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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

The Greek Papyri                        263
business, and private papers, to New Testament studies is less
obvious ana the help they give certainly less spectacular; but
the connexion is there and is a striking instance of the relation-
ship between vastly different types of material. We might hope
to find among the documents direct evidence of the expansion
of Christianity and of the way of life of the early communities;
but here the papyri fail us, probably for the obvious reason that
as long as Christianity stood in danger of persecution its adher-
ents would be careful not to leave in writing evidence that might
always be used against them. Even so, the distinctively Christian
formula 'in the Lord' is found in several letters of the third
century; one of these, from a boy to his mother, is revealing be-
cause the formula he uses shows that they were not orthodox, but
members of some Gnostic Christian sect. The letter runs thus:
*To my most precious mother Mary, Besas, very many greetings in
God. Before all things, I pray to our Father, the God of truth, and
to the Spirit of Intercession, that they may preserve you in soul and
body and spirit, giving to your body health, to your spirit cheerfulness,
to your soul life eternal. Whenever you find anyone coming my way,
do be sure to write to me of your health, that I may hear and rejoice.
Don't forget to send me the coat against the Easter holiday, and send
my brother to me. I salute my father and my brothers. I pray for
your lasting health.'
And the so-called Decian libelli, certificates issued by local
officials of the government at the time of the Decian persecution
as evidence that their holders had duly sacrificed to the pagan
deities, are an eloquent reminder of the dangers to which the
ordinary Christian in the remotest village might be exposed,
although there is nothing to prove that those we have were
issued to recanting Christians. Later, as we should expect, the
evidence is more plentiful and more detailed; here we can only
refer to the archive of Meletian letters preserved in the British
Museum.1
1 See H. I. Bell, Jews and Christians in Egypt.