What is your response to the claim that a cup found in Alexandria from the early first century is the earliest written reference to Jesus Christ?
An archaeologist excavating the underwater ruins of Alexandria’s ancient harbor turned up something of divine interest: a bowl engraved with what could be the earliest reference to Christ. Scientists dated the bowl to between the late second century BC and the early first century AD. According to the team, the full inscription reads “DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS,” which has been translated as either “by Christ the magician” or “the magician by Christ.” What is your response to this interesting find?
Careful, professional archaeologists have completely debunked this find as being a reference to the Jesus of the New Testament. There are a few reasons for this.
1. The object has been dated to somewhere between the late second century BC and the early first century AD (as you note). Therefore, there is only a very small probability that it comes from a time when Jesus of Nazareth was known, as his ministry started in about AD 27, at the very end of this period. The earliest reasonable time for a bowl to turn up in Alexandria with a reference to the Jesus Christ of the New Testament is perhaps AD 35 which is at the absolute limit of the date given for the bowl.
2. Those who say that the word on the cup is Christos show evidence of being rather biased, because there is a vowel between the r (rho) and s (sigma). This vowel is an e not an i, which means the word in question is almost certainly not christos, but chrestos, which means “kind” or “good.” The most likely translation of the cup, therefore, is something like “through the kindness of a magician.” Anyone who publishes an article which does not even mention this problem shows extreme bias or lack of careful scholarship and should be ignored.
3. Even if the word was christos, not chrestos, and even if the cup was from the very end of the period in question (say the 30s AD), the likelihood that this inscription is a reference to the person we know as Jesus Christ is extremely low. Christos was not only used as a reference to Jesus. It was used of others at that time. In fact, there is nothing in this inscription which would cause one to believe it is a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. If it said something like “through Christ the magician from Galilee” then we would be justified to think it just possibly might be a reference to Jesus. But there is nothing in the inscription which gives us any reason to believe that it is a reference to the now-very-famous Christ of the New Testament.
In summary, those who claim that this is the first known reference to Jesus Christ are either poorly informed or are sufficiently well-informed, but in that case are either very biased or outright deceitful.
No, this is not evidence for the Christ of the New Testament and it should not be treated as such. Let me suggest that believers need to learn to be more discriminating about such claims. Thanks for asking this question.