Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.05.05

S.R. Llewelyn (ed.), New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity 8: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published 1984-85.   Grand Rapids and Cambridge:  William B. Eerdmans, 1998.  Pp. 198.  ISBN 08028-4518-5 (pb).  $35.00.  

Reviewed by David Potter, The University of Michigan (
Word count: 1043 words

The purpose of this volume, as with others in the series, is not exactly as it seems. Rather than presenting a comprehensive review of inscriptions and papyri relevant to its theme (as the subtitle might suggest) it offers instead a survey of a few selected topics. Likewise it might be suggested that a volume reviewing texts published fifteen years ago is somewhat misleading in its claim to be presenting new documents. This said, it is still a useful book, and one that does help bridge the gap between classicists and specialists in early Christian studies. Furthermore, the combination of epigraphic with papyrological texts represents a noble effort at reconciling two fields that are perhaps in danger of compartmentalization. All texts are translated, and discussion of issues that might (should) interest students of the Roman world are generally both clear and accurate.

L. has divided his texts into five general areas (Slavery, Taxation, Public Courtesies and Conventions, Judaica, and Ecclesiastica). Within these five headings there are 17 articles of varying lengths on issues connected with specific texts. In the section on slavery the first text is an epitaph for a person who was murdered by a slave, celebrating, among other things, the crucifixion of the slave, and the second discusses the possibility that a papyrus of unknown provenience is a curse directed at a fugitive slave (other, more believable options are duly canvassed). In both cases the discussion occupies a couple of pages. The third item in this section is a thirty-eight page discussion of the pursuit of fugitive slaves by officials of the government in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt joined to a brief discussion of fugitive slaves in the New Testament. This is a rather valuable contribution to the subject, collecting documents that range far beyond P.Oxy. 3616 and 3617 (and well beyond Rea's suggestive discussion in P. Oxy. vol. li). The article on runaway slaves is followed by a thirty page discussions of the role of τελῶναι in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt (sparked by Sijperstein's publication of a receipt issued to a female tax collector). One may wonder if this is all necessary (esp. the several pages that offer a brief history of the publicani without reference to the lex portoria provinciae Asiae) even if the clear summary of the procedure in Egypt (p. 67) will be useful for many. The next two sections treat, in turn the ἀπογραφή on animals and flight from personal obligations. The upshot is 60 pages on various aspects of Hellenistic and roman taxation with extensive quotation from parallel texts.

The section on public courtesies and conventions conceals within itself an interesting epitaph for a young man from Agrippea who died in the course of his studies at Claudiopolis. This interesting document receives, by the standard set elsewhere in this book, rather exiguous commentary, with no reference to standard works on education in antiquity, and no sense of how this text reveals a level of activity that we might often miss: records concerning travel for education often involve rather more significant centers of learning than Claudiopolis. Item number 10 is a letter from Valerian and Gallienus to the victors of the sacred games at Antinoopolis. L. chooses this text not as an example of the state's relationship with privileged groups but rather as a springboard for a discussion of the legal status of rescripts (including a useful chart setting out the formal differences between rescripts and epistulae on p. 131-2). Useful as this discussion is, readers of a volume that is devoted to evidence for early Christianity might have been better served by reference to Millar's excellent discussion of the formal connection between the handling of athletic guilds and the later treatment of the Christian Church (The Emperor in the Roman World, 462).

The section on Judaica reverts to a shorter form of commentary, offering, in turn a Hebrew congregational prayer from Oxyrhyncus, probably of fourth century date, the association of Samaritans at Delos and the career of T. Mucius Clemens, a beneficarius of Felix who later rose to command auxiliary cohorts under Tiberius Julius Alexander and king Agrippa II during the Jewish revolt. Among the Christian texts, L. offers a discussion of the possibility that the symbol ΧΜΓ is an acrostic (e.g. Χ(ριστὸν) Μ(αρία) Γ(εννᾷ)) or an isopsephism (a group of letters whose numerical value adds up to a phrase), in this case θεὸς βοηθός. After considerable discussion L. comes down in favor of the latter. Number 16 is a rather odd choice in that it is a short confession inscription from the valley of Kula in Phrygia. It has attracted L.'s interest because of Frisch's effort (EA 2 1983, 41-45) to connect the sense of introspection that he thought evident in these texts with Augustine's Confessions. It is not a compelling case, and here the reader should have been referred to Georg Petzl's splendid Die Beichtinscriften Westkleinasiens, EA 22 (1994). (The entire issue is devoted to this book length publication.) This text in n. 42 in Petzl's edition, and there one can view of photograph of the stone, inadequately described by L. as containing a relief showing a man with an ax. The male figure riding towards the right, wearing a long mantel, with his long hair tied in a knot and carrying a double-headed ax is none other than Apollo Bozenos whom Antonia daughter of Antonius had offended by wearing a dirty outer garment into his sanctuary. Readers of Petzl's excellent, concise introduction will realize that a connection between the cults of Phrygia in the first-third centuries AD cannot readily be associated with the mental world of Augustine in any direct way.

Despite reservations on points of detail, this is a useful volume, both for students of the early Church and for those of the Roman empire. But the length of time that it took to assemble these not so new documents has, to judge from L.'s introduction, raised questions about the nature of the project. In the introduction L. says that, "[t]he in-depth discussion will be replaced by shorter entries with the secondary literature and debates largely covered by bibliographies rather than discussion in the pages of each entry." This is a wise choice, and should make future volumes all the more valuable.

Read Latest
Index for 1999
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:26:20, Friday, 03 April 2009