In the first edition of my book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (1999), I included a chapter entitled “The Bible, Sex and Drugs” (275-295), at the end of which I provided a line drawing of a bronze, rooster-headed bust with a phallus for a beak. Under the image, I added the following caption:
Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter. Inscription reads “Savior of the World.”
(Note that I do not say here or elsewhere that the bronze sculpture itself is a symbol of St. Peter, but only the cock or rooster, as in the story of Matthew 26:34, etc., in which Peter denies Christ three times before the cock crows. In several places elsewhere in my book I provide the citation for the cock/rooster being a symbol of St. Peter. I apologize for the ambiguity, but I was not in error here, despite the constant attempts to make me appear as such.)
After providing the image, I then cited it as coming from “Walker, WDSSO,” a reference to Barbara G. Walker’s The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, included in my bibliography at the end of the book.
Previous to this image (168), I had discussed this theme of the “peter” or cock, with the esoteric and “vulgar” meaning:
“Peter” is not only “the rock” but also “the cock” or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day. As Walker says, “The cock was also a symbol of Saint Peter, whose name also meant a phallus or male principle (pater) and a phallic pillar (petra). Therefore, the cock’s image was often placed atop church towers.”
The “Savior of the World” image appears in Walker’s book on p. 397, where she remarks:
It is no coincidence that “cock” is slang for “penis.” The cock was a phallic totem in Roman and medieval sculptures showing cocks somehow transformed into, or supporting, human penises. Roman carvings of disembodied phalli often gave them the legs or wings of cocks. Hidden in the treasury of the Vatican is a bronze image of a cock with the head of a penis on the torso of a man, the pedestal inscribed “The Savior of the World.”
(There follows her quote cited in the paragraph above.)
Fabricated image or ‘celebrated bronze’?
Over the years since The Christ Conspiracy was published, this image has been the periodic focus of interest. Of late, in his new book Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman has raised up this image in my book and appears to be accusing me of fabricating it. Quoting me first, he comments:
“‘Peter’ is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock,’ or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure [sic] of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). [There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.]
(The “treasure” typo is Ehrman’s, while the “sic” is mine. The other comments in brackets and parentheses are Ehrman’s.)
In insinuating that I drew the image myself, Ehrman is indicating he did not notice the citation under it in my book, clearly referring to Barbara Walker’s work. He is further implying that I simply make things up, and he is asserting with absolute certainty that no such bronze has existed in the Vatican, essentially stating that I fabricated the entire story. Contrary to these unseemly accusations, the facts are that I did not draw the image, the source of which was cited, and that, according to several writers, the image certainly is “hidden” in the Vatican, as I stated.
In The Woman’s Dictionary (397), Walker cites the image as “Knight, pl. 2,” which, in her bibliography, refers to: Knight, Richard Payne. A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus. New York: University Books, 1974.
Consulting an earlier edition of Knight’s book (1865), we find a discussion of the object in question (32):
…the celebrated bronze in the Vatican has the male organs of generation placed upon the head of a cock, the emblem of the sun, supported by the neck and shoulders of a man. In this composition they represented the generative power of the Ερως [Eros], the Osiris, Mithras, or Bacchus, whose centre is the sun. By the inscription on the pedestal, the attribute thus personified, is styled The Saviour of the World…, a title always venerable under whatever image it be presented.
Here Knight references the image as “Plate II. Fig. 3.” Turning to the back of the book, around p. 263, we find the image (right), which is hand-drawn because of its age, printed when photography was still not entirely feasible for publishers.
On page 35, Knight mentions the “celebrated bronze” again:
…Oftentimes, however, these mixed figures had a peculiar and proper meaning, like that of the Vatican Bronze…
Another source, Gordon Williams in A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery (258), comments about this artifact:
The relationship of cock and phallus is ancient. A bronze bust in the Vatican Museum, bearing the Greek inscription “Redeemer of the World” (Fuchs, Geschichte der Erotischen Kunst [Berlin 1908] fig. 103), is given a cock’s head, the nose or beak being an erect penis.
Doing our scholarly due diligence, we find the pertinent figure in Fuchs on p. 133. Hot on the trail, we discover more information in Daniela Erlach’s Privatisierung der Triebe? (1994:203) about the “small bust known as the Albani bronze, still housed in the Vatican’s secret collection…” There, we read further: “Its plinth is inscribed ‘Saviour of the World’ in Greek, and it is possibly of Gnostic import.”
In another mention of the “notorious Albani bronze said to be held in the Vatican Museum,” we learn that such Roman phallic representations are called priapi gallinacei. (Jones, Malcolm, The Secret Middle Ages, 75) As we can see, this bronze image is “celebrated” and “notorious,” which means many scholars have written about it, also stating that it is “housed” and “held” in the Vatican Museum.
Romanum Museum, 1692
Continuing the hunt, a discussion of this artifact can be found in a book entitled Public Characters of 1803-1804 (127), which comments about the “Savior of the World” inscription, written in Greek as ΣΩΤΗΡ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ, a phrase used also to describe Jesus Christ:
That inscription is found upon an ancient Phallus, of a date of much more remote antiquity than the birth of Christ. The account of this antiquity may be seen at large in “De la Chaussee’s Museum Romanum,” printed at Rome, in folio, in 1692…
The late reverend and learned Dr. Middleton, in that valuable work entitled “Germana quaedam antiquitatis eruditae monumenta, etc.” has not scrupled to give the following short account of it…
Tracing the image to De la Chaussee’s Romanum Museum, we discover a description on page 125 of volume 1:
The author follows this discussion with another about the ancient author Macrobius and his work concerning the various gods of the Roman Empire and their solar nature.
The priapus gallinaceus
A description of the statue in Latin is also provided by Rev. Dr. Conyers Middleton (The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Reverend and Learned Conyers Middleton, 4:51):
Quod quidem illustrari quodammodo videtur a Symbolica quadam apud Causæum Priapi effigie, cui Galli Gallinacei caput crista ornatum, rostri vero loco, Fascinum ingens datur: cujusque in basi litteris Græcis inscriptum legitur ΣΩΤΗΡ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ. Servator orbis. Quae omnia vir doctus ita interpretatur: “Gallum scilicet, avem soli sacram esse; solemque generatricis facultatis præsidem; pudendumque ideo virile Gallinaceo capiti adjunctum denotare, quod a conjunctis solis Priapique viribus, animalium genus omne procreatum et conservatum sit, secundum physicum quoddam Aristotelis axioma, Homo hominem general et Sol.”
Here Middleton describes the “priapus effigy” as a rooster with a head crest and the inscription “Savior of the World” or Servator orbis in the Latin. A “learned man” interprets the image as a cock, a bird sacred to the sun, a symbol of fertility and generative power. We can see where the term priapus gallinaceus comes from, as it refers to the erect member of the god Priapus and the Latin word for “rooster” or “cock.” Therefore, we are discussing an entire genre of artifacts, evidently dating to before the common era and into it (Gnostic?); other such examples can be cited.
In The Image of Priapus (67), Giancarlo Carlobelli writes:
The “Soter cosmou” portrayed as the central figure appears to be an example of what the classical scholars refer to as “Priapus gallinaceus”; it may be a herm. The illustration had already appeared in De la Chausse…
Here we learn that scholars of classical antiquity have used this term, priapus gallinaceus or “priapus cock.”
Continuing our search, we find in Otto Augustus Wall’s Sex and Sex Worship (Phallic Worship): A Scientific Treatise on Sex (437) a photograph of what appears to be the original bronze statue (or at least its twin). Concerning this artifact, Wall (438) states that “this representation of a bronze figure of Priapus…was found in an ancient Greek temple…”
Hidden in the Vatican
In an article “Priapus Gallinaceus: The Role of the Cock in Fertility and Eroticism in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” (Studies in Iconography, Northern Kentucky University, 1981-82, vols. 7-8, p. 94), after discussing this “Savior of the World” artifact Dr. Lorrayne Baird comments:
This object was published under papal and royal authority, exhibited for a time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and is now said to be held inaccessible in the secret collections of the Vatican. During the public life of this bronze, officials disagreed upon the probity of the exhibit. One offended cardinal requested that the object be removed…
Dr. Baird (95) further states that “the Vatican Saviour-as-Phallic-cock was a scandalous satire on early Christians.” We are therefore justified in bringing up this artifact and wondering why it would serve as “satire on early Christians,” if not for the reasons stated here.
I obviously did not fabricate the image of this artifact, which has been known in scholarly circles for over 300 years. Nor was my contention erroneous that the figure is secreted in the Vatican, according to several authors.
Nevertheless, Ehrman continues his imputation by concluding about my book:
In short, if there is any conspiracy here, it is not on the part of the ancient Christians who made up Jesus but on the part of modern authors who make up stories about the ancient Christians and what they believed about Jesus.
As we can see, everything in my book concerning this discussion is cited and accurately represents the original commentary, as found in several publications dating from the 17th century until the present era, reflecting a tradition from antiquity. It is unfortunate when other scholars engage in libelous accusation and gross misrepresentation, of which there are a number of other instances in Ehrman’s book vis-à-vis my work.
See also my addendum: “The phallic ‘Savior of the Word’ in the Vatican revisited.”
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