Grenfell and Hunt didn’t just publish papyri in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series, they published all sorts of stuff. One item from them is The Amherst Papyri, and the second papyrus of the first volume is a doozy.
Grenfell, Bernard P., and Arthur S. Hunt. “II. Christian Hymn.” Pages 23–28 in The Amherst Papyri Part I. London: Henry Frowde, 1900.
II. Christian Hymn (LDAB 5701, ) isn’t just a hymn, it is an alphabetic acrostic. Each line is composed of three clauses or phrases that each start with the acrostic letter for the line. It is fascinating, and there are Biblical allusions throughout the hymn. It is dated to the fourth century (300–399), and sometimes it almost reads like a creed.
Interestingly, there are a few items that could be classified as agrapha — sayings of Jesus outside of the canoncial New Testament. The line for iota has: Jesus who suffered for this, saying, “I give my back, that you may not experience death.” There are possible connections to Isaiah 50:6. In this case, “give my back” is, I think, a way of saying Jesus gives himself for the punishment deserved by us. His back is whipped in place of ours. And the line for pi has: He preached the gospel to his servants, saying, “The poor (shall possess) a kingdom, theirs is the inheritance.” This is similar to Mt 5:3, possibly, but not close enough to be anything but a paraphrase, and even that is a stretch.
Like the words of Isaiah are put into the mouth of Jesus, words perhaps based on the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31–46) are put into the mouth of God in the xi line: God said, “Feed the stranger, the stranger and the helpless, that you may escape the fire.”
The below translation is from Grenfell and Hunt, but I have modernized it and made a few changes. The asterisk notes are largely from me, as are the inserted Greek alphabet characters to track which letter a line is related to.
- [Α] … that you may receive immortal life.*
- [Β] You have escaped the heavy ordinance of a lawless … to love.
- [Γ] You have come to the marriage of the king, the marriage … that you may not disfigure your face.*
- [Δ] Speak no more in double words, without …
- [Ε] Some come in sheep’s clothing who are inwardly wolves … from afar.*
- [Ζ] Seek to live with the saints, seek to receive life, seek to escape the fire.
- [Η] Hold fast to the hope which you have learned, which the Master determined for you …
- [Θ] God came bringing many blessings, he wrought a triple victory over death …
- [Ι] Jesus who suffered for this, saying, “I give my back, that you may not experience death.”*
- [Κ] Glorious are the ordinances of God; in all things he suffers as an example, that you may have glorious life.*
- [Λ] He washed in the Jordan, He washed as an example, His is the stream that cleanses.*
- [Μ] Remaining on the mount he was tempted, and greatly … *
- [Ν] Now work out your inheritance, now is the time for you to give, even now, to them that hunger greatly.
- [Ξ] God said, “Feed the stranger, the stranger and the helpless, that you may escape the fire.”*
- [Ο] The Father sent him to suffer, Who has received eternal life, Who has received power over immortality.
- [Π] He preached the gospel to his servants, saying, “The poor (shall possess) a kingdom, theirs is the inheritance.”*
- [Ρ] He was scourged as an example, in order to give an impulse to all … in order to destroy death.*
- [Σ] In order that after death you may see resurrection, that you may see the light to eternity, that you may receive the God of lights.*
- [Τ] O the rest of the sorrowful, O the dancing of the … O the fire, fearful for the wicked.
- [Υ] Freely you have come under grace, listen to the prayer of the poor, speak arrogantly no more.*
- [Φ] Fearful … is the fire, fearful for evermore, yea, fearful is the fire for the wicked.
- [Χ] … Christ (shall give …) and the crowns of the saints, but for the wicked … the fire.
- [Ψ] … singing psalms with the saints … feed the soul evermore.
- [Ω] Forget never what you have learned, that you may receive what he told you.
- … death no longer possible.