Monday, March 13, 2006

Doubts about the "crucified Orpheus" amulet

I first became aware of the amulet depicting a crucified Orpheus through a posting at Bede's Journal. As can be seen from book cover in the above linked-to image, a picture of it adorns the cover of a book The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, the thesis of which evidently is that early Christians built their religion out of elements adapted from pagan mystery religions, including Orphism.

As Bede notes, Freke & Gandy accept a 3rd century A.D. dating of the amulet, though they also claim that the amulet is not a central part of their evidence, but rather that it "did play a psychological role" for them in their research and that it "makes a very striking cover."

Others have also found this amulet compelling evidence in their rejections or reinterpretations of Christianity. See e.g. Difficult Questions for the Church, The Celestial Cross, and Eisogesis.

However, there appears to be a real question as to the genuineness of the amulet. Bede points to a review by Otto Kern of W.K.C. Guthrie's book Orpheus and Greek Religion in which Kern discusses various literary and monumental witness to the Orpheus myth and its cult. When Kern comes to this amulet, he admits that he had been fooled by it, and that on his say-so other scholars (including Guthrie) had accepted it as genuine. Bede was unable to read the article in German, so I will here reproduce the relevant paragraph in German and offer a translation of it. The review appears on pp. 473-78 of Gnomon, 1935. The paragraph appears on p. 476.

Wenn ich hier die Freude habe, ein neues Denkmal an die Spitze aller Orpheusdarstellungen zu setzen, muß ich ein anderes, das mir fast als das jüngste aller monumentalen Zeugnisse für die orphische Bewegung erschien, streichen und bekennen, daß ich allein daran die Schuld trage, daß es nach der Publikation in den Orphicor. fragm. S. 46 test. 150 von R. Eisler und anderen jetzt auch von Guthrie, ohne Bedenken als glaubwürdiges Dokument gewertet wird. Diesem ist es offenbar entgangen, daß das Amulett mit dem Bilde des Crucifixus und der Inschrift ΟΡΦΕΟΣ ΒΑΚΚΙΚΟΣ im Kaiser Friedrich-Museum zu Berlin höchst wahrscheinlich eine Fälschung ist. Solchen hervorragenden Kennern dieser Materia wie Joh. Reil und Rob. Zahn, die dies im Ἄγγελος 2, 1926, 62ff. ausgesprochen haben, muß man Glauben schenken, und es ist daran kein Anstoß zu nehmen, daß auch dieser italienische Fälscher wie soviele -- das Amulett stammt aus Italien, kam aus E. Gerhards Nachlaß in das Berliner Museum -- gelehrte Kentnisse hatte und von der Beziehung des Orpheus zu Bakchos wußte.
If I have here [in this article] the pleasure of placing a new monument at the apex of all representations of Orpheus, I must discard another that seemed to me almost the most recent of all monumental witnesses for the Orphic movement, and admit that I alone bear the fault that, after the publication in Orphicor. fragm. S. 46 test. 150, it is being accepted without question by R. Eisler and others, and now by Guthrie, as a credible document. It evidently escaped his notice that the amulet with the image of the crucifix and the inscription ΟΡΦΕΟΣ ΒΑΚΚΙΚΟΣ in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin is almost certainly a fake. One must grant credibility to such outstanding connoisseurs of this material as Joh[ann] Reil and Rob[ert] Zahn, who asserted this [i.e. that the amulet is a fake] in Ἄγγελος 2, 1926, 62ff., and one must not be put off by the fact that this Italian counterfeiter, like so many--the amulet is from Italy and came from E. Gerhard's estate to the museum in Berlin--possessed some learning and knew of the connection of Orpheus to Bacchus.

Today I received via interlibrary loan a copy of the 1926 article in Ἄγγελος, with the contributions from Reil and Zahn. I have only skimmed the article, but when I get a chance I'll blog about it as well, as it promises to make the case against the amulet.