“Sol Invictus—The Light of the World”

November 9, 2011


from CHAPTER 14 of Branding Obamessiah

J esus metaphorically designated himself “the light of the world,” 6 and light is widely associated visually with the divine Son of God. According to the book of Acts, when he appeared to Saul-soon-to-be-Paul on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Christ manifested a “light from heaven” that temporarily blinded the young Pharisee. 7 In the book of Revelation, Jesus appeared again, to his apostle John in a vision. John describes his visage: “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” 8 Christian art carried on this iconic imagery. Light became a dominant archetypal feature of the Christ over the centuries. Whether Jesus was portrayed as a gentle shepherd, a military ruler, or a magisterial king, his visage was more often than not surrounded by a halo of light.

One of the earliest surviving representations of Jesus in Christian art is perhaps the most striking. Christ is portrayed in a unique third-century mosaic on the Vatican grottoes under St. Peter’s Basilica as Sol Invictus , “The Unconquered Sun,” the sun-god Helios riding in his chariot. 9 The Romans worshiped the Sun ( Sol ), and Roman emperors bolstered their own supposed divine status using the figure of Sol Invictus on their official coins and incorporating it into their architecture. According to the church father Eusebius, in AD 312 the emperor Constantine was about to fight the Battle of the Milvian Bridge when he saw a sign of victory in the sky, a “a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, ‘Conquer by this.’” 10 He won that battle and, in honor of the victory, declared Sunday to be a day of rest. The Sun and the figure of Sol Invictus would go on to become a fully Christianized convention, so much so that the birthday of the Sun, December 25, would eventually be celebrated as the day of Christ’s birth. This would remain its primary association in the United States perhaps until 2008, when “The Unconquered Sun” would go on to become a fully Obama-ized convention as rays of light emanated from the crown of the celestial candidate in a torrent of campaign images. Obama’s birthday, though, is still celebrated in August. 11

Obama’s divine image as “the light of the world” tacitly referenced not only these older traditional conceptions of Christ, but the more recent New Age notions as well. Remember that Obama’s sacred words were broadly located in both our historical past and our popular present. He triggered America’s time-tested optimism and our sense of destiny by simultaneously sourcing his appeals in both the Bible and the New Age. John Winthrop and the Puritans gave us the national sense that we are fulfilling a God-ordained mandate as God’s chosen people. Emerson and Oprah provided the individual sense that we’re actualizing our inner potential. In much the same way, Obama’s sacred images recalled not only the divinity of Jesus Christ but the divinity that some say exists within all mankind, and in particular, the “highly evolved” person of Barack Obama.

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