'Last Supper' Papyrus Sheds Light on Early Christians

Small document was likely used as protective charm
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2014 4:10 PM CDT
An image of the ancient papyrus.   (University of Manchester)

(Newser) – Who scrawls Biblical passages on the back of a tax receipt and wears it as a protective amulet? Someone in Egypt about 1,500 years ago, LiveScience reports. Researchers stumbled on the ancient papyrus, which is written in Greek and dated between 574 and 660, when looking through a British university's library vault. "It's one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist—the Last Supper—as the manna of the Old Testament," says researcher Roberta Mazza in a statement. The papyrus text contains words from Psalm 78:23-24, Matthew 26:28-30, and other Biblical passages. Among them:

  • "Our God prepared a sacred table in the desert for the people and gave manna of the new covenant to eat, the Lord's immortal body and the blood of Christ poured for us in remission of sins."

At 1.2 inches by 4.1 inches, the papyrus is perfect for fitting in a box at home or an amulet, and "marks the start of an important trend in Christianity" that's ongoing today, says Mazza: the use of protective charms (like crosses and images of Jesus or Mary). It's written on the other side of a receipt, possibly for paying a grain tax in the ancient Egyptian village of Tertembuthis, which is now el-Ashmunein. It also contains misspellings and other errors, so it was likely written from memory (and shows that "ordinary people" believed in Christianity, not just the "elite," reports Fox News). The papyrus is evidence of early Christians picking up the Egyptian practice of wearing protective amulets, and replacing prayers to Greco-Roman and Egyptian gods with Biblical passages, reports the University of Manchester. (Read about an "image of Jesus" found in an ancient tomb.)

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