He was nobody I had ever heard of or read about until yesterday. He lived about the same time as Jesus, but in Pompeii. And if you really want to you can find out more about him on the internet. But, as I was wondering and sweating through the streets of Pompeii yesterday, I saw and inscription on a large marble pedestal:
M(arcus) Holconius (son of Marcus) Rufus
military tribune of the people and duumvir [one of two elected officials]
quinquennial two times
Priest of Augustus
Patron of the Colony
I actually brought stone-rubbing materials (a big wax crayon that looks like a hockey puck, masking tape, and rag paper) so that I could do stone rubbings, and I got the above one from the base of a statue in Pompeii that originally supported the statue of Marcus Holconius. The statue itself has been moved to the museum in Naples, but I found a painting of it in situ (though it was located at a busy intersection of two streets…not in a field).
It’s pretty cool to rub something that was created more than 2,000 years ago, was buried by volanic ash for 1800 years, and is right out in the open for touching and viewing. I made the mistake of asking at the Naples museum if I could do a rubbing of stones in the courtyard….I decided at Pompeii to forge ahead and ask for forgiveness if necessary. No one seemed bothered by my activity.
So, why is Marcus Haloconius of interest? He was one of the major political players in Pompeii and as such was a priest of Augustus…the same one Luke writes about (Caesar Augustus) and who was described with such titles as:
Son of God
Prince of Peace
Where have you heard those titles before? Probably not in relation to the divine Augustus. He was also conceived of a human mother and a divine father (Apollo), and the good tidings about him were described by the Greek word, euaggelion (eu = good + angelion = news), which of course is the word we use to describe news of Christ (the evangel, good news, gospel).
And if Jesus is Lord, Prince of Peace, Savior, etc. it means that Caesar is not. That is treason. It is the point at which the worldview of Christianity and Rome meet and clash. It happens in front of Pontius Pilate, and it happens again with Paul the Apostle.
We don’t know if Marcus Holconius Rufus ever even heard of Jesus (probably not), but we do know that he was one of the people in Pompeii who helped to worship Augustus. It was the worldview that he helped perpetuate and that Paul would challenge.
Dom Crossan suggests that the matrix for peace in the Augustus view was religion then war then victory then peace. That is the “normal” path for humanity. Jesus and Paul, he says, work from a different matrix: religion, then justice, then peace. It is worth asking in which paradigm our own nation operates.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
I had never seen amphorae before…so here are clay jars…the kind to which Paul refers. May you find light.