Mon. Dec 16th, 2019

The oldest Christian manuscript in the world

Scientists from the University of Basel, Switzerland, identified the oldest Christian private letter and have renamed it "P.Bas. 2.42 ", according to a statement. The letter has been in possession of the said university for the last 100 years and is from a man named Arriano to his brother Paulus. Describes in the missive everyday family matters but "provides valuable information about the world of the first Christians in the Roman Empire, which is not recorded in any other known historical source. The letter, dated in 230 AD, draws attention for its final greeting: after telling the daily life and asking for the best fish sauce as a souvenir, the author uses the last line to express his desire for his brother to prosper "In the Lord", abbreviated form of the Christian phrase "I ask you to do well" in the Lord ".

Sabine Huebner, professor of Ancient History at the University of Basel, explains that "the use of this abbreviation, known as nomen sacrum in this context, leaves no doubt about the Christian beliefs of the letter writer." He also considers the brother's name quite revealing because "Paulus was an extremely rare name at that time and we can deduce that the parents in the letter mentioned that they were Christians and that they had named their son after the apostle in 200 AD".

Text of the letter:

"Greetings, my lord, my incomparable brother Paulus. I, Arriano, greet you, praying that everything will be the best possible in your life. Since Menibios was going to see you, I thought it was necessary to greet you and also our father. Now, I remind you of the gym, so we do not bother here. " (…)

(…) "But send me the fish liver sauce too, which you think is good." (…)

(…) I pray that you will do well in the Lord. "

Through extensive prosopographic research (a retrospective exploration of the biographies of a given human group, from which a series of variables are selected according to the questions that guide the investigation), Huebner was able to trace the papyrus up to 230 d. This makes the letter at least 40-50 years older than all the other Christian documentary letters known throughout the world. According to the study "the location of the papyrus was also successfully rebuilt: it comes from the village of Theadelphia, in the center of Egypt, and belongs to the famous Heroninus archive, the largest papyrus archive of Roman times."

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