Zakarias Gram and Faculty Mentor: Lincoln H. Blumell, Religious Education- Ancient Scripture
This project was focused on analyzing, transcribing, translating, and publishing an edition of an ancient Greek papyrus housed in Oklahoma City. The experience was both very educating and exciting for me, as I am pursuing a degree in Classics and will continue to work on ancient Greek in graduate school. As such, this was excellent preparation for my future career and will be extremely valuable for graduate school applications.
Our time was spent mostly translating the document and comparing it to other papyri that are from a similar period, share graphic features, and are written in a comparable style. The time at Oklahoma was especially useful because, although we have high-resolution images of the papyrus with which we can continue working, an on-hand autopsy of the papyrus was invaluable as it enabled us to compare the papyrus with other papyri on-site, get a closer look at the ink and letter forms used, and turn over some small parts of the papyrus that were crumpled (which can help to read the otherwise covered-up text). After three days in Oklahoma, we gained a fairly good understanding of the text and were able to finish our article at home.
The papyrus features an account of the distribution of communal lands in a village in southern Egypt. Based on a paleographic analysis and other evidence (see below), the account is approximately from the sixth century AD. There are several features of the papyrus which made it especially interesting to edit. It includes a title, which is a rare feature for any ancient text, especially a document (as opposed to a literary source). Furthermore, the document lists lands that are under the management of different individuals in the village by listing their names and, in some cases, their professions. One of the more interesting of these professions is a man who is a bird-keeper (this could be a poultry farmer, for example). The Greek word used for bird-keeper is quite rare since it only appears in five other papyri, all of which date to the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. This helped us confirm the date that we previously assigned to the document.
The reason the document has early Christian ties is because it features three staurograms, one at the beginning of the title and two others at the start of different lines. The staurogram is an early Christian symbol which consists of the Greek letters X and P combined. Together, these are the first two letters of the title Christ. Since the scribe used the staurogram in his account, we can safely assume that he is in fact Christian, although no other explicit references to Christianity appear in the document. However, it is interesting to note that several of the land-owners have Judeo-Christian names such as David, Daniel, or Andrew, alongside more typical Egyptian names such as Akoris or Pkouin. Of course, we expect Christianity to be wide-spread in even rural Egypt by the sixth century, since an attitude of toleration and acceptance was common in the Roman Empire from the fourth century on.
The goal in publishing this document is simply to understand the past better. Although individual documents may not radically change our perception of late antiquity, a continual and sustained effort to publish the papyri we have leads us to better understand ancient scribal practices, economic patterns, religious spread, and so forth. It is exciting to be able to contribute to scholarship in this way.
The final step of the project, of course, is to edit and publish the article. We have already submitted our article to Oklahoma, and they will review and propose edits to the article which we will incorporate throughout the following months. The publication should appear within the next few years through the archive in Oklahoma City. The project has certainly been very exciting for me, as I hope to pursue papyrology throughout my career, and jumpstarting this and gaining some valuable mentored experience has been very worthwhile to me.