Methodius of Olympus was a Christian bishop who died as a martyr in c. 311 C.E. Unfortunately, we know very little about Methodius. Most of what we do know comes from a brief biographical account in Jerome’s On Illustrious Men, which was composed at the end of the fourth century. Methodius was mainly known as an antagonist of Origen. In particular, he had a problem with Origen’s doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which he rejects outright in his treatise On the Resurrection.
Methodius wrote several important works (see Roger Pearse’s list here), but almost all of these come down to us in fragmentary form. The only complete work of Methodius that we possess is his Symposium or Banquet—a treatise in praise of voluntary virginity. Until quite recently, the earliest manuscript of this text was an eleventh century codex known as Patmiacus Graecus 202, which is housed in the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos.
But, a remarkable discovery was recently been made in the Montserrat Abbey in Spain. Sofia Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, who have been working on the manuscript collection in the Montserrat Abbey for many years, published a fragment of Methodius’ Symposium that they date on palaeographical grounds to the fifth-sixth century—about 450 years earlier than the Patmos codex mentioned above. (On another recent, important discovery by Tovar and Worp, see here.) Published as P.Monts. Roca 4.57, this fragment is the first attestation of a work of Methodius from Egypt. It is a narrow strip of parchment, with thirty partial lines preserved on the hair side (see image of fragment at right). The text on this side of the fragment comes from Oratio 8:16.72-73, 3:14.35-40, 8.60-61, and 9.18-19 (in that order). The flesh side contains thirty-five partial lines of text unrelated to the Methodian text. This is an unidentified Christian text with “Gnomic” sentiments, as the authors explain.
In addition to the wonderful fact that we now have a significantly earlier manuscript witness of Methodius’ text, there is also another remarkable feature in the new manuscript: a previously unattested saying about the Nile. In lines 5-8, the manuscript reads:
“The rise of the Nile is life and joy for the families”
ἡ ἀνάβα̣σ̣ε̣ι̣[ς] τοῦ Νείλου̣ ζω̣ή̣ ἐστι κ̣[αὶ] χαρὰ ἑστία[ις]
As the authors note, this saying does not occur in Methodius. And indeed, it does not fit the immediate context. Where it comes from is a mystery, but the saying is nonetheless very interesting. All in all, this is a fascinating discovery for scholars of Early Christianity and we commend the authors for their editorial work in making this text available to the world.
Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. 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 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. 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 . . . not I you. But I left your brothers in Arabia . . . so that . . Egypt I might see your face and . . . 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.”
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!
A lively and helpful discussion is going on at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog on palaeography, prompted by a guest post by famous Italian palaeographer Pasquale Orsini. Orsini is responding to a previous conversation between Peter Malik and Brent Nongbri on the dating of some early Christian manuscripts. I have learned from this post that Orsini has a new book coming out titled, Studies on Greek and Coptic Majuscule Scripts and Books (SMC 15; Berlin: de Gruyter, June 2018), which will doubtless be a very useful resource.
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.