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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Review of M. CHOAT, Belief and Cult in Fourth-Century Papyri, Review of Biblical Literature

RBL 05/2008
Choat, Malcolm
Belief and Cult in Fourth-Century Papyri

Studia antiqua Australiensia 1
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006.
Pp. xiv + 217. Paper. $64.00. ISBN 2503513271.

David Frankfurter
University of New Hampshire/Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Cambridge Massachusetts

Although one might surmise it from the title, this is not a synthetic study of religious belief and cult in fourth-century Egypt according to the evidence of the papyri, nor is it a general summary of what fourth-century papyri can teach us about belief and cult. Nowhere, in fact, are belief and cult explained as categories for the study of ancient religion. Instead, Malcolm Choat has performed the immeasurable service of showing us the problems and challenges that papyri—letters, administrative documents, random fragments of writing—pose the historian interested in the growth of Christianity or the shift in religious forms during this transitional century. It is not a work of history but a manual for historical understanding, and as such it should serve as an essential textbook for any graduate course on papyrology or Christian primary sources and as a handbook for any scholar of early Christianity or late antiquity. Choat’s familiarity with an enormous range of papyri and especially the rich corpus of early Manichaean documents gives him an unusual vantage on the problems and prospects of fourth-century papyri, while his lucid writing make him an especially good teacher in their use.

etc. at RBL

Source: Ev. Text.Crit.