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New Discovery of an Ancient Christian Amulet

A new discovery has been made of an ancient amulet, of interest to students of the Bible. It contains some references to both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. An amulet was a kind of lucky charm that a person carried or wore, in order, principally, to ward of evil spirits. I will say more about amulets as they relate to the use of sacred books (esp. the Christian New Testament) in my next post. For now: here’s news of the new discovery in an article by James Maynard, taken from the Tech Times.

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Discovery of Ancient Papyrus Amulet
with Biblical References Excites Boffins

By James Maynard, Tech Times | September 8, 7:13 a.m. 1500-year-old-amulet An ancient papyrus amulet with hand-written biblical passages has been discovered. The artifact was likely a tax receipt, and 1,500 years ago, someone wrote quotes from the Christian Bible on the back. The Greek papyrus artifact contains text referring to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, as well as “manna from heaven.” The ancient amulet containing the papyrus artifact was part of the collection at the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester in the U.K. Dr. Roberta Mazza, a Research Fellow of the institute, found the item while studying a vast collection of papyrus fragments at the library. “The text says that the receipt was released in the village of Tertembuthis. Therefore we may reasonably guess that the person who re-used the back for writing the amulet was from that same village or the region nearby, although we cannot exclude other hypotheses,” Mazza said.This could be one of the oldest Christian artifacts ever found, according to archaeologists. The jewelry may have been used as a good-luck charm, in which case it would be one of the oldest-known Christian magic charms. The items likely originated in Egypt, dating from just three centuries after the Emperor Constantine converted the fading Roman Empire to Christianity.Ancient Egyptians had a tradition of wearing amulets, filled with prayers to their gods, as protection against danger and evil. As Christianity became the official religion in the Roman Empire, which contained modern-day Egypt, prayers to the ancient Gods were replaced with biblical passages.The Christian Eucharist liturgy, which details the Last Supper, was partially written on the papyrus stored inside the amulet. Verses written in the charm included Psalm 78:23-24, describing manna from heaven, and testimony of the Last Supper in Matthew 26:28-30. The papyrus itself was recycled, using an ancient technique. The manufacturing technique was determined using advanced spectral imagining.On the back side of the biblical text is a faded tax receipt for grain. It was certified by a tax official from the Tertembuthis, an ancient village on the outskirts of Hermoupolis, known in modern times as el-Ashmunein.“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,” Mazza said. Biblical passages in the charm contain mistakes, including spelling and passages copied out of order. This suggests the text was likely written from memory, rather than copied from another document. This could suggest the Christian Bible was more embedded in the ancient life of Egyptians of the time than previously believed.


Public Reactions to Muslim Extremists
Article in the Huffington Post

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    TomTerrific  September 12, 2014

    The writing seems to my uneducated eyes almost longhand.

    Is this typical?

    Greek?

    Koine or Attic?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2014

      I’m not sure what you mean by longhand. It is a majuscule script, and fairly typical. Koine.

  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  September 12, 2014

    Three centuries after Constantine isn’t THAT old, relatively speaking. Why are they saying it’s one of the oldest Christian artifacts ever found?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2014

      good question.

    • Jonathan_So
      Jonathan_So  September 18, 2014

      Probably the same reason why “news” articles regarding medical/scientific studies dumb things down to the point of giving the wrong impression. Journalists are not always experts in the fields they cover or even very familiar, they often have to write in a way that sells or sensationalizes, and it has to be conveyed in a way a general audience can access.

      …I may be having a literal moment and not reading the snark of a hypothetical in that question haha.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  September 13, 2014

    Very interesting! But I dislike the changes you’ve made to the blog. When I was reading this and went “page-down,” the top-of-page banner reappeared on the screen, covering many lines of text. So now, it seems, a reader can’t go “page-down,” but must always use the scroll bar. Why?

    And on the Members Landing Page, the titles and dates of blog posts are now in annoyingly small print. Large enough to be read, but having to look so closely at the screen is a distraction. Again, what’s the point of making these screens *less* user-friendly?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2014

      We’re in the midst of making changes — so be patient for a time!

      • gmatthews
        gmatthews  September 14, 2014

        I agree, don’t like the banner sliding down. (Just wanted to add my 2 cents in case there was indecision on that point 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  September 13, 2014

    It later occurred to me that I could “up” the font size. But as I’d expected, that made everything *but* the titles and dates of blog posts annoyingly *large*.

  5. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  September 13, 2014

    Hi,

    According to the article, it seems like whoever wrote these biblical passages on the papyrus amulet did so by memory. Is that a fair statement? And if so, is this useful information for your next book? Could this be reasonable evidence of how Christians remember things in antiquity?

    Thanks!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2014

      Ah, good question. Actually, when these people wrote such things from memory, they were writing texts that had previously been written that they had committed to memory, which is different from the phenomenon I’m interested in, which is how non-written materials are “remembered.”

  6. Jonathan_So
    Jonathan_So  September 18, 2014

    Wishing upon your W-2, why not?

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