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Oldest Christian private manuscript identified

The letter, which has belong to the University of Basel for over 100 years, provides insights into the world of the first Christians, and is older than all previously known Christian documents from Roman Egypt.

SOURCES University of Basel, EFE AUTHOR Evangelical Focus BASEL 12 JULY 2019 17:47 h GMT+1
Photo: University of Basel

Scientists from the University of Basel (Switzerland) have identified the oldest known Christian private letter.



According to a statement released by the University on July 11, it is a papyrus from the early 3rd century named “P.Bas. 2.43”.



 



DATED TO 230 AD



The letter, dated to the 230 AD, offers information on the lifestyle of the first Christians in the Roman Empire and is older than all the previously known Christian documentary evidence from Roman Egypt.



“The letter contains indications that in the early third century, Christians were living outside the cities in the Egyptian hinterland, where they held political leadership positions and did not differ from their pagan environment in their everyday lives”, the statement said.



Furthermore, “the contents of the Basel papyrus counter the idea that the earliest Christians in the Roman Empire were eccentrics who withdrew from the world and were threatened by persecution”.



 



“THE AUTHOR USES A CLEAR CHRISTIAN ABBREVIATION”



The papyrus has belong to the University of Basel for over 100 years. It includes a letter from a man named Arrianus to his brother Paulus, which stands out from other preserved letters of Greco-Roman Egypt by its concluding greeting formula: “The author uses the abbreviated form of the Christian phrase I pray that you fare well ‘in the Lord’”.



“The use of this abbreviation – known as a nomen sacrum in this context – leaves no doubt about the Christian beliefs of the letter writer. It is an exclusively Christian formula that we are familiar with from New Testament manuscripts”, Sabine Huebner, professor of Ancient History at the University of Basel, explained.



Huebner added that the name of the brother is also revealing, because “Paulus was an extremely rare name at that time and we may deduce that the parents mentioned in the letter were Christians and had named their son after the apostle as early as 200 AD”.





“IT BELONGS TO THE LARGEST PAPYRUS ARCHIVE FRON ROMAN TIMES”



The letter also revealed that Arrianus and his brother Paulus were young, educated sons of the local elite, landowners and public officials.



“The papyrus comes from the village of Theadelphia in central Egypt and belongs to the famous Heroninus archive, the largest papyrus archive from Roman times”, the statement concluded.



The University of Basel was the first university in German-speaking Switzerland to create a collection of papyri at the beginning of the 20th century.


 

 


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