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Celsus’ Competing Heroes: Jonah, Daniel, and their Rivals

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Chapter Summary

In Origen's Contra Celsum, Celsus, the pagan critic of Christianity, displays his familiarity with a selection of biblical heroes who were to have durable popularity in Christian art. Celsus' suggestions of alternative heroes for Christians to worship have a surprising resonance in the visual arts of early Christianity. The biblical heroes named by Celsus Jonah and Daniel appeared early and often in Christian art and proved to have great staying power as well. Some of his non-biblical heroes also resonated in the art of both the early Christians and their pagan rivals. Orpheus, whom Celsus also proposed for veneration, was in fact a subject of considerable interest to Christians and Jews. Some of Celsus' suggestions of heroes more worthy of veneration than Jesus seem truly provocative or frivolous. Herakles, the first of the heroes cited by Celsus, remained more competitive than either Orpheus or Asklepios far into the Christian Roman Empire.

Keywords: Asklepios; biblical heroes; Celsus' suggestions; Christian art; Daniel; Herakles; Jonah; Origen's Contra Celsum; Orpheus; Roman Empire

10.1163/9789004256934_009
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