The Jonah Sarcophagus: Detail, Resurrected Christ

I am calling this scene "Resurrected Christ" in light of the strong arguments Fuchs (56-69) presents for judging it a conflation of the Emmaus episode in Luke 24:13-35 and the women's encounter with the resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:8-10 and Luke 24:1-12. This would be one of the first, if not the first image in Christian art of the resurrected Christ. The key to Fuchs's interpretation is that the persons stretched on the ground and embracing the feet of the central character are dressed and coiffed as women. The only place in scripture where women embrace feet is on the day of the Resurrection, when Jesus meets Mary Magdalene and another Mary, "saying: All hail. But they came up and took hold of his feet, and adored him" (Matthew 28:9).

Luke says there were three women and they "bowed down their countenance towards the ground." (There is a third head in the scene, with a female coif, just to the left of Jesus' right ankle.) Then Luke proceeds immediately to the episode of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who are probably the men shown here on either side of Jesus.

A coin of the Emperor Aurelian (270-75) in his beard. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

One might object that the central figure here has a beard whereas the Jesus in the Lazarus scene to the left does not. But it is not unheard of for an artist to show Jesus with a beard in one context and clean-shaven in another. In Sant'Apollinare Nuovo's mosaics of the life of Christ, Jesus is clean-shaven in the Lazarus scene, but he has a beard in the scenes of his Passion (example). The old Roman disdain for beards had eased somewhat by the third century. The coins of Aurelian and all the other emperors of the period when this sarcophagus was made typically pictured the emperor with a beard, as at right.

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More of the Resurrection
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Photographed at the Museo Pio Cristiano by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.