In this innovative study AnneMarie Luijendijk mines documentary texts from Oxyrhynchus (letters, edicts, etc.) that cast light on Christians living in or near that important Egyptian city. She succeeds in showing both the usefulness [End Page 89] of these documentary texts and also the limits and difficulties involved in drawing firm inferences from them.
After an introduction to Oxyrhynchus and the discovery of the massive trove of manuscripts by Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt (from c. 1890s onward), Luijendijk explores the various markers of Christian identity in these texts, including use of the term Christian (rare and used solely by non-Christians) and given names as indicators (showing names to be of limited usefulness in that many Christians continued to bear non-Christian names). There follows a chapter on the "nomina sacra" (especially the Greek words for Jesus, Christ, God, and Lord), which were written by Christians in a distinctive way, abbreviated and with a horizontal stroke over the abbreviated form. The presence of any of the "nomina sacra" in a manuscript is commonly regarded by specialists in ancient Greek paleography as a strong indication of a Christian provenance, and Luijendijk notes that this scribal convention appears in Christian letters as well as Christian copies of their literary texts (e.g., Scriptures).
The next two chapters focus on a particular Christian named Sotas, who appears in several documentary texts, including letters sent by and to him. The letters from Sotas include letters of recommendation, which Luijendijk proposes must have been a common responsibility of Christian bishops in the third century, enabling Christians to travel for various reasons and to be received hospitably by coreligionists in their journeys. Other texts indicate that Sotas was involved in fund-raising and traveling (perhaps to participate in a church council in Antioch). Luijendijk also offers a basis for the intriguing proposal that the production of Christian books may have been sponsored by Sotas in Oxyrhynchus.
Chapter 6 discusses the documentary evidence of Roman governmental persecution of Christians. This includes the libelli, certificates in which people were required (by Emperor Decius) to attest that they had always participated in the worship of the pagan deities and that posed a major religious crisis for Christians. Luijendijk also attempts to correlate these documentary items with statements of early Christian authors about Roman edicts and actions against Christians. In chapter 7, Luijendijk discusses evidence of Christian efforts at passive resistance and subversion of Roman efforts to suppress them.The texts reviewed in this chapter refer to the official inspection of a church in rural Egypt, to Christians who served as "readers" in churches, to a certain Paul of Oxyrhynchus who was martyred in the persecution of 305–06 AD, to Christian tactics directed to avoiding the confiscation and destruction of their Scriptures, and to Christians such as a certain Aurelius Athanasius who seems to have been a Christian employed in the imperial administration of Egypt in this period.
For anyone interested in the realia and particulars of early Christians, this book will be interesting reading. For those unfamiliar with the sort of evidence [End Page 90] mined in the book, Luijendijk proves an engaging and accessible guide. She provides the Greek text of each text considered, along with her English translation. In the copious notes and thirty-two-page bibliography, she also gives thorough pointers for further research. She is sure-footed in handling the issues and scholarly debates. Indices of primary sources (including all ancient manuscripts cited), authors, and subjects complete this very useful and stimulating study.