Original Research - Special Collection: Nicholas Allen Festschrift

Digging into lives: Christians and Christianity in the Greek papyri from Egypt

Isabella Bonati
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 57, No 1 | a2938 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v57i1.2938 | © 2023 Isabella Bonati | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 February 2023 | Published: 28 August 2023

About the author(s)

Isabella Bonati, Centre for Classical Studies, Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon, Lisbon; and School of Ancient Languages and Text Studies, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Greek papyri recovered from the sands of Egypt represent a precious source of data for early Christianity. Egypt is the land of the earliest Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible. The Greek Old Testament or Septuagint was undertaken within the Jewish community of Alexandria from near the middle of the 3rd to the 2nd century BC. Alexandria became the first centre of Christianity in Egypt. Then, the Christian doctrine spread to the villages of the Egyptian chora. Christian papyri mirror this historical context. The earliest Christian papyri are biblical and literary. Besides these, documentary texts offer unique insights into the everyday life and society of Christians in Egypt. Private letters, in particular, reveal the activities and worries of laymen and women, monks and church officials. Papyrological evidence also enlightens the relationship of Christianity with local religious practices. After an overview of the contribution of papyri to our knowledge of early Christianity, this article will focus on documentary specimens dealing with health issues in the form of requests for healing prayers and amulets written on papyrus. Health was, in fact, a common cause for concern and a central aspect of the daily reality of Christian communities.

Contribution: This article contributes to shedding light on the role of papyrological evidence in reconstructing the everyday lives of people in Egypt. Christian documentary papyri are particularly illuminating on the day-to-day life of early Christian communities. Their study expands our socio-cultural understanding of aspects – such as healing – that, although important, are poorly known from the literary tradition.


Christian papyri; documentary papyri; Graeco-Roman Egypt; nomina sacra; microhistory; private letters; papyrus amulets; ancient medicine.

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