Newly Published Articles on Christian Papyri

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(Larry Hurtado):  The latest issue of The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists arrived late last week, containing several articles especially noteworthy for students of early Christianity and interested in material evidence.

Perhaps the most significant is by Theodore S. de Bruyn and Jitse H. F. Diijkstra, “Greek Amulets and Formularies from Egypt Containing Christian Elements” (pp. 163-216).  The unassuming title masks a very important trove of data:  an up-to-date list of Greek and Latin amulets and formularies from Egypt that have “Christian elements.”  Their checklist includes “all texts that were written to convey in and of themselves–as well as in association with incantations and other actions–supernatural power for protective, beneficial, or antagonistic effect, and that appear to have been or were meant to have been worn on one’s body or fixed, displayed, or deposited at some place” (168).

After laying out the criteria by which items were identified as having “Christian elements”, the authors turn to “patterns in the evidence,” theological/religious, geographical, and chronological.  One interesting observation by way of illustration is that “on the whole amatory charms and maleficent spells are rarer in texts with Christian elements than in texts without Christian elements” (which suggests a certain effect of Christian faith upon the pattern of “magic” practiced).

The main cargo of the article, however, is the checklist itself, which includes 186 items with descriptions of their features.  We’ve known for some long time that “magic” was a major practice in the Roman world (especially, it seems in “late” antiquity), and that Christians engaged in these practices as well.  This checklist will be an essential reference for those who wish to study these matters.

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