A 1,500-year-old papyrus stored in John Rylands Library in the University of Manchester has been studied for the first time in more than a century, revealing that the ancient text was actually a charm that would have been kept within a locket or pendant. The ancient charm is thought to be “the first ever found to refer to the Last Supper and use magic in the Christian context".
The papyrus was written in Greek on the back of a fragment of a grain tax receipt. It is believed that the owner would have then folded it up, placed it in a locket, and worn it around the neck as protection from danger, a practice that originated in ancient Egypt and was later adopted by early Christians, who simply replaced prayers to Egyptian gods with passages from the Bible.
A modern-day version of an Egyptian charm pendant. The papyrus would have been folded up and placed inside the pendant and worn around the neck for protection. Image source.
The text contains a combination of biblical passages from the books of Psalms and Matthew and reads:
Fear you all who rule over the earth."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," said researcher Dr Roberta Mazza, who first realized the significance of the fragment.
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.
Dr Mazza added that it was an "incredibly rare example of Christianity and the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people - not just priests and the elite.”
Researchers believe that the papyrus was originally owned by a villager living near Hermopolis (modern-day Al Ashmunin, Egypt), revealed that knowledge of the Bible was more embedded in the 6th century AD in Egypt that initially realised.
Some Christians today continue to use passages from the bible as protective charms so the latest discovery may reveal the starting point of a trend that has continued for many centuries.