BMCR 2003.06.46

New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity. Volume 9: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1986-87

, New documents illustrating early Christianity. Vol. 9, A review of the Greek inscriptions and papyri published in 1986-87. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans, 2002. xvi, 136 pages : chart ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0802845193 $35.00 (pb).

The ninth volume in the series New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (New Docs) presents a selection of inscriptions and papyri published or republished in 1986 and 1987 that elucidate the historical and linguistic context of the New Testament. With one exception, each entry in the volume includes a text (or, in a few cases, texts) in its original language, an English translation in a facing column, and a discussion of the text and its relevance to the New Testament that ranges in length from a couple of paragraphs to several pages. The entries are organized into four sections — Inscriptions (nos. 1-12), Papyri (13-23), Judaica (24-27), Ecclesiastica (28-31) — and are preceded by an appreciation and bibliography of the New Testament scholar Paul Barnett, the long-time chair of the New Docs committee, to whom this volume is dedicated. The series is intended for students and scholars of biblical studies, but is also of interest to classicists, especially papyrologists, epigraphers, and social historians. Classicists may find the volume especially useful for its contributions to the study of, inter alia, ancient marriage, diaspora Judaism, and the language of honorific inscriptions.

Many of the texts in the first section (Inscriptions) are mined to explore parallels between the epigraphic vocabulary of civic honor and euergetism and the language of the New Testament. An honorific inscription from Cilicia leads to a discussion of the word sôtêr and its cognates, with special reference to the Augustan “Priene inscription” (EJ 98) and Romans chpt. 5 (no. 2); a discussion of anêr agathos and euergetês (the latter word and its cognates are favored by the author of Luke-Acts) is prompted by a similar inscription from Smyrna (no. 3). Dedications to Q. Tullius Cicero and a certain Messalla (perhaps Potitus Valerius Messalla, cos. suff. 29 BCE, not 28 as listed: see, e.g., JRS 45 [1955] 155ff.) lead to brief considerations of “Graeca adulatio” and the language of patronage respectively (nos. 6, 7). The Carallians honor a certain Conon whose zeal for their city “excelled all ancestral honor”; the use of hyperballô and its cognates in the Pauline corpus and in dedicatory inscriptions is examined (no. 9). Philological parallels are also adduced with reference to an honorific inscription from Clarus that includes the phrase “in times of necessity” (en kairois anagkaiois, no. 4), a pair of inscriptions in which the cities of Ephesus and Sardis compete for the cult of Caracalla (no. 12), and an encomium of Tiberius inscribed on a statue base found in Sardis (no. 10). The discussions of these texts cumulatively provide valuable commentary on the language shared by honorific inscriptions and the New Testament.

To touch on some of the other texts in the first section: a dedication from Akcapinar (E. Turkey) leads to a detailed consideration of the phrase “pistos logos” (no. 5). Painstaking analysis of the phrase in literary contexts yields a fresh perspective on its use in the Pastoral Epistles and the last two chapters of Revelation. Less satisfying is the entry for a milestone or road sign from near Smyrna (no. 11), dating to 92/93 CE, which discusses the road network of Asia Minor, the competence of Domitian as a provincial administrator, and the evidence for that emperor’s activity in central Ionia. The text’s relevance to the New Testament — two brief paragraphs on Paul’s peregrinations at the end of a three-page write-up — might have been articulated more fully, and the discussion might have explored the thorny question of Domitian’s “persecution” of Christians. This would have been particularly appropriate since it has been suggested that this emperor’s anti-Christian measures may underlie the text of Revelation, which was likely composed in Asia Minor.1

In the interest of concision, only select entries in the second section (Papyri) can be described here. Excepting the Rosetta Stone, the opening of an incomplete document represents “the only known Greek translation of an Egyptian royal titular” (p. 37, no. 15). Ptolemy Philopator is titled the “living icon of Zeus” (eikôn zôsa tou Dios), and this phrase precipitates a discussion of the New Testament’s varied use of the present participle of the verb ζῶ. Dating from 194/3 to 180 BCE, a tax farmer’s petition for the transfer of his case from the indigenous Egyptian courts to the Greek courts provides not only a useful comparandum for the complex juridical questions involved with the arrest of the apostle Paul in Acts but also leads to a brief consideration of contractual language in the New Testament and of the importance of wealthy women in the apostolic church (no. 18).2 In a Hellenistic letter (no. 20), a mother is greatly relieved that her daughter has “escaped” the danger of a recent birth. Although, in documentary sources, the verb ekpheugô is not elsewhere used in reference to parturition, Paul is shown to play off this connotation in a description of the eschaton (1 Thess. 5.3). Also treated is the latest (288 CE) document associated with the ecumenical synod of Dionysiac artists, the worldwide fraternity of those who had won the empire’s most prestigious musical competitions (no. 23). E.A. Judge, who contributes the text’s discussion, is right to suggest that further research on the organization of the ecumenical synods of athletes and artists and their “apparent parallel” with the ecumenical synods of bishops would be welcome. Students of ancient marriage will find much of interest in the long discussion of a wedding invitation (no. 22) — which includes a typology of all such invitations on papyri that have been published and a consideration of the image of the wedding feast in the New Testament — as well as in the following section.

The three texts in the third section, Judaica, are uniformly important; these include the volume’s only Hebrew document, a marriage contract (ketubah) between two residents of Antinoopolis. Dating to 417 CE, this text is the only ketubah extant between the second century CE (ketubot from Wadi Muraba’at and Nahal Hever) and the late ninth to the eleventh centuries CE (texts preserved in the Cairo Genizah). The text is followed by a supplementary discussion that merits its own entry (no. 27); it includes a typology of all records of Jewish marriage earlier than the Antinoopolis ketubah as well as an analysis of the evolving legal and financial arrangements associated with Jewish marriage in antiquity. A poorly preserved papyrus (no. 24) is included because of its suggestive double address — it reads “to the elders of the Jews” on the recto and “to the archons of the Jews” on the verso — which leads to a consideration of the social organization of diaspora Judaism: what role do the elders and archons play in the leadership of Jewish communities? Finally, the complicated “Jewish donor” inscription from Aphrodisias is admirably treated (no. 25). The inscription consists of two lists of names. The shorter of the two lists the current and founding members of a decury, among whom are numbered Jews, Gentiles, proselytes, and God-fearers (theosebeis). The longer list is divided into two sections: most persons listed in the first section appear to be Jews; those in the second section are God-fearers, as designated by the section’s title. The concise discussion sifts through the scholarly debate concerning the nature of the lists and the identity of the God-fearers, who feature prominently in Acts. Two cavils: Bernadette Brooten’s article on the inscription is cited in the bibliography, but its suggestive argument that the founder of the decury, Iael, was a woman is not assessed in the discussion. Further, L. Michael White’s treatment of the inscription might have been included in the otherwise thorough bibliography.3

The final section, Ecclesiastica, consists of four entries. The first treats a Cologne papyrus ( P.Köln VI 255, no. 28) that continues the lacunose “Unknown Gospel” published in 1935 ( P.Egerton 2). In his discussion, J.W. Pryor argues convincingly that the Cologne papyrus provides further evidence that the Unknown Gospel is more akin to John than the synoptics, but the discussion of such an interesting text is rather short at less than a page. The inclusion of biblical language is rare on Christian epitaphs, but an inscription on a Bithynian tombstone (no. 29), contains a pastiche of allusions to the New Testament, including the eschatological “voice of the trumpet” (phônê salpingos) and, in reference to the bones of the deceased, the phrase “work of God” (ergon theou), which is unparalleled in documentary sources. A record of proceedings before an Egyptian magistrate (logistês) includes the earliest reference to Sunday in a papyrus (2 October 325, no. 30). Obeying Constantine’s edict of 321 ( CJ 3.12.2[3]), which requires judges to refrain from work on Sunday, the logistês postpones a hearing that has dragged on past sunset on Saturday evening because ” . . . the coming sacred Lord’s day has supervened” (ff. 37-38). The editor provides a lengthy discussion of the division of the day in antiquity and the seven-day week. The volume’s last entry is reserved for two hymns to Christ and an acrostic hymn to Mary (no. 31). Then follow the comprehensive subject, word, and source indexes that are a hallmark of the series.

The format of this volume differs from that of its immediate predecessors. Volumes 6, 7, and 8 included fewer entries, but the discussions were typically longer. (For example, the previous volume included a superb riff on runaway slaves in ancient Egypt: New Docs 8 [1998] 9-46.) Volume 9 has more entries (31 vs. 12 in vol. 7), but, although some entries preserve the longer format (e.g., nos. 18, 27, 30), most discussions are brief. To compensate for the shorter discussions, useful summary bibliographies are appended to about half the entries; in the rest, the relevant scholarship is referenced through in-text citations and footnotes. It would be convenient if, in future volumes, bibliographies, however short, were included for all the texts. Furthermore, the brief discussions occasionally lead the reader to wish that more was said about a particular text or that the text’s relevance to the context of the New Testament was explored in greater detail. The uniform inclusion of bibliographies and, where appropriate, longer discussions would only enhance the utility of this series.

In his introduction to the first volume in the New Docs series, then editor G.H.R. Horsley writes, “It is envisaged that, as the review proceeds over a number of years, it will gradually form a Chrestomathie for those whose main focus of interest is the N[ew] T[estament] and Early Church History . . . ” ( New Docs 1 [1981] 1). Horsley proves prophetic: the New Docs series, in a form not unlike that of the great papyrological Chrestomathie of Mitteis and Wilcken, presents a important selection of documents that explicate the philological and historical context of the New Testament. This volume, as well as the series as a whole, is valuable for biblicists, church historians, and — though Horsley does not mention them as potential readers — classicists.


1. See, e.g., M. Sordi, The Christians and the Roman Empire. Eng. Trans.: A. Bedini (London and N.Y., 1988) 43-54, with bibl.; Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Revelation, Book of” (New York et al., 1992) 5.694-708, esp. 700-703.

2. The corrections to the document referenced in BL IX 105 are not integrated into the text of no. 18, on which see now ZPE 142 (2003) 214ff. On no. 15, see also BL IX 171, X 132; on no. 21, IX 171. (I have not been able to consult the recently published BL XI.) On no. 19, see P.Heid. VIII, p. 78, n. 31; ZPE 136 (2001) 151. (Some references compiled from the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Aegyptens: HGPA.) Finally, in ff. 3-4 of no. 4, read φύ‐σει for the misprint θύ‐σει.

3. B.J. Brooten, “Iael προστάτης in the Jewish Donative Inscription from Aphrodisias” in B.A. Pearson, ed., The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester (Minneapolis, 1991) 149-162. The contents of Brooten’s article are hinted at in the translation of the inscription: “Jael (m. ?), patron” (a, 9). The parenthetic abbreviation presumably refers to Iael’s gender. L.M. White, The Social Origins of Christian Architecture. 2 vols. (Valley Forge, PA, 1996) 1.88-90, 182-184, 2.300-307. Vol. 1 originally published as Building God’s House in the Roman World (Baltimore, 1990).