A group of researchers have claimed to have unearthed one of the oldest Christian amulets in the form of a 1,500-year-old Greek papyrus fragment with writing that connotes to the biblical Last Supper and ‘manna from heaven’.
The papyrus was found by the researchers while they were looking through thousands of papyri in the library vault at the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Research Institute in the UK.
Roberta Mazza, one of the researchers who spotted the papyrus, said that the oldest fragment was most probably worn inside a locket or into a pendant as a token of protective charm.
In a statement, Mazza said, “This is an important and unexpected finding as it is one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context, while the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist – the Last Supper – as the manna of the Old Testament”.
According to the researchers, the fragment was most likely originated in an Egyptian town.
The statement further said that the text inscribed on the papyrus resembles a mix of passages from Psalm 78:23-24 and Matthew 26:28-30, among several others.
“Presently, the Christians use passages from the Bible as protective charms so our amulet marks the start of an important trend in Christianity,” Mazza said in the statement.
The translated version of the text on the papyrus reads:
Fear you all who rule over the earth.
Know you nations and peoples that Christ is our God.
For he spoke and they came to being, he commanded and they were created; he put everything under our feet and delivered us from the wish of our enemies.
Our God prepared a sacred table in the desert for the people and gave manna of the new covenant to eat, the Lord’s immortal body and the blood of Christ poured for us in remission of sins.”
Mazza says it was a common belief among the people that such passages had magical powers.
Researchers also found several creases on the fragment that indicated that the papyrus was folded into a rectangular packet in a locket or pendant, measuring 3 by 10.5 centimeters (1.2 by 4.1 inches).
The text transcribed on the fragment talks about a tax collector who belongs to a village called Tertembuthis in Hermoupolis, which is now the Egyptian town of el-Ashmunein.
The carbon analysis of the papyrus dates it to between 574 and 660.
The work was presented by Mazza at this week’s international conference on papyri at the research institute of the varsity.