul was also discovered. All three images have been dated to the second half of the 4th century AD.

image
 The disciples as depicted in the BBC’s The Passion. © BBC/Mike Hogan

According to the Bible, Andrew and John were two of the first people to become of Jesus’ disciples. They were both fishermen from Galilee and began following Jesus shortly after his baptism. Andrew is best known for being the patron saint of Scotland and the brother of Simon Peter. No much is known about him after Jesus’ resurrection, although there are a number of traditional tales about his later life and death.

John however is usually associated with writing the fourth gospel and so is generally thought to be character known as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”. He also featured prominently in the other gospels. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke he was one of Jesus’ three closest disciples, witnessing the transfiguration and staying close to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some scholars would also link him to the Book of Revelation and the three Letters of John towards the back of the Bible.

The fact that images of the disciples were already being honoured in this way, just over 300 years after Jesus’ death is potentially quite significant. Before this discovery our oldest pictures of John and Andrew dated from the 5th century. The new images are roughly 100 years older. The contents of the New Testament were still being finalised, and the church was still tweaking its explanations of what it believed.

That said, we have numerous images of Jesus that were made a long time before these paintings were created. Indeed the earliest known picture of Jesus (excluding the Turin Shroud) is thought to have been created around 235 AD.

Of course it’s easy to forget that Jesus not only called followers in the first century, he also calls us to be his disciples in the twenty-first century. To help explain what this might mean we’ve published a new module: Job Vacancy – Disciple.

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