The Staff of Jesus in Early Christian Art

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

When surveying examples from Christian art of the third and fourth centuries, a viewer will invariably encounter the puzzling image of Jesus performing miracles holding a staff or wand. Theologians, art historians, and even the current pope have interpreted Christ’s miracle-working implement as a symbol denoting Jesus as a philosopher or a magician. However, the most reasonable explanation of the staff can be discovered by examining the only other two staff-bearers featured in the corpus of early Christian art: Moses and Peter. Miracles and the figures who wrought them were the primary currency of faith in late antiquity. Such an emphasis is readily apparent in early Christian texts. This article will demonstrate the emphasis on miracles in early Christian art by focusing on the peculiar iconographic feature of the staff. The staff in Christian art of the third and fourth centuries is not evocative of magic, philosophy, or any other non-Christian influence. Instead, the staff is meant to recall the miracle worker Moses and to characterize Jesus and Peter as the “New Moses” of the Christian faith.

The Staff of Jesus in Early Christian Art

in Religion and the Arts

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