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Original Essay


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"The Gospel message, it seems, cannot exist in a “pure” form. It is always mediated through a culture, literary style, historical circumstance or artistic practice. This means that it incorporates influences that are alien to it, though it does so in a critical manner. With regards to the biblical account, such a realization led to the search for the “historical Jesus” which began in the 18th century. This study will take into account the socio‐cultural and historical factors that went into the first production of Christian images aimed at communicating something about this recently established faith. For reasons of length and time I will restrict this study to the West in general, Rome in particular, and I will only consider the very beginnings of Christian artistic production without venturing much past the 5th century. The aim of this inquiry is to explore early pagan influences and the doctrinal/apologetic attitudes of Christian image production during the first few centuries of the church in the West. In doing so, I will look at the Jewish roots of Christianity as applies to the prohibition of image making (Ex 20:4). Next I will turn to Christian interaction with the Hellenized world surrounding art and its uses. Then I will explore some of the earliest Christian symbol art and trace its evolution into the forms of iconography that we are familiar with today."

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