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The oldest Christian document from Greco-Roman Egypt, apart from the Bible, is a letter written in 230 A.D. It gives a brief but vivid picture of life in a Christian family in the days of the early church. In some ways, it goes against the conventional picture of Christians in the Roman Empire, suggesting some applications for Christians today.
The manuscript, written in Greek, is part of a large collection of ancient manuscripts in Basel, Switzerland. The letter is not a new discovery, but a Swiss scholar, Sabine R. Huebner, has studied it, along with related manuscripts in the collection, drawing conclusions about the social world of Christians in that time and place. Her book, to be released in August from Cambridge University Press, is entitled Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament.
Here is the letter in full:
“Greetings, my lord, my incomparable brother Paulus. I, Arrianus, salute you, praying that all is as well as possible in your life.
Menibios - Lord - Father - Gymnasiarchy1 - Heracleides
[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 gymnasiarchy1, 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 [–] arouras2.
But send me the fish liver sauce3 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.”
So what can we deduce from this piece of historical evidence? The tone is both affectionate and respectful. Arrianus considers his brother Paul–an unusual name for...
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