Newly-Identified Coptic Text
A recent story posted on Live Science reports on a Coptic text recently identified and studied by Anne Marie Luijendijk (Princeton University) here. The miniature codex (ca. 75 x 69 mm page size) contains a body of oracle-like sayings, and it appears that users seeking some advice on some matter would perhaps open the text at random to a page and find thereon some direction.
The opening words, which likely served as the title, describe the book as “The Gospel of the Lots of Mary” (“lots” in the sense of items drawn at chance to make a decision). Luijendijk rightly comments on the noteworthy use of the term “gospel” (“evangelion”, taken over as a Greek loanword into Christian Coptic usage), as readers of the NT will associate the term with a narrative account of Jesus. But, of course, we also have the term applied (secondarily, not the original title) to the “Gospel of Thomas,” which is a series of somewhat oracular sayings ascribed to Jesus, and also “The Gospel of Truth,” which is essentially a theological treatise setting out what appears to be a soft Valentinian Christian view of things. So, it appears that in ancient Christian circles, the term “gospel” came to be used for a variety of types of texts, although (to my knowledge) this is the first instance of the term applied to this particular kind of text, a list of sayings to be consulted randomly. Luijendijk dates the hand of the text to ca. the 5th/6th century A.D.
We should also note that miniature books (of any contents) were prepared for personal usage, perhaps for being carried on one’s person and/or for travel. Also, to my mind, the good quality of the “hand” suggests an owner/user with sufficient funds to afford a copy by a professional copyist (which may tell us something about the socio-economic status of the owner). There are numerous examples of miniature books (miniature rolls, such as the fragments of Greek Gospel of Thomas, P.Oxy. 655, and miniature codices such as this one), Christian ones and others used by “pagans”. Indeed, the Roman wit Martial mentions the availability of his poems in small leather codices, which he recommends for taking along on a journey (Epigrams 1.2). For those seriously interested in the subject and able to read German, Thomas Kraus is the “go-to” guy on ancient miniature books: Thomas Kraus, “Die Welt der Miniaturbücher in der Antike und Spätantike: Prolegomena und erste methodische Annäherungen für eine Datensammlung,” Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt 35 (2010): 79-110.
For Luijendijk’s full analysis of the newly-identified codex, see her recently published book: Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2014), the publisher’s information here.