Sarcophagus Lid

4th century (?)
Museo Pio Cristiano, The Vatican, inventory 31533

On the left end are Adam, Eve, and the tree. The serpent has either weathered away or was never there. The humans have fig-leaf loincloths but also hold their hands over their genital areas, expressing a sort of double shame.

Moses is next, receiving the Law from the hand of God, now barely recognizable as a single finger. The locale on Mount Sinai is expressed by the different elevations of Moses' left and right feet.

In the next scene the Magi present their gifts. The first gift has the torus shape often seen in images of this era; it may represent a jeweled crown and thus the gift of gold. As usual, Mary wears a veil and sits on a throne-like seat, in this case seemingly made of wicker. The child is still swaddled; other images usually have him normally dressed and old enough to sit on his mother's lap and receive the gifts.

To the right of the inscription, which is now totally lost, Noah in the ark receives the dove in the same water as the sea monster that is swallowing Jonah head-first from the ship. At the prow of the ship, the monster releases a naked Jonah onto the shore. Behind Jonah is a tree which may have been meant to suggest the gourd tree. Usually it is only in the gourd-tree scenes that Jonah's genitals are displayed, but here we see them as he emerges. His baby-like body may suggest his being "born again" in the baptism that early Christian typology saw prefigured in Jonah's experience and Noah's – and that is pictured directly in the next scene, where Peter makes water flow from the rock wall of his prison so he can fulfil his jailers' desire to be baptized.

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Read more about Jonah, Adam and Eve, St. Peter, the Adoration of the Magi, and Moses.

Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.