Asinarii a term of reproach against the early Christians. That the Jews worshipped an ass, or the head, of an ass, was a current belief in many parts of the Gentile world. Tacitus says that there was a consecrated image of an ass in the Temple; the reason for this special honor being that a herd of wild asses had been the means of guiding the Jews, when they were in the des-ert, to springs of water. Plutarch tells virtually the, same story. Diodorus Siculus says that Antiochus. Epiphanes found in the Temple a stone image representing a man sitting upon an ass; but, on the other hand, Josephus adduces the fact that no such image had been found in the Temple by any conqueror as an argument for the groundlessness of the calumny. The same belief appears to have prevailed in reference to the' early Christians. It is mentioned by both Tertullian and Minucius Felix; but, though referred to in later times, appears to have died out in the course of the 3d century. (The same reproach made by the Turks against the Christians in Africa is probably to be connected with the mediaeval "Festival of the Ass" rather than with the earlier calumny).
The origin of the reproach has been a subject of various speculations:
(1.) It has been considered to have arisen somewhere in the Gentile world, and to have been applied to the Jews before the Christian aera.
(2.), It has been considered to have arisen in Egypt, and on this hypothesis two explanations have been given. Tanaquil Faber thought that it was a corruption from the name of Onias, who built a Jewish temple at Heliopolis; and Bochart thought that the Egyptians wilfully perverted the expression " Pi iao" (=-" mouth of. God") into "Pieo," which, in an Egyptian vocabulary edited by Kircher, signifies "ass."
(3.) It has been viewed as a calumny of the Jews against the Christians, which was reflected back upon the Jews themselves. (4.) It has been regarded as having originated from the use of the ass as a symbol by some Gnostic sects. That the ass was thus used is clear from the statement of Epiphanius. Between these various hypotheses the question 'must be left undecided.
A slight additional interest has been given to it by the discovery at Rome, in 1856, on a wall under the western angle of the Palatine, of a graffto which forcibly recalls the story mentioned by Tertullian. The graffito in question represents a caricature, evidently directed against some Christian convert of the 2d century. Upon a cross is a figure with a human body wearing an interula, but with an ass's head. On one side is another figure lifting up his-head, possibly in the attitude of prayer. Underneath is written "Alexamenos is worshipping God." The form of the letters points to the graffito having been written towards the end of the 2d century, about the very time at which Tertullian wrote. This graffito is now preserved in the Library of the Collegio Romano 'in Rome. SEE ASS-WORSHIP.