Epitaph for a Jew who converted to Christianity (CIJ I2, 643a)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Cathedral of Grado, (Aquileia) Italy
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
in loco
401 CE to 500 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Mosaic including an epitaph for an ex-Jew, found 1m beneath the central nave of the Cathedral of Grado, which was built in 579 CE. The mosaic is made of brightly coloured tesserae, which make up a design of vines, grapes, birds and a vase, as well as the inscription.
Mosaic tesserae
Height: 234 cm
Width: 100 cm 
Letter height: 6.5-9 cm

CIJ I2, 643a = Noy I, no. 8

This inscription is one of a handful of epigraphic texts that attest to the conversion of a Jew to Christianity. In the form of a mosaic, it was discovered in 1946 within a small building beneath the nave of the Cathedral of Grado, in Aquileia, northern Italy, and it records the final place of “Petrus”; although it had previously been assumed that this small building was always a church, Sergio Tavano has shown that it was originally a burial chapel in a larger area of tombs, which was later transformed into a church by Bishop Nicetus in 452 CE, meaning that the mosaic and its inscription cannot be dated later than the second half of the fifth century CE (Tavano, Aquileia e Grado, p. 267-268; 318-322; Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 14).
The inscription records the final resting place of “Petrus” (hic requiescit / Petrus); this was a new name given to him upon his baptism, as indicated by the statement that “who (is also called) Papario” (qui Papa/rio); David Noy has shown that qui here should be understood as qui et – “and who”, or “who also,” which is believed to stand as an abbreviation for qui vocatur, or “who was called” (Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 14-15). Petrus is described as the “son of Olimpius the Jew” (filius Olimpii Iu-
), and that he was “the only one of his people who deserved to arrive at the grace of Christ” (solusque / ex gente sua /ad XP̅I̅ meruit / gratiam perveni/re). Some debate has considered what is intended by ex gente sua here; it might reasonably be translated as “of his family” or indeed “of his race” or “people,” meaning the Jewish community. While the former suggestion certainly cannot be dismissed, the use of gens in epigraphy at this date typically refers to ‘race,’ leading David Noy to propose that this statement is in reference to the Jews of Grado, rather than to all the Jews of the empire (Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 15). That he “reached the grace of Christ” is a phrase common to baptism in this period; Cyprian had stated that the Jews would lose but that the Christians would be given “bread and the chalice of Christ and all of his grace” (Treatise to Quirinus I.22: panem et calicem Christi et omnem gratiam eius). David Noy has again rightly suggested that the version of the phrase given by this inscription may in fact be an echo of the Aquileian bishop Chromatius, who had made a very similar statement in his Sermon commenting on the gospel of Matthew (Sermo X.4; Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 15). Whatever the origin, it is clear that Petrus had been baptised, and had received a new Christian name as a result; that he was “buried in this sacred house, deservingly” (gratiam perveni/re et in hanc sanctam / aulam digne sepul/tus est) is a again a common feature of Christian inscriptions in this period, although the qualification that it was done so “deservingly” (digne) is unusual, and is perhaps indicative of the prestige and esteem in which his burial was held.
The conversion of Jews to Christianity was not uncommon in the fifth century CE although some of the better known instances involved forced conversion and some degrees of violence; the conversion of the Jews of Minorca in 417 C, under the Bishop Severus, was one such occasion, which resulted in the destruction of the synagogue on the island and the forced conversion of more than 500 Jews (see Scott, Severus of Menorca: Letter on the Conversion of the Jews). Generally speaking, however, the converts from Judaism to Christianity were encouraged, and were indeed protected by Roman law; several laws of Constantine in 329 CE were clearly aimed at increasing the number of Jewish converts, and thus protected Christian apostates from attacks by the Jewish communities of the empire (see e.g. Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation p. 124, no. 8 and p. 138 no. 10). Valentinian III appears to have continued this protection of Jewish converts, instituting a law in 426 CE which prevented Jews from disinheriting their children if they converted (see Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation p. 313, no. 52). Although laws passed by Arcadius and Honorius in 397 and 416 CE respectively prohibited the baptism of certain Jews, in order to prevent insincere conversions, the trend in Roman law appears to have been one of protection and encouragement. The paucity of extant sources – only seven Roman laws deal with conversion from Judaism to Christianity – means that the issue of conversion from Judaism has often been considered to have created few legal difficulties in the fourth-sixth centuries CE, but it is perhaps more likely that the law sought to leave open as many avenues as possible that might increase the number of converts (Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation p. 79-80). In any case, the discovery of Petrus’s mosaic epitaph, although a rare example, serves as an indication of the positive reception of such conversion in a private context; Petrus stated his religious origins in the inscription, whilst celebrating his conversion away from them in the form of a prestigious monument.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 

Considerazioni sui mosaici

Tavano, Sergioarticle-in-a-journal229-258Considerazioni sui mosaiciAquileia nella Veneta et Histria1986
Realized by: 

How to quote this page

Epitaph for a Jew who converted to Christianity (CIJ I2, 643a)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Fri, 07/05/2019 - 22:40
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/epitaph-jew-who-converted-christianity-cij-i2-643a
Visited: Sat, 04/13/2024 - 01:19

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