Perhaps an underlying motivation in Docetism being read into the Passion Narratives by some may have simply been the utter disgust stemming from the idea of a crucified god. An ancient and infamous inscription depicting a human crucifixion victim whose head was in the shape of a donkey’s is a perfect illustration of this distaste. The caption makes clear it is a mocking parody of Jesus: “Alexamenos worships his god’.
Martin Hengel talks about another anti-Christian caricature discovered on a tile in Oroszvar, Hungary dating from 350 AD. It feature a pathetic figure “dragging a Latin cross” with his “tongue hanging out under its weight”. These anecdotes help us to better comprehend the shocking element to the centerpiece of the early Christian kerygma.
We can see Paul respond to some of these issues in his epistles as well as some of the earliest apologists. One of my favorite comes from Melito of Sardis, circa 160. Melito employs beautifully polished rhetoric to describe something horrid and at the same glorious – at least in the eyes of the earliest Christians:
He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was borne up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body-God put to death! The King of Israel slain with Israel's right hand! … The Lord was exposed with naked body: He was not deemed worthy even of covering; and, in order that He might not be seen, the luminaries turned away, and the day became darkened because they slew God, who hung naked on the tree. … For, because the people quaked not, the earth quaked; because they were not affrighted, the earth was affrighted. Thou smotest thy Lord: thou also hast been smitten upon the earth. And thou indeed liest dead; but He is risen from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, having suffered for the sake of those who suffer, and having been bound for the sake of Adam's race which was imprisoned, and having been judged for the sake of him who was condemned, and having been buried for the sake of him who was buried. … This is He who made the heaven and the earth, and in the beginning, together with the Father, fashioned man; who was announced by means of the law and the prophets; who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; who was hanged upon the tree; who was buried in the earth; who rose from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
I do apologize for quoting such a lengthy portion of this but I find the above excerpt to be absolutely beautiful – and absolute dynamite.