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Title page for ETD etd-09052008-145010

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Jefferson, Lee Morris
URN etd-09052008-145010
Title “The Image of Christ the Miracle Worker in Early Christian Art"
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Robin M. Jensen Committee Chair
Barbara Tsakirgis Committee Member
Bronwen Wickkiser Committee Member
J. Patout Burns Committee Member
  • Christian art
  • miracle
  • Asclepius
  • healing
Date of Defense 2008-07-29
Availability unrestricted
In early Christian texts, the image of Christ the Miracle Worker was a critical component in the development of the faith. In treatises and sermons of the church fathers, the subject of Christ’s healings and miracles were consistently promoted. The healings and miracles of Christ were touted in an atmosphere of religious competition. The superiority of Christ’s healings and miracles were advanced in order to establish Christ as a deity greater than any opponent. In Christian art of Late Antiquity, similar methods were utilized to achieve the same end result. Christ was portrayed in catacomb frescoes and relief sculpture as a healer and worker of miracles. The visual art suggests that the early Christians were touting the superiority of Christ at the expense of their rivals. The image of Christ healing with the power of touch recalled the healing god Asclepius, while the stylistic inclusion of the staff reflected the figure of Moses as well as exhibiting Christ as the Divine Logos.

By depicting Christ in text and imagery as the definitive healer and worker of miracles, early Christians constructed a useful image. As a result of appearing as the greatest healer and miracle worker, early images of Christ could exhibit power and provide a sense of understanding and identity to early Christians. However, by the late fourth century when the church was firmly established, the image not only persisted but increased. Remarkably, the image of Christ the Miracle Worker greatly proliferated in an age of Christian peace as the church was increasing its presence and expanding its growth.

This dissertation will study the rise and proliferation of the image of Christ the Miracle Worker in the early Christian era, examine the contributions of the church fathers, and demonstrate that this early Christian image appropriated elements of existing Late Antique culture to create a paramount religious figure.

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