P.Vindob. G. 19931: Epiphany and the Humanity of Jesus

This is one of a short series of posts about Epiphany themes in early Christian papyri.

P.Vindob. G. 19931 (transcription) is a short papyrus that focuses on the blood (thus the humanity) of Jesus. I’ve written about it before in the context of Easter. The portion relevant to Epiphany is line 4, which speaks of the baptism of Jesus by John “the forerunner.” Jesus’ baptism is one of the events that marks the beginning of his public ministry, his “revealing,” and is one of the events that Epiphany (celebrated on January 6) marks.

P-Vindob-G-19931

P.Vindob. G 19931; image from the ONB.


P.Vindob. G 19931

Description

P.Vindob. 19931 (tm 64787), dated to the 5th century (ad 400–499), is an adoration of the blood of Christ.[1] The papyrus (15 cm wide and 6 cm tall) exhibits fold marks that imply it may have been an amulet. The papyrus itself contains a few different metacharacters, including a dagger-like symbol indicating a new line in the hymn as well as a symbol that likely indicates a correction. This short papyrus uses nomina sacra to represent the name of Jesus Christ in every instance (lines 3, 4, 6, 8, 10) but has no other examples.

The first line of the papyrus, a phrase written supralinearly, is noted with a symbol preceding. The symbol represented in the below translation by an asterisk-like mark (※). The same symbol occurs in the first actual line of the hymn, probably marking a correction to the first line. The text of the supralinear line, “because of us,” should be inserted in the first line of the hymn where the symbol occurs.

Contents

As is evident, this papyrus focuses on the blood of Jesus Christ. There are five lines to the hymn, each associating some quality of Jesus with the salvific power of his blood to create an image of the divine human, Jesus Christ. The first two lines[2] focus on Jesus Christ’s physical nature, testifying that he was made into flesh “from the holy virgin” (Lk 1:34–35) The second line reinforces this point by explicitly tying Jesus Christ to Mary, the mother of God (Lk 1:41–43). The third line is the most incomplete due to holes in the papyrus, likely the result of it being folded, and is impossible to fully reconstruct. The fourth line recalls the event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist (Mk 1:9–11 || Mt 3:13–17; Lk 3:21–22). The fifth line calls to mind the death of this fully-human Jesus and the benefit it brings for humanity (Heb 10:11–14).

Translation

                                                             ※ because of us

† Blood of the one made into flesh ※ from the holy virgin, Jesus Christ.

† Blood of the one who was born from the holy mother of God, Jesus Christ.

† Blood of the … being made to appear … Jesus Christ.

† Blood of the one who was baptized in the Jordan by John the forerunner, Jesus Christ, amen.

† Blood of the one who brought himself as a sacrifice for our sins, Jesus Christ, amen.

Discussion

Docetism is the ancient heretical teaching that Jesus Christ had a single divine nature and only appeared to be human. That is, he was fully God but projected human qualities and appearances while not being fully human. This hymn focused on the blood of Jesus Christ may be a response to Docetism, intended to reinforce the human nature of Jesus.

The first line links the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ to the “holy virgin,” a reference to Mary. This reference implicitly supports not only Jesus Christ’s birth from a virgin (Lk 1:26–28, 34), but also ties the humanity of Jesus to the sexually pure humanity of his mother, Mary. This human tie to Mary is explicitly made in line two with reference to “the holy mother of God” using the technical term theotokos, the “God-bearer” (cf. Ode 11 title).[3] To the writer of this hymn, and to those who sing it and who preserve it, Mary is an important component in understanding the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ.

Not much can be said about line three, there is just enough text missing to make reconstruction difficult.

The fourth line, however, clearly has to do with the baptism of Jesus Christ. It provides all the necessary details to reference Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9–11 || Mt 3:13–17; Lk 3:21–22) and even refers to John as “the forerunner.” [4] There are a few recognized milestones in Jesus’ life, and his baptism, which some traditions identify as the start of his public ministry, is one of them.

The fifth line transforms the context of speaking of Jesus’ blood as a marker of his humanity to a marker of his deity. This blood from this, according to the hymn, demonstrably human man, has the power to serve as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Jesus Christ is testified to as the sacrifice. His blood was spilled as a result of the sacrifice. And the sacrifice is what provides hope of salvation to all humanity.

Bibliography

Cross, F. L., and E. A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd Revised. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Wessely, C. “5. Adoracion du sang de Jésus-Christ.” Page 435 in Les plus anciens monuments du Cristianisme écrits sur papyrus: Textes édites, traduits et annotés. Patrologia Orientalis 18.3. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1924.

 

[1] C. Wessely, “5. Adoracion du sang de Jésus-Christ,” in Les plus anciens monuments du Cristianisme écrits sur papyrus: Textes édites, traduits et annotés, Patrologia Orientalis 18.3 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1924), 435.

[2] For simplicity, numbered lines refer to the lines of the translation that commence with a dagger (†), not the actual line numbers of the papyrus.

[3] F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd Revised. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1619.

[4] For some traditions the baptism of Jesus is the key event associated with Epiphany, the public revealing of Jesus and his ministry. See discussion on P.Berol. 11633, a papyrus celebrating Epiphany, which also refers to John as “forerunner.” See also discussion on P.Berol. 16595.

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