Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Amulet of Mark 1:1-2

Below is an excerpt from my article, "The 'Son of God' Was in the Beginning (Mark 1:1)," JTS 62.1 (April 2011): 23-25 with some differences in formatting (footnotes are endnotes, with fresh numbers, etc).

Non-continuous manuscript witnesses

At the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans, 2009, Geoffrey Smith announced a new early papyrus from Oxyrhynchus that witness to the short reading.[1] It contains Mark 1:1–2, and the first verse reads: αρχη του ευαγγελιου ιησου του χριστου. The second definite article in front of Χριστοῦ is unique in the Greek manuscript tradition. On the whole, however, the text in the two verses is akin to that in Codex Koridethi (Θ 038).[2] Smith cautiously assigned the yet unedited papyrus to the 3rd/4th centuries. The hand is not professional, but the copying has been executed with some care.[3] Judging from the text, the scribe seems to have copied the exemplar carefully, with the unique definite article as a possible exception.

Nevertheless, there are several features that suggests that this item is not a continuous-text MS, but rather an amulet; gospel incipits in general were very common on amulets.[4] This item is typically written on one side only; it has not been folded but was probably rolled and placed in a capsule; there are several holes, four of which are aligned vertically at the top and may have been used for a string; the text is introduced by this curious appeal on the first line: αναγνωτι την αρχην του ευαγγελλιου και ιδε (“Read the beginning of the gospel and see”), which is clearly set off from the subsequent gospel text by indention, line spacing, and very different line length; it was possibly produced by a different scribe and/or in a different stage.[5] Various titles, introductory texts, and invocational features are attested in similar amulets with incipits.[6]

Apart from P45, which is not extant in the opening chapters of Mark, there are no early papyrus witnesses to the Gospel of Mark. Therefore one might be tempted to assign great weight to this witness. As an amulet, however, this papyrus does not belong to the New Testament textual tradition proper and will therefore not likely be registered with a Gregory-Aland number.[7] On the other hand, it may still be significant for the reconstruction of the New Testament, not least by virtue of its age.[8] Otherwise, there are at least two other Greek papyrus amulets with the incipit of Mark, and they in fact attest to the long reading: P. Berlin inv. 6096 (4th cent.?);[9] PSI VI 719 (4th–5th cent.; from Oxyrhynchus).[10]

[1] The papyrus was presented and discussed by Geoffrey Smith, “A New Amulet of Mark 1:1-2 from Oxyrhynchus” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the SBL, New Orleans, 2009). According to Smith, the papyrus will be edited and published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXXVI (London: Egypt Exploration Society, forthcoming).

[2] Apart from the article, the only other difference to Θ is in v. 2 where the papyrus reads ὡς for καθώς in Θ.

[3] In private correspondance, Thomas J. Kraus categorizes the hand as being close to the Roman bookhand (above all, Roman period), resembling the writing style of P45 (3rd cent.) apart from some irregularities.

[4] Chrysostom mentions how “women and little children suspend Gospels from their necks as a powerful amulet, and carry them about in all places wherever they go” (Stat. 19.14 [NPNF1 9:470]). Most probably “Gospels” in this connection refers to the incipits that represented the whole Gospels, which in turn were perceived as having a special power for protection, exorcism or healing. In P.Rain. 1, for example, the wearer of the amulet commands different types of fever to flee by appealing to the four Gospels of the Son (ὀρκίζω ὑμᾶς κατὰ τῶν τεσσάρων εὐαγγελίων τοῦ ὑιοῦ κτλ.). For a catalogue of 11 Greek and Coptic amulets with gospel incipit(s), see Paul Mirecki, “Evangelion-Incipits Amulets in Greek and Coptic: Towards a Typology,” in Proceedings of the Central States Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research 4 (2001): 143–53.

[5] The appeal in itself would perhaps better reflect an apologetic purpose. Cf. Origen, Cels. 2.36: ἀναγνώτω τὸ εὐαγγέλιον καὶ ὁράτω ὅτι καὶ “Ὁ ἑκατοντάρχης καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ τηροῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδόντες τὸν σεισμὸν καὶ τὰ γινόμενα ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα, λέγοντες· Θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος” (SC 132: 372; my italics). On the other hand, the reading of the words on the amulet was of major importance for its effectiveness.

[6] For example, P.Mich.inv. 1559 begins with “The Holy Gospel according to Matthew” followed by the four Gospel incipits in sequence. In the Coptic source text P.Anastasy 9, the gospel incipits are preceded by this description: “This is the establishment of the beginning of the four gospels.” Cf. P.Oxy. 1077 that presents Matt 4:23-24 under a heading that expressly indicates its function, ιαματικον ευαγελλιον κατα Ματθαιον (“Curative Gospel according to Matthew”).

[7] Note, however, that in some cases it is difficult to distinguish between miniature codices and amulets, for example some registered papyri in small format may have been used as amulets, e.g. P50, P78, P105. Moreover, continuous-text MSS may have been reused as amulets e.g., P. Vindob. G 29831. See G.H.R. Horsley, “Reconstructing a Biblical Codex: the Prehistory of MPER n.s. XVII. 10 (P.Vindob. G 29831),” Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses, Berlin, 13.–19.8.1995 (2 vols.; eds. B. Kramer et al.; APF Beihefte 3; Stuttgart-Leipzig 1997), 473–81.

[8] On these issues, see Stuart R. Pickering, “The Significance of Non-Continuous New Testament Textual Materials in Papyri,” Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts. The Papers of the First Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (ed. D. G. K. Taylor; Texts and Studies 3.1; Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 1999), 121-141; Stanley Porter, “Textual Criticism in the Light of Diverse Textual Evidence for the Greek New Testament: An Expanded Proposal,” in in New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World  (ed. Thomas J. Kraus and Tobias Nicklas; TENT 2; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 305–37.

[9] See Carl Wessely, Les plus anciens monuments du christianisme écrits sur papyrus II:  textes grecs (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1924), 412-13. The papyrus reads αρχη του ευαγγελιου Υισου [sic] Χυ̅ υυ̅ του θυ̅ (line 8). Wessely dated the MS to the 4th century, whereas Fritz Krebs, “Altchristiliche Texte im Berliner Museum,” in Nachrichten von der Königl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften und der Georg-Augusts-Universität zu Göttingen (Göttingen: Dieterichsche Verlags-Buchhandlung, 1892): 114-20 (no. IV), dated it to the 6th cent. at the earliest (114).

[10] Ibid., 413. Two other items are inconclusive: P. Vindob. G. 348 (6th–7th cent.) reads [α]ρ̣χ̣η̣ τ̣ο̣υ̣ ε̣υ̣α̣γ̣[γελιου] (l. 1–2), whereas P. Oxy. 1928 (5–6th cent.) contains only the Gospel titles. See R. W. Daniel, “A Christian Amulet on Papyrus,” Vigiliae Christianae 37 [1983]: 400, 402.


  1. We should resurrect the Talisman category. Just rename it "Token" so that amulets and ostraca won't feel felt out. This has needed to be done for a long time.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. I agree, James. IMO, we cannot overlook these non-continuous witnesses.

  3. I think the simplest way forward will simply be to create an additional hold-all category of "Additional Witnesses" and use that to collect the important inscriptions, ostraka, amulets, and other such witnesses. There are at least a dozen or so that warrant inclusion into an apparatus.

  4. Peter, how would you then mark them? P for papyri, 0 for majuscules and non-zero for minuscules, so what would you use to mark them? Sorry for the tautology :)

  5. It's actually missing the last three words of v. 2. Not just missing as in fragmentary, but the papyrus ends the line and doesn't begin another one.

    Is this typical of incipits on amulets?