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An Unpublished Papyrus from the Coptic “Wizard’s Hoard”

Roxanne Sarrazin

University of Ottowa

What we call the “Coptic Wizard’s Hoard” is a library of ancient magical texts comprising at least twelve manuscripts and produced by five individuals at some point between the fourth and seventh centuries. This collection, which provides a rare glimpse into the activities of an ancient “magical workshop”, contains a codex written by three different scribes (P.Mich.inv. 593; published by W.H. Worrell, “A Coptic Wizard’s Hoard”, AJSL 46 [1930] 239–62), three rolls written by a fourth scribe, and eight papyrus sheets on which a fifth scribe copied spells from both the codex and the rolls. The subject of this contribution is one of these eight papyrus sheets, P.Mich.inv. 597, which preserves two healing spells along with some ritual instructions.
The main interest of this piece is its mention of two Egyptian deities: at the beginning of the second spell, we can read the phrase “You are the doe, the golden cup of Isis, the silver cup of Osiris”. This places our papyrus in a rather small group of 20 Coptic magical texts which include references to Greek and Egyptian gods. Along with these other texts, P.Mich.inv. 597 provides unique insights into the phenomenon of religious syncretism in Late Antique Egypt, since it combines both “pagan” and Christian elements (among which we find invocations to Adam, the Father and the angels). The study of these spells proves that syncretism was neither the assimilation of an old religion by a new one, nor a corruption of the new religion, nor even the mere “survival” of “pagan” deities, but rather a dynamic, mutual, and most of all, creative process, involving the adoption, adaptation and reinterpretation of religious symbols and discourses to generate new ones.

Another interesting feature of this group of 20 magical texts is that they are all closely related through their mythological lore and intertextuality. P.Mich.inv. 597 is no exception. Its structure and phraseology connect it even more to a subgroup of spells using the Isis-Horus historiola, which we can also find in incantations dating back to the Pharaonic period, as well as in demotic and Greek spells. P.Mich.inv. 597 is thus also an important witness to the transmission of magical knowledge in Egypt, from the Pharaonic period to Late Antiquity.
In this contribution, I will present this Coptic magical papyrus. I will first provide an overview of the collection and discuss the connections between P.Mich.inv. 597 and the other texts from this library. I will then go over some physical aspects of the piece itself, supply a reading of the Coptic text and a translation, and discuss some of the unique features of its content. Finally, I will compare this text with other Coptic spells which mention Egyptian deities and discuss its particular significance for our understanding of religious syncretism and the transmission of magical knowledge in Antiquity.

Session/Panel Title

Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

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