Researchers have discovered a 1,500-year-old Greek papyrus fragment having nearly illegible inscription that likely refers to the biblical Last Supper and ‘manna from heaven’.
The papyrus, which is deemed as one of the oldest Christian amulet, was unearthed from a heap of thousands of papyri in a library mausoleum of the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester in Britain.
The researchers believe that the oldest fragment was most probably originated in an Egyptian town.
Study investigator Roberta Mazza believes the oldest fragment was perhaps folded and kept inside a locket or pendant that was worn around the neck as a token of protective charm.
According to the researchers, several crease marks were found on the fragment indicating that the papyrus was kept folded into a rectangular packet, most likely in a pendant or locket that measured 3 by 10.5 centimeters (1.2 by 4.1 inches).
“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”, Mazza said in a statement.
According to the statement, the text written on the papyrus connotes a mix of passages from Psalm 78:23-24 and Matthew 26:28-30, along with several others.
Mazza said that the Christians currently use passages from the Holy Bible as protective charms. Hence, it can be concluded that the amulet marks the beginning of an important trend in Christianity.
The text on the papyrus was further translated by the researchers. The translated version 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.”
In the text, there is a tax collector hailing from a village called Tertembuthis in Hermoupolis, now the Egyptian town of el-Ashmunein.
The carbon analysis of the papyrus dates it back to between 574 and 660, the researchers said.
Mazza and colleagues presented the work at the international conference on papyri at the research institute of the university this week.