Cruel caricature of a man kneeling before a donkey headed crucifixion victim—a derogatory depiction mocking Christ’s suffering on the cross—was discovered on Rome’s Palatine Hill in 1856. The crude Greek inscription scratched beneath the drawing read: “Alexamenos worships God.”

The language of the inscription—Alexamenos SEBETE THEON [“worships God”]—uses precisely the same root seb—as the word found in Acts (sebomenoi, “worshipping one”) that many scholars assert is a term used in antiquity to denote a large class of gentile “half-converts” to Judaism called “God-fearers.” In this graffito, Alexamenos was obviously a Christian. Therefore, the authors argue, sebomenoi cannot be understood exclusively—if at all—as a term describing “God-fearers.”