Artifacts Do Not Necessarily Prove Theology

I came across the following quote while preparing a different post [emphasis mine]:

Epiphanius Bishop of Salamine in Cyprus (A.D. 310 – 403):

“I entered (saith Epiphanius ) into a certain Church to pray: I found there a linen cloth hanging in the Church door, painted, and having in it the image of Christ, as it were, or of some other Saint, (I remember not well whose image it was) therefore when I did see the image of a man hanging in the Church of Christ, contrary to the authority of the Scriptures, I did tear it, and gave counsel to the keepers of the Church, that they should wind a poor man that was dead in the said cloth, and to bury him.” -Letter to John Patriarch of Jerusalem


This got me thinking about the discipline of archaeology and the assumptions we can jump to about ancient cultures. If we were to find someone’s remains wrapped in a cloth containing images of God, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that images of God must have been important and permitted in that society. Yet, the quote above proves that is not necessarily the case. This is something worth keeping in mind, especially as situations like this could also have bearing on the textual debate.


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