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NT Papyri in Historical Context

January 26, 2011

I’ve been offline for a couple of weeks attending a small working-conference in Wittenberg (Germany) and then an unexpected trip back to Kansas City for the funeral of my aged father.  So, to take up things again, a few comments arising from the Wittenberg sessions of the Corpus Judaeo-Hellenisticum zum Neuen Testament group.

This year’s work focused on ancient papyri.  I gave a presentation on the significance of NT papyri (I’ve uploaded the draft of this presentation on the “Essays, etc.” page of this site).   I’ve tried to sketch the basics of how NT papyri contribute to various questions, not only text-critical ones but also other historical questions about early Christianity.

Another contribution focused on the vocabulary in ancient legal papyri.  E.g., the Greek words homologeo, homologia, usually translated in the NT as “confess/confession”, typically have the sense of “assent to/agree” and “agreement”, which raises the interesting question of how much this legal sense of the terms might have informed the way they were used/understood in earliest Christian usage.

Yet another interesting session dealt with magical papyri.  One of the things that struck me was that a number of the magical texts were written on the side of the papyrus sheet with the vertical fibres, and the side with the horizontal fibres (where one more typically wrote) was left blank.  This appears to have been deliberate, but neither I nor the expert leading the session was able to say with any confidence why.  (Anybody with an informed view, do comment!)

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  1. Isai Garcia permalink

    Thank you for the post Dr. Hurtado. I appreciate the conference updates since they are the only way I keep up with what is currently going on in NT scholarship. My condolences about your father. May his memory be for a blessing.

  2. Using the rougher side of the papyrus does seem odd. Can these incantations be identified with any specific group or is the practice scattered among the various examples we have?

    • It’s typically difficult to link these magical texts with groups. They tend to be done by/for individuals with personal concerns. The examples noted in the Wittenberg session included P.Berlo. inv. 21165 (an obviously magical text invoking various figures and with a strong note of Jewish influence); P.Oxyrhynchus 42.3068 (a “short note . . . concerning an amulet against tonsillitis”); and an item described as a “Christian amulet” (5th cent) but not otherwise identified in the session handout. I’d be keen to know from those who work more with these sorts of items how frequent the practice is of using the “verso” side of the papyrus instead of the “recto” side.

  3. Peter Head permalink

    Larry, thanks for the useful overview. Also sorry to hear about your father.

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