A group of Spanish archaeologists claim they may have recovered one of the earliest images of Jesus Christ, painted on the inside of a 6th Century, underground structure near burial tombs in Upper Egypt alongside Coptic inscriptions and plant motifs.
Josep Padro of the Catalan Egyptology Society led a team of archaeologists in discovering the image, which was painted on the wall of an underground structure among burial tombs in the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in Upper Egypt. The town has been considered to be archaeologically rich because of its ancient people's worship of the Egyptian God Osiris, but this most recent find is from much later, the 6th Century, and relates to the Christian religion.
As Padro told La Vanguardia newspaper, his team discovered "five or six coats of paint on the walls [in the underground structure], the last of which was from the Coptic period of the first Christians."
Among the paintings of plant motifs and inscriptions written in the Coptic language, archaeologists also discovered the "figure of a young man, with curly hair, dressed in a short tunic and with his hand raised as if giving a blessing."
"We could be dealing with a very early image of Jesus Christ," Padro added.
The lead archaeologist, who has reportedly spent over 20 years excavating the sites in Oxyrhynchus, described the image as "exceptional" and admitted that his team does not yet know what the underground structure near the burial tombs was used for. Researchers have suggested that the area surrounding the underground structure served as the home of a writer and a family of priests.
Translators are currently decoding the Coptic inscriptions adorning the structure's walls to determine if the text poses any reference to the image of the curly-haired man. As Haaretz points out, paintings at the time were not necessarily known to bear a strikingly similar image to their subject. Rather, facial features would be altered to provide a more flattering portrayal of the person being painted, instead of including their physical flaws.
Even earlier images of Jesus Christ have been found from the 2nd and 3rd Centuries in the Roman Catacombs.