1 June 2020


One of the problems about the scholarly study of the past is that those following different disciplines do not always talk to each other. When they take an interest in the same text or object, they are so often asking different questions. With regard to the Christian papyrus containing the prayer to our Lady usually known as Sub Tuum Praesidium, those interested in Christian dogma will ask different questions from the queries of palaeographers (experts in handwriting). That is why an editor who, being a submissive and credulous slave of Liberal Dogma, is terrified of discovering Theotokos, "Mother of God", on an early piece of writing, will desire to find different things than a palaeographer, who ... simply looks at the handwriting. Holistic studies of the same text are rarer than you and I would hope.

Of course, dating a papyrus only gives you the latest possible date of the original composition of the text it contains. That text might have been composed a thousand years before somebody made this particular copy. This is why it ultimately proves little even if (as has indeed happened!) somebody argues that the papyrus is 600 years later than everybody hitherto thought!

What exactly is this papyrus sheet with (what most writers have deemed to be) our earliest text of Sub tuum Praesidium? To begin with, it is a stand-alone sheet of papyrus; that is to say, it is not part of a scroll, or a page torn from a codex (book). It contains one text-formula, giving the text from beginning to end. There are no concluding words from a lost previous section; no sign the first part of a now missing next section, no random break in the middle. And nothing on the back (so it is not likely to be part of a codex).

Secondly ... have a look at this papyrus on your computer in a moment ... it has been folded. You can see the fold across the middle. and you can identify where the papyrus has been worn by the balancing, symmetrical pieces of damage on the top and bottom halves. I'll tell you what it uncannily reminds me of. I carry in my trouser pocket a printed copy of the timetable for the Number 35 buses into and from central Oxford. It is folded up. But, being in my pocket, it gets a lot of wear. Especially, along the lines where it is folded. It wears, it rubs away. Every month or two I replace with a new timetable. It is clear to me that this is exactly what has happened to the papyrus. But why?

There is a recognised type of Christian papyrus text: to categorise it, papyrologists use the term amulet. It is a written prayer-text carried around on one's person.

Thirdly: do you recognise this text: "O Marie, concue sans peche, priez pour nous qui avons recours a vous"? I wonder how many of you carry it around in your pocket or on your person? Have you ever wondered what would be the third century Koine Greek for nous avons recours?

Bang on! Holed in one (just as our younger son did on a never-to-be-forgotten day on the third green at Parknasilla in the County Kerry). I knew I could rely on you.

KATAPHEUGOMEN. The fourth word on the papyrus!

Yes; when you carry around your Miraculous Medal, with its inscription referring to Mary's Immaculate Purity, and your recourse to her help, you are in a direct line from the first owner of the papyrus now kept in the John Rylands Library in Manchester; and, earlier than him or her, all the other Christian people whose copies have not survived the chances of History and whose names we are unlikely ever to know..

[Subversive footnote ... that 'Museum of the Bible in America, funded, I think, by a wealthy evangelical Green family ... had they been offered this interesting papyrus for sale ... would they ...]

1 comment:

PDLeck said...

I do sincerely hope that I have understood you well, Father. You have said that the copy of the papyrus on which are inscribed the words of 'Sub tuum praesidium' and to which you refer is in the John Rylands Library. If that is so when I am released from house arrest I shall most certainly be paying it a visit. I have no need to carry in my trousers' pocket a timetable as I know when the Metrolink runs. Now all I need are my release papers form the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, a.k.a Dominic Cummings.