Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Antoninus and Isaac the Good Samaritans

Though not a picture of the papyrus letter from Isidorus, this picture is representative of the thousands of papyrus documents preserved from antiquity (Wikimedia Commons). For a picture of the actual papyrus see (
Here is an interesting papyrus document dating to June 6, 324 AD. Papyrus P.Col. 7 171
To Dioskoros Caeso, praepositus of the 5th pagus, from Isidoros son of Ptolemaios, from the village of Karanis in your pagus. The cattle of Pamounis and Harpalos damaged the planting which I have and, what is more, [their cow] grazed in the same place so thoroughly that my husbandry has become useless. I caught the cow and was leading it up to the village when they met me in the fields with a big club, threw me to the ground, rained blows upon me and took away the cow--as indeed the (marks of) the blows all over me show--and if I had not chanced to obtain help from the deacon Antoninus and the monk Isaac, who happened by, they would probably have finished me off completely. Therefore I submit this document, asking that they be brought before you to preserve my claim (to be heard) in the prefectural court both in the matter of the planting and in the matter of the assault. In the year of the consuls-to-be for the fourth time, Pauni 12.1
There are several interesting items of note here. First, the mention of Antoninus holding the church office of deacon, and the explicit mention of Isaac being a monk. The second item of interest is that, according to the last sentence, this was not to the first time Isidoros complained of this incident. He wrote at the bottom, "In the year of the consuls-to-be for the fourth time." The judicial processes must have been agonizingly slow in this time period. Most likely due to a complicated bureaucratic process. And lastly, it appears that the authorities would be familiar with the ecclesiastical terms deacon and monk, so much so that their titles could be supplied without explanation.2 This familiarity may be due to the recent ascension of Constantine the Great as Roman Emperor, and his edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians which had happened only a few years earlier. I think it also interesting that the council of Nicaea was to take place the following year (325). The research team at Macquarie University note that this is the earliest mention of a monk in the papyri.3
This is a very interesting document for me because I think (perhaps speculatively) that these Christians, probably from some local monastery, look as if they were held in high esteem by the community. Isidorus was quick to mention them by name, perhaps because the Roman official would recognize them by name? (probably not though) Most likely they would be asked to testify and their witness would be highly regarded. I find it also fascinating that these churchmen were quick to administer aid to Isidoros in a way striking similar to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. I can almost picture these two men, maybe clad in monkish robes (?), happening upon Isidoros' in the process of being beaten by the ruffians. (Now for the imagination to run wild) I am sure the parable of the Good Samaritan and the words of Jesus quickly flashed through their minds as they sprang to Isidoros' aid! Little did they know that their names, and their heroic actions, would be preserved 1,700 years later! It brings into focus the reality of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15,
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (ESV)

It is my belief that all of our deeds will be brought to account before God. Perhaps not miraculously preserved on fragile papyrus as Antoninus and Isaac's deed was, but forever in heaven until they are to be judged! Wow, this encourages me to think more seriously on my actions here on this earth, who knows how long they will be preserved for posterity, and they will ultimately be brought before God!


1.  Emphasis mine, translation text taken from (
2. "II Civil Documents Using Ecclesiastical Terms." Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt. Macquarie University, 2005 (

3. Ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment