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Microtheologies behind the Biblical amulets : six case studies

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Recent years witnessed an increasing interest in Christian amulets with Biblical texts. Several catalogues and monographic contributions have been published, facilitating the research on historical and religious aspects of these artefacts. The paper offers a methodological framework, founded mainly on the concept of semiophore formulated by Krzysztof Pomian, as well as six case studies, which show how the analysis of material and textual aspects of a scriptural amulet might reveal theological ideas, more or less consciously shared by its producers and users.
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THE JOURNAL
OF JURISTIC
PAPYROLOGY
FOUNDED BY
RAPHAEL TAUBENSCHLAG
EDITED BY
TOMASZ DERDA


ASSISTANT TO THE EDITORS

VOL. XLIX (2019)
UNIVERSIT Y OF WARSAW
INSTITUTE OF ARCHA EOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF PAPYROLOGY
UNIVERSI TY OF WARSAW
FACULTY OF LAW A ND ADMIN ISTRATI ON
CHAIR OF ROMAN LAW AND THE LAW OF ANTIQUITY
THE RAPHAEL TAUBENSCHLAG
FOUNDATION
tytułowe i redakcyjne.qxp_011_041 Ch1 20.05.2020 12:24 Strona III
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tytułowe i redakcyjne.qxp_011_041 Ch1 13.05.2020 18:05 Strona IV
The Journal of Juristic Papyrology
vol. xlix (2019)
CONTENTS
Constantinos Balamoshev
SB V 8754: Apostoloi, antapostoloi, and the Ptolemaic grain transport .............. 1
Abstract: This paper offers new annotated readings and corrections to the
original edition of P. Berlin inv. 16876 = SB V 8754 (from the archive of Har -
chebis, the royal scribe of the Herakleopolite nome), also discussing subse-
quent corrections proposed by various scholars in the past. Special attention
is placed on the hapax legomenon technical term antapostoloi. The connection
of these documents with the term apostoloi is investigated as well as their
function within the framework of the shipping procedure and the officials
involved in their issuance. Finally, appended is a transcription that reflects
the current state of the papyrus, together with a translation into English.
Keywords: Ptolemaic, first century bc, grain transport, samples, administra-
tion, archives, naukleros, dioiketes, sitologos, strategos, basilikos grammateus, apostoloi,
antapostoloi, phylakitai, ship security guards, shipping, shipowners, corrections.
Tomasz Baran´ski
The Arabic text of SPP VIII 1198 and its significance
for the study of Arabisation of the Egyptian administration .............................. 17
Abstract: The paper offers a reading of remnants of the Arabic text of SPP
VIII 1198. The Greek part of this bilingual document has been known for a
long time, but it could not be dated precisely with the indiction date pre-
served in the text. The dating formula that can be deciphered in the Arabic
part allows the reconstruction of the exact dates for this and another tax
receipt, PERF 573 = SB XVIII 13771, issued most probably by the same official.
rz05-08 contents and abstracts.qxp_011_041 Ch1 13.05.2020 18:05 Strona V
VI CONTENTS
Different tax quotas indicated in the document are discussed as well. More-
over, an effort is made in the article to understand the identity of the issuing
official and the document’s place of origin. Although it is almost certain that
the tax receipt comes from the Egyptian province, it can be hypothesized that
it was written originally in the capital city Al-Fust
.āt
.. Finally, some general con-
clusions about the process of the Arabisation of the Egyptian administration
are drawn.
Keywords: Greek, Arabic, bilingual documents, early Islamic Egypt, fiscal
administration, tax receipt, Herakleopolis Magna, Ihnās.
Lajos Berkes &Naïm Vanthieghem
Mat
.ar and metron in papyri: The Greek origin of an Arabic measure ............... 31
Abstract: Edition of the Arabic account P. Louvre inv. E 6380 originating
from the Fayum and dating to the second half of the eighth century. The
document strongly suggests that the Arabic measure mat
.ar derives from the
Greek metron.
Keywords: papyrus, Arabic, metrology, villages, Fayum, administration, lex-
icography.
Anne Boud’hors
The Coptic ostraca of the Theban hermitage MMA 1152.
3. Exercises (O. Gurna Górecki 97161)............................................................ 41
Abstract: Following the articles published in JJP 47 and 48, further sixty-
five ostraca discovered by Tomasz Górecki in the Theban hermitage MMA
1152 are published here. They are labelled ‘Exercises’, a general designation
covering different categories, namely extracts of Psalms and other edifying
texts, prayers, lists of word, alphabets, and drawings. They are somehow
introducing us to the intellectual and spiritual life in the hermitage.
Keywords: Coptic, ostraca, Western Thebes, MMA 1152, exercises, educa-
tion, piety.
Lucia C. Colella
P. Vindob. inv. G 13753 recto e verso:
Due documenti del dossier di Aurelia Demetria alias Ammonia ............................ 97
Abstract: In this paper, two documentary texts preserved on P. Vindob. G
13753 are edited. The first one, written on the recto, is a further copy of the
rz05-08 contents and abstracts.qxp_011_041 Ch1 13.05.2020 18:05 Strona VI
CONTENTS VII
marriage document already known from SB XXVI 16502. The other one, on
the verso, is an account of receipts and expenditures. Both texts can be
ascribed to the Hermopolitan dossier of Aurelia Demetria alias Ammonia.
Keywords: P. Vindob. G 13753, P. Vindob. Boswinkel 5, SB XXVI 16502, mar-
riage document, account, Aurelia Demetria alias Ammonia.
Karol Kłodzin´ski
An equestrian procurator’s ‘unequal colleague’?
Reinterpreting the career of the imperial freedman Ulpius Paean ........................... 125
Abstract: The role of freedman procurators in Roman administration of the
principate period is still unclear. While the division into equestrian and
freedman procuratorships is well documented and studied (particularly by
H.-G. Pflaum and P. R. C. Weaver), neither the explanation behind it nor
adopting the criterion of less important (freedman) or more important
(equestrian) procuratorships is entirely convincing. Reducing the work of
freedman procurators (having the same titles as equites) to merely assisting
equestrian procurators (under ‘unequal collegiality’) can be disputed as well.
By re-interpreting the career of the imperial freedman Ulpius Paean and
calling upon other careers, the article argues that some imperial freedmen
could have held equestrian procuratorships as their superiors.
Keywords: inscriptions, procuratorships, roman government, principate,
provincial administration, appointment policy, Roman emperor, imperial
freedmen, equites.
Grzegorz Ochała
Nubica onomastica miscellanea IV. Notes on and corrections to personal names
found in Old Nubian documents from Qasr Ibrim ............................................ 143
Abstract: The fourth instalment of the ‘Nubica onomastica miscellanea’
series offers a massive batch of corrections to personal names found in
Christian Nubian sources. The anthroponyms discussed in this paper come
exclusively from Old Nubian documents discovered at Qasr Ibrim and pub-
lished by Gerald M. Browne and Giovanni Ruffini. The article includes sim-
ple re-readings of anthroponyms on the one hand and more elaborate rein-
terpretations of whole phrases containing them on the other. Identification
with known foreign names and etymologies for many local Nubian names
are proposed, greatly contributing to our understanding of medieval Nubian
naming practices. Last but not least, many ghost-names are identified and
their true meaning is explained.
Keywords: Christian Nubia, Qasr Ibrim, Old Nubian, onomastics, ghost
names.
rz05-08 contents and abstracts.qxp_011_041 Ch1 13.05.2020 18:05 Strona VII
VIII CONTENTS
Przemysław Piwowarczyk
Microtheologies behind the Biblical amulets: Six case studies ............................ 253
Abstract: Recent years witnessed an increasing interest in Christin amulets
with Biblical texts. Several catalogues and monographic contributions have
been published, facilitating the research on historical and religious aspects
of these artefacts. The paper offers a methodological framework, founded
mainly on the concept of semiophore formulated by Krzysztof Pomian, as
well as six case studies, which show how the analysis of material and textual
aspects of a scriptural amulet might reveal theological ideas, more or less
consciously shared by its producers and users.
Keywords: magic, Biblical amulets, scriptural amulets, texts of ritual power.
Angelina Troiano
Sul Fragmentum Riccardi e la Lex Aelia Sentia in TH289 .............................. 281
Abstract: In the recent secunda cura of the Tabulae Herculanenses, Giuseppe
Camodeca has completely rebuilt the dossier TH28911 about the acquisi-
tion of the Roman citizenship by the Latinus Iunianus Venidio Ennico.
Thanks to this study, it is currently possible to make further considerations
about the procedure described in the Fragmentum Riccardi and its relation-
ship with the lex Aelia Sentia.
Keywords: Tabulae Herculanenses, Roman citizenship, Lex Aelia Sentia, Frag-
mentum Riccardi, anniculi causae probation.
Jakub Urbanik
Józef inter gentes: On status and law between the centre and periphery ............ 289
Abstract: Following the footsteps of Józef Mélèze Modrzejewski and reassess-
ing his law-custom theory, the essay explores the principles of law-application
under Roman law. Passages from Ps.-Menander’s Epideictic Treatises and Grego-
ry the Miracle-Worker’s Eulogy of Origen are confronted with the selected papy-
rological evidence of apparent ‘conflict of laws’ faced by the Roman jurisdic-
tion: the petition of Dionysia (P. Oxy. II 237), and a text concerning the
testamentary freedom of the Egyptians (P. Oxy. XLII 3015), and finally with a
fragment of a juridical work attributed to Volusius Maecianus (D. XIV 2.9 pr.).
In conclusions, a new take of the problem is presented. I suggest the principle
ordering the choice of competent law be lex posterior derogat legi priori. Thus,
after the Roman conquest the old norms remained in force until expressively
abrogated by a new Roman precept: be it in a form of a judicial decision (in line
of the Roman magistrate-law making), or new imperial legislation.
rz05-08 contents and abstracts.qxp_011_041 Ch1 13.05.2020 18:05 Strona VIII
Keywords: Constitutio Antoniania,consuetudo, usage, Reichsrecht,Volksrecht,
Menander Rhetor, Dionysia, provincial law, conflict of laws.
Marzena Wojtczak
‘Legal representation’ of monastic communities in late antique papyri ............... 347
Abstract: While focusing on the issues such as spirituality, faith, prayer, and
discipline, the late antique literary discourse pays little attention to the
engagement of monks in the mundane realities of daily life. The symbolic sig-
nificance of the total withdrawal from the earthly matters have paved its way
into common imagination of the monastic existence. One must, however,
remain cautious while attempting to translate monastic writings into the
reality of day-to-day life of a monk in Egypt. As shown by numerous papyri,
social and economic relations between monks and the surrounding world
were not sporadic, but an inevitable element of the monastic movement. The
picture of Egyptian monasticism depicts a web of contacts with the ‘outside
world’ and an entanglement of religious landscape in the local economy. In
this article, I discuss only one aspect of the much broader issue, that is the
existence of ‘legal capacity’ of monastic communities in late antique Egypt.
I address the problem of ‘legal representation’ of monasteries as outlined in
the sources of legal practice. For a lawyer, these observations are all the
more stimulating as there has been an ongoing debate whether ‘legal per-
sons’ as such existed at all in Roman law, and whether we could talk about
anything approaching our current understanding of ‘legal personality’.
Keywords: monks, monasteries, legal capacity, Late Antiquity, papyri, legal
representation, dikaion, diakonia, Roman law, legal practice, Justinian, Egypt.
TABLE OF CONTENTS IX
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The Journal of Juristic Papyrology
vol. xlix (2019), pp. 253–279
Przemysław Piwowarczyk
MICROTHEOLOGIES
BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS
SIX CASE STUDIES*
INTRODUCTION
The past ten or so years have brought an intensified interest in
Christian biblical amulets.1 Several catalogues have appeared, as well
*The article was written as part of the project nr. 2015/18/a/hs3/00485 funded by the
National Science Centre (Poland). The concept of this paper was first presented during
the conference ‘Od zwoju do e-booka’ at the Jagiellonian University, Poland, 15 October
2018, and later, in an expanded form, at the Seminar of Ewa Wipszycka held at the Warsaw
University, 11 April 2019. I thank all the participants of both meetings for their valuable
comments and suggestions. I also thank Joseph Sanzo for providing me with the essential
literature and useful remarks. I thank also two anonymous reviewers for their comments
and suggested improvements. All errors are my responsibility alone.
1 In the case of amulets consisting of biblical passages alone or the major part thereof,
their Christian nature does not seem to raise any doubts. The non-Christian elements are
usually absent and recognition of the Scripture’s power confirms the Christian identity of
their users and producers. To that, we may add that the amulets under consideration were
produced in the period after the Christianisation of Egypt was completed. Technically, the
amulets containing Psalm verses might have been of Jewish origin, but the Jewish commu-
nity in Byzantine Egypt was marginal and did not use Septuagint – quoted in all extant
amulets (except for short passages according from Genesis in Aquila’s translation quoted
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 253
254 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
as studies on particular categories of these artefacts.2 Although a major
catalogue of Christian amulets, not to mention a corpus, is still a desider-
atum, and the amount of source material grows every year, it has already
been made possible to research the historical and religious context of
these objects.
By ‘amulet’ I mean, in the words of Theodore de Bruyn, ‘an item that
is believed to convey in and of itself, as well as in association with incan-
tation and other actions, supernatural power for protective, beneficial, or
antagonistic effect, and that is worn on one’s body or fixed, displayed, or
deposited at some place.’3
By ‘biblical amulet’ I mean an amulet which quotes a biblical passage
or passages even if other texts are also present. Amulets of this kind
belong to a wider category of textual amulets.4 Such semiophores (I will
elaborate upon this term in a later section of this paper) are usually con-
sidered magical artefacts. However, in this paper, I restrain from the term
‘magic’ since, for many ancient Christians, the ritual use of the biblical
words opposed ‘magic’ as such. Origen insisted: ‘it is clear that Christians
make no use of spells (οὐδεμιᾷ μελέτῃ ἐπῳδῶν), but only of the name of
together with LXX in P. Amh. I 3) – anymore. In the case of amulets in Coptic, we have
no single piece of evidence of its usage in a Jewish milieu.
2R. M. Hernández, S. Torallas Tovar, ‘The use of the ostracon in magical practice
in Late Antique Egypt. Magical handbooks vs. material evidence’, Studi e Materiali di Storia
delle Religioni 80.2 (2014), pp. 780–800 (the paper contains a survey of ostraca containing
texts of ritual power); J. Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits on Amulets from Late Antique Egypt. Text,
Typology, and Theory [= Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 84], Tübingen 2014; B. C.
Jones, New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets from Late Antiquity, London 2016 (these two
studies include the corpora of relevant texts); T. S. de Bruyn, Making Amulets Christian.
Artefacts, Scribes, and Contexts, Oxford 2017. R.B. Sarrazin prepared a general catalogue of
the texts of ritual power in Coptic: ‘Catalogue des textes magiques coptes’, Archiv für
Papyrusforschung 63 (2017), pp. 367–408.
3T. S. de Bruyn, ‘Papyri, parchments, ostraca, and tablets written with biblical texts
in Greek and used as amulets: A preliminary list’, [in:] T. J. Kraus, T. Nicklas (eds.),
Early Christian Manuscripts. Examples of Applied Method and Approach, Leiden – Boston 2010,
pp. 145–189, esp. p. 147.
4Terminology regarding the amulets has been scrutinised by D. C. Skemer, Binding
Words. Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages, University Park, Pennsylvania 2006, pp. 10–19.
The book as such deals with late medieval amulets.
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 254
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 255
Jesus with other words which are believed to be effective, taken from the
divine scripture.’5 Near the end of the 4th century, John Chrysostom, who
in principle condemned the wearing of amulets by Christians,6 had noth-
ing against keeping a book of the Gospel on the body.7
Amulets containing biblical passages constitute a significant but not
dominant group among the amulets used by Egyptian Christians. In their
catalogue of 85 certain amulets in Greek containing Christian elements,
Theodore de Bruyn and Jitse Dijkstra listed 23 items with biblical quota-
tions. It is, however, evident that this number does not represent the
entire body of evidence and, in the case studies presented below, I also
reached beyond it.8
I apply two theoretical approaches which originated outside papyrol-
ogy and were not originally designed for analysis of the ‘magical’ material
to research on biblical amulets. In addition, I use intuition born in the
circle of literary critics and book designers. All three perspectives seem
to have the potential to contribute significantly to our understanding of
the theological ideas behind biblical amulets.
New Philology (also known as Material Philology) was born out of tra-
ditional philology dealing with medieval texts. Since the manuscript tra-
5Origen, C. Cels. 1.6, text: Origène, Contre Celse, vol. 1 (livres I et II), par M. Borret
[= Sources Chrétiennes 132], Paris 1967, p. 92; tr. H. Chadwick, [in:] Origen, Contra Celsum,
Cambridge 1980, p. 10. On anti-magical rhetoric in the Christian texts of ritual power, see
J. Sanzo, ‘At the crossroads of ritual practice and anti-magical discourse in Late Antiquity:
Taxonomies of licit and illicit rituals in Leiden, Ms. AMS 9 and Related Sources’ (forth-
coming).
6John Chrysostom, Jud. 8.6.
7 John Chrysostom, Hom. in Matt. 72.2.
8T. S. de Bruyn, & J. H. F. Dijkstra, ‘Greek amulets and formularies from Egypt con-
taining Christian elements: A checklist of papyri, parchments, ostraka, and tablets’, Bul-
letin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011), pp. 163–216. Additional thirty semio-
phores containing biblical passages appear on the list of 47 probable amulets. This
proportion proves that the presence of biblical passages was an important criterion in
compiling this part of the catalogue. Among the semiophores presented here as case
studies, de Bruyn and Dijkstra list only P. Oxy. VIII 1151 (no. 21), and MPER N.S. XVII
10 (no. 8). P. Oxy. LXXVI 5073 was published after their paper had appeared, and the
other three are Coptic.
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256 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
dition remains highly complex in many cases, some philologists came to
the conclusion that the basis for a study on old texts should be a given
manuscript in its physical form because no text exists without its material
support. Therefore, New Philology does not attempt to establish a hypo-
thetical archetype that finally proves to be nothing more than the cre-
ation of modern philologists and differs from all extant manuscripts.9
Thus, in the case of amulets, it is not important how much they could
contribute to the restoration of the ‘original’ biblical texts, but why, in a
particular semiophore, the biblical quotations are represented in given
form, referring especially to their length, textual variations (variae lec-
tiones) and organisation in more complex textual units. The biblical
amulets indeed play a minor role in the biblical criticism since they are
usually short and relatively late, but, nevertheless, they are mainly inves-
tigated for comparison with other witnesses of biblical tradition. Obvi-
ously, New Philology demands a precise description of a given manuscript
from papyrological, codicological and palaeographical point of view.
Referring to these issues, I rely on the opinions of proficient scholars.
Krzysztof Pomian’s metahistorical concept of the semiophore is based
on a similar assumption about the indissoluble link between literary work
and the material medium.10 Pomian defines semiophores as objects
‘which were of absolutely no use (…) but which, being endowed with
meaning, represented the invisible.’11 The point of departure for study on
a semiophores ought to be a description of a given object in its material
form and only subsequently a reconstruction of its social or theological
meanings. It is important to stress that the status of a semiophore (as well
9Introduction of basic principles of New Philology by H. Lundhaug & L. I. Lied,
‘Studying snapshots: On manuscript culture, textual fluidity, and New Philology’, [in:]
iidem, Snapshots of Evolving Traditions. Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual
Fluidity, and New Philology, Berlin 2017, pp. 1–19.
10 The early stage of this concept was outlined by K. Pomian in his Collectors and Curiosi-
ties. Paris and Venice, 1500–1800, Cambridge 1990, pp. 26–34 (first published in French in
1987). Over the course of time, Pomian developed his ideas, cf. K. Pomian, ‘Jak uprawiać
historię kultury’, Przegląd Historyczny 86.1 (1995), pp. 113, at pp. 4–8, and Historia. Nauka
wobec pamięci, Lublin 2006, pp. 120–130 (both accessible only in Polish).
11 Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities (cit. n. 10), p. 30.
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as other objects) is not an intrinsic feature of the object but is conferred
upon it by an observer who takes it out of its context and puts it on public
display. In the case of amulets, we are often dealing with hidden objects
(covered by clothing, buried), which nonetheless retain a certain presence
and functionality, and therefore do not lose their status. But if their func-
tion is lost, they become ‘things,’ which in Pomian’s terminology refers to
objects used for actions on other objects, or ‘waste.’12 The roles can, after
all, vary and depend on the contexts in which the given semiophore takes
place. In regard to amulets, the concept of the semiophore needs not only
a precise description of material support (which would be enough in light
of the New Philology), but encourages us to search for social and religious
interpretations by enquiring into its meaning.
The producer of an amulet did not have freedom comparable to that
of modern poets in terms of creating the material and textual shape of the
semiophore. He was restricted by the capabilities of technology, the long
shadow of literary traditions and scribal habits. However, we may assume
that he enjoyed a certain liberty, an assumption which seems justified
when we take into account the variety of ancient amulet production.13 If
so, he was writing down a given amulet with a view to its future readers.
The textual amulet, then, is a direct source for an investigation into the
implicit knowledge of how the ancient Christians imagined the reading
habits of spiritual beings, deities and demons and means applied to con-
trol their reading – since the assumed readers of amulets of this kind were
spiritual beings, and outsiders were not supposed to read them.14 Because
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 257
12 The very recent ‘thing theory,’ formulated by Bill Brown (A Sense of Things, Chicago
2003) and popular especially among American scholars in humanities, uses similar tech -
nical vocabulary, but the meanings are quite different. For Pomian, ‘things’ are the objects
(more general term) that work as usual; for Brown, on the contrary, ‘things’ are the
‘objects’ which have lost their common function.
13 On creativity in the text of ritual power, see R. Gordon, ‘Shaping the Text: Theory and
Practice in Graeco-Egyptian Malign Magic’, [in:] H. F. J. Horstmanshoff et al. (eds.),
Kyk eo n. Stu di es i n Ho no ur of H . S . Vers ne l, Leiden 2002, pp. 82–97 (on innovative visual
devices); J. Sanzo, ‘The innovative use of biblical traditions for ritual power: The crucifix-
ion of Jesus on a Coptic exorcistic spell (Brit. Lib. Or. 6796[4], 6796) as a test case’, Archiv
für Religionsgeschichte 16 (2015), pp. 67–98.
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258 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
there are no two identical amulets (even if they contain the same text,
New Philology teaches us to treat them as separate artefacts), it is reason-
able to assume that their shape is not coincidental, but reflects a reason-
able choice made under certain presuppositions about the preferences of
addresses and ways to influence them. 15
The main aim of this paper is to show, how, by investigating both
material and textual aspects of the biblical amulets, we could go further
and deduce the ideas which their producers had about spiritual agents
involved in the ritual. The concepts of supernatural powers belong to the
area of theology, so when referring to minor and indirect theological
sources like the amulets, I feel justified to use the term ‘microtheologies.’
Focused on the theological side of amulet production, the research offers
a new perspective on these semiophores.
GENERAL SURVEY
OF THE CHRISTIAN TEXTUAL AMULETS
The amulets containing the biblical passages are mainly made of
papyrus and parchment, but there are also examples of wooden pieces16 or
even silver17 and iron18 armbands. Pottery shards (ostraca) and limestone
14 The problem of divine readership of amulets has been raised by J. Sanzo, ‘Wrapped
up in the Bible: The multifaceted ritual on a Late Antique amulet (P. Oxy. VIII 1077)’, Jour-
nal of Early Christian Studies 24 (2016), pp. 569–597, at pp. 593–594.
15 My approach was directly influenced by the concept of Liberature by Zenon Fajfer.
His programmatic essays are collected in a volume Liberature Or Total Literature. Collected
Essays 1999–2009, Belfast – Kraków 2010. I also draw inspiration from Allan Bell’s Audi-
ence Design Model.
16 SB I 970 (identification as an amulet remains uncertain; LDAB 3463; Sanzo, Scriptural
Incipits [cit. n. 2], pp. 115-116 [no. 37]); SB I 2021 (LDAB 3449; Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits
[cit. n. 2], p. 119 [no. 42]); SB I 3573 (LDAB 3443; Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits [cit. n. 2], p. 119
[no. 43]).
17 SB I 1572 (Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits [cit. n. 2], p. 116, no. 38); SB I 1574a (Sanzo, Scrip-
tural Incipits [cit. n. 2], p. 117 [no. 39]); SB I 1575 (Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits [cit. n. 2], pp. 117–
118 [no. 40]); Cairo, IFAO inv. Copte T. 26 (LDAB 108148).
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flakes, due to their very nature, are not well suited for wearing on the body.
Although they might be placed indoors on display or buried, there are only
two or three cases when an ostracon could be interpreted as an amulet with
some degree of certainty.19 Since Egyptian Christians used to write short
scriptural passages down for many purposes20, the physical characteristic of
support is of crucial importance for meaning which we grasp from the text.
The ritual application may be indicated first of all by perforation or creases
that bear witness to fixing or folding. Similarly, discolouring resulting from
humidity is in some cases interpreted as traces of sweating.
Biblical amulets feature a very limited set of passages. First of all, they
contain incipits of the four gospels, the incipit of Psalm 90 (LXX),21 and
excerpts from Matthew22 (and in single cases Luke and John as well)23, the
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 259
18 SB I 1576 (Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits [cit. n. 2], p. 118 [no. 41]).
19 Hernández & Torallas Tovar, ‘The use’ (cit. n. 1), pp. 790–792. The unusually large
limestone flake with Christian texts, among them incipits of the four Gospels, published
by P. Mirecki, might be an exception, see P. Mirecki, A seventh-century Coptic lime-
stone in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford [Bodl. Copt. Inscr. 426]’, [in:] P. Mirecki &
M. Meyer (eds.), Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World, Leiden 2002, pp. 47–69. Although
this semiophore almost certainly expressed a ritual power, its exact ritual context remains
obscure. The same refers to O. Hamb. Copt. Inv. I, published by A. Delattre & N.
Vanthieghem, ‘Trois ostraca coptes de Hambourg’, Journal of Coptic Studies 16 (2014),
pp. 103–113, at pp. 104–105. Another possible biblical amulet on ostracon might have been
recently published O. Bachit 119, 120 https://www.koptolys.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/show
Ostraka.php?id=132, accessed 20 July 2019.
20 The excerpts from the Scriptures written down on scraps of papyrus or ostraca might
have served as mnemotechnical tools (aide-mémoire), text for a private meditation or
common liturgy, school-texts or writing exercises, see P. Piwowarczyk, ‘Ostraka z Teb
Zachodnich jako źródło do badań nad duchowością i wyobrażeniami religijnymi mnichów
egipskich’, U schyłku starożytności. Studia źródłoznawcze 16 (2016), pp. 165–193, at pp. 175–178
(in Polish).
21 Th. J. Kraus wrote several papers dealing with this psalm, see for instance, ‘Psalm 90
der Septuaginta in apotropäischer Funktion’ [in:] PapCongr. XXIV, pp. 497–514.
22 The following amulets contain alone or inter alia passages from Matthew: Matt 4:23–
24 (BKT VI 7,1, LDAB 6091; P. Oxy. VIII 1077, LDAB 2959); 6:4–6 (P. Köln XI 293, LDAB
2953); 8:14 (London, BL EA 6948 (2); LDAB 100114); 27:62–64 (P. Oxy. LXIV 4406, LDAB
2957); 28:2–5 (P. Oxy. LXIV 4406, LDAB 2957). On the references to Matt 4:23 in amulets,
see T. De Bruyn, ‘Appeals to Jesus as the One ‘Who heals every illness and every infirmi-
ty’ Matt 4:23, 9:35) in amulets in Late Antiquity’, [in:] L. DiTommaso & L. Turcescu
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 15.05.2020 00:03 Strona 259
260 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
New Testament letters and certain other Psalms. The Lord’s Prayer24 and
trisagion25 are also relatively common and ultimately have biblical prove-
nance, although they found their way into texts of ritual power through
liturgy, not directly from the Scriptures.
The provenance of the power that made the biblical amulet effective
is of crucial importance. There are three main solutions.
At first, the words of Scripture alone, as the Word of God, might be
taken as an effective weapon against demons. This idea was certainly
already deeply rooted in the Christian tradition long before the emer-
gence of monasticism, to which the abovementioned passages from Ori-
gen testify best. Nevertheless, monastic sources provide the most sub-
stantial evidence, from Life of Antony,26 through Pachomian dossier,27
apopththegms,28 up to the systematisation of Evagrius’ Antirrheticus. Of
course, we can find reservations that the recitation of the Scriptures
(eds.), The Reception and Interpretation of the Bible in Late Antiquity: Proceedings of the Montréal
Colloquium in Honour of Charles Kannengiesser, 11–13 October 2006, Leiden 2008, pp. 65–81.
23 Luke 8:41–56 (Cairo, IFAO inv. Copte T. 26, LDAB 108148); 10:19 (P. Yale inv. 1792;
LDAB 98049); 11:1–2 (P. Iand. I 6; LDAB 6107); John 1:5–6 (P. Vindob. G 29831, LDAB
2823); 2:1–2a (P. Vindob. G 2312, LDAB 3488).
24 T. J. Kraus, ‘Manuscripts with the Lord’s prayer – They are more than simply witness-
es to that text itself ’, [in:] T. J. Kraus & T. Nicklas, New Testament Manuscripts. Their
Texts and Their World [= Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 2], Leiden – Boston 2006,
pp. 227–266.
25 On trisagion in text of ritual power, see bibliography in Kraus, ‘Manuscripts’, (cit.
n. 24), pp. 262–263.
26 Athanasius, V. Anton. 6, 4–5, A quotation of Psalm 117:7 (LXX) drives the demon out.
27 SBo 186 (tr. A. Veilleux, [in:] Pac ho m i an Ko i no n i a, vol. 1, Kalamazoo 1980, pp. 224–225);
Ins tru cti on c onc er nin g a s pit efu l mo nk I 9 (tr. A. Veilleux, [in:] Pa c h om i a n K oi n o ni a , vol. 3,
Kalamazoo 1982, p. 14) recommends using the passage 117:11 against logisomoi.
28 Collectio Systematica 15.90 (1313) the passage refers to Matt 24:23; N.366, ed. and tr.
J. Wortley, The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers. A Select Edition and Complete English
Translation, Cambridge 2013, pp. 238–239; F. L. Griffith, ‘Oxford excavations in Nubia’,
Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 14 (1927), pp. 57–116, esp. p. 87 (no. 17, translation
only), plate LXIX (text)–according to the inscription in the monk’s cell, the passage
Ps 90:13 (LXX) makes the snake’s bite harmless. On invocations inspired by the Scrip-
tures, see D. Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in
Early Christian Monasticism, New York – Oxford 1993, pp. 199–200.
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would not help against Satan if a monk remains in sin,29 but there are
good reasons to doubt whether all producers and users of the biblical
amulets shared such concerns, or maybe rather assumed more automatic
efficacy of the scriptural verses. In the Sayings of Desert Fathers, we can
find passages testifying to the latter:
I heard that Abba Poemen and many of the fathers uttered this saying:
‘The snake-charmer does not know the force of the words he speaks but
the beast hears and knows: it is rendered obedient and subservient.’ That
is how it is with us; even if we do not know the force of the words we are
saying yet the demons hear and retreat in fear.30
The power of the amulet may also come not from the words but from
the semiophore as a whole. In some instances, it could effectively work
as a pars pro toto representation of the book of the Bible. In the late antiq-
uity, Christians were generally convinced that the books of Scriptures as
objects possessed power on their own – which means that they regarded
books as semiophores. The Christians in Egypt were no exception. We
know that Bible was kept by the body. John Chrysostom reproaches his
audience in a homily held in Antioch in 387: ‘Dost thou not see how
women and little children suspend Gospels from their necks as a power-
ful amulet, and carry them about in all places wherever they go?’31 In
another homily delivered in 390, he digresses from his main subject of the
Jewish phylacteries: ‘And what are these phylacteries, and these borders?
Since they were continually forgetting God’s benefits, He commanded
His marvellous works to be inscribed on little tablets, and that these
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 261
29 D. W. Young, ‘An unplaced fragment from Shenoute’s fourth canon’, Journal of Coptic
Studies 3 (2001), pp. 133–147, at p. 138.
30 N. 184, ed. and tr. Wortley, The Anonymous Sayings (cit. n. 28), pp. 128–129. A very sim-
ilar automatic effect takes place in the case of magical books that contain words denying
Christ written in foreign languages, see Questions of Cyril 7 [in:] Der Papyruscodex saec. VI–
VII der Phillippsbibliothek in Cheltenham: Koptische theologische Schriften, ed. W. E. Crum,
Strasbourg 1915, pp. 7 (text), 58 (German translation).
31 John Chrysostom, Stat. 19.4 (Patrologia Graeca 49, kol. 196), tr. W. R. W. Stephens,
[in:] P. Schaff (ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 9, Saint
Chrysostom, New York 1889, p. 470.
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262 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
should be suspended from their hands (…) as many of our women now
wear Gospels hung from their necks.’32 Palladius recounts of Amun, a
founder of Nitria, when he was still a layman and was persuading his
newly-married wife to keep purity by ‘drawing from the fold of garment a
little book’ and reading from it the Apostle and the Saviour.33 An
unnamed man in the Spiritual Meadow of John Moschus ‘threw out a little
book from his own sleeve (ἐκβάλλει ἀπὸ τῆς ἰδίας μασχάλης μικρὸν
βιβλίον)’34 and used it to successfully expel a demon from the possessed
girl, despite the fact that the book had been earlier stolen by him. This
story proves that the power of the book was not contingent upon the
moral qualifications of its owner. In the life of Nilus the Younger (died
1004), we read that when he was on his deathbed, he ‘pulled out of the
fold of his garment a phylactery (φυλακτήριον) which he always kept
there. And this was a small book (πυκτίον), a treasury (θησαύρισμα) of the
New Testament.’35
32 John Chrysostom, Hom. in Matt. 72.2 (Patrologia Graeca 58, col. 669), tr. G. Prevost,
[in:] P. Schaff (ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 10, Saint
Chrysostom, , New York 1908, p. 437.
33 Palladius, H. Laus. 8, 2: ἐξενεγκὼν ἐκ τοῦ κόλπου αὐτοῦ βιβλιδάριον ἐκ προσώπυ
τοῦ ἀποστόλου καὶ τοῦ σωτῆρος, ed. G. J. M. Bartelink, [in:] Palladio, La Storia Lau-
siaca [= Vite dei Santi 2], Milano 1974, p. 42, tr. W. K. Clarke, The Lausiac History of Palla-
dius, New York 1918, p. 60 (modified); Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits (cit. n. 2), p. 164, comments
about this place ‘has worn a biblical codex around his neck.’ In Greek literature, there is
a long tradition of wearing aphrodisiacs in the kolpos, see Ch. A. Faraone, Aphrodite’s
κεστός and apples for Atalanta: Aphrodisiacs in Early Greek myth and ritual’, Phoenix 44
(1990), pp. 221-322. The point of controversy is whether in Iliad kolpos means ‘bosom’ or
‘fold of garment.’ The same question is relevant in the case of our sources. The meaning
‘fold’ seems more reasonable in that context.
34 E. Mioni, ‘Il Pratum Spirituale di Giovanni Mosco’, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 17
(1951), on-line, TLG; tr. J. Wortley, [in:] John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow [= Cistercian
Studies 139], Collegeville 2008, p. 224 (modified). By analogy with kolpos, it seems reason-
able to understand maskhalē not as ‘arm-pit’ but as ‘sleeve.’
35 Vitae sancti Nili Junioris 63, ed. G. Giovanelli, Βίος καὶ πολιτεία τοῦ ὁσίου πατρὸς
ἡμῶν Νείλου τοῦ Νέου, Grottaferrata 1972, on-line, TLG. tr. by myself, cf. translation in
Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits (cit. n. 2), p. 63 (see also Sanzo’s commentary to this text). A rare
word thesaurisma which I give etymologically as ‘treasury’ means a collection of excerpts
from the Gospel, not the New Testament in its integrity. In his On the Miracles of the Blessed
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 262
In fact, we know of a few miniature codices which probably served as
amulets.36 Codex Anastasi 9 (LDAB 100023), consisting of 15 pages,
would be the best example of a ‘treasury’ of this ilk. Although it seems too
large to keep it by one’s body, the introductory Prayer of Gregory acknowl-
edges such usage.37 The Anastasi codex contains a collection of invoca-
tions and religious texts of evidently apotropaic character. It holds with-
in, among others, correspondence between Jesus and Abgar. The
collection begins with words of encouragement: A prayer and exorcism
that I wrote, I, Gregory, the servant of the living God, to become an
amulet for everyone who will receive and read it.’38 Of course, this textual
unit is not organically tied to the following texts and the codex as a
whole. However, the producer deliberately put it at the beginning of the
collection as a fitting résumé of the rationale behind the codex in its
entirety. This interesting introduction clearly shows that the power of the
amulet, understood as a semiophore, depends intrinsically on reading its
textual content aloud which blurs the clear-cut division between the
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 263
Apostle Andrew, chapter 23, Gregory of Tours mentions a Christian woman, Trophima, who
put a Gospel on her breast to protect her virginity when thrown in a public house.
36 There are only a few examples: P. Berlin inv. 11710 (LDAB 6211; double-sheet); P. Leid.
Inst. 10 (LDAB 3241; two double-sheets; Ps 90:1–4, 7–9); P. Lond. Lit. 239 (LDAB 3369; 9
folios; a collection of texts); P. Oxy XVII 2065 (LDAB 3285; double-sheet; Ps 90:5–10);
P. Oxy XXXIV 2684 (LDAB 2846; double-sheet; Jud 4–5, 7–8); An issue of the miniature
codices used as amulets is discussed by M. J. Kruger, ‘P. Oxy. 840: Amulet or miniature
codex?’, The Journal of Theological Studies NS 53 (2002), pp. 81–94.
37 P. Anastasi 9, p. 1v, ll. 18-22 ⲉⲕⲉ[ⲧⲁⲛ]ϩⲉ ⲟⲩⲟⲛ ⲛⲙ ⲉⲧⲛⲁ[ⲧⲁⲟⲩⲟ] ⲛϯⲡⲣⲟⲥⲉⲩⲭⲏ [ⲉⲧⲛⲁⲕ]ⲁⲁⲥ
ⲛⲁϥ ⲫⲩ[ⲗⲁⲕⲧⲏⲣ]ⲟⲛ (‘You must [enliven] every one who will [recite] this prayer or [who
will] put it on himself as an [amulet]); Coptic text in Manuscrits coptes du Musée d ’Antiqui-
tatés des Pays-Bas à Leide, éd. W. Pleyte & P. A. A. Boeser, Leiden 1897, p. 443; tr. R.
Smith, [in:] M. Meyer, R. Smith (eds.) Ancient Christian Magic. Coptic Texts of Ritual Power,
Princeton 1999, p. 314. J. SanzoAt the crossroads’ (cit. n. 5), corrects an erroneous pagi-
nation given by Smith in his translation. I follow this improved page numbering.
38 P. Anastasi 9, p. 1r, ll. 1-6 ⲟⲩⲉⲩⲭⲏ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲟⲩⲉⲝⲟⲣⲅⲓⲥⲙⲟⲥ ⲉⲁⲓⲥϩⲁⲉⲓϥ ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲣⲏⲅⲟⲣⲟⲥ ⲡϩϩⲁⲗ
ⲙⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲉⲧⲟⲛ ⲉⲧⲣⲉⲥϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲫⲩⲗⲁⲕⲧⲏⲣⲟⲛ ⲛⲟⲩⲟⲛ ⲛⲙ ⲉⲧⲛⲁϫⲧ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲟϣ, ed. Pleyte
& Boeser, Manuscrits (cit. n. 37), p. 441, tr. R. Smith, [in:] M. Meyer, R. Smith (eds.)
Ancient Christian Magic (cit. n. 37), p. 314 (modified). See the recent remarks on this prayer
by J. van der Vliet, ‘Roman and Byzantine Egypt’ [in:] D. Frankfurter (ed.), Guide to
the Study of Ancient Magic, Leiden – Boston 2019, pp. 240–276, at pp. 258–259.
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264 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
power of the book and the power of the words. Since the biblical amulets
usually contain only short biblical passages, it is quite difficult to judge
from the content whether the producer intended to represent the whole
Bible. The situation is clearer when he shaped the amulet to imitate the
physical form of the biblical book, i.e. a codex.
Finally, the efficacy of an amulet may not be contingent upon a word
alone, or even upon a semiophore as such, but upon interrelation
between the words and the paradigmatic actions which the words refer
to. In such a case, we would have an analogy to historiolae known from
non-Christian spells. The historiola recounts the mighty deeds of divinity
to recreate them once again in favour of a practitioner. Quotations from
the Gospels or even indirect references to them might serve in exactly
the same way.39 This idea is pivotal for Joseph Sanzo’s study on scriptural
incipits. He understands such references to the Bible as effective pars pro
partibus (partes mean here single biblical narratives or words) not part pro
toto. It was never overtly formulated by the ancient Christians, but the
structure of some scriptural amulets could be best explained in light of
this hypothesis.
Below, I present six case studies based on which I show how semio-
phores can provide information about the religious imagery concerning
spiritual beings, as shared by their producers and users. Furthermore, I
interpret the modus operandi of the given amulets in light of three con-
cepts of their efficacy presented above.
1. P. Oxy. LXXVI 5073,40 (LDAB 140277);
papyrus; late 3rd – mid 4th century AD; Oxyrhynchos; Greek
Read the beginning of the gospel, and see (ἀνάγνωτι τὴν ἀρχὴν τοῦ
εὐαγγελίου καὶ ἴδε): | ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Christ. | As
39 Cf. P. Oxy. VIII 1077 ‘Curative gospel of Matthew (ἰαματικὸν εὐαγγέλιο(ν) κατὰ
Ματθαῖον)’ using Matthew 4:23–24. On this amulet, see J. Sanzo, ‘Wrapped up in the
Bible’, (cit. n.).
40 De Bruyn, Making Amulets (cit. n. 2), pp. 147–148; Jones, New Testament Texts on Greek
Amulets (cit. n. 2), p. 130 (no. 16).
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it is written in Isaiah the prophet, | “Behold, I shall send my messenger
(ἄγγελον) | before your face, who will prepare” (Mark 1:1–2).41
It is a long strip of papyrus measuring 25.2 × 4.5 cm, folded probably
from left to right which resulted in the destruction of the right side
through friction. The perforation in the upper-left has been characterised
by the editors as wormholes. The lack of creases testifies to the fact that
the papyrus was not folded but rolled up. The writing is careful and the
orthography correct. The text consists of an invocation and incipit of
Mark.
The opening invocation does not belong to Gospel. It is addressed to
the reader to make him act in a certain way. We may call it a performative
or, more precisely, directive utterance.42 Since the amulet was rolled up,
human beings cannot be the intended readers, the owner of the amulet
included.43 The proper addressee was certainly an evil spirit. 44 The abili-
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 265
41 Tr. P. Oxy. LXXVI, p. 22 (slightly modified).
42 Here, I refer to the differentiation made by D. Frankfurter, ‘Narrating power: The
theory and practice of the magical historiola in ritual spells’, [in:] M. W. Meyer & P. A.
Mirecki, Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, Leiden 1995, pp. 457–476, at p. 467.
43 Jones, New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets (cit. n. 2), p. 130.
44 Cf. P. Oxy. VIII 1151 (LDAB 2802).
Fig. 1. P. Oxy. LXXVI 5073.
Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society and the University of Oxford
Imaging Papyri Project; digitally processed by the editors
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 265
266 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
ties of the demons to read through a material barrier and to see hidden
things were presupposed, so the folding and concealment of the amulet
posed no obstacle. To my knowledge, the amulet contains the only known
direct call for reading addressed to spiritual powers on a protective
amulet to date, but the references to reading associated with nekydaimones
appear in defixiones.45
The invocation is clearly graphically separated from the text of the
Gospel. When we assume that behind such an organisation of the writing
space lies a certain way of understanding the reading practices of the evil
spirits, it turns out that in the lecture they need tips and instructions.
Moreover, the legibility of writing plays an important role. Although the
New Testament certifies that the evil powers know and use the Bible
which was already presupposed in the paradigmatic scene of the tempta-
tion of Jesus – the author of this amulet feels obliged to identify the scrip-
tural origin of the quoted text: ‘The beginning of the gospel…’
The incipit, suspended in the middle of the sentence, does not repre-
sent the Gospel as a whole. The focus seems to be put upon God’s mes-
senger.46 In the traditional exegesis, both ancient and modern, this pas-
sage refers to John the Baptist. Here, however, angelos applies rather to a
tutelary spirit who should guard the owner of the amulet against demonic
assaults. The demon, when reading the text, would evoke the protective
power of God’s angel (we may now give this translation of angelos). The
amulet presents then an untraditional exegesis and creative angelology
imagined by its producer and maybe also a user of the semiophore.
Perhaps, an even more clever trap was set for a demon by this amulet.
One of the sayings from the Anonymous Collection brings a hint concerning
its mechanism.
Once when one of the fathers was staying in his own cell, a demon came
and got into the elder’s bed then began reciting the book of Numbers by
45 A. Audollent, Defixionum tabellae quotquot innotuerunt tam in Graecis orientis quam in
totius occidentis partibus praeter Atticas in corpore inscriptionum atticarum editas, Paris 1904,
pp. 78, 87–88 (nos. 43–44, 52).
46 De Bruyn, Making Amulets (cit. n. 2), p. 147, comments on the function of the angel.
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 266
heart. Discouraged, the demon transformed himself into a form of a pau-
per and went limping out the elder with a staff and a little basket. The elder
said to him: ‘Do you know how to recite by heart?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘the Old
Te s t a m e n t . ’ T h e e l d e r s a i d t o h i m : D o y o u k n o w t h e Ne w [ Te s t a m e n t ] ? ’
When the demon heard ‘the New [Testament]’ he became invisible.47
This story may explain the mechanics of the amulet under scrutiny.
The imperative, characteristic of spells, causes the demon to come into
contact with the New Testament, ‘the beginning of gospel’ and, in effect,
to disappear48.
2. MPER N.S. XVII 10 (= P. Vindob. G 29831, LDAB 2823);49
parchment; 5th to mid-6th century ad; provenance unknown; Greek
I call on you (ἐπικαλοῦμέ σε) God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to
send forth your messenger (ἐξαποστίλῃς τὸν ἄγγελόν σου) to the one car-
rying this. ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not over-
come it. There was a man sent from (ἀπεσταλμένος)’ (John 1:5-6)50
It is a single-sheet quire (in codicological terms a ‘bifolium’), measur-
ing 6.5 × 4.2 cm; along the central fold there are holes indicating a binding.
The hand is elegant and careful.
This time the invocation is addressed by the creator or user of the
amulet to God himself. Similar calls on God,51 the Virgin Mary52 and the
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 267
47 N. 632, ed. and tr. Wortley, Anonymous Sayings (cit. n. 28), pp. 512–513.
48 Cf. interpretation of this saying from another perspective in Burton-Christie, The
Word in the Desert (cit. n. 28), p. 113.
49 To the literature given by LDAB, we would note B. C. Jones, ‘P. Vindob. G 29831;
Amulet or miniature codex?’, [on-line] https://www.bricecjones.com/blog/pvindob-g-
29831-amulet-or-miniature-codex, accessed 25 Jan. 2019.
50 I give the reading corrected by G. H. R. Horsley, ‘Reconstructing a biblical codex: the
prehistory of MPER N.S. XVII. 10 (P. Vindob. G 29 831)’, PapCo ngr. XXI, pp. 473481, at
p. 473, tr. Jones, New Te stame nt Tex ts on Greek Amulets (cit. n. 2), p. 148 (slightly modified).
51 Similar invocation to God to send down his archangel, see P. Wessely Prag. Gr. 1 (LDAB
5739; it contains biblical echoes); Cf. also P. Ryl. Copt. 104.
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268 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
angels53 also appear in the other amulets. It is worth noting that this invo-
cation refers to the amulet itself.
There is interplay between the invocation and the biblical text (note
that it is not an incipit) based on the verb apostellō. In the biblical context
and in the traditional exegesis, once again, we have a clear reference to
John the Baptist, but the creator of the amulet seems to link ‘a messenger’
with an angel – again as in P. Oxy. LXXVI 5073. The suspension of the bib-
lical passages in the middle of a sentence was also testified in a precedent
amulet.
52 P. Berol. inv. 21911 = Supp. Mag. I 26 (LDAB 5937; it contains Ps 90:1).
53 P. Princ. II 107 (LDAB 5835; besides adjurations and nomina barbara, it contains Ps 90:
1–2, ‘Our Father’ according to Matt 6:9, 11, and the liturgical echoes); Cf. also Supp. Mag.
I 29, ll. 3–8.
Fig. 2. MPER N.S. XVII 10, ÖNB/Wien P. Vindob. G 29831.
Courtesy of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv
und Grafiksammlung; digitally processed by the editors
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 268
In spite of the voices recognising MPER N.S. XVII 10 as part of a larg-
er codex,54 the majority of scholars identify this double-sheet as a com-
plete amulet in the form of the single-quire codex (unio). Due to practical
reasons, above all the relatively high price of a codex, the acquisition of
such a book, even in a form of a miniature ‘treasury,’ remained beyond the
capacities of many Christians.55
The intended reader of this codex-substitute was God himself. He was
expected to send his angel again – as he had done it before in paradigmatic
intervention brought into his memory by the scriptural citations. It seems
that, for the creator (and maybe also the user) of this particular amulet, the
effectiveness was guaranteed not so much by the text itself, but by the
underlying narrative pattern and the form of a codex. The powerful acts of
God rely not only upon the content but also the shape of the book.
3. P. Oxy. VIII 1151 (LDAB 2802);56
papyrus; 431–499? (LDAB, Orsini); Oxyrhynchos
+ Flee, hateful spirit! | Christ pursues you (φεῦγε π̣ν̣(εῦμ)α̣ μεμισιμένον,
Χ(ριστό)ς σε διώκει); | the son of God and the Holy Spirit have overtaken
you. | O God of the sheep-pool, deliver from all evil your handmaid Joan-
nia whom Anastasia, also called Euphemia, bore. | + ‘In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things
were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was
made.’ (John 1:1-3) | O lord,+ Christ, son and Word of the living God, who
heals every disease and every infirmity, also heal and watch over your
handmaid Joannia whom Anastasia, also called Euphemia, bore, and chase
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 269
54 Horsley, ‘Reconstructing a biblical codex’ (cit. n. 50), pp. 473–481.
55 R. S. Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt, Princeton – Oxford 2009, pp. 50–69 (the
chapter ‘The economics of book production’). Bagnall discusses the prices in the 4th cen-
tury ad.
56 Detailed study on this amulet by A. M. Luijendijk, ‘A Gospel amulet for Joannia
(P. Oxy. VIII 1151)’, [in:] K. B. Stratton & D. S. Kalleres (eds.), Daughters of Hecate:
Women and Magic in the Ancient World, Oxford 2014, pp. 418–433. The general conclusions
of this paper, however, raise some doubts. See also De Bruyn, Making Amulets (cit. n. 2),
pp. 107-109.
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270 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
away and banish from her every fever and every sort of chill57 – quotidian,
tertian, quartan – and every evil. Pray through the intercession of our lady
the mother of God, and the glorious archangels, and the holy and glorious
apostle and evangelist and theologian John, and St. Serenus and St.
Philoxenos and St. Victor and St. Justus and all the saints. For your name,
O lord God, have I invoked, the name that is wonderful and exceedingly
glorious and fearful to your adversaries, Amen. +58
This strip of papyrus, with dimensions of 23.4 × 4.4 cm, was found rolled
up and tied with a string. The editor described the script as ‘a clear upright
hand, approximating to a literary type.’59 The text is written in 56 short
lines, but the main textual units, especially in the first half of the spell,
begin on a new line. The crosses precede the invocation to the evil spirit
and the incipit. Both begin from a new line. The invocation to Christ also
begins on a new line, but the cross is placed between κ(ύρι)ε and χ(ριστ)έ.
The practitioner addresses at least two readers–the evil spirit and
God/Christ. The opening directive invocation, which structurally resem-
bles the formulas also present in non-Christian spells,60 reminds the evil
57 φυγάδευσον ἀπαὐτῆς πάντα πυρετὸν κ(αὶ) παντοῖον ῥῆγος, cf. Deut 28:22
(LXX): πυρετῷ καὶ ῥίγει. In the biblical passage, the fever and the chill function as
God’s punishment for trespasses, not as a sign of an activity of the evil spirit. So, this
phrase has to be interpreted as a verbal echo rather than a deliberate allusion. On termi-
nology referring to fevers in the papyrological material, see M. de Haro Sanchez, ‘Le
vocabulaire de la pathologie et de la thérapeutique dans les papyrus iatromagiques grecs.
Fièvres, traumatismes et “épilepsie”’, The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 47
(2010), pp. 131–153; see also bibliography on amulets against fever in Kraus, ‘Manuscripts
with the Lord’s prayer’ (cit. n. 24), pp. 260–261. We may add the recently published P. Oxy.
LXXXII 5306 (TM 702431) and 5307 (TM 702432). The lists of various kinds of fever (i.e.
malaria) also appear in defixiones, see A. Kropp, Defixiones. Ein aktuelles Corpus lateinischer
Fluchtafeln, Speyer 2008, nos. 1.4.4/8 (pages not numbered).
58 Tr. Meyer, [in:] Meyer & Smith (eds.), Ancient Christian Magic (cit. n. 37), pp. 40–41
(slightly modified). The line divisions are only indicated in the places relevant to my analysis.
59 P. Oxy. VIII, p. 251.
60 R. Heim, Incantamenta magica Graeca Latina, Lipsiae 1892, pp. 479–482; R. Kotansky,
‘Incantations and prayers for salvation on inscribed Greek amulets’, [in:] Ch. A. Faraone,
D. Obbink (eds.), Magika Hiera. Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, New York – Oxford 1991,
pp. 107–137, at p. 113. For a similar amulet against fever, see P. Prag I 6 (= Suppl. Mag. I 25).
Among the biblical amulets, see BGU III 956, 7–9: ὅπως διώξῃς ἀπἐμοῦ τοῦ δούλου σου
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 270
Fig. 3. P. Oxy. VIII 1151.
Courtesy of University of Glasgow Library,
Special Collections; digitally processed
by the editors
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 271
272 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
spirit that he has been already defeated. It might be called an exorcism.
The subsequent invocation, this time addressed to God, recalls the time
and the place of this battle – the healing by the sheep-pool. The historiola
does not appear in full, but the allusion is clear, although it is not certain
if it refers to the angel descending and stirring up the water (John 5:4) or
to Jesus who healed the lame in this place (John 5:8-9). However, the invo-
cation to Christ makes the latter interpretation more plausible. Both
invocations cause the antagonists of the spiritual combat to replay the
story evoked by recalling the paradigmatic biblical event.61
Usually, the historiola intends to put only a beneficial power action. In
our case, the practitioner also felt the need to address the evil spirit. He
probably presupposed that both the adversaries would read the amulet
that would force them to follow the biblical script. Interestingly, the
author of the amulet does not focus on deterring the evil, but he also
strengthens God’s power by bringing in the incipit of John (the gospel
that contains the passages on the sheeppool), references to intercessions
of Mary and the saints (notably John the Evangelist) and, at the very end,
the name of God.
4. P. Palau Rib. inv. 412 (LDAB 749383);62
papyrus; 6th to 7th century(?); provenance unknown; Coptic
ΧΜΓ | ‘[In the beg]inning was [the Word] and the Word was [with | God]
and [the W]ord w[as Go]d.’ (John 1:1) : ‘The book of the gen[ealogy of
τὸν δαίμονα προβασκανίας. The idea of God’s angels chasing the evil spirits is ex pressed
by Shenoute: We p r a y t o G o d t h a t h i s a n g e l s m a y a b i d e w i t h u s a n d w e w i t h t h e m , w h i l e
they protect us and chase every unclean spirit and every demon from Christ’s house and his
establishments’, Shenoute, Ac ep hal ou s Work (A13), MS Michigan 158,14a, ll. 37-48 ed. and tr.
D. W. Young, Coptic Manuscripts from the White Monastery: Works of Shenoute [= Mit t ei lu n g en
aus der Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek 22], Vienna 1993, pp. 169–170.
61 In Frankfurter’s analysis of narrative power used in the spells, a historiola combined
with a directive utterance works as a guarantee for the efficacy of the command–a central
speech-act in the spell; see, Frankfurter, ‘Narrative power’ (cit. n. 42), pp. 468–469.
62 Edition by J. G. Given, An incipits amulet featuring Jesus’s Letter to Abgar’, Journal of
Coptic Studies 19 (2017), pp. 42–49, image on figure 9, p. 169.
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Jesus | the Christ, the] son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham [begat
| Isaac], and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah [and] his | brothers.’
(Matthew 1:1): ‘Since many undertook to write the words according to the
things | which have been agreed upon among them, just as it was given to
us by those who | saw with their own eyes from the first.’ (Luke 1:1): ‘The
beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Christ | just as it was written in the
prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will send | my messenger before you.”’ (Mark
1:1–2): ‘The praise of song of David. The one who dwells | in the aid of the
exalted one will be in the shadow of the God | of heaven. <He> will say to
the Lord, “You are the one who receives me.”’ (Ps 90:1-2 LXX) | vacat ‘The
copy of the letter of Jesus the Christ writing to Abgar | the king of Edessa.
Greetings! Blessed are you and blessed is your city, | whose name is Edessa.
The Lord God the one who heals [every illness]’ | [-? -] Heal these animals.
Amen. Let it be (..ⲧⲁⲗϭⲟ ⲛⲧⲉⲃⲛⲟⲟⲩⲉ ϩⲁⲙⲛ ⲉⲥⲉϣⲱⲡⲉ) +63
The scrap of papyrus measures 23.8 × 12.3 cm. The holes in the upper-
left and lower-right corner suggest that the papyrus was fixed by nails or
pins to some surface. The vertical crease indicates that it was folded or
rolled and then crushed. There are no horizontal creases.
The Gospel incipits do not start from a new line. However, they are
separated by dicola. The letter of Christ to Abgar not only begins on a
new line but is also preceded by the partially blank line 12. The exhorta-
tion to heal also begins on a new line.
A closing invocation to heal the animals was addressed undoubtedly to
Christ who, in the letter to Abgar, does not mention cattle but promises
protection against evil. It remains uncertain who the subject of these
words is, but it would be reasonable to assume the creator of the amulet
or the owner of the cattle and that we are dealing with an actual case of
animal disease. If so, the expression refers to a particular context.
The correspondence between Abgar and Jesus circulated in many
ancient languages. In Coptic it is known from numerous manuscripts.
Writing to Abgar, Jesus promises that his letter will protect against ene-
mies and aggressive magic.64 Certainly, that is the reason behind the
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 273
63 Tr. Given, ‘An incipits amulet’ (cit. n. 62), p. 48.
64 Greek text of correspondence originated in the context of the Acts of Thaddaeus the
Apostle. Cf. Acta apostolorum apocrypha, vol. 1, ed. R. A. Lipsius & M. Bonnet, Leipzig
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 273
274 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
incorporation of this incipit into the body of the amulet. It refers to
exactly that point of correspondence, so to the letter as a whole. More-
over, the Coptic version of Christ’s letter to Abgar proves that the
demons would not even approach a copy of the letter displayed (literally
fixed) in a certain place: ‘At the place where this manuscript will be
affixed, no power of the adversary or unclean spirit will be able to
approach or to reach into that place, for ever.’65
Similarly, the Gospel incipits refer to the wider context. They represent
pars pro partibus a given Gospel (or four Gospels altogether) as the sum of
God’s mighty deeds and healings (and certainly as a whole Scripture as
such). It seems that in the case of the amulet under scrutiny, its power does
not reside in the words written down, so it is not an antirrhetical strategy.
Incipits invoke immaterial literary works,’ not ‘books’ to maintain a dis-
tinction made by Pomian.66 Those works are replete with descriptions of
Jesus’ power. 67 Certainly, the amulet was not conceived as a substitute for
the Gospel codex. In that case, it would not contain the letter to Abgar.
5. P. Lond. Copt. I 317 (LDAB 112657);68
parchment; 6th to 7th century; provenance unknown; Coptic
+ ‘The copy of the letter of Jesus the Christ, the son of the living God’
(Jesus’ letter to Abgar) ‘The book of the genealogy of Jesus the Christ’
1891, p. 281: αὕτη δέ μου ἐπιστολή, ὅπου ἄν προβληθῇ εἴτε ἐν δίκῃ ἐν δικαστηρίῳ.
εἴτε ἐν ὁδῷ, εἴτε ἐν θαλάσσῇ εἴτε ἐν ῥιγῶσιν, εἴτε ἐν πυρέσσουσιν φρικιῶσιν
ἐκβράζουσιν, κατάδεσμον ἔχουσιν ὑπέρβρασιν, φαρμακευθεῖσιν ὅσα
τούτοις ὅμοια, διαλυθήσονται.
65 P. Anastasi 9, p. 12r, ll. 10-19, ed. Pleyte & Boeser, Manuscrits (cit. n. 37), pp. 468–469:
ⲡⲙⲁ ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲛⲁⲧⲱⲉ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲛⲏⲧϥ ⲛⲧϭϫⲥϩⲁⲓ ⲛⲉⲗⲁⲁ ⲇⲏⲛⲁⲙⲥ ⲧⲉⲡⲁⲛⲧⲕⲙⲉⲛⲟⲥ ⲟⲩⲇⲉ ⲗⲁⲁ
ⲙ ⲛⲁⲕⲁⲑⲁⲣⲧⲟⲛ ⲉϣϭⲙϭⲟⲙ ⲉϩⲱⲛⲉ ⲉϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲟⲩⲇⲉ ⲉϫⲱϩ ⲉϫⲟⲩⲛ ⲉⲡⲧⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲉⲧⲙⲁ; tr.
R. Smith, [in:] Meyer & Smith (eds.), Ancient Christian Magic (cit. n. 37), p. 321.
66 Pomian, ‘Jak uprawiać historię kultury’ (cit. n. 10), pp. 1–2.
67 See Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits (cit. n. 2), pp. 158–161. Sanzo underlines exactly the pas-
sages describing the mighty deeds of Jesus, not the Gospel narrative as a whole.
68 J. Sanzo, ‘Brit. Lib. Or. 4919(2): An unpublished Coptic amulet in the British Library’,
Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 183 (2012), pp. 98–100. The paper also contains an
image of this amulet; Sanzo, Scriptural Incipits (cit. n. 2), pp. 81–82 [no. 4].
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(Matthew 1:1) Inasmuch as many have attempted (Luke 1:1) ‘In the begin-
ning was the word’ (John 1:1) ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the
Christ’ (Mark 1:1)69
This strip of parchment measures 1.6 × 6.7 cm and contains 21 lines of
text. It has several horizontal creases and at least one vertical, which indi-
cate that the amulet was folded. The letters are slightly sloping, but the
hand is generally careful. The orthography is in line with standard
Sahidic. Except for a sign of uncertain nature at the very beginning, the
amulet contains only incipits of Christ’s letter to Abgar and four Gospels.
Besides Mark, all other incipits begin from a new line. The amulet gives
no hint as to whether the spiritual powers should read the texts, or if the
text itself keeps the evil spirits at distance. The quality of the writing and
the clear organisation of the textual units suggest, however, that legibility
matters.
Many remarks referring to the precedent amulet remain valid, in the
case of this semiophore as well, but with one important difference. Here,
the incipit of Christ’s letter to Abgar precedes the beginnings of the
Gospels. Such precedence may indicate that – contrary to the Gospels –
the alleged author of the Letter was Jesus himself. The producer, and
maybe also the user, would take such authorship for granted.
6. P. Stras. Copt. 5 (LDAB 382628);70
papyrus; 6th to 7th century; provenance unknown; Coptic.
According to Mark, ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Christ. As it
is written in Isaiah the prophet’ (Mark 1:1) | + ‘He who resides in the help
of the exalted one will dwell in the shade of the God of heaven, saying to
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 275
69 Tr. Sanzo,Brit. Lib. Or. 4919(2)’ (cit. n. 68), p. 100 (biblical sigla introduced). The ini-
tial sign, as Sanzo notes, might also be a christogram.
70 Ed. A. Kreps, An ancient Christian amulet’, [in:] A. Boud’hors et al. (eds.), Coptica
Argentoratensia. Textes et documents. Troisième université d’été de papyrologie copte. (Strasbourg, 18–
25 juillet 2010) (P. Stras. Copt.) [= Cahiers de la Bibliothèque Copte 19], Strasbourg 2014, pp. 111–
115. The volume also contains the image of the papyrus.
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276 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
the Lord, “You are | my receiver, my refuge, my God, whom I will trust.
Because it is you who will save me from | the ambush of the hunter and
from the harsh word. He will make shade for me under his breast | and I
will trust under his wings. His truth will encircle you like armour. You will
not | be afraid in it, the terror of night and the arrow that flies in the day
| or anything walking in the darkness from the destruction of the demon |
of the noonday. One thousand falls to your left, ten thousand to your right
side | but it will not be able to approach you. However, you will fill your
eyes, you will | see the requital of the sinners. You, the Lord, are my hope.
You built | the most exalted refuge, no evil will approach you, no plague |
will enter into your dwelling places. He will command his angels | for your
sake to guard you in all your ways and they shall bear you upon their |
hands, lest you trip on a stone with your foot. You will mount snake and |
serpent, and trample on the lion and dragon. He will trust me, I will res-
cue him. | I will make shade for him because he got to know my name. You
will cry out to me and I will hear you. | I am with you in all your afflictions.
I will save you. I will honour you. I will allot you many days. | I will show
you my salvation.’ (Ps 90:1-16 LXX) Amen | vacat According to Gospel of
John ‘In the beginning was | the word and the word was in the presence
of God and the word was divine.’ (John 1:1) According to Matthew | ‘The
book of Jesus the Christ the son of David the son of Abraham. Abraham
begat Isaac. Isaac begat Jacob. As for Jacob, | he begat Judah and his broth-
ers.’ (Matthew 1:1) According to Luke ‘Now Jesus opened the book of
the Lord. He found the place where it is written, | ‘the spirit of the Lord
is upon me.’ (Luke 4:17-18) 71
A scrap of papyrus with dimensions 28.5×14.8 cm was folded six times
vertically and once horizontally with blank verso on top. The left and
right side of the text feature the sequences of characters or ephesia gram-
mata, which are unfortunately not reproduced in the edition.
The amulet contains, in order, the incipit of Mark, Psalm 90 in its
entirety,72 the incipit of John, the incipit of Matthew and a passage (not
71 Tr. Kreps, An ancient Christian amulet’ (cit. n. 70), pp. 114–115 (translation of Ps 90
modified to a considerable extent by myself according to Coptic text).
72 Text of the Psalm does not contain its title (ⲡⲉⲥⲙⲟⲩ ⲧⲱⲇⲏ ⲇⲁⲩⲉⲓⲇ) and ends with
‘amen’ which does not belong to the biblical text – it suggests that it reflects its liturgical
usage; cf. E. A. W. Budge, The Earliest Known Coptic Psalter, London 1898, pp. 98–99.
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 276
an incipit) from Luke. The scribe ended Psalm 90 in the middle of line
19, then he started from the beginning of the new line but scribbled out
the text and started once again from According to Gospel of John.’ He
did not forgo the indication beginnings of textual units, even at the
expense of legibility. The Gospels are identified by their titles which are
separated from scriptural passages by a staurogram (once also a cross).
The scribe introduces Psalm 90 and John’s Gospel from the new line.
Later, however, he does not continue this practice, compelled by lack of
space.
The text was written in a single hand. The script, executed carefully at
the beginning, became denser and sloping in the course of lines, which
proves that the textual corpus was planned beforehand to be included in
its entirety. An evident sign of this is the references to Prophet Isaiah at
the beginning in the incipit of Mark, and at the end in the passage from
Luke. The latter is not an incipit but an excerpt from a narrative about
Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. In the amulet, we read, ‘Now Jesus
opened the book of the Lord. He found the place where it is written, ‘the
spirit of the Lord is upon me.’ In the Bible, the sentence immediately pre-
ceding the words above explains that the book was exactly that of Isaiah.
Despite the absence of an invocation, the amulet should be interpret-
ed as apotropaic, especially in light of Psalm 90, as it was very popular in
such a function. The scriptural context of Luke’s passage suggests that it
was directed against illness or some oppression.73 If so, the intended read-
er was an evil spirit who should be affected by God’s power as introduced
by the texts. The spirit, against whom this small scriptural corpus has
been executed, seems to need guidance in reading, identification of par-
ticular textual units, flagging their beginnings and endings, and graphical
dividers (staurograms, blank spaces).
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 277
73 Luke 4:18 (= Isa 61:1 LXX) mentions blindness but also freedom for prisoners:
ⲉⲧⲁϣⲉⲟⲉⲓϣ ⲟⲩⲕⲱ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲁⲓⲭⲙⲁⲗⲱⲧⲟⲥ ⲙ ⲟⲩⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲃⲗⲉ. The Coptic Version of the New
Testament in the Southern Dialect otherwise called Sahidic or Thebaic, vol. 2, The Gospel of
S. Luke, ed. G. W. Horner, Oxford 1911, pp. 66, 68
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278 PRZEMYSŁAW PIWOWARCZYK
CONCLUSIONS
The New Philology stresses that each particular scriptural passage
written on a scrap of papyrus or parchment is valuable in itself, even if
brings nothing relevant to the textual criticism of the Bible. The Semio-
phore Theory underlines the correspondence between material realisa-
tion present in a given object and the ideal literary work. This interrela-
tion enables us to interpret the semiophore in search of meaning.
Keeping that in mind, we may identify some producers of the biblical
amulets as innovative exegetes (see the interpretations of angelos) or even
supporters of a canon distinct from the one established by the Church
authorities (note Christ’s letter to Abgar).
The amulets given in case studies present a few different microtheolo-
gies referring to the nature of spiritual beings and the power of the Scrip-
tures. Undoubtedly, in the vast majority of cases, they were not fully con-
ceptualised but rooted in practices of operating on ritual power. It
remains unclear whether such diversity points at a wide range of personal
views and imaginaries, or rather at a deliberate choice of already well-
established Scripture-based strategy applied towards the spiritual powers.
The choice might be conditioned by the nature of the imminent danger
or situational background.
The conviction of the ability of the spirits to read the hidden text
seems widespread. It is worth noting that many amulets are executed
carefully and with clear care about the legibility of the text, which
suggests it was an important element of the effectiveness of the amulet.
P. Oxy. LXXVI 5073 expressly shows that the amulet will be effective only
if the evil spirit reads the text.
Of course, there are also many carelessly executed amulets. Naturally,
some practitioners might have thought they were correct, but probably
many were aware that they could have been better (in terms of regularity
of the script, organization of the textual units etc. – I do not suppose that
the producer might have deliberately made orthographic errors). In those
cases, the producers must have had different opinions about the source
of the effectiveness, linking it not to the particular realisation (‘book’) on
papyrus or ostracon but rather to the power of the ideal model (‘literary
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 278
work’). In some amulets, the passages quoted are expressly identified as
Gospels. It might have been motivated by an assumption that the spirit
would not recognise the text, and therefore would not trigger an
apotropaic mechanism.
The next step in the research based on the theoretical framework and
case studies I have presented in this contribution would be an extensive
analysis of the entire source material that would allow researchers to pin-
point the dominant tendencies.
Przemysław Piwowarczyk
University of Silesia
Institute of History
ul. Bankowa 11
40-007 Katowice
Poland
e-mail: przemyslaw.piwowarczyk@us.edu.pl
MICROTHEOLOGIES BEHIND THE BIBLICAL AMULETS 279
253_279 Piwowarczyk27.qxp_011_041 Ch1 14.05.2020 13:07 Strona 279
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Book
The Tales and Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) are a key source of evidence for the practice and theory respectively of eremitic monasticism, a significant phenomenon within the early history of Christianity. The publication of this book finally ensures the availability of all three major collections which constitute the work, edited and translated into English. Richer in Tales than the 'Alphabetic' collection to which this is an appendix (both to be dated c.AD 500), the 'Anonymous' collection presented in this volume furnishes almost as much material for the study of the late antique world from which the monk sought to escape as it does for the monastic endeavour itself. More material continued to be added well into the seventh century and so the spread and gradual evolution of monasticism are illustrated here over a period of about two and a half centuries.
Manuscripts with the Lord's prayer -They are more than simply witnesses to that text itself
  • T J Kraus
T. J. Kraus, 'Manuscripts with the Lord's prayer -They are more than simply witnesses to that text itself ', [in:] T. J. Kraus & T. Nicklas, New Testament Manuscripts. Their Texts and Their World [= Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 2], Leiden -Boston 2006, pp. 227-266.
(LXX) drives the demon out
  • V Athanasius
  • Anton
Athanasius, V. Anton. 6, 4-5, A quotation of Psalm 117:7 (LXX) drives the demon out.
Instruction concerning a spiteful monk I 9
Instruction concerning a spiteful monk I 9 (tr. A. Veilleux, [in:] Pachomian Koinonia, vol. 3, Kalamazoo 1982, p. 14) recommends using the passage 117:11 against logisomoi.
translation only), plate LXIX (text)-according to the inscription in the monk's cell, the passage Ps 90:13 (LXX) makes the snake's bite harmless. On invocations inspired by the Scriptures, see D
  • F L Griffith
F. L. Griffith, 'Oxford excavations in Nubia', Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 14 (1927), pp. 57-116, esp. p. 87 (no. 17, translation only), plate LXIX (text)-according to the inscription in the monk's cell, the passage Ps 90:13 (LXX) makes the snake's bite harmless. On invocations inspired by the Scriptures, see D. Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism, New York -Oxford 1993, pp. 199-200.
VIII 1077 'Curative gospel of Matthew (ἰαματικὸν εὐαγγέλιο(ν) κατὰ
  • . P Cf
  • Oxy
Cf. P. Oxy. VIII 1077 'Curative gospel of Matthew (ἰαματικὸν εὐαγγέλιο(ν) κατὰ
New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets (cit
  • Jones
Jones, New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets (cit. n. 2), p. 130 (no. 16).
Reconstructing a biblical codex: the prehistory of
  • G H R Horsley
Amulet or miniature codex?', [on-line] https://www.bricecjones.com/blog/pvindob-g-29831-amulet-or-miniature-codex, accessed 25 Jan. 2019. 50 I give the reading corrected by G. H. R. Horsley, 'Reconstructing a biblical codex: the prehistory of MPER N.S. XVII. 10 (P. Vindob. G 29 831)', PapCongr. XXI, pp. 473-481, at p. 473, tr. Jones, New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets (cit. n. 2), p. 148 (slightly modified).
LDAB 749383); 62 papyrus
  • P Palau
P. Palau Rib. inv. 412 (LDAB 749383); 62 papyrus; 6th to 7th century(?); provenance unknown;
61 In Frankfurter's analysis of narrative power used in the spells, a historiola combined with a directive utterance works as a guarantee for the efficacy of the command-a central speech-act in the spell; see, Frankfurter
  • D W Young
D. W. Young, Coptic Manuscripts from the White Monastery: Works of Shenoute [= Mit tei lun gen aus der Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek 22], Vienna 1993, pp. 169-170. 61 In Frankfurter's analysis of narrative power used in the spells, a historiola combined with a directive utterance works as a guarantee for the efficacy of the command-a central speech-act in the spell; see, Frankfurter, 'Narrative power' (cit. n. 42), pp. 468-469. 62 Edition by J. G. Given, ' An incipits amulet featuring Jesus's Letter to Abgar', Journal of Coptic Studies 19 (2017), pp. 42-49, image on figure 9, p. 169.