Chapter XIV. 679 —The Vile Calumny About Onocoetes Retorted on the Heathen by Tertullian.
Report has introduced a new calumny respecting our God. Not so long ago, a most abandoned wretch in that city of yours, 680 a man who had deserted indeed his own religion—a Jew, in fact, who had only lost his skin, flayed of course by wild beasts, 681 against which he enters the lists for hire day after day with a sound body, and so in a condition to lose his skin 682 —carried about in public a caricature of us with this label: Onocoetes. 683 This (figure) had asss ears, and was dressed in a toga with a book, having a hoof on one of his feet. And the crowd believed this infamous Jew. For what other set of men is the seed-plot 684 of all the calumny against us? Throughout the city, therefore, Onocoetes is all the talk. As, however, it is less then “a nine days wonder,” 685 and so destitute of all authority from time, and weak enough from the character of its author, I shall gratify myself by using it simply in the way of a retort. Let us then see whether you are not here also found in our company. Now it matters not what their form may be, when our concern is about deformed images. You have amongst you gods with a dogs head, and a lions head, with the horns of a cow, and a ram, and a goat, goat-shaped or serpent-shaped, and winged in foot, head, and back. Why therefore brand our one God so conspicuously? Many an Onocoetes is found amongst yourselves.
This curious word is compounded of ὅνος, an ass, and κοιᾶσθαι, which Hesychius explains by ἰερᾶσθαι, to act as a priest. The word therefore means, “asinarius sacerdos,” “an ass of a priest.” Calumnious enough; but suited to the vile occasion, and illustrative of the ribald opposition which Christianity had to encounter.123:684 123:685