Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt

Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt

A project of the Ancient Cultures Research Centre

The project 'Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt' (PCE) is producing a volume collecting all the papyri (including ostraca, parchment, and tablets) which document the rise of Christianity in Egypt down to the victory of Constantine over Licinius in 324. It will include text, translation, and commentary on all such texts, incorporating both documentary and literary texts.


The PCE aims, in the first instance, to collect all the papyri (including ostraca, parchment, and tablets) which document the rise of Christianity in Egypt down to the victory of Constantine over Licinius in 324. This will be the first such collection since the two volumes of Les plus anciens monuments du christianisme écrits sur papyruswere published by Wessely in 1906 and 1924 (=Patrologia Orientalis IV, 2).

The project explicitly includes all papyrological material bearing on the question, that is, 'literary texts' as well as documents. The papyri are not collected simply for their own sake; that is, PCE is not only a repertorium of Christian papyri. Rather, the papyri form the focus for a detailed study of the papyrological evidence for the spread of Christianity in Egypt.

Since the project no longer defines itself as a 'Corpus' of Christian papyri, it is less beholden to the strictness of definition which would attend such a claim. In the present context, a 'Christian papyrus' is any text on papyrus which assists in documenting the rise of Christianity in Egypt. This may include texts which mention Christians but were not written by them, as well as texts such as certain Decianlibelli, none of which, we would argue, are written for Christians. The inclusion of a text in the Conspectus does not guarantee that we hold it to have been written by, for, or of a Christian: Section X ('Texts With Biblical Echoes For Magical Or Other Such Use') includes texts where there is no real way to divine the beliefs of either writer or user: yet the use of Christian theological and scribal elements demands discussion of how this occurred, and its implications. Similarly, in the discussion of Septuagint and other Old Testament material in Greek, it makes no sense to excise any text because it has a chance of having been written for Jewish use.

As a matter of course we treat all papyri which have at any time been considered as possibly Christian. In most such cases we reproduce the text as the basis for discussion. Where we reject the suggestion that the text sheds light on Christianity, it seems misleading to give such texts PCE numbers. They are noted in the conspectus, but by letters (a, b, c, etc) under appropriate headings.

From an historical point of view, the chronological cut-off is not arbitrary: the unification of the Empire for the first time under a Christian ruler is a defining moment in the relationship between Christianity (broadly defined) and the secular Roman world. We focus here on the relationship between Christianity and a Roman world which did not always tolerate it, rather than one in which protection for the tradition was enshrined in law. Regardless of what actual changes took place on the ground (and there may well have been few or none in many places), the PCEvolume has to stop somewhere: we would argue that 324 forms a more meaningful historical cut-off than any other date in the fourth century. In strictly palaeographical terms, 324 (or any other precise date) is impossible to uphold as a cut-off: no such precision in dating is possible, nor is the field even adequately charted. Through the synchronic perspective adopted here, the project hopes to make a contribution to sharpening dating techniques, particularly with regard to literary papyri In the end, however, any chronological cut off is surely palaeographically arbitrary: if this be the case, a significant historical point makes as good a cut-off as any.
From a pragmatic point of view, we can only commit ourselves to one text volume (with a volume of supporting material) at this stage. Treating the rest of the fourth century, for which there are more Christian papyri than for the first three centuries, must be left to the future. In this publication, a detailed catalogue of all Christian texts down to the end of the fourth century will safeguard users against the cut-off point of the volume as a whole.
In terms of arrangement, the texts will be grouped according to genre, starting with civil documents, and proceeding through letters and sub-literary types to patristic and biblical books. A synthetic presentation of all relevant textual data in one volume will allow for a more detailed appreciation of the papyrological evidence for the rise of Christianity in Egypt than had previously been possible. In many cases, literary texts will be reproduced only in excerpt, concentrating on points where the particular papyrus documents a phase in the history of culture.

The project is based at Macquarie University (Sydney) within the Ancient Cultures Research Centre. The editorial team comprises D.C. Barker, M. Choat, B.F. Harris, E.A Judge, and A.M. Nobbs. Research Assistance is provided by Ms Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and Ms Jon Dalrymple.  Cambridge University Press is contracted to publish the PCE.

Information about recent and forthcoming publications in the field or any other advice would be greatly welcomed.

Assoc. Prof. A.M. Nobbs
Department of Ancient History
Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia

Email: Telephone: (02) 9850 8844 Fax: (02) 9850 9001


The Conspectus lists all texts to be dealt with in the PCE, together with their date, provenance, and a brief description.

As explained in the Overview, the definition of 'Christian text' is deliberately wide, to allow discussion of papyri which bear on the history of Christianity even if they are not written by Christians per se. We also treat papyri thought Christian by others but not so in our estimation, by way of discussing the criteria for assessing whether or not a document is Christian.

The Conspectus can be used freely by visitors to the site, and the team would appreciate feedback on the list, in particular if it seems to lack any item, or should include any recently published text. Any comments should be directed to Malcolm Choat (

The Conspectus remains a draft, to which Macquarie University holds the copyright, and must not be reproduced in any form.

As the title of the project suggests, texts found outside Egypt (in particular from Qumran) are not included.

Unpublished texts are as a general rule not included; such texts as have come to our attention exist in the the Schøyen Collection, Oslo (e.g. MS MSS 187; 2648-49, cf.

The Conspectus is in PDF format, and requires Adobe Reader or a pdf-viewer (e.g. Preview) to read.

View Conspectus


The PCE project is being undertaken by a collaborative team within the ACRC. In addition to the interests of team members in papyrology and early Christianity, below are listed some of our more specialised interests and contact details (for mail and fax contact see below).

Prof. Alanna Nobbs
+61 2 9850 8844
Interests: Papyrus letters; late antique historiography, esp. ecclesiastical historians; monasticism. 
Em. Prof. Edwin Judge
+61 2 9850 7512  
Interests: Roman political ideology; cultural interaction of Christian and classical traditions.
Dr Malcolm Choat
+61 2 9850 7561
Interests: Coptic (esp. early documentary papyri); monasticism.
Dr Don Barker
+61 2 9850 9962
Interests: palaeography; NT papyri; social conditions in Roman Egypt.
Rachel Yuen-Collingridge
+61 2 9850 7562
Email:yuencolling AT
Interests: text history; Greek lexicography; papyrology.
Jon Dalrymbple
+61 2 9850 9962

Post and Fax contacts for all team members are:

Dept. of Ancient History
Faculty of Arts
Macquarie University
NSW 2109 
Fax: +61 2 9850 9001


Selected Publications in the Field by the Editorial Team

D.C. Barker

'Some Findings of the Census Returns of Roman Egypt', Ancient Society [Macquarie University] 15 (1985) 138-147.
'The Place of Residence of the Divorced Wife in Roman Egypt', Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses (Stuttgart - Leipzig, 1997) I, 59-66.
(with S.R. Pickering), A Handbook to the Macquarie Papyri (Sydney, 1998).

M. Choat

(with A. Nobbs), 'Monotheistic Formulae of Belief in Greek Letters on Papyrus from the Second to Fourth Century', Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 2 (2001-2005) 35-51.
'Thomas the "wanderer" in a Coptic List of the Apostles', Orientalia 71(2005).
(with R.S. Bagnall & I Gardner), 'O.Douch I 40', ZPE 147 (2004) 205-207.
'Papnouthios in SB I 2266: New man or new patron?', ZPE 133 (2000) 157-162.
(with I. Gardner and A. Nobbs), 'P.Harr. 107: Is this another Greek Manichaean letter?', ZPE 131 (2000) 118-124.
'The development and use of terms for 'monk' in Late Antique Egypt', JbAC 45 (2002) 5-23.
(with I. Gardner), 'O.Douch I 49', ZPE 143 (2003) 143-146.
'Fourth century monasticism in the papyri', forthcoming in Akten des 23. Internationalen Kongreß für Papyrologie, Vienna 2001.
'Philological and historical approaches to the search for the 'third type' of Egyptian monk', Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Millennium. Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies. Leiden, August 27 - September 2, 2000, edd.M. Immerzeel and J. van der Vliet (Leuven 2004) II, 857-865.
(with I. Gardner), 'Towards a palaeography of fourth century documentary Coptic', Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Millennium. Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies. Leiden, August 27 - September 2, 2000, edd.M. Immerzeel and J. van der Vliet (Leuven 2004) I, 495-503.

B.F. Harris

'Papyri and ostraca: New Testament', J.D. Douglas (ed.), The New Bible Dictionary (London 1962) 928-932.
'Richard Bentley and the Text of the Greek Testament', Evangelical Quarterly 34 (1962) 214-220.
'Biblical echoes and reminiscences in Christian papyri', Proc. XIV Int. Congr. Pap. (London 1975) 155-160.
'The use of Scripture in some unidentified theological papyri', in T.W. Hillard, R.A. Kearsley, C.E.V. Nixon and A.M. Nobbs (edd.), Ancient History in a Modern University (Sydney 1998) II, 228-232.

E.A. Judge

'The earliest use of monachos for ¿monk¿ (P. Coll. Youtie 77) and the origins of monasticism', JbAC 20(1977) 72-89.
(and S.R. Pickering), 'Papyrus documentation of church and community in Egypt to the mid-fourth century', JbAC 20(1977) 47-71.
(and S.R. Pickering), 'Biblical papyri prior to Constantine: Some cultural implications of their physical form', Prudentia 10(1978) 1-13.
'Fourth century monasticism in the papyri', Proc. XVI Int. Congr. Pap. (Chico 1981) 613-620.
Rank and Status in the World of the Caesars and St. Paul (Fourth Broadhead Memorial Lecture) (Christchurch, 1982).
'Selection criteria for the Corpus Papyrorum Christianarum', Atti XVII Congr. Int. Pap. (Naples 1984) I, 117-122.
'Papyri', in Everett Ferguson (ed.), Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1990) 687-691.

A.M. Nobbs (formerly Emmett)

'A fourth century hymn to the Virgin Mary? Psalmus responsorius: P. Barc. 149b-153', Proc. XIV Int. Congr. Pap. (London 1975) 97-102.
'The subject of the Latin Psalmus Reponsorius, P. Barc. inv. 149b.-153', MPL 2(1977) 99-108.
'Corpus Papyrorum Christianarum. A proposed corpus of Greek papyri bearing on the history of Christianity', JÖBG 31 (1981).
'A fourth-century hymn to the Virgin Mary?', in G.H.R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity 2 (Sydney 1982) 141-46.
'Female ascetics in the Greek papyri', XVI. Internationaler Byzantinistenkongress. Akten. II. Teil, 2. Teilband. = JÖBG 32 (1982) 507-515.
'An unpublished petition to Flavius Olympius (P Macquarie inv. 358)', Atti XVII Congr. Int. Pap. (Naples 1984) III, 825-828.
'An early fourth-century female monastic community in Egypt?', in A. Moffatt (ed.), Maistor. Classical, Byzantine and Renaissance Studies for Robert Browning (Canberra, 1984) 77-83.
'The concept of Spirit in papyrus letters of the third and fourth century. Problems posed by P. Harr. 107', Prudentia, Supplementary Volume (1985) 73-79.


'Revolt in the time of Diocletian', Ancient History: Resources for Teachers 16 (1986) 132-136.
'The idea of salvation: the transition to Christianity as seen in some early papyri', Prudentia, Supplementary Volume (1988) 59 -63.
Review of Das Archiv des Nepheros und verwandte Texte, JEA 77(1991) 227-230.
(and S.R. Llewelyn), 'P. Grenf. II 73. A Reconsideration', Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses (Stuttgart and Leipzig 1997) II, 613-630.
'Formulas of belief in Greek papyrus letters of the third and fourth Centuries', in T.W. Hillard, R.A. Kearsley, C.E.V. Nixon and A.M. Nobbs (edd.), Ancient History in a Modern University (Sydney 1998) II, 233-37.
'Gnosticism and the Greek papyri from Egypt', Phronema 14(1999) 53-59.
(and I. Gardner and M. Choat), 'P.Harr. 107: Is this another Greek Manichaean letter?', ZPE 131 (2000) 118-124.
(ed.) Journal of Religious History, July 2002: Special issue on the Dead Sea Scrolls
(with S.R. Llewelyn), 'The earliest dated reference to Sunday in the papyri', in S.R. Llewelyn (ed.), New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity 9 (Sydney/Grand Rapids 2002) 106-118.
(with T. Rajak), Review of Doron Mendels, The Media Revolution of Early Christianity. An Essay on Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Scripta Classica Israelica 22(2003).

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