Christ cross

The exact words written above the cross of Jesus

But if you’re thinking of taking your binoculars to Toledo to examine The burial of the Count of Orgaz in the Church of Santo Tome, where a barrier leads you away from the painting, you will see El Greco’s signature on the handkerchief slipped into the pocket of the boy presumed to be the artist’s son, Jorge Manuel. In Greek letters it is written:Domenikos Theotokopoulos epoiei, 1578” Greek epic is the equivalent of the Latin word fecit, “made”, which painters used. El Greco was using a pun, as it was his own son he claimed to have made in 1578, not the painting, painted in the following decade.

I mentioned in passing last week that in his CrucifixionOn permanent display at the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland, El Greco had elegantly rendered the inscription above the cross in Hebrew Greek and Latin.

I can’t comment on the Hebrew, but the Greek, transliterated, says Iesous ho Nazōraios ho Basileus tōn Ioudaiō[n] and latin Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeor[um]“Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews,” as the Authorized Version translates it. The Greek spelling is as you find it in chapter 19 verse 19 of the Gospel according to St. John, who wrote in Greek.

The plaque engraved on the cross of Jesus which was ordained by Pontius Pilate is known as the title. In Rome, in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, on the road to Saint John Lateran, they keep a wood title said to have been found by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. It is made of walnut, which is interesting since the 6th century account of the so-called anonymous Plaisance pilgrim speaks of holding in his hand and kissing such a relic of walnut wood.

There is a text puzzle here, however, by activating the word Nazōraios, as Saint John says. It is this form of the word which is used in the Acts of the Apostles (24, 5) when Saint Paul is denounced to the Roman governor as “leader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. But the title in Rome gives (in Greek characters) Nazarenesthe variant version of the word in the Gospel according to Saint Mark.

It may seem quite clear that the name Nazōraios applies to someone from Nazareth. This is the form used in the Gospel of Saint Matthew when it quotes a prophecy that Jesus will be called a Nazarene. But there was a conscience that Isaiah had prophesied, “There shall come forth a rod from the trunk of Isaiah, and a branch shall spring from his roots.” Here, “branch”, written in Hebrew n-ts-rwas linked by Saint Jerome in the 4th century with Nazarene. Also, the Old Testament book of Judges says that Samson was a Nazarene, a kind of ascetic; the ancient Greek version of the Septuagint gives this as Naziraioscompared to almost identical Nazōraios for “a man from Nazareth”.

In Arabic, Christians today are sometimes called Nasara, a word from the Koran meaning “Nazarenes”. When in 2014, the terrorist group Islamic State began to spray the first Arabic letter religious on the homes of Christians, it has been adopted internationally online on platforms such as Twitter as a symbol of solidarity with the persecuted.