Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.02.13

Timothy N. Teeter, Columbia Papyri XI.   Atlanta:  Scholars Press, 1998.  Pp. 128.  ISBN 0-7885-0433-9.  $34.95.  

Reviewed by Matthew Kraus, Williams College
Word count: 1292 words

Timothy Teeter has produced an excellent edition of papyri that relate to Christianity from the third to seventh centuries. In addition to the standard presentation of texts, variants, and commentary, T. also provides insightful introductions with useful bibliography highlighting the major points of interest of each papyrus. The work represents an expanded and edited version of the author's dissertation at Columbia in 1989, deriving from a project to present previously unpublished papyri of Columbia's collection related to late antique Christianity. Consequently, the texts are loosely connected. Moreover, since the provenance of almost all the papyri is unknown and the dating primarily conjectural, the texts offer little by way of definitive answers to unresolved issues. Rather, Teeter makes available a significant body of evidence for further consideration by specialists. I do not intend these comments by way of criticism but in order to clarify the nature of the work and enable potential readers to determine which papyri may be relevant to their own interests. As the title gives little indication of the contents, I will summarize the topic of each papyrus for the benefit of potential readers. Following the summary, I have a few specific comments on particular pieces and some general observations.

Teeter divides the texts between four literary/liturgical papyri (293-296) and seven documentary papyri (297-303). The provenance of all the papyri except 303is unknown. Papyrus 293, a few verses from the New Testament (Matt. 6:4-6, 8-12) is a parchment leaf probably torn out from codex, perhaps used as a charm and dated to the fifth century on paleographical grounds. Papyrus 294, also a charm perhaps, has Ps. 150:3b-6 on the recto and a prayer consisting of divine epithets followed by ἐλέησον on the verso. T. dates the text to the fourth century because of content similar to P. Berol. inv. 21251. Dated to the third/fourth century on paleographical grounds, 295 appears to be a homily conflating the flood story in Genesis with the Wedding at Cana in the second chapter of John. Teeter classifies 296 as a lenten troparion, a type of Byzantine hymn, also dated to the sixth century on paleographical grounds. The documentary papyri include a fifth or sixth century list relating to axles for water wheels (297), a kind of Christian letter of peace from the third or fourth century (298), a fourth century letter to a woman indicating that a monk (μοναχός) had delivered a παραγαύτιον 'shirt or tunic' (299), another fourth century Christian letter concerning delivery of various goods (300), an additional fourth century letter from a bishop Psenamounios acknowledging performance of a requested prayer (301), and a sixth century letter requesting that a bishop be required to perform an administrative responsibility in Alexandria (302). The last piece (303), an order for payment of olive oil to a monastery, is the only one with a secure date, 2 September, 515. The rest of the documentary papyri are dated primarily on paleographical grounds with occasional support from specific terminology.

As one expects in a collection of newly published papyri, the most significant elements surface in particular details. Not only are the divine epithets and refrain of ἐλέησον in 294 previously unattested, T. compellingly demonstrates a connection to funerary themes. Of the four instances of nomina sacra in 295, the appearance of κόσμος in this number is especially striking because it is found elsewhere in two other instances, both related to the story of creation. Since 297 is the sole papyrus to date that refers to axles of water wheels received by an estate rather than coloni, it provides the only hard evidence that suppliers sometimes delivered the axles to the estates not directly to the coloni. This document also makes an interesting reference to a monk who is a colonus. Biblical references combined with orthographical and grammatical errors in 294 and 300, suggest that education in sacred Scriptures stimulated minimal literacy among Christians. The appearance of a bishop Psenamounios in 301 indicates the utilization of non-Christian names within the Church hierarchy. Papyrus 303 may uniquely demonstrate that a monastery could be equivalent to an ἐποίκιον, although T. freely acknowledges the speculative nature of such an interpretation.

This insecurity of interpretation underscores the primary limitation of Teeter's collection. I say limitation rather than weakness because Teeter seeks to publicize the papyri not decisively resolve issues in liturgical and social history. Moreover, all the papyri are fragmentary to various degrees and Teeter has done an admirable job reconstructing their text and significance. Nevertheless, as Teeter's detailed discussion and commentary demonstrate, none of these texts can be understood in isolation (not to mention dated in isolation). Therefore, much of Teeter's analysis remains speculative. Some conclusions are convincing, some are not, some require qualification, and some issues remain untreated. For example, as noted above, T. conclusively proves how references to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on the verso of 294 relate to a funerary context, but he does not explain why the passage from Ps. 150 appears on the recto. Since the papyrus clearly functioned as an amulet, one would expect some connection between the recto and verso. In fact, Clement of Alexandria, probably relying on I Cor. 15:52, argues that Ps. 150 points to the resurrection of the dead at the end of days.1 I would have appreciated a discussion on 294 similar to that on 295 where T. elicits striking connections between the story of Noah and the Wedding at Cana. In the Christian letter in 298, I found it rather odd that in the introduction to the letter T. draws on numerous parallels from papyri, but in the commentary cites almost entirely from literary texts. Even if the text contains theological terms, it is necessary to determine their usage in a documentary context.

Finally, I would suggest alternative interpretations to some of the papyri. Papyrus 298 presents a conundrum to T. because it has the vocabulary of a letter of peace without the usual form. It seems to me that the author simply used the catechumen to deliver the letter on an unknown matter and tacked on the request to help the catechumen at the end of the letter, appropriately utilizing the language of a letter of peace. The suggestion that ΑΡΜΟΣ is a nomen sacrum (for Abraham) in 294 can be refuted on two grounds. First, the line appears only over the last 3 letters rather than all five letters and second, θεός appears four times and οὐράνια once fully spelled although they are the more common nomina sacra. In the case of 299, T. finds it difficult to explain how the woman who receives the letter can be termed δεσπότης rather than δέσποινα. T. leaves unexplored the possibility that the sender also may be a woman.

In general, T. admirably achieves his main purpose of publishing the texts themselves. Although brevity in scholarship should be welcome, a bit more expansive discussion would have resolved some questions. It would have been helpful to provide more information than "provenance unknown" on how, when, and who acquired these papyri for Columbia University. Also, I am curious to know why Teeter chose to add 303 to the texts from his dissertation. In addition, why does Teeter omit a translation of 295, 297 and the recto of 300?

It should be clear by now that Columbia Papyri XI represents a beginning, not an end. These texts now can be included in the discussions on a variety of topics of late antique Christianity. The indices in the back, the photographic plates of all texts discussed, as we ll as the text, translation, and analysis facilitate incorporation of these documents into contemporary studies of late antique Christianity. Teeter is to be congratulated and thanked for his skillful editing and learned analysis..


1.   Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 2.41.4. Claude Mondesert and Henri-Irenee Marrou, edd. Source Chretiennes 1965. See also n.7, a.l.

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