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Nova tellus

Print version ISSN 0185-3058


RAMELLI, Ilaria L. E.. A New Reading of one of the Earliest Christian Letters Outside the New Testament and the Dangers of Early Christian Communities in Egypt. Nova tellus [online]. 2010, vol.28, n.1, pp.125-159. ISSN 0185-3058.

The letter of Ammonius to Apollonius, preserved in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus and datable to the end of the I or the beginning of the n century AD, contains a superlinear stroke over the X of the initial XAIPEIN , which is the sign of a nomen sacrum that, together with many other clues in this epistolê kekhiasmenê, points to the Christianity of the writer and the addressee. In this new framework, many details of the letter become intelligible and the whole document, with an emphasis on the necessity of a circumspect behaviour and the use of a cryptic communication code, attests to the critical situation of the Christian communities in those days, when Christianity was a superstitio illicita and Christians had to try not to be denounced. I propose an analysis of the letter in this light: many aspects in its language, lexical choices, and rhetoric are telling. The new Christian reading of this letter allows us to recover one of the earliest Christian letters known and provides precious documentation of the birth of Christianity in Egypt, perhaps in Alexandria itself, from which the "Secret Gospel of Mark" also stems.

Keywords : Alexandria; papyrus letters; Christogram/Staurogram; Clement; Secret Gospel of Mark; arly Christianity; epistolê kekhiasmenê; Christian Communities in Egypt; nomina sacra.

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