In a third/fourth century Christian Greek papyrus letter, only the ending of which survives, a group of Christians, probably a church, is writing to another Christian or church about a group of women headed their way. These women appear to be in trouble. They are being transported to an epitropos, a "guardian" or "protector." Typically, guardians of women in Greek documents served as legal representatives who assisted them or acted on their behalf in a court of law. It appears, then, that these women were under arrest.
It has been suggested that, based on the dating of this papyrus letter, the correspondence may reflect the circumstances of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. If that theory is correct—a fact that is not readily demonstrable—then these may have been Christian women who were possibly about to be imprisoned or severely persecuted, perhaps for not denouncing their faith.
Before closing the letter, the writer implores the recipient to give his love (agape) to the women as he would to the “brothers.” Here is a translation of the letter followed by the original Greek text and an image of the actual papyrus (P.Got. 11):
“I and those with [me] are greeting [you] in (the name of) the Lord. Just as it is your duty to help all the brothers in the name of our Lord, you shall give your love to these (sisters), too, who are being brought to the epitropos, through whatever you will offer them. I wish that you are well in the (name of the) Lord.”
[ -ca.?- ] ἐγώ τε κ̣αὶ ο̣ἱ̣ | σὺν [ἐμοί σε προσ]α̣γορεύομ̣ε̣ν̣ | ἐν κ(υρί)ῳ. καθὼς δέ σοί ἐστιν | πᾶσι τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ἐν κ(υρί)ῳ βοηθ[εῖ]ν | καὶ ταύταις ἀγομέναις πρὸς τὸν ἐπίτροπον ἐπιδ\ώσε̣ι̣ς/ [τ]ὴ̣ν ἀγάπην̣ | σου, διʼ ὧν ἐὰν παράσχῃ αὐταῖς. | ἐρρῶσθαί σε εὔχομαι | ἐν κ(υρί)ῳ.
The name “Lord” is abbreviated as a nomen sacrum (“sacred name”), typical of early Christian scribal practice. I think the most interesting part of the request for aid is this statement: “Just as it is your duty to help all the brothers in the name of our Lord, you shall give your love (ἀγάπη) to these (sisters), too.”
“Agape,” or love, was a Christian virtue that became adopted by the earliest communities of believers. The apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “through love (διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης) become slaves to one another” (5:13). This kind of agape love became a staple of early Christianity and the writer of our papyrus is imploring the recipient to demonstrate his agape to these women in crisis “through what you will offer them.”
It is not clear what kind of support the author had in mind and we can only wonder what the ultimate fate of these women was. But, as two scholars have suggested, “the crisis of the women will be one opportunity among many for the exercise of such good-will” (Judge and Pickering, 56). Papyrus letters like this one give us much better insights into the social mobility of Christians, with examples of contact with the State, in a time period in which the Christian church was suffering from persecution.
Two new Greek NT papyrus fragments from Oxyrhynchus have been identified: one of Ephesians and one of 1 Timothy. These fragments, already assigned Gregory-Aland numbers, were just published in the latest volume of the Oyrhynchus Papyri--P.Oxy. 81. Dr. Geoff Smith, the author of the Ephesians fragment, has uploaded the editions of both fragments on his Academia.edu site. (Side note: Geoff and I were both featured in a New York Times piece in 2015.)
1. P.Oxy. 81.5258: Ephesians 3:21–4:2, 14-16 / GA P132
Editor: Dr. Geoff Smith
A small codex fragment of Ephesians dated to the third/fourth century—the first fragment of this work to surface from Oxyrhynchus. Nomina sacra are present. Written in an informal hand on both sides of the papyrus. There is only one variant in 3:21 (omission of καί). Here is the editor's transcription of both recto and verso.
2. P.Oxy. 81.5259: 1 Timothy 3:13–4:8 / GA P133
Editor: Jessica Shao
A small codex fragment of 1 Timothy dated to the third century written on both sides of the papyrus in a fairly large Biblical majuscule hand. The most significant fact is that 5259 is the earliest witness of 1 Timothy to ever be published. Nomina sacra are present. There are only two variants in 3:13 (τὴν vs. τῇ) and 4:2 (συνίδησιν vs. συνείδησιν. The text also exhibits a previously unattested form of a nomen sacrum in 4:1 (πνσι for πνεῦμασιν). Here is the editor's transcription of both recto and verso.
In the same volume, there is another interesting Christian papyrus--"5260: Hymn of the Cross: Amulet?"—that I am probably going to come back to in a later post.
I am excited to announce a forthcoming book on Christian amulets: Theodore de Bruyn, Making Amulets Christian: Artefacts, Scribes, and Contexts (Oxford: OUP, 2017). The book is scheduled for release in late August.
As readers of this blog probably know, I have a keen interest in amulets. My first major monograph analyzed New Testament citations in Greek amulets and Prof. Theodore de Bruyn's work is cited many, many times. His scholarship speaks for itself. Prof. de Bruyn was kind enough to read several portions of my doctoral dissertation and to answer many questions along the way.
Needless to say, this is a book that has been needed for a long time. Amulets have popped up in early Christian studies here and there, but they have largely been ignored, in my opinion. There are so many interesting questions related to the production of amulets, including scribal activities, ritual and social practices, transmission of scripture, Christian symbols, adaptations, "magic," liturgical influences, "syncretism," use by women, etc. I am currently beginning to write an article on the reception of Jesus and Jesus traditions in Christian amulets, an avenue that has not been explored at all. So, I'm very glad to see that amulets are beginning to draw more and more attention by early Christian scholars. I think part of the reason for this is that more and more amulets continue to be identified and published. (I am working together with a colleague on a very interesting papyrus amulet that should be published within a year so stay tuned!) A broad historical study of Christian amulets has been needed, and now that need has been met with the publication of this monograph.
Note: The papyrus on the cover is P.Oslo 1.5, a fourth/fifth century Greek amulet against scorpions, snakes, demons, witchcraft, and every kind of evil in a house, with "magical" and Christian characters. I briefly describe it on p. 31 of my book.
[The following is taken from Oxford University Press' website]
Making Amulets Christian: Artefacts, Scribes, and Contexts examines Greek amulets with Christian elements from late antique Egypt in order to discern the processes whereby a customary practice--the writing of incantations on amulets--changed in an increasingly Christian context. It considers how the formulation of incantations and amulets changed as the Christian church became the prevailing religious institution in Egypt in the last centuries of the Roman empire. Theodore de Bruyn investigates what we can learn from incantations and amulets containing Christian elements about the cultural and social location of the people who wrote them. He shows how incantations and amulets were indebted to rituals or ritualizing behavior of Christians.
This study analyzes different types of amulets and the ways in which they incorporate Christian elements. By comparing the formulation and writing of individual amulets that are similar to one another, one can observe differences in the culture of the scribes of these materials. It argues for 'conditioned individuality' in the production of amulets. On the one hand, amulets manifest qualities that reflect the training and culture of the individual writer. On the other hand, amulets reveal that individual writers were shaped, whether consciously or inadvertently, by the resources they drew upon-by what is called 'tradition' in the field of religious studies.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Abbreviations
A Note on References
1. Normative Christian Discourse
2. Materials, Format, and Writing
3. Manuals of Procedures and Incantations
4. Scribal Features of Customary Amulets
5. Scribal Features of Scriptural Amulets
6. Christian Ritual Contexts
In the year 197 C.E., an elite Egyptian farmer by the name of Gemellus submitted a series of petitions to the Roman prefect about his neighbors who had been stealing produce from his fields. Copies of the petitions, written in Greek on papyrus, were discovered in an excavated house and courtyard in the ancient Egyptian village of Karanis in 1924. Gemellus tells us that three neighbors—Julius, his wife, and a certain Zenas—performed a strange curse or binding spell to keep Gemellus and those with him from stopping them from stealing the harvest.
Binding spells were common in antiquity and the ritual ingredients that might have been used are known from a variety of Greco-Egyptian ritual manuals. Yet none of those were used here. Instead, the binding spell, performed publicly, was achieved by throwing a dead fetus (βρέφος) at Gemellus and his companions. Here is the relevant portion of text from P.Mich. 6.423:
“In addition, not content, he [Julius] again trespassed with his wife and a certain Zenas, having with them a brephos [βρέφος], intending to encircle my tenant farmer with malice so that he should abandon his labor after having harvested in part from another allotment of mine, and they themselves gathered in the crops. When this happened, I went to Iulius in the company of officials, in order that these matters might be witnessed. Again, in the same manner, they threw the same brephos [βρέφος] toward me, intending to encircle me also with malice, in the presence of Petesouchos and Ptollas, elders of the village of Karanis who are exercising also the functions of the village secretary, and of Sokras the assistant. And while the officials were there, Iulius, after he had gathered in the remaining crops from the fields, took the brephos [βρέφος] away to his house.”
This is the first attested case of fetus-throwing in the documentary record from Egypt. There is also no parallel in the ritual literature from antiquity. Nonetheless, its desired effect (as interpreted by Gemellus) was achieved, because no one tried to stop the thieves from stealing from Gemellus.
David Frankfurter has drawn attention to other wrapped fetuses from antiquity that apparently served as “power-objects.” In Kellis, for example, a fourteen-week fetus wrapped in linen cloth and cord (image at right) was found in debris connected with the roof of a fourth-century house. Frankfurter suggests it was used for the purpose of “binding” the house.
But why throw a fetus?
It appears its association with impurity might have had something to do with it. Another suggestion from Frankfurter is the “weirdness” factor. He indicates that weirdness was seen “as a kind of theatre for sorcery.” To quote Frankfurter, “Fetus magic, then, represented a quite rare use of impure substances that themselves carried little significance when “in place” but an awesome potency when “out of place”—especially in the full theatre of magical aggression implied in the Karanis papyrus.”
I think this raises all sorts of interesting questions about the social world of magic. At the most basic level, it is worth imagining just how this would have been perceived by those involved. In simpler terms: what in the world was going through these guys' heads as they experienced a dead fetus being launched at them in real time? If anything, the odd incident recorded in this Karanis papyrus shows that curse techniques were more varied than what we know from the ritual literature of the time.