Stuff Early Christians Read: PSI IX 1041, Transfer of Church Membership


PSI IX 1041 (TM 30662) is a letter that dates from the early third century. It was written by a guy named Sotas to a guy named Paul. I came across it in Goodspeed & Colwell’s Greek Papyrus Reader (item #5), but it is treated in more recently and in much more detail in AnneMarie Luijendijk’s fantastic book, Greetings in the Lord: Early Christians and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Even though it is now held at the Vatican (supposedly, 14 is the shelfmark) I have not been able to find images.

Anyway, this little papyrus once again reminds us how normal these earlier Christians were. While we don’t know the reasons, we do know Sotas was writing to Paul to recommend certain catechumens. A catechumen is one who is in the midst of recieving teaching about Christianity in preparation for baptism. Goodspeed and Colwell give the title “Transfer of Church Membership” and provide the following description: “Sotas, a Christian official who is mentioned elsewhere in the papyri, sends to Paul the church letters of two groups of Christians.” First the text, then a translation.

  1. Χαῖρε ἐν κ(υρί)ῳ, ἀγαπητὲ
  2. αδελφε Παῦλε
  3. Σώτας σε προσαγορ(εύω)
  4. τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ἡμῶν
  5. Ἥρωνα καὶ Ὡρίωνα
  6. καὶ Φιλάδελφον καὶ Πε-
  7. κῦσιν καὶ Νααρωοῦν
  8. καθηχουμένους τῶν*
  9. συναγομένων καὶ
  10. Λέωνα καθηχούμενον*
  11. ἐν ἀρχη τοῦ εὐαγγελίου*
  12. πρόσδεξαι ὡς καθήκε̣[ι]·
  13. διʼ ὧν σὲ καὶ τοὺς σὺν σοὶ
  14. ἐγὼ καὶ οἱ σὺν ἐμοι προσα-
  15. γορεύω. ἐρρωσθαί σε εὔ-
  16. χομαι ἐν κ(υρί)ῳ,
  17. ἀγαπητὲ ἄδελ(φε)

Translation. I’ve basically transliterated the names; note I’m not up to speed on translation/rendering of names from Egyptian sources.

Greetings in the Lord, beloved brother Paul.
I, Sotas, greet you.

Our brothers, Heron, Horion, Philadelphon, Pekusin, and Naarooun, catechumen of the assembly; and Leon, a catechumen in the beginning of the gospel. Receive them as is proper, through whom I and those with me greet you and those with you.

Farewell, I pray you in the Lord, beloved brother.

For whatever reason, these brothers were moving from one area to another. So the receiving assembly could know more about them and their state of instruction, a letter was sent along. If you step back and look at it, it is all so human and so understandable.

Early Christians (catechumens, bishops, presbyters, etc.) were all people in the midst of real life. We often forget that when we read the Bible because we’re so bent on approaching it to get something from it, or to solve some sort of question. We do similar things when we read and think about the early church. Now, reading the Bible to understand what it teaches is a good thing; but we shouldn’t forget the humanity that this literature has as some of its central characters, and that the subsequent literature has as writer, character, actor, and reader. These fully human people had pressures of life weighing on them as much as we do today. Who knows what other responsibilities Sotas had to put on hold to scratch out (or dictate) this short letter. Who knows how or why this guy Leon (or perhaps Leo?) came to Christianity, but it sounds like a fairly recent conversion as he was “in the beginning of the gospel.” Why was he moving? Did he have a family? And who was this Paul guy? Were these brothers apprehensive about moving under his authority?

Think about the last time you changed churches, either from a body where you thrived or from a body that was … er … less thriving. Were you apprehensive? Early Christians felt the same things and did the same things. They weren’t super heroes (or super villians). They were just people, doing the best they could in the situations they were in. Just like us.


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