ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 46 (2009) 109-138
A Church with No Books
and a Reader Who Cannot Write
The Strange Case of P.Oxy. 33.2673'
Malcolm Choat and Rachel Yuen-Collingridge
The article discusses a declaration of Church property, submitted on
papyrus in triplicate by the reader of the "former ekklesia" in the village of Chysis, near Oxyrhynchus, during the "Great Persecution" in
the early fourth century CE. This text, one of the few which shows the
perspective of the Roman administration on these events, provides
insights into how the edict against the Christians was enforced in
Egypt. The article also addresses how a "reader" could require another
person to sign for him, provides a new interpretation of the list of
property which he declares the church does not own, and discusses
why books are not on this list.
In early February 304 CE, just a few weeks short of the first anniversary of the edict of the Tetrarchs ordering state-sponsored action against the
Christians,2 a reader (kvayvcworg) of the Christian community in Chysis, a
We wish to thank Edwin Judge for his valuable suggestions on an earlier version
of this paper, and the two anonymous referees for the journal for their comments and
criticisms. We are also indebted to AnneMarie Luijendijk for allowing us to read her
treatments of the papyrus discussed here in advance of their publication.
2 I.e. the "first edict of persecution" issued by Diocletian and his co-emperors on 23
February 303, cf. below, p. 131. On the campaign against the Christians, see T.D. Barnes,
Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, MA, 1981) 19-24; G. Clarke, "Third Century
Christianity" CALI 12 (2005) 589-671 at 647-665; G. de Ste. Croix, "Aspects of the
'Great' Persecution" and "Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted" in M. Whitby
and J. Streeter (eds.), Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy (Oxford 2006)
35-78 and 105-144.