Two “Christmas” Papyri

It’s getting close to Christmas, so why not mention some “Christmas” papyri? While there are surely more, in my traversing through different papyrus collections these two are mentioned with some frequency. I’ve filed both of these papyri under the “Liturgical” heading at my repository of transcriptions, though one (with tune information) may better be considered a “hymn.”

For sources and bibliography, see links to each papyrus (either TM or my repository of transcriptions).

P.Vindob. G 2326

P.Vindob. G. 2326 (TM 64614), also known as P. Erzherzog Rainer 542 or MPER 542, is dated in the fifth to sixth centuries (AD 400‑550).

Transcription

Recto

  1. † ο γεννηθεις εν Βηθλεεμ και ανατραφεις εν Ναζαρετ, κατοικησας εν τη Γαλιλαια
  2. ειδομεν σημειον εξ ουρανου· τω αστερος φανεντος, ποιμενες αγραυλουντες
  3. εθαυμασαν· ου γονυπεσοντες ελεγον· δοξα τω Πατρι αλληλουια·
  4. δοξα τω Υιω και τω αγιω Πνευματι, αλληλουια, αλληλουια, αλληλουια.

Verso

  1. τυβι ε
  2. †† εκλεκτος ο αγιος Ιωαννης ο βαπτιστης ο κηρυξας μετανοιαν
  3. εν ολω τω κοσμω εις αφεσιν των αμαρτιων ημων.

Translation

recto

(1) † He who was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, living in Galilee, (2) we have seen a sign from heaven, the shining star. Shepherds who lived outdoors (3) were astonished, who were kneeling down and said: (4) “Glory to the Father, alleluia! Glory to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

verso

(5)    December 31
(6)    †† Chosen/Elect Holy John the Baptist who preached repentance (7) in the whole world to forgiveness of our sins.

Discussion

This papyrus reflects many of the basics of the Christian story in compressed form: Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, and living in Galilee, the star of Bethlehem, shepherds who saw and responded and sang glory to God. It uses curious language of the star of Bethlehem as a “sign from heaven,” language that is not used of the nativity in the canonical gospels.

I will have more detail on this papyrus in my (hopefully) forthcoming book about early fragmentary Christian papryi.

P.Berol. 13269 (source)

P.Berol. 13269

P.Berol. 13269 (TM 65395, aka BKT VI 6 2) was originally dated to the seventh century but Mihálykó has recently re-dated the papyrus to the ninth or tenth century.

Transcription

  1. εις αʼ δʼ
  2. Ἐν Βηθλεὲμ ποιμένης ἀγ-
  3. ραυλοῦντες ἄγγελος τοῦ θ(εο)ῦ
  4. αὐτὴν εὐεγγελίσατο τὸν τόκον
  5. τοῦ Ἐμμανουὴλʼ κ(αὶ) ποιμένης
  6. περιλάμψας τὴν δόξαν κ(υρίο)υ
  7. κ(αὶ) ἶπεν· μὴ φοβῖσθε ἀσώματος
  8. ἐκύρισεν αὐτ̣ῖς μεγάλης χαρᾶς
  9. ἥτις ἐστὶν παντὶ τῷ λαῷ, ὅτι
  10. ἐτέχθη τὸν βασιλέαν Χ(ριστὸ)ν
  11. κ(αὶ) σ(ωτῆ)ρα θ(εὸ)ν σήμερον ἐν πόλει
  12. Δ(αβὶ)δ εἱμῖς σὺν ἀγγέλος τε.
  13. Δόξα ἐν ἡψίστις θ(εο)ῦ κ(αὶ) ἐπὶ κῆς
  14. [εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας]

Translation

(the tune of alpha and delta)

In Bethlehem shepherds were living out of doors. An angel of God proclaimed the good news, the birth of Emmanuel, and the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds. And the bodiless one said: “Do not be afraid.” He announced great joy to them, which is to all the people, that the King and Savior God, Christ, was born today in the city of David. We and the angel (sing), “Glory to God in the highest, and upon the earth, peace with people with whom he is pleased.”

Discussion

This papyrus has much in common with Luke 2:8-14, and like P.Vindob. G 2326 mentions many of the basics of the Christian story: Shepherds living outdoors, an angel of God. Notably the text diverges from Luke by referring to the child as “Emmanuel” (or “Immanuel,” cf. Mt 1:23, quoting Is 7:14). Another unique feature of the text is to refer to the angel as the “bodiless one.”

The first line is tune notation according to the Byzantine system. You can find a nice image of this papyrus online.

As this text is later (ninth-tenth century) it falls outside of my “reliably dated in the fifth century or before” bounds for the early fragmentary Christian papyri project, so I do not plan on discussing it further (but it will be in footnotes!).

Rick’s 2021 Writing Schedule: Fragmentary Early Christian Papyri

I’ve posted writing schedules in the past (2016 through 2019). For some reason, I didn’t do it for 2020. But it’s time again to try and sketch things out and make some plans for how to spend my research and writing time in 2021.

Things are always subject to change, but for 2021, my planned focus is on fragmentary early Christian papyri. I’ve done research and writing in this area since late 2018 (as sporadically evidenced on this blog) and have posted numerous transcriptions and translations as well.

At various times in the crap-hole that will historically be known as “2020” I’ve been able to get some further writing done on these fragmentary wonders. I have drafts together for the liturgical papyri (16K words) and hymn papyri (11K words) and am probably 60% through the prayer and amulet papyri (15K words at present). This means my hopes for 2021 are to:

  • Finish the Prayer and Amulet papyri fragments
  • Write about papyri letters
  • Write about theological and homiletical papyri fragments

My goal is to introduce biblical studies folks to these papyri as they are excellent and typically overlooked material. Each papyri will have a transcription, a translation, a content description, and a discussion (some short, some long) on the papyrus itself. These will typically be focused on examining affinity and interaction with Old Testament, New Testament, and other early Christian literature, with references (and hopefully decent indexes for facilitating lookup).

Not sure on word counts for letters and theological/homiletical fragments, but I’m guessing the total will be 100-120K words, maybe more. Below is a sample of one of the hymn fragments, P.Berol. 16595.

I’m not sure where or how this material will be published. I’ve had one publisher express interest but want to go in a different direction with the material (and I was not interested in their direction). I’ve also had one publisher pass on publishing. If you’re reading this, and you’re an acquisitions editor or otherwise involved with a publisher and want some more information, feel free to contact me via the blog contact form.

Here’s hoping 2021 is a productive year for writing. If I can get through drafts of most of this material, that would be most excellent.

Supplementary Easter Reading: The Acts of Pilate

GreekReadersIf you’ve celebrated Easter as a Christian, you’re familiar with the story as it is presented in the canonical gospels.

But you also probably have questions. What was the trial really like? Who were the other two dudes crucified next to Jesus? What was with Joseph of Arimathea and why did he want Jesus’ body? What was Hades like? How did the “harrowing of hell” happen? Was the repentant criminal on the cross actually saved?

Early Christians had these questions too. So they wrote about them. This is not canonical, this is not authoritative, but if you want to see some of the ways the early church filled these gaps, then you want to read the Acts of Pilate and the Descent of Christ to Hades.

Fortunately, I created a Greek reader for the Greek text of these writings a few years back. I also included a modernized version of an older translation.

If you’re not familiar with these stories, then take some time this Easter to read them. For those who don’t read Greek, I’m posting translations here today.

I recommend reading the first portion of the Acts of Pilate on Good Friday as it is focused on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

I recommend reading the second portion of the Acts of Pilate, known also as the Descent of Christ to Hades, on Saturday as it focuses on what happens between the death and resurrection of Jesus and also the post-resurrection period.

 

P.Berol. 11633: Epiphany and Theophany

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

This one is long, so we’re just going to jump right in.


P.Berol. 11633

Description

P. 11633: Theophanie-Hymne

Hymne über die Taufe Christi im Jordan durch Johannes, die innerhalb des liturgischen Jahres zum Theophaneia-Fest (Epiphanias) am 6. Januar gehört. 5. – 6. Jh. n.Chr.

P.Berol. 11633 (TM 64689), dated to ad 400–599, is called a “Theophany Hymn” by the editor of its editio princeps.[1] The papyrus focuses on events traditionally associated with the epiphany of Jesus.[2] It is a single sheet, 12cm wide and over 32cm long, with writing only on the recto. Nomina sacra and other abbreviations are used in the papyrus. Three primary sections are marked in the text by use of ekthesis at the start of a section. In some cases colons and tildes (lines 28 and 44) are used to fill remaining line space at the end of a section. Slashes (“/”) are used throughout to mark units.

Contents

Epiphany is a feast of the church (January 6) that was originally associated with the baptism of Jesus. While the feast originated in the eastern church and also included themes of the nativity, the western church began celebrating it in association with the miracle at the wedding in Cana.[3] The word “epiphany” has ties to the Greek word that means “to reveal,” so epiphany is about the revelation of Christ to the world. This revealing could be understood as his nativity, or as his baptism by John marking the beginning of his ministry, or as the miracle at the wedding in Cana indicating his first recorded miracle.

This liturgical papyrus mentions all these events as well as others from the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. At least one line from the first part is missing, but the available text begins with rejoicing “in the holy pool,” a reference to a baptismal font.[4] References to the glory and power of the Lord function as allusions to Luke 1:35 and 2:9 to end the first part.

The second part begins by echoing the Psalms (100:1 [lxx 99:1]; 66:1 [lxx 65:1]; 98:4 [lxx 97:4]) with a call to the whole earth to shout aloud to the Lord. This call to worship is followed by a call to rejoice (perhaps echoing Ps 96:4b [lxx 97:4b]) and a call to “meet the bridegroom” in Bethlehem (referencing Jesus’ birth) who also performed the miracle at Cana changing water into wine (Jn 2:1–11), who also healed the blind man at Siloam (Jn 9:1–12), who cleansed the leper by simply speaking (possibly Mt 8:1–4 || Mk 1:40–45; Lk 5:12–16), and who used five loaves to feed five thousand (Mt 14:13–31 || Mk 6:32–34; Lk 9:10–17; Jn 6:1–15). The balance of the second part sets the scene of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Jesus’ title of “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29) is echoed, John the Baptist is referred to as “the forerunner,” and the response of God the Father to Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt 3:17) ends the section.

Part three returns to the baptism of Jesus, providing what amounts to an intimate overhearing of what seems framed as a whispered conversation between Jesus and John immediately before the baptism. After the baptism, the mountains and hills rejoice, and the words of the Father are extended with an additional command: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased. Fear him.”

Translation[5]

Part I

(1) And he rejoiced upon the (2) holy pool
For in the midst of the (3) earth and heaven (4) confessing the Christ
and (5) treating the enemies arrogantly …
For the glory (6) of the Lord encircled him
(7) and his power will overshadow you.

Part II

(8) Shout aloud to the Lord all the earth
(9) because he appeared upon the earth, who was God before the (10) ages, the Word.
(11) Come, let us rejoice exceedingly and let (12) us celebrate!
Come, let us (13) meet the bridegroom, the one in (14) Bethlehem,
the one who with the Father (15) and the Holy Spirit
who was invited (16) to the wedding as a man and the (17) water was changed into wine;
who (18) gave sight to the blind one in Siloam;
(19) who cleansed the leper by his word.
(20) From five loaves (21) into five thousands were satisfied
(22) He went into the water of the Jordan,
(23) the lamb of God who takes away the (24) sin of the world,
to be baptized (25) by the forerunner.
(26) And the voice from the Father saying,
(27) “This one is my beloved (28) Son in whom I am well pleased.”~

Part III

(29) We were filled with great joy (30) upon seeing the Jordan
(31) when the one born upon earth as a man (32–34) appeared in it
and the forerunner himself listened to your voice saying,
“Let us (35) complete the plans of the Father.”
(36) “Like the Lord wanted,” (37) said John
You, Christ, came down (38) into the water,
The mountains leaped (39) like rams
and the hills like a lamb (40) of the sheep.
As you arose (41) from the Jordan
a voice has (42) come from the sky to you
(43) “This one is my beloved (44) Son in whom I am well pleased.
(45) Fear him.”~

Discussion

Visual indicators (ekthesis and sometimes extended tildes) mark the start or end of three sections on this 32-centimeter-long papyrus. The first part (lines 1–7) is missing at least a portion from its beginning, but the available material alludes to passages in the Psalms and in Luke.

The first available line mentions “rejoicing” using the same terminology found in Luke 1:47 and Ps. 35:9 [lxx 34:9] that speaks of rejoicing in the Lord. Here, however, the focus is on rejoicing for the baptismal font (“holy pool”) due to the epiphany emphasis on the baptism of Christ. The next lines (2–4) testify that Christ is being confessed from the midst of earth and heaven; this is followed by further allusion to Lucan nativity passages (lines 5–6 to Luke 2:9; line 7 to Luke 1:35).

The second part (lines 8–28) begins with phrasing common to the Psalms: “Shout aloud to the Lord all the earth!” (cf. Ps 100:1 [lxx 99:1]; 66:1 [lxx 65:1]; 98:4 [lxx 97:4]), providing the reason for shouting (perhaps in praise): “because he (Jesus) appeared upon the earth.” The next line provides information to reconcile the “he” with Jesus. It describes him as the one “who was God before the ages” and then further appositionally associates him with the term used to represent Jesus in John 1:1, the word. Again, there is rejoicing and celebration at this arrival. The nativity is directly referenced with mention of “Bethlehem” (13–14), even though the one in Bethlehem is equated with “the bridegroom.”

The frame of reference moves from the nativity (the earthly arrival and manifestation of the Messiah) to the wedding in Cana (the first recorded miracle of Christ in the gospels, a public manifestation of the Messiah). The entire Trinity is posited to be where “the water was changed into wine” (14–17). From here more miracles from the early ministry of Jesus are mentioned. Regarding Epiphany and early miracles of Jesus, Martinez notes:

Miracle narratives, especially those that Jesus performed early in his career, are always appropriate in an epiphanal context, since they, like his birth and baptism, manifest his true nature. We should however note, that the roster of miracles in this section is not randomly selected. In fact, three that are here listed have distinct ties to the celebration of Epiphany in various traditions.[6]

The miracles referenced include the healing of the blind man at Siloam (17–19, John 9), the healing of a leper (19–20, Mt 8:1–4 || Mk 1:40–45; Lk 5:12–16), and the feeding of the 5,000 (20–21, Mt 14:13–31 || Mk 6:32–34; Lk 9:10–17; Jn 6:1–15). Each of these miracles, as Martinez notes, has been tied to Epiphany in one way or another, and each of them contribute to the increasing expectation of the mention of the baptism of Jesus, the other central event tied to Epiphany. It has been foreshadowed with “bridegroom” language (13) and was explicitly alluded to by listing the changing of water into wine as the first miracle (15–16) in the miracle list.

The transition into the account of Jesus’ baptism is introduced by simply placing Jesus in the water of the Jordan river (22–23), directly referencing to the account of Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9–11 || Mt 3:13–17; Lk 3:21–22) and then borrowing phrasing from Jn 1:29, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (lines 23–24). The effect is to identify the “lamb of God” as the subject who went into the water, skilfully placing Jesus as identified in John’s gospel – which does not directly mention John baptizing Jesus (Jn 1:19–34) – as the subject of synoptic gospels’ account of Jesus’ baptism.

The purpose of Jesus’ entering the Jordan river was “to be baptized by the forerunner” (lines 24–25). The “forerunner,” also mentioned in line 34, is a reference to John the Baptist. This language styles John as one who goes before Jesus, calling out attention to him to announce his arrival (cf. Is 40:3–11; Mal 3:1).[7] Jesus here is referred to as “the one born upon earth as a man” (30–31), testifying to the human nature of Jesus and implying at the same time that he is more than human.

After this is perhaps the most normal, human portion of the entire liturgy. Before the baptism of Jesus happens, John and Jesus have a brief conversation. The words “Let us complete the plans of the Father” are put in the mouth of Jesus, with an immediate response from John of “Like the Lord wanted” (34–37). The moment reads almost as a whispered conversation between the two primary participants immediately prior to the actual act of baptism. In the context of the liturgy, the conversation also confirms that John the Baptist and Jesus knew exactly what they were doing and knew the impact of the baptism. Unlike the canonical accounts of Jesus’ baptism which record John’s protestations about not being worthy (Mt 3:14–15), this account paints John as in tune with the will of God and willing to perform the baptism without hesitation.

This account of Jesus’ baptism is framed in a liturgy as a group recollection of the baptism event. The response of the group to the baptism is testimony of the earth and the animals upon it rejoicing as Jesus descends into the water. The rejoicing is affirmed as Jesus rises out of the water again with a repetition and expansion of lines 27–28 as audible testimony from the Father: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Fear him” (cf. Mk 1:11 || Mt 3:17; Lk 3:22).

Bibliography

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

Friedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1992.

Martinez, David G. “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus.” Pages 187–215 in Light from the East. Papyrologische Kommentare Zum Neuen Testament. Edited by Peter Artz-Grabner and Christina Kreinecker. Vol. 39 of Philippika. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010.

Treu, Kurt. “Neue Berliner Liturgische Papyri.” AfP 21 (1971): 57–82.


[1] Kurt Treu, “Neue Berliner Liturgische Papyri,” AfP 21 (1971): 62–67.

[2] David G. Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” in Light from the East. Papyrologische Kommentare Zum Neuen Testament, ed. Peter Artz-Grabner and Christina Kreinecker, vol. 39 of Philippika (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 198–199.

[3] F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd Revised. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 557.

[4] Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” 198.

[5] Treu, “Neue Berliner Liturgische Papyri,” 64–65.

[6] Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” 198–99.

[7] David Noel Friedman, ed., The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1992), 2:830.

P.Berol. 16595: Epiphany, Miriam, and her Tambourine

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

P.Berol. 16595 (Transcription) is a small fragment with writing extant on recto and verso. The recto portion mentions the baptism of Jesus and is the portion directly involved with Epiphany. The verso, however, mentions the Song of Miram from Exodus. Is it related to the recto?

P. 16595: Theophanie-Hymnus mit musikalischen Vokalverdoppelungen

P.Berol. 16595 recto (source)


P.Berol 16595

Description

P.Berol. 16595 (tm 64842) is a small papyrus fragment (5.8 x 9.5 cm) hailing from Egypt, dated to the 5th–6th centuries (ad 400–599). Writing is visible on the recto and verso sides of the papyrus. It is described by Treu as a “Theophany hymn with musical vocal doublings.”[1] The content of the papyrus, like that of P.Berol. 11633, is related to the celebration of Epiphany.[2]

The vocal doublings present in the papyrus are unnecessarily repeated vowels within words. They indicate an intended rhythmic or musical quality to the text. Martinez provides more information regarding the doubling in this papyrus:

We can, however, be sure that these passages were sung or chanted, because both sides [recto and verso] display doubling or quasi-doubling of vowels, a usage we know from other papyri and manuscripts that preserve musical scores. The doubled vowels indicate for the singer (possibly in this case the cantor, or psaltes) places where two notes are to be sung in a syllable (melism). This feature lends to the document considerable musicological importance.[3]

Martinez further notes that “Some Christian scribes, however, adopted this practice in writing hymns and liturgies.”[4] This papyrus reflects a text that was not simply read, but was chanted or sung.

Contents

The recto reflects material from John’s gospel regarding John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus’ baptism, one of the events strongly associated with the feast of Epiphany. It records the words of John the Baptist from John 1:15 (repeated in John 1:30) in testimony of Jesus, that Jesus comes after John but is more important than John. It is a reminder of John’s function as forerunner,[5] pointing toward Jesus.

The verso, however, is different. It does not reflect material from the New Testament but instead refers to the “Song of Miriam” from Ex 15:20–21. It reproduces at least part of the song (Ex 15:21, also Ex 15:1) and extends it mentioning “singing … of the heavenly powers.”

Translation

Recto

(1) … of the Jordan has come near (2) John testified and cried (3) out, “This one was he, about whom I said to you, ‘The one (4) who comes after me he is ahead of me (5) because before me if’” (6) … (7) … baptism (8) …

Verso

(9) O, Miriam[6] … they (10) received the tambourine … (11) she said, “Let us sing to the Lord, (12) for he is supremely glorified until even … (13) of being deluged (14) … singing (15) … of the heavenly powers (16) …”

Discussion

The recto begins mid-sentence with reference to the Jordan river, John the Baptist, and at least an allusion to Jesus’ baptism. This firmly sets the context of the papyrus as Epiphany, a feast originally associated with this event. The words ascribed to John the Baptist reproduce the text of John 1:15 and 1:30, albeit not exactly. They do, however, confirm the relationship of the papyrus with the gospel of John. While there is no way to know how large this song was or if the papyrus represents a large or small portion of it, the context of Epiphany and the use of material from John’s gospel is certain.

What else is certain is that the orthography (doubling of vowels) reflects material that was chanted or sung. Unfortunately portions of the papyrus are reconstructed (based on relationship with John 1:15 and Ex 15:20–21) and there is no information available of how the vowel doubling would be represented in the reconstructed portions. This means no complete information on the rhythm or musicality of this hymn is available.

What is available, however, is the unique focus of the verso on the “Song of Miriam.” Miriam, Moses’ sister, is a lesser-known character in the modern western church so the appearance of this material in the context of Epiphany and Jesus’ baptism may at first be confusing. But it need not be. Here is the “Song of Miriam,” from Ex 15:20–21 (lxx):

Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took up her tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out behind her with tambourines and dancing. Then Miriam led them, saying, “Let us sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously glorified; horse and rider he has cast into the sea.”

The “Song of Miriam,” (Ex 15:20–22) follows the “Song of Moses” in Ex 15:1–19, which follows the people of Israel’s passing through the Red Sea. Notably, Miriam’s song repeats the beginning of Moses’ song (Ex 15:1) signaling that Ex 15:1–21 form an inclusio. The Song of Moses is also found in the Odes as Ode 1. The Odes are a collection of material transmitted with the Greek Old Testament that includes messianic-themed material from the lxx and nativity material from the Greek New Testament. Even today, the Odes are typically used in liturgical contexts in Eastern Orthodox churches.[7] They are transmitted as a group with the Psalms in several Psalter manuscripts. They are also found in whole-Bible manuscripts such as codex Alexandrinus. At least one Psalter manuscript, codex Vernonensis, includes Ex 15:1–21 as the first Ode.[8] Why does this matter? It matters because it confirms that at least some Christian communities used the inclusio formed by Ex 15:1–21, the Song of Moses and the Song of Miriam, in the context of worship.

But why this reference to the Israelites’ passing through the Red Sea here in the context of baptism? Paul, in 1Co 10:1–4, makes the association.

For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all went through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. (1Co 10:1–4)

Martinez summarizes the association between this event and baptism:

Theologically and liturgically, the miraculous defeat of Pharoah and the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea is a type of Christian baptism … This passage [1Co 10:1–2] is used in the liturgy for the blessing of the baptismal waters in the Greek Orthodox rite on Epiphany eve.[9]

The parting and passing through of the Red Sea (Ex 14) prefigure Christian baptism (1Co 10:1–2). The celebration of the event referred to in this scant scrap of papyrus recalls one sign of the commencement of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:15, 30), his baptism. The picture of Miriam, leading the women with tambourine and dancing, singing about how the Lord “cast horse and rider into the sea” are a picture of the waters of baptism, sanctified by Christ, used to overtake those who pursue God’s people.[10]

Bibliography

Martinez, David G. “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus.” Pages 187–215 in Light from the East. Papyrologische Kommentare Zum Neuen Testament. Edited by Peter Artz-Grabner and Christina Kreinecker. Vol. 39 of Philippika. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010.

Swete, Henry Barclay. An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914.

Treu, Kurt. “Varia Christiana.” AfP 24–25 (1976): 113–126.


[1] Kurt Treu, “Varia Christiana,” AfP 24–25 (1976): 121–23.

[2] See discussion on P.Berol. 11633 elsewhere in this volume.

[3] David G. Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” in Light from the East. Papyrologische Kommentare Zum Neuen Testament, ed. Peter Artz-Grabner and Christina Kreinecker, vol. 39 of Philippika (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 194–95.

[4] Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” 195.

[5] See discussion regarding “forerunner” on P.Berol. 11633.

[6] Possibly “Mary”

[7] Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” 195.

[8] Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), 253; Treu, “Varia Christiana,” 122.

[9] Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” 195.

[10] Martinez, “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus,” 196.

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.

Themes of Epiphany in Early Fragmentary Christian Papyri

P. 11633: Theophanie-Hymne

P.Berol. 11633, recto. online.

Epiphany, a feast of the church originally associated with Jesus’ baptism, is traditionally celebrated January 6. The feast celebrates the manifestation of Jesus in his public ministry, the revelation of Christ to the world — through his nativity, his baptism by John, and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana.

As with many early Christian celebrations, the beginnings of this feast are cloudy and mixed depending on if you trace its history through the Eastern or Western church. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ODCC, p. 557) tie the origins of the feast with celebration of the nativity and baptism of Jesus, while the western church celebrations centered more on the miracle at Cana. Epiphany was a big deal, celebrated as one of the three principal feasts of the Christian year, along with Easter and Pentecost.

Themes of Epiphany appear in papyri. One of the better articles on papyrus interactions with epiphany themes is:

Martinez, David G. “Epiphany Themes in Christian Liturgies on Papyrus.” Pages 187–215 in Light from the East. Papyrologische Kommentare Zum Neuen Testament. Edited by Peter Artz-Grabner and Christina Kreinecker. Vol. 39 of Philippika. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010.

Particularly in liturgical or hymnic contexts, mentions in the papyri of one or more of the three primary Epiphany events — Jesus’ nativity,  baptism by John, and miracle at Cana — brings the larger themes of Epiphany into the immediate context.

Of the papyri I’ve researched and translated for the Stuff Early Christians Read project, there are three that mention themes of Epiphany:

Over the next few days I plan on sharing some drafts I’ve written with brief examinations of these papyri. These drafts are not focused on examination of papyrological features, but instead focused on content and interaction with the Greek New Testament, Septuagint, and other literature.

P.Vindob. G 27290b — Easter Songs

P.Vindob. G 27290b (TM, Images) is a papyrus dated to AD 400–599 (5th–6th century). Treu and Diethart titled the papyrus “Osterlieder” (“Easter Songs”).

Treu, Kurt, and Johannes Diethart, eds. “39. Osterlieder.” Pages 74–75 in Griechische literarische Papyri christlichen Inhaltes II. Vol. 1 of MPER N.S. 17. Vienna: Hollinek, 1993.

P-Vindob-G-27290b-verso

P.Vindob. G 27290b verso, from the ONB

Treu and Diethart published the papyrus in the order verso then recto. This order is followed in the transcription below.

Verso

Suffering because of us, O Lord glory (be) to you.

He has risen from the dead, Savior, in three days … and all the unceasing forces of angels brought praise, saying, “You are blessed, O Lord, and praiseworthy!” and (were) singing forever †

Recto

The one who was raised from the dead and three days all the works …

(Sing the?) Trishagion together … the church … But you, the one who in holiness gives rest, guard all of us in faith. †

Several points can be deduced from the text.

  • Jesus’ suffering was because “of us” and the author of the hymn ascribed glory to the Lord (κυριε, in the vocative) because of it.
  • The hymn author testifies that the Savior rose from the dead “in three days.”
  • One of my favorite lines: “… all the unceasing forces of angels brought praise … and [they] were singing forever!”
  • The recto repeats the claim of being raised from the dead in three days.
  • The use of τρισαγιος (“Trishagion” or “thrice-holy”) is a bit of a mystery.
  • The rest-giver is asked to guard “all of us” in faith. Why “rest-giver”? Through his death and resurrection, Christ has provided eternal rest for us. He is the rest-giver, the rest was provided “in holiness,” and the prayer is to guard us all until we are able to enter the rest that was secured for us on that first Easter morning.

Christians in the first 500 years of Christianity were not all that different from us. Yes, they had access to some of the writings that later became NT canon. But they were also creative. They wrote and preached their own sermons based on their own understanding of the message of the gospel and the story of the Old Testament (the LXX for many). They composed their own hymns and own liturgical documents. They had an understanding of who God is and who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in relation to God. They used the creative arts of writing, illustrating, composing, and singing to express their faith, much like we do today.

We are not all that different from them.

P.Berol. 21124 and the Descent of Christ to Hades

P.Berol. 21124 (aka BKT 9.24, TM, Images) is a papyrus that dates to AD 300–399. It is fairly fragmentary and small (not a lot of text, either) so it is difficult to translate in any sort of coherent manner. I’m using Kurt Treu’s transcription as basis for my translation.

Treu, Kurt. “Varia Christiana II.” AfP 32 (1986): 23–24.

P. 21124: Hymnus auf die Höllenfahrt Christi

P.Berol. 21124 recto, aka BKT 9.24. (from Berliner Papyrusdatenbank)

My translation follows:

Recto

  1. […].[…]
  2. […] who loosed tḥẹ body aṇḍ tḥẹ[…]
  3. […].[.]… to puniṣḥ light from heave[n…]*
  4. […]..[.]…. unbroken wall was .[…]*
  5. […]the F(ath)er . of us : Adam . having called [up…]
  6. […]and[.] . .[.]. the sons of [A]dam : that the f(ath)e[r…]

Verso

  1. […] ẉay out : … . […]..[…]
  2. […].̣… of the book : And I have found the .[…]
  3. […]..[..] summary with ….[…]*
  4. […]…. sun (and) the earth: ..[…]

Why is this seen as a hymn of Christ’s descent? The phrase “unbroken wall” in recto line 4 may have some relation with “gates of Hades” in Mt 16:18. That, set with light from heaven being punished, and other discussion of “Adam . having called up” and “the sons of Adam” may point to influence from the Acts of Pilate and Descent of Christ to Hades, a work classified as Christian Apocrypha (or New Testament Apocrypha) that puts forth a traditional view of what may have happened after Christ’s crucifixion that includes scenes in Hades of Old Testament luminaries telling stories about their lives and prophecies/looking forward to Christ’s triumph over death. Des. Hades 3 has Seth (Adam’s son) telling a story, at Adam’s behest, about when Adam died. In this section, there are occurrences of “Father” in close proximity to “Adam” and mention of “sons” and “Adam.”

P.Vindob. G 19931 and the Blood of Jesus

P.Vindob. G 19931 (TM, Image) is a papyrus fragment dated to the 5th century (AD 400–499). It was originally published in 1924 by Carl Wessely.

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.

P-Vindob-G-19931

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

P.Vindob G 19931 is a hymn about the blood of Jesus. Sort of an early Christian “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” type thing. And you can begin to understand the Christology of at least the hymn writer as well as those who found the hymn worth copying (this appears to be a copy, at least to me; reasons given further below).

When I run into stuff like this little fragment that has so much to say, I’m always a little amazed it hasn’t had more press. Here’s a translation of Wessely’s transcription.

    ⸓ 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.

There are several theological assertions made in this tiny scrap.

  • Jesus Christ was made into flesh and had blood. He was incarnated as a human from some other (deity, though the hymn is not explicit about this) state.
  • The flesh is from the “holy virgin”
  • Jesus Christ was born (so, not made). And born from the “holy mother of God.”
  • It’s a pity this line is so fragmented. Is “being made to appear” in support of docetism, or is there text missing that would make this statement be an explicit refutation of docetism? I’d guess refutation because the blood of Jesus is so important in this material, but that’s just a guess.
  • “John the forerunner” baptized Jesus in the Jordan.
  • Jesus “brought himself” as a sacrifice for our sins. He actively did it, it did not just happen to him.

Now, why do I think this is a copy and not an original?

The very first line with the metobelus-like symbol appears to me to be a correction. The symbol on line 1 matches the symbol on line 2 and (to me, anyway) indicates a correction by addition. The scribe skipped the text inadvertently and made an addition note about it. So the first line is really: “Blood of the one made into flesh +because of us+ from the holy virgin, Jesus Christ.”

1500 years ago this material was used in some sort of Christian context. The blood of Jesus was (and is) important and crucial to the efficacy of his sacrifice.