Researchers unveiled a rare 1,700-year-old letter which is believed to be 40 to 50 years older than all other known Christian documentary. It offered clues into how early Christians lived.
The letter is written by a man named “Arrianus” and addressed to his brother, “Paulus,” both sons of the local elite, landowners and public officials.
In the letter, Arrianus discussed topics such as faith, local politics and food under the Roman Empire.
It is believed that the letter, which was written outside the bible dates back to the 230 A.D.
The full transcript of the letter:
“Greetings, my lord, my incomparable brother Paulus. I, Arrianus, salute you, praying that all is as well as possible in your life.
“[Since] Menibios was going to you, I thought it necessary to salute you as well as our lord father. Now, I remind you about the gymnasiarchy, so that we are not troubled here. For Heracleides would be unable to take care of it: he has been named to the city council. Find thus an opportunity that you buy the two [–] arouras.
“But send me the fish liver sauce too, whichever you think is good. Our lady mother is well and salutes you as well as your wives and sweetest children and our brothers and all our people. Salute our brothers [-]genes and Xydes. All our people salute you.
“I pray that you fare well in the Lord.”
The 1,700-year-old document was entitled P.Bas 2.43. It originated in the village of Theadelphia in central Egypt.
It used to belong to the Heronius archive, which was the largest papyrus archive during the Roman times.
The University of Basel in Switzerland has been taking care of the document for the last 100 years.
Arrianus’ abbreviated use of the concluding phrase: “I pray that you farewell ‘in the Lord” made the document stand out from other preserved letters of Greco-Roman Egypt.
Ancient history professor Sabine Huebner said that the use of this abbreviation is known as a nomen sacrum, which is a special kind of abbreviated holy name.
“It is an exclusively Christian formula that we are familiar with from New Testament manuscripts,” Huebner said.
Huebner also noted that name “Paulus” is revealing and extremely rare name at that time. She indicated that the brothers’ parents were Christians and named their son after Paul the Apostle.
Christianity during the Roman Empire
According to Huebner, the contents of the Basel papyrus letter countered the portrayal of the earliest Christians being eccentrics.
“The letter contains indications that in the early third century, Christians were living outside the cities in the Egyptian hinterland, where they held political leadership positions and did not differ from their pagan environment in their everyday lives,” – Sabine Huebner
Huebner is publishing a monograph which has a copy of P.Bas 2.43 along with other documents that illustrate the social, political and economic life of early Christians.
The monograph is entitled “Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament.”