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A Christian Amulet in Context: Report on a Re-edition and Study of P.Oxy. VIII 1151

Michael Zellmann-Rohrer

The Christian amulet P.Oxy. VIII 1151 was first published over a century ago and has often been reprinted, but, beyond a single line (D. Hagedorn, ZPE 145 (2003), 226), never revised (bibliography in the TMMagic database organized by the Leuven Trismegistos project,, entry #61652). I provide a preliminary report on a new edition with expanded commentary. My discussion includes a detailed consideration of physical and orthographic features of the amulet based on autopsy, including the generally high quality of the writing and its affinities with scribal practice in literary book production; I attempt to set the dating of the piece, tentatively assigned by the editio princeps to the fifth century, on firmer ground. I also give the amulet further interpretative context, in two respects. First, with the vastly expanded corpus of amulets made available since the initial publication: correcting a misperception of the first editor that the piece is “purely Christian, with no admixture of heathen magic,” I examine formulaic elements of the text as evidence of continuity with pre-Christian amuletic practice, especially in its use of a particular apotropaic invocation addressed directly to the affliction troubling the bearer of the amulet, and the identification of the bearer with a metronym. Second, I set the amulet in the context of its production and use by a Christian woman in late ancient Oxyrhynchus, specifically as it invokes the protection of Christian saints with a cult presence in that city. I also analyze the composition of the text, whose formal architecture has never been studied in detail. I identify evidence of care in composition, to accompany the care in the act of writing manifested in the first part of my discussion, both of which contribute to the production of a high-quality artifact. Here I point especially to the artificial arrangement of words and clauses, particularly chiastic and tripartite structure, and the use of prose-rhythm based on word stress. Finally, I suggest an application of the amulet as a long-neglected testimonium at a crux in the textual history of the New Testament gospel of John. Namely, P.Oxy. VIII 1151 provides the only papyrus witness so far known for the placement of punctuation between clauses in John 1:3-4, χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν ... in the most recent edition of Nestle-Aland, with the variant χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἓν ὃ γέγονεν.

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Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

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