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The legends about the Mandylion and other acheiropoieta of Christ reveal their inspiration through metaphors of divine craftsmanship encountered in early Christian homilies. The parallels strongly suggest an allegorical meaning of these legends that points to the Incarnation of Christ, which is reinforced by the semantics of the objects’ materials – cloth and clay. This chapter demonstrates that possession of the Mandylion was of key significance for Byzantine claims to religious orthodoxy and superiority, in keeping with the Byzantines’ self-perception as the New Israel, God’s Chosen People.
In this volume, Karin Krause examines conceptions of divine inspiration and authenticity in the religious literature and visual arts of Byzantium. During antiquity and the medieval era, “inspiration” encompassed a range of ideas regarding the divine contribution to the creation of holy texts, icons, and other material objects by human beings. Krause traces the origins of the notion of divine inspiration in the Jewish and polytheistic cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds and their reception in Byzantine religious culture. Exploring how conceptions of authenticity are employed in Eastern Orthodox Christianity to claim religious authority, she analyzes texts in a range of genres, as well as images in different media, including manuscript illumination, icons, and mosaics. Her interdisciplinary study demonstrates the pivotal role that claims to the divine inspiration of religious literature and art played in the construction of Byzantine cultural identity.
This chapter takes a fresh look at the ideological and theological significance of the Mandylion of Edessa, an object of unparalleled importance for the religious identity of the Byzantines. Departing significantly from previous scholarship, it argues that the legend of the Mandylion is not about an especially authentic visual portrait of Christ’s face, but rather about Christ as the true image (eikon) of God the Father, understood in a purely ontological sense. Middle Byzantine theological writings about the Mandylion ought also to be read as late contributions to the debate on the legitimacy of visual representations of Christ.
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