A 1,500-year-old papyrus containing references to the Last Supper and ‘manna from heaven’ could be some of the earliest documented references on an important component in Christian faith.
The fragment was rediscovered from the vaults of University of Manchester by researcher Dr Roberta Mazza. Dr Mazza describes the manuscript as a rare example of the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people. The papyrus was placed in an amulet to ward off dangers and protect the wearer.
The manuscript was written in Greek and was largely ignored until Dr Mazza realized its significance. What is interesting was one side of the papyrus parchment contains references from the books of Psalms and Matthew while its reverse contained details of payment of grain tax.
Dr Mazza said the amulet maker “would have cut a piece of the receipt, written the charm on the other side and then folded the papyrus to be kept in a locket”.
The use of written charms was an ancient Egyptian practice and was adopted by early Christians, who replaced prayers to Egyptian and Greco-Roman gods with passages from the Bible.
It is believed that the papyrus was in possession of a villager living near Hermopolis – now called Al Ashmunin – in east Egypt.
The discovery confirms the fact that the knowledge of Bible was widespread in the 6th century AD Egypt. The Old Testament was the original Hebrew Bible and is one of the most sacred books of the proponents of Jewish faith. It is believed to have been written at different times between about 1200 and 165 BC.The New Testament was written in 1st Century AD.
The oldest surviving Bible in the world is the Codex Sinaiticus, which was written in the 4th Century and was found in a Sinai monastery in 1844
Dr Mazza said, “This is an incredibly rare example of Christianity and the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people – not just priests and the elite. It’s one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist – the Last Supper – as the manna of the Old Testament. It was doubly fascinating because the amulet maker clearly knew the Bible, but made lots of mistakes. Some words are misspelled and others are in the wrong order – this suggests that he was writing by heart rather than copying it.”
The papyrus parchment was held by the University of Manchester’s John Rylands library since 1901.