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A New Fragment of a Demotic Papyrus from the Fayum in the Oriental Institute Museum

Foy Scalf

Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

The Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago has a small, but important collection of Demotic papyri, nearly all of which have now been published.  Yet, surprises remain to be found. Recently the presence of an unpublished Demotic papyrus was discovered during the planning stages for an upcoming special exhibit at the Oriental Institute on the Book of the Dead scheduled for autumn 2017. The discovery was made when examining a list of items acquired as part of accession 2017, which included eleven unpublished linen bandage fragments inscribed in hieratic with book of the Dead spells, three Demotic papyri, six Coptic papyri, and one Arabic papyrus. All of the objects had been collected by Egyptologist Charles Edward Moldenke (1860-1935) and gifted to the Oriental Institute Museum by his son Harold Norman Moldenke (1909-1996) in July 1935.

The papyrus is light brown and measures 12.8 x 14 cm. Only the second half of eleven lines from one column and the very beginning of a second column are preserved. Traces of the first line demonstrate that the papyrus is missing an undetermined number of lines above what is preserved. A distinctive feature of this manuscript is the use of horizontal ruled lines underneath each line of text, laid out with a pair of vertical inter-columnar lines. Although Demotic texts laid out in bordered columns are well known, it is rather less common to find each line written upon a ruled horizontal guideline. This feature and a number of other paleographic features of the papyrus clearly indicate a Fayumic scribal hand from the 2nd-3rd century CE of the Roman Period. The scribe was most likely trained in the Tebtunis school, but the papyrus itself may derive from Soknopaiou Nesos.

Lines are laid out in stichic fashion, most well-known from wisdom and instruction literature. However, the content of the preserved text focuses on plant terminology and the prominent mention of donkeys. This paper will provide a preliminary analysis of this papyrus and discuss the possible interpretations of its mysterious contents in comparison with the large collection of related Demotic material from the Fayum temples and related scribal schools.

Session/Panel Title

Ritual and Magic

Session/Paper Number


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