Review of Ricks, Stephen D. “Dexiosis and Dextrarum Iunctio: The Sacred Handclasp in the Classical and Early Christian World.”

Ricks, Stephen D.  “Dexiosis and Dextrarum Iunctio: The Sacred Handclasp in the Classical and Early Christian World.”  The Farms Review 18, no. 1 (2006): 431-36. [Christian/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship]

This is a brief article opens with an account of a visit to the Getty Museum in southern California where Ricks and his wife saw a stele of Philoxenos and his wife, Philoumene, facing each other holding right hands.  It dated about 400 B.C.  A description explained it could represent a simple farewell, a reunion, or the “continuing connection between the deceased and the living.”  This prompted Ricks to do further research.  He found such depictions were common in both Greek and Roman art.  In Greek the handclasp was called dexiosis and in Latin dextratum iunctio.  The Greeks commonly udepicted it on grave stelai.  In Roman art it was found on coins and sarcophagi reliefs and in Christian mosaics and on sarcophagi.

The article describes a number of examples of these hand gestures the author found from the Classical world, many of which pertained to marriage.  Thus he concludes that early Christians in the Roman world were depicted this way “in part because they agreed with the non-Christian Romans that ‘fidelity and harmony are demanded in the longest-lasting and most intimate human relationship, marriage.’  But they also did so because they accepted, perhaps, the ancient Israelite view that marriage was a sacred covenant, and further, because they understood ‘marriage,’ in the words of the Protestant scholar Philip Schaff, ‘as a spiritual union of two souls for time and eternity.’” (pp. 435-36).  A final footnote also adds this interesting information:  “Meyendorff notes that ‘the most striking difference between the Byzantine theology of marriage and its medieval Latin counterpart is that the Byzantines strongly emphasized the unicity of Christian marriage and the eternity of the marriage bond; … the West seemed to ignore the idea that marriage, if it is a sacrament, has to be projected as an eternal bond into the Kingdom of God.’” (p. 436, n. 14.)

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