The newly discovered letter sheds new light on how early Christians lived on a day-to-day basis and is 50 years older than any other Christian documentary. It is written by a man named “Arrianus” and dates back to around 230AD. The letter is directed at the writer’s brother who is called Paulus, and experts at the University of Basel in Switzerland believe Paulus was likely named after the Apostle Paul.
The letter was discovered in Egypt, where many early Christians lived away from the Roman rule.
Sabine Huebner, professor of ancient history at the University of Basel, said: The earliest Christians in the Roman Empire are usually portrayed as eccentrics who withdrew from the world and were threatened by persecution. This is countered by the contents of the Basel papyrus letter.
“The use of this abbreviation – known as a nomen sacrum in this context – leaves no doubt about the Christian beliefs of the letter writer.
“It is an exclusively Christian formula that we are familiar with from New Testament manuscripts.”
Prof Haubner added that Paulus “was an extremely rare name at that time” which indicated the “parents mentioned in the letter were Christians” and “named their son after the apostle as early as 200 AD.”.
The letter in full reads: “Greetings, my lord, my incomparable brother Paulus. I, Arrianus, salute you, praying that all is as well as possible in your life.
“[Since] Menibios was going to you, I thought it necessary to salute you as well as our lord father. Now, I remind you about the gymnasiarchy, so that we are not troubled here. For Heracleides would be unable to take care of it: he has been named to the city council. Find thus an opportunity that you buy the two [–] arouras.
“But send me the fish liver sauce too, whichever you think is good. Our lady mother is well and salutes you as well as your wives and sweetest children and our brothers and all our people. Salute our brothers [-]genes and Xydes. All our people salute you.
“I pray that you fare well in the Lord.”