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“Two Men in White:” Observations on an Early Christian Lamp from North Africa with the Ascension of Christ

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Chapter Summary

The North African lamps present the Ascension in terms that differ greatly from earlier Ascensions. The principal distinguishing feature is that Christ is shown in majesty, enclosed in an oval of radiance and surrounded by the evangelist symbols. In the latter respect the imagery draws on the visions of Ezekiel and the book of Revelation. The only specifically Lukan feature remaining are the two men in white below the apparition. The presentation of the Ascension in this way has long been considered a distinctly Eastern type. From a literary and cultural point of view, the synthesis of Ascension narrative and glory imagery on the North African lamps finds a supportive matrix not only in the Latin west but specifically in the area around modern Tunisia, where the lamps were produced. Some details of earlier Ascension iconography that have been difficult to explain find good parallels in Augustine's writings.

Keywords: Ascension narrative; Augustine's writings; book of Revelation; Ezekiel; North African lamps



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