This one-of-a-kind discovery ”allows us to learn more about the way of life of the first Christians in Egypt.
LThe papyrus is owned by the University of Basel in Switzerland. It has just been reviewed and translated by Sabine Huebner, professor of ancient history. According to the University press release, this is a "one-of-a-kind" find, "older than any known Christian documentary evidence of Roman Egypt."
“A letter from the Basel papyrus collection describes everyday family problems and yet is unique in its kind: it provides valuable information about the world of the early Christians of the Roman Empire, which is not included in any other historical source. The letter was dated 230 AD and is therefore older than all known Christian documentary evidence from Roman Egypt. "
2000 years ago: A letter in the #papyrus collection of #UniBasel describes day-to-day family matters and provides insights into the world of the first Christians. The letter is older than all previously known Christian documents from Roman Egypt. @snf_ch https://t.co/Yj2TrFHn2c pic.twitter.com/VSBPbFhp2N
- University of Basel (@UniBasel_en) July 11th, 2019
The papyrus dates from the beginning of the 3rd century AD. This is a letter written by Arrianus, to his brother Paulus. While historians often describe the early Christians as living in hiding because of the persecution to which they are subjected, this letter reveals on the contrary that they could live serenely and occupy important political positions. Arrianus and Paulus were indeed part of the local elite and held public office positions.
The University provides a translation of the letter:
“Greetings, my Lord, my incomparable brother Paulus,
I, Arrianus, greet you, praying for the best in your life.
Since Menobios is coming to your house, I thought it necessary to greet you, like our Lord Father. […] Heracleides will not be able to take care of it, he has been appointed to the City Council. Find the opportunity to buy both arouras. But send me the fish liver sauce too, if you just like it. Our lady mother is well and greets you, as well as your wives and your sweet children, and our brothers and all our people. Greet our brothers, Genoa and Xydes. All our people greet you. I took for you to be well in the Lord. "
This formula at the end of the letter is, according to Sabine Huebner, typical of Christians:
“The use of this abbreviation - called nomen sacrum in this context - leaves no doubt about the writer's Christian beliefs. It is an exclusively Christian formula that we know from the New Testament manuscripts. "
The first name Paulus, is a rare first name at the time, and reveals that the parents were themselves Christians.
“Paulus was an extremely rare name at that time, and we can infer that the parents mentioned in the letter were Christians and had named their son after the apostle as early as AD 200. "
Far from living as recluses, the first Christians who then lived in this region of Egypt, under Roman domination, seemed to be well integrated into public life.
Image credit: University of Basel (Shared with their agreement)
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