In the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series, Brent Landau and T.C. Hoklotubbe provide the edition of a fifth/sixth century papyrus (P.Oxy. 81.5260), which preserves a variant of a Christian hymn known from several Greek patristic sources. The title to their entry is, “Hymn of the Cross: Amulet?”
Each line of the fragment begins with a standalone staurogram (the combination of the Greek letters tau and rho) representing the word “cross” (this is highly unusual), followed by a descriptive phrase. Here is an example from column 2:
I here want to draw attention to the fact that a variant of this “cross hymn” is found in another, earlier Greek papyrus fragment housed at Michigan. The papyrus, P.Mich. inv. 1628 (LDAB 195), was published in 1984 by Nancy Priest, who drew parallels with the text of Alexander Monachus’ De inventione sanctae crucis (see PG 87:4073). Neither the Michigan papyrus nor the text of Alexander are mentioned by the authors of the new Oxyrhynchus fragment, so a couple noteworthy observations can be made.
In the Michigan fragment, the word “cross” (σταυρός) begins each line and is abbreviated all but two times as σταυρ, with an oblique stroke written through the letter rho (see image at right). It just so happens that this stroke combined with the letter rho resembles a staurogram, which stands alone at the beginning of each line in the Oxyrhynchus fragment. One might be tempted to argue that the scribe created the staurogram in this way intentionally, although this oblique stroke is a typical marker of abbreviation (in fact, he/she uses it as such in l. 16 for another word. So, we cannot be too sure.
More importantly, the Michigan papyrus has textual parallels with the sources cited by Landau and Hoklotubbe: Pseudo-Chrysostom (which, as the authors show, has been attributed to John II, bishop of Jerusalem), Ephrem the Syrian, and John of Damascus.
For example, the Michigan fragment shares a few readings with all three patristic sources: σταυρὸς χειμαζομένων [Ps.C: -οντων] λιμήν; σταυρὸς ἐκκλησίας θεμέλιος, σταυρὸς δούλων ἐλευθερία. Other readings in the Michigan fragment are shared with only one or two of the patristic sources but it is clear that all these sources are drawing on a common literary tradition.
These parallels are important for two reasons: dating the composition of the hymn and reconstructing the text of the Michigan fragment.
The Michigan papyrus was dated to the fourth century ("or perhaps a bit later"); the Oxyrhynchus papyrus was dated to the fifth/sixth century. Landau and Hoklotubbe say, “Although 5260 is dated to the fifth/sixth century, the hymn may have originated earlier, at a time when the composition of new hymns was controversial” (p. 12). Given the dating of the Michigan papyrus, we can at least say that variants of the hymn were indeed circulating around a century prior to the composition of the Oxyrhynchus fragment. As Landau and Hoklotubbe demonstrate, the stanzas of this hymn diverge among all sources, both in content and sequence. The hymn probably has earlier origins and was perhaps reshaped by different authors in different locations along the way for various purposes (this was typical of homiletical texts, for example).
Priest did not reference the sources cited by Landau and Hoklotubbe but those sources are incredibly significant because now some lines in the Michigan fragment can be restored with certainty. I am working on a re-edition of P.Mich. inv. 1628 and will try to submit that for publication soon.
Finally, it is interesting to note that Priest, Landau, and Hoklotubbe all wonder about the function of their papyri. Priest argued that the Michigan fragment may have served as a hand-list of notes for a sermon on the cross. Landau and Hoklotubbe suggest the Oxyrhynchus fragment could have been designed as an amulet or for liturgical use. It is difficult to say with certainty how these papyri functioned (prayer? homily? amulet? notes? private devotion?) but the question is worth pondering. These papyri, especially the Oxyrhynchus fragment, also raise some interesting questions about the development/use of the staurogram in early Christian artifacts.
Today (May 14) is Mother’s Day in the US and Canada. According to Wikipedia, this holiday is “a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.” This is a time when many children send cards and flowers showing their appreciation to their mothers. While this holiday is modern in origins, we do find some ancient examples of mothers becoming angry when their children do not write to them or show proper acknowledgment.
One case in particular comes to mind. In a first-century Greek papyrus letter known as P.Berenike 2.129, found in a Roman dump in Egypt, a mother named Hikane writes to her son Isidoros scolding him for not writing to her. The papyrus is fragmentary, but Hikane’s frustration is clear. Through rhetorical coloring, she reminds Isidoros that she carried him in her womb for ten months and nursed him for three years. So, what is the moral of this story? Maybe it is that you should write to your mothers. Otherwise, you could receive a letter like Hikane's. Or worse: your mom takes her anger to Facebook! Here is the opening of Hikane's letter:
“[Hikane] to Isidoros [her son, greetings. First of all] I thought it necessary, since the packet boat was putting out to sea, to write . . . me. I am in Berenike. I wrote you a letter [?but did not receive a] letter. Was it for this that I carried you for ten months and nursed you for three years, so that you would be incapable of remembering me by letter? And similarly you dimissed me though the Oasites . . . I didn't do this to you, but I left your brothers in Arabia . . . so that . . . Egypt I might see your face and . . . my breath. I only ask and beg and adjure you by the one whom you . . . and by the memory of the one who begot you, to sail away if you are well.”
In my last blog post announcing the digitization of the manuscripts from St. Catherine's monastery, I posted an image of Greek Manuscript 212, or GA Lectionary 846, a ninth century Greek liturgical codex containing the Gospels and the Apostolos, written in a sloping "Slavonic uncial" script. I want to make two observations about this manuscript here and then tell you about an exciting research project.
First, it is a very small codex in dimensions: 14.5 (H) x 11.7 (W) cm. As a disclaimer: I do not study Greek manuscripts that are quite this late, but I do know that most lectionaries were intended for public reading, and so the format is somewhat surprising. Perhaps some of my readers will know just how atypical the dimensions are for Greek lectionaries from this period.
Second, I noticed that this codex is a palimpsest, meaning that there is an "undertext" that has been wiped/washed away to make space for the "uppertext" which now stands. Scribes typically repurposed majuscule manuscripts for liturgical ones. Take a look at this photo from folio 51, which I have manipulated slightly in order to highlight the palimpsestic features:
The 1994 Kurzgefasste Liste indicates that the undertext may be from the Psalms but there is a question mark there (“l 846: untere Schrift Psalmen (?)”). This script of this undertext is obviously older, perhaps dating to the 7th century.
Significantly, as part of the Sinai Palimpsests Project (SPP), the monastery is using spectral imaging to read, identify, and date erased texts found in palimpsests housed at the monastery, of which Greek 212 is one of more than 160 palimpsests. The results of this project will be significant.
We await to see the full results of this project, but I have a strong feeling that some of the findings will be significant. Some of the incredible discoveries have already been listed on their website. I will update readers on this exciting project as I learn them!
Artemission, an antiquities company based out of the UK, is selling a little Coptic papyrus fragment on their website for $1,400. The website claims "2nd-3rd century" for the dating of this papyrus, although that is certainly not correct, as it is much later. It would appear to be a private letter, written on the verso, in which a certain "John the camel-driver" makes an appearance in line 5. The terms πρεσβεία ("intercession") and ἀγάπη ("love") also appear. The address is in the first line(s).
As for the provenance, the website simply states "ex. Private UK collection, London, UK, acquired in the 1990’s." Artemission is selling another Coptic papyrus on their site, but I think I've included that somewhere on this blog before, or at the very least, I have already seen it. The provenance listed for that one is "ex. property Mr. M. N, London, UK, acquired in the 1990s," which is most probably a reference to Maurice Nahman, a famous antiquities dealer during the early twentieth century. It would be interesting to know just how many papyri were sold from Nahman's estate and where they are precisely.