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A Christian Amulet Containing Colossians 3:9-10

In: Vigiliae Christianae
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This article presents the editio princeps and a brief discussion of a Christian amulet that preserves Colossians 3:9-10 in Greek on papyrus. The amulet was discovered at Oxyrhynchus by W.M. Flinders Petrie and is currently housed in the Petrie Egyptian Museum in London. This is currently the first amulet to preserve a passage from Colossians in Greek and it appears that the amulet served as an aide mémoire to the person wearing it to remind the person of the meaning of Christian baptism.

Abstract

This article presents the editio princeps and a brief discussion of a Christian amulet that preserves Colossians 3:9-10 in Greek on papyrus. The amulet was discovered at Oxyrhynchus by W.M. Flinders Petrie and is currently housed in the Petrie Egyptian Museum in London. This is currently the first amulet to preserve a passage from Colossians in Greek and it appears that the amulet served as an aide mémoire to the person wearing it to remind the person of the meaning of Christian baptism.

In the collection of papyri and other artifacts housed at the Petrie Egyptian Museum is a small and broken fragment of a Christian amulet. The papyrus is important because it is the first to preserve verses from Colossians in amulet form on papyrus in Greek.1 The amulet is broken almost perfectly in half with the left half surviving. Currently, the papyrus is catalogued as having been discovered at Oxyrhynchus but there are no further notes that would clarify when the papyrus was discovered. It is probable that it was during Petrie’s excavation in the city in 1922 when he reported finding papyri.2 This article presents a discussion of the amulet and its purpose as well as serving as the editio princeps for the papyrus.

The text of uc 32070 is written against the papyrus fibers of a repurposed scrap of papyrus that now measures 6.6 cm wide and 6.8 cm high.3 Originally, the complete papyrus would have measured approximately 13/14 cm long and 6.8 cm high. Given the small size of the papyrus and that it is apparent that it contained only four lines of text with no continuous writing on the reverse and that it was folded, it is relatively certain that this papyrus originally served as a Christian amulet.4 On precisely what is meant by the designation of amulet, see below. The papyrus contains portions of Colossians 3:9-10, it being the first amulet to preserve a passage from Colossians in Greek. Generous margins (0.6 cm on the left side, 1.8 cm on the bottom, and 1.2 cm on the top) are visible where the papyrus was also trimmed or cut from a larger sheet. The papyrus shows evidence of three vertical fold marks, each about 2 cm wide, and the papyrus is broken along the third fold. Measuring from the left hand margin, the first fold is at 2.0 cm, the second is at 3.8 cm, and the third is at 6.0 cm where it is broken at the bottom along the fold and then it angles towards the next fold, which presumably would have occurred at 8.0 cm. This type of amulet would have been folded and likely carried in a small container that was worn around the neck.5 There are no remnants of holes for string that could have been threaded through the papyrus to create a bracelet or necklace.6

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Image used by Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, uc 32070

Citation: Vigiliae Christianae 69, 5 (2015) ; 10.1163/15700720-12341217

The handwriting should be assigned to the iv/v century, but with so little text it is difficult to determine the date with precision. Comparanda are P.Oxy. 1614 (Pindar, v) and gbebp 19a (mid v). The papyrus also shares some paleographic features with P.Bodmer 5 (iv). The papyrus is written in an informal hand with some cursive features, such as the ligature ει and the formation of π where it does not appear that the scribe lifts the pen to transition to the right descending part of the letter. The hasta of ε is exaggerated in several instances and the letter is lunate rather than flat-backed. α and δ are triangular and there is no attempt at bilinearity. Overall, letter forms are consistently formed, suggesting a professional scribe. Cavallo and Mehler note that hands of this type share the common features of long descenders like υ, ρ, φ, and sometimes ι (p. 46). This fragment shows examples of υ, ρ, and ι.7

The question of whether or not the papyrus represents an amulet is an important one in this instance because the text is not obviously magical in any way nor does the papyrus preserve many of the noteworthy features that would typically need to be present if it is to be considered an amulet.8 Of the features that indicate this papyrus did function as an amulet are: (1) the papyrus contained only four lines of writing as the surviving margins confirm as well as the fact that the reverse contains a writing exercise,9 (2) the papyrus shows no signs of correction,10 and (3) the papyrus does not appear to be from a miniature codex as indicated by the physical length of the fragment.11 Features specific to this fragment that suggest that it served as an amulet are the obvious content of the biblical passage and its emphasis on living a new life of Christian faith.12 However, the text does not show any of the features that are commonplace on other Christian amulets such as containing the incipits of the gospels, the opening words or verses of a Psalm, crosses, staurograms, christograms, acclamations such as amen or alleluia, and α and ω or χμγ.13

The particular passage that is cited here is noteworthy in that it is frequently cited by patristic authors. Clement of Alexandria cited a miscellany of excerpts from Col. 3 while specifically quoting the same passage that is preserved here. Clement included the larger context of Col. 3:8 but notably omitted the beginning of 3:9 (μὴ ψεύδεσθε εἰς ἀλλήλους) as this fragment also does (Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 3.5.43-44). Eusebius cites precisely the same passage by introducing it as a quotation of ὁ ἀπόστολος (Eusebius, Marc. 1.4.37).14 Ephraem Syrus, Interrogationes ac responsiones 233.7 quotes the passage in a pastiche of scriptural citations but ends with τὸν νέον in Col. 3:10. Noteworthy for this amulet are two authors who cite the same passage from Colossians in the context of the baptismal covenant. In discussing the putting off of the “old man,” Theodoret notes that this action is realized in Christian baptism: “Παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον τὴν προτέραν ἐκάλεσε πολιτείαν. Ἐν οἷς γάρ, φησί, καὶ ὑμεῖς περιεπατήσατέ ποτε, ὅτε ἐζήτε ἐν αὐτοῖς. Τοῦτον δὲ ἀπεκδύσασθε ἐν τῷ βαπτίσματι.”15 Basil of Caesarea in his treatise on baptism quotes precisely the same passage as the amulet and does so in commenting upon baptism, recommending that a person who does accept baptism ought to be considered worthy (Χρὴ γὰρ τὸν γεννηθέντα καὶ ἐνδύματος καταξιωθῆναι), a state of existence that is also manifest in the passage from Col. 3:9-10 according to Basil.16 In other words, he uses the passage from Colossians to indicate that a person who has put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” is worthy just like the person who accepts baptism. It might be conjectured then that this amulet preserves the passage from Colossians for the reason that it was reminiscent of the promises made at baptism or that it was an aide mémoire to the person wearing it of his or her baptism.17

ἀπεκδυσάμενοι τ̣[ὸν παλαιὸν ἄν(θρωπ)ον σὺν]
ταῖς πράξ̣εσιν αὐτο̣[ῡ καὶ ἐνδυσάμενοι τὸν]
νέον ἀνακαινο[ύμενον εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν κατ’]
4 εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσα[ντος αὐτόν

Translation:

having put off the old man with his practices, and having put on the new, which is renewed in regard to knowledge, after the image of Him who did create him (nrsv)

Notes on the edition:

  • 1 The line length suggests that the nomen sacrum was used for ἄνθρωπον, which is somewhat unusual because the term is not used in reference to Jesus or deity. In the other witnesses of this passage the noun is once abbreviated (A) but it is not abbreviated elsewhere (Ρ46 א Β). A consultation of A.H.R.E. Paap, Nomina Sacra in the Greek Papyri of the First Five Centuries a.d.: The Sources and Some Deductions (Leiden, 1959), 88-89 demonstrates that the typical abbreviation would be α̶ν̶ο̶ν̶. The fact that this papyrus agrees with Alexandrinus in abbreviating the noun appears to confirm a late dating of the fragment.

  • 3 τὸν is omitted following νεόν, and one would expect the papyrus to read τὸν νέον τὸν ἀνακαινούμενον. The papyrus is the first witness to the omission of the article τόν, which is probably done so here in error.

  • 4 There is space at the end of the line for something additional to have been written. Although it must remain purely conjectural, the papyrus may have ended with χμγ or some other Christian identifier.

1 A complete list of papyri, parchments, lamellae, miniature tablets and other artifacts that were used as amulets can be accessed at trismegistos.org. For Christian amulets, the reader should consult the sources in note 4 below.

2 See W.M.F. Petrie, Tombs of the Courtiers and Oxyrhynchus (London, 1925) and W.M.F. Petrie, “Oxyrhynkhos Revisited,” in Oxyrhynchus: A City and Its Texts, ed. A.K. Bowman, et al. (London, 2007) 50-69.

3 The reverse side was published by D. Montserrat, “A List of Monastic Garments from Oxyrhynchus,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 29 (1992) 81-84.

4 The standard literature on the subject of Christian amulets is, T.S. de Bruyn and H.F. Dijkstra, “Greek Amulets and Formularies from Egypt Containing Christian Elements,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011) 163-216; H. Leclercq, “Amulettes,” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie 1.2 (1905) 1787-90; E.A. Judge, “The Magical Use of Scripture in the Papyri,” in Perspectives on Language and Text, ed. E.W. Conrad and E.G. Newing (Winona Lake, Ind., 1987) 339-49; A. Biondi, “Le citazione bibliche nei papyri magici cristiani greci,” Studia Papyrologica 20 (1981) 93-127; W.M. Brashear, “Greek Magical Papyri: Annotated Bibliography (1928-1994),” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt ii.18.5 (1995) 3429-43; D. Barker proposes several different categories besides amulet such as “penitential prayer (P.Oxy. iii 407)” or as an “aide mémoire (P.Oxy. x 1229)” or “of uncertain usage” see “The Reuse of Christian Texts: P.Macquarie inv. 360 + P.Mil.Vogl. inv. 1224 (P91) and P.Oxy. x 1229 (P23),” in T. Nicklas and T.J. Kraus (eds.), Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach (Leiden/Boston, 2010) 139.

5 W.M.F. Petrie, Amulets (London, 1914, repr. 1972), plate xix no. 133 contains a photograph of a cylindrical amulet holder similar to what may have been used for an amulet like this one.

6 H.F. Stander, “Amulets and the Church Fathers,” Ekklesiastikos Pharos 75 (1993) 61 n. 65. The amulet under consideration is different than those described by Chrysostom who refers to small “tablets” In Matthaeum hom 72 (pg 58.669).

7 G. Cavallo and H. Maehler, Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period: a.d. 300-800 (London, 1987) 46.

8 See T. de Bruyn, “Parchments, Ostraca, and Tablets Written with Biblical Texts in Greek and Used as Amulets: A Preliminary List,” in T. Nicklas and T.J. Kraus (eds.), Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach (Leiden/Boston, 2010) 147: the definition is built upon E. von Dobschütz, “Charms and Amulets (Christian),” Encyclopedia of Religion 3 (1911) 413-30.

9 Turner provides a caveat to the conclusion that documents written only on one side were not always literary productions. See Turner, Typology of the Early Codex (Philadelphia, 1977) 10.

10 De Bruyn, “Parchments, Ostraca, and Tablets,” 149-50.

11 T.J. Kraus’ discussion on the question of whether amulet or miniature codex are useful terms with respect to P.Oxy. V 840 are also relevant here, see T.J. Kraus, “P.Oxy. v 840—Amulet or Miniature Codex? Principal and Additional Remarks on Two Terms,” in T.J. Kraus (ed.), Ad fontes: Original Manuscripts and Their Significance for Studying Early Christianity (tents 3; Leiden/Boston, 2007) 47-67.

12 De Bruyn, “Parchments, Ostraca, and Tablets,” 147 notes, “An amulet is here defined as an item that is believed to convey in and of itself, as well as in association with incantation and other actions, supernatural power for protective, beneficial, or antagonistic effect, and that is worn on one’s body or fixed, displayed, or deposited at some place.”

13 H.F. Stander, “Amulets and the Church Fathers,” 58 n. 25, 26; De Bruyn, “Parchments, Ostraca, and Tablets,” 149. Papyri used as amulets and preserving the Lord’s were also popular, see B. Nongbri, “The Lord’s Prayer and χμγ: Two Christian Papyrus Amulets,” Harvard Theological Review 104 (2011) 59-68; T.J. Kraus, “Manuscripts with the Lord’s Prayer—They are More Than Simply Witness to the Text Itself,” in T.J. Kraus and T. Nicklas (eds.), New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (Leiden/Boston, 2006) 227-66.

14 Cyr.Alex. Thesaurus de sancta consubstantiali trinitate 75.488.52; Joannes Philoponus, De opificio Mundi 243.22; J.Chrys., Expositiones in Psalmos 55.493.12; Cyr.Alex. Glaphyra in Pentateuchum 69.653.48; Iren. Adv. haer. 5.3.4 cites Col. 3:9-10 and comments upon it; Bas.Caes. Regulae morales 31.737.32 quotes Col 3.9-11 in its entirety; J.Chrys. In epistulam ad Colossenses (homiliae 1-12) 62.352.45 quotes the entirety of Col. 3 and comments upon it. See also J.Chrys. Commentarii in epistulas Pauli 95.900.19; Theod. Interpretatio in xiv epistulas sancti Pauli 82.617.23 for commentary on the passage; Greg.Nyss. Contra Eunomium, 3.2.53 also comments on the passage; Athan. Quaestiones in scripturam sacram 28.764.29 and Antioch.Mon. Pandecta scripturae sacrae 15.78 quote the same passage up to and including ἀνακαινούμενον.

15 Theod. Interpretatio in xiv epistulas sancti Pauli 82.617.24-25.

16 Bas.Caes. De baptismo libri duo 31.1537.26 (Migne, pg 31.1537) Τότε καταξιοῦταί τις ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ ἄνωθεν γεννηθεὶς ἀλλάξαι καὶ τὸν τόπον καὶ τὸν τρόπον καὶ τοὺς συζῶντας, ἵνα τῷ πνεύματι στοιχοῦντες καταξιωθῶμεν ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ Υἱοῦ βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ ἐνδύσασθαι τὸν Χριστόν. Χρὴ γὰρ τὸν γεννηθέντα καὶ ἐνδύματος καταξιωθῆναι, καθὼς εἶπεν ὁ Ἀπόστολος• “ Ὅσοι εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε·” καὶ πάλιν· “ Ἀπεκδυσάμενοι τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον σὺν ταῖς πράξεσιν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐνδυσάμενοι τὸν νέον,τὸν ἀνακαινούμενον εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν κατ’ εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσαντος αὐτόν, ὅπου οὐκ ἔνι Ἕλλην, καὶ Ἰουδαῖος.”

17 Chrys. In Epistulam i Corinthios hom. 43 notes that the gospels were hung by the bedside to serve as an amulet. This passage is discussed in H.Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven/London, 1995), 238. Caesarius, Sermo 50; Vita S. Eligii Episcopi Noviomensis (pl 87.528) and the canon of the Synod of Laodicea condemns clergy from making amulets (pg 137.1388).

  • 6

    H.F. Stander, “Amulets and the Church Fathers,” Ekklesiastikos Pharos 75 (1993) 61 n. 65. The amulet under consideration is different than those described by Chrysostom who refers to small “tablets” In Matthaeum hom 72 (pg 58.669).

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  • 10

    De Bruyn, “Parchments, Ostraca, and Tablets,” 149-50.

  • 13

    H.F. Stander, “Amulets and the Church Fathers,” 58 n. 25, 26; De Bruyn, “Parchments, Ostraca, and Tablets,” 149. Papyri used as amulets and preserving the Lord’s were also popular, see B. Nongbri, “The Lord’s Prayer and χμγ: Two Christian Papyrus Amulets,” Harvard Theological Review 104 (2011) 59-68; T.J. Kraus, “Manuscripts with the Lord’s Prayer—They are More Than Simply Witness to the Text Itself,” in T.J. Kraus and T. Nicklas (eds.), New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (Leiden/Boston, 2006) 227-66.

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