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“Christian Oxyrhynchus”: New Book

December 3, 2015

Christian Oxyrhynchus:  Texts, Documents, and Sources, eds. Lincoln H. Blumell & Thomas A. Wayment (Baylor University Press) promises to give in one hefty volume a rather complete collection of material from Oxyrhynchus reflecting Christians/Christianity in the first four centuries CE.  (The publisher’s online catalogue description is here.)  At $89.95 (USD) for a 756-page hardback, it’s a significant purchase, but in comparison with equivalent volumes from some other publishers the price is commendably modest.

All of the texts in the volume have been published previously, most in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series, but a number of others in various journals and other venues.  In addition to bringing together transcriptions of the 162 texts that make up the main part of the volume, the editors give updated bibliographies and their own comments on each.  As well, except for the 52 manuscripts of NT writings, the editors give English translations of the other 110 items.

It would take a good deal of patient comparison with the original publications to check the accuracy of the transcriptions, and I don’t have the time right now to do this.  But I note that the volume comes with endorsements from a number of highly-respected scholars with competence in papyrological studies (Thomas Krauss, John Kloppenborg, Malcolm Choat, Annemarie Luijendijk).  So, we should expect a high standard.

The Introduction sketches quickly the story of the Oxyrhynchus excavations by Grenfell & Hunt, and then lays out the parameters and policies that shape the volume.  One move that I found curious was the decision not to include any LXX fragments.  The editors’ rationale for this is that (in their judgment) it is “often difficult to determine whether these fragments are evincing Christianity or Judaism” (p. 13).  I’d say “in a few cases” rather than “often.”  Perhaps as many as half a dozen at most.  For the rest, the earmarks (use of codex + nomina sacra) indicate rather clearly to my mind that they are remnants of LXX manuscripts prepared for early Christian usage.  And so they should be taken into account in forming a picture of “Christian Oxyrhynchus.”  Granted, that would have increased the size of the volume (and the workload involved) a good bit more.  But the editors’ decision means that we need to consult other works to survey LXX evidence.

Aside from remnants of NT writings, the editors include remnants of “extracanonical texts” (apocryphal writings, and texts such as Shepherd of Hermas and Didache), “other Christian literary texts” (theological treatises, homilies, etc.), “documentary papyri” written by or referring to Christians (e.g., letters, the Decian “libelli,” etc.), and then in a separate section “Patristic, Coptic, and Other Sources on Christians and Christianity at Oxyrhynchus.”  For these last items, the editors give the respective Latin, Coptic or Greek text with translation, notes and introductions.

Assuming (and hoping) that the work embodies the exacting care that the project deserved, we have in this volume a singularly valuable go-to resource for anyone wanting to consult primary-text data about Christians and Christianity in Oxyrhynchus ca. 100-400 CE.

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  1. S Walch permalink

    I’m in agreement with Donald here. Would be a lot more interesting to have a go-to source for the LXX fragments, which, IMHO, haven’t been given the attention they deserve. Maybe they could do a second volume?

  2. Donald Jacobs permalink

    If it doesn’t discuss the LXX fragments that’s really boring. What a poor decision. Given what you were saying about the fluidity of culture when it is alive and thriving, surely studies like these should err on the side of inclusion rather than fixing firm boundaries.

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