Monday, September 08, 2014

Amulet at the Rylands Library, plus news on P52

MORE FROM MANCHESTER: One of world’s earliest Christian charms found. A 1,500 year old papyrus fragment found in The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library has been identified as one the world’s earliest surviving Christian charms.
The remarkable document uniquely contains some of the earliest documented references to the Last Supper and ‘manna from heaven’. It is the earliest surviving document to use the Christian Eucharist liturgy - which outlines the Last Supper - as a protective charm.

Dr Roberta Mazza, a Research Fellow of the recently established John Rylands Research Institute came across the Greek ‘amulet’ while working on thousands of fragments of unpublished historical documents that are kept in the library’s vaults.


Dr Mazza said: “The amulet maker would have cut a piece of the receipt, written the charm on the other side and then he would have folded the papyrus to be kept in a locket or pendant. It is for this reason the tax receipt on the exterior was damaged and faded away.”

The document had been held at the library since around 1901, but its significance had not been realized until Dr Mazza spotted it. She said: “This is an important and unexpected discovery as it’s one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist – the last supper – as the manna of the Old Testament. The text of the amulet is an original combination of biblical passages including Psalm 78:23-24 and Matthew 26:28-30 among others.

“To this day, Christians use passages from the bible as protective charms so our amulet marks the start of an important trend in Christianity.

As I just noted, I was in Manchester last Thursday through Saturday for the BNTC. On Friday I was able to attend a couple of papers of the From Egypt to Manchester: Unravelling the John Rylands Papyrus Collection Conference, which was organized by Dr. Mazza and which took place at the same time as the BNTC. The BNTC people only ended up with about an hour's time in the Rylands, but I used that hour to hear:
AnneMarie Luijendijk (Princeton):
Unravelling the Oldest Septuagint Manuscript (P.Ryl. III 458)

Brent Nongbri (Sydney):
Palaeography, Precision, and Publicity: Some Further Thoughts on P52
I saw Dr Mazza in the audience, and Hannah Cotton was sitting directly behind me, but I didn't get a chance to introduce myself to either of them or to thank Dr. Mazza for organizing the conference (so let me do the latter here and now). Both papers were excellent. Dr. Nongbri's paper will be of special interest to New Testament scholars. P52 is reputedly the oldest fragment of the New Testament, specifically of the Gospel of John. It is generally accepted to have been written during the first half of the second century CE, some would say around 125, which would put it within living memory of the composition of the Gospel of John itself. In his presentation Dr. Nongbri added additional evidence to his already-published arguments that the date of the papyrus is much harder to pin down and that manuscripts with comparable scripts which bear dates in their text range from the time of Hadrian to the early third century CE and that P52 could have been copied anytime during that date range. If he is correct, P52 would still be one of the earliest surviving fragments of the New Testament, but not necessarily the earliest or copied within living memory of the original manuscript of John.