A 1,500-year-old papyrus charm thought to be “the first ever found to refer to the Last Supper and use magic in the Christian context” has been discovered in the vaults of a Manchester library of John Rylands Research Institute in the UK.
Researchers uncovered the ancient papyrus, written in Greek and dated between 574 and 660. The captivating papyrus document from Roman Egypt was held by the library since 1901 but was found when Roberta Mazza was looking through thousands of papyri kept in the library vault.
“It’s one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist—the Last Supper—as the manna of the Old Testament,” says Roberta Mazza, a research fellow at the university’s John Rylands Research Institute, in a statement. The papyrus text contains words from Psalm 78:23-24, Matthew 26:28-30, and other Biblical passages.
“To this day, Christians use passages from the Bible as protective charms so our amulet marks the start of an important trend in Christianity,” added the statement.
Mazza said that the oldest fragment was most probably worn inside a locket as a protection charm.
In a statement, Mazza said, “This is an important and unexpected finding as it is one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context, while the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist – the Last Supper – as the manna of the Old Testament”.
Papyrus shows how Christians incorporated the ancient Egyptian practice of wearing amulets to protect the wearer against dangers. This practice of writing charms on pieces of papyrus was carry forward by the Christians who replaced the prayers to Egyptian and Greco-Roman gods with extracts from the Bible.
The Greek text is an original mix of biblical passages including Psalm 78:23-24 and Matthew 26:28-30 among others and the translated text on the papyrus reads:“Fear you all who rule over the earth. Know you nations and peoples that Christ is our God. For he spoke and they came to being, he commanded and they were created; he put everything under our feet and delivered us from the wish of our enemies. Our God prepared a sacred table in the desert for the people and gave manna of the new covenant to eat, the Lord’s immortal body and the blood of Christ poured for us in remission of sins.”
Creases are clearly visible on the fragment, Mazza said, suggesting the papyrus was folded into a rectangular packet measuring 3 by 10.5 centimeters (1.2 by 4.1 inches), and may have either been placed in a box at home or worn around a person’s neck.
The almost illegible text says that it was released in the village of Tertembuthis (modern el-Ashmunein) and is a receipt for the payment of grain tax which was certified by the tax collector from the village. Therefore we may reasonably guess that the person who re-used the back for writing the amulet was from that same village or the region nearby, although we cannot exclude other hypotheses,’ Mazza told.
“The amulet maker would have cut a piece of the receipt, written the charm on the other side and then he would have folded the papyrus to be kept in a locket or pendant. It is for this reason the tax receipt on the exterior was damaged and faded away,” said Dr Mazza, who announced the discovery on 4 September at a conference entitled ‘From Egypt to Manchester: Unravelling the John Rylands Papyrus Collection.’
Mazza said it was “doubly fascinating because the amulet maker clearly knew the Bible, but made lots of mistakes”.
Some words are misspelled and there are other errors, so it was likely written from memory (and shows that “ordinary people” believed in Christianity, not just the “elite).”