Over the past months, we’ve shared updates about many recent ancient Egyptian discoveries, including mummies, masks, and tools. However, there hasn’t been much in terms of prehistoric literary work…..until now! Last Saturday, the International Business Times shared the news that a rare autographed Christian letter, written on ancient Egyptian papyrus, has been discovered, and that it may be the oldest of its kind in history.
IBT states that the letter is described as “older than all the other Christian documentary evidence of Roman Egypt”, thus giving us a better understanding of the first Christians in the Roman Empire. Sabine Huebner, a professor of ancient history at Basel University and discoverer of the letter, used extensive prosopographical research to trace the papyrus to the 230s AD.
According to Phys Org, an online news portal that provides the latest news on various branches in the world of science, stated, “This has been in the possession of the University of Basel for over 100 years. Yet, it appears that it was not studied by any academic or researcher in the past.” Moreover, Phys Org states the letter originates from the village of Theadelphia in Central Egypt (Fayoum), and is about 40 to 50 years older than all other known Christian documentary letters worldwide.
Curiosmos reports that the letter was written by a man called Arrianus to his brother, Paulus. The letter refers to some family business, and Arrianus informs his sibling that their parents are well. He also asks for some fish liver sauce. There is nothing unique in this document apart from the last line, where the writer stated that he had hoped that his brother would “prosper in the Lord”, a phrase widely used in the Christian community and an abbreviation of the phrase, “I pray that you fare well in the Lord”.
To cement the theory further, Ancient Origins website states that Huebner was convinced that the author of the letter and his family were Christians, based on Arrianus’ brother’s name, which was extremely rare in the 3rd century AD, and may have been named after “Paul the Apostle”. Professor Huebner said, “The parents mentioned in the letter were Christians and had named their son after the apostle as early as 200 AD”.
It is worth mentioning that even though Christians, during that era are commonly depicted as eccentric and recluses, the letter proves that they lived in the “Egyptian hinterland” and mixed with the pagans in their community.
Check out the complete translation on Curiosmos.