Public lecture on early Christian ‘puzzle’

Published 23 July 2009

papyrusA leading expert on the early history of Christianity in Egypt will address one of the major puzzles of that history in a public lecture at the University of New England next week.

Edwin Judge, Emeritus Professor of History at Macquarie University, will talk about “The puzzle of Christian presence in Egypt before Constantine” when he gives the next lecture in UNE’s “Aspects of Antiquity” series. The lecture will be at 5.30 pm in the Junior Common Room at Earle Page College on Thursday 30 July.

“There is plenty of evidence in the form of papyri preserved in dry conditions, literary sources and archaeological remains for Christians in Egypt after Constantine embraced Christianity at the beginning of the fourth century,” Professor Judge says. “Why, however, is there so little documentation concerning Christians at the civic level when they must have been in Egypt for one or two centuries before Constantine?

“They are shown to have been present by the fragments of Christian literature that have been found on papyri even from about the mid second century. Why did the Christians leave virtually no other imprint? It is difficult even to find private letters certainly written by Christians.”

Professor Judge, a former Professor of History and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, founded the Documentary Research Centre in Ancient History, where he is involved in a research project on Christian Papyri from Egypt.

Professor Judge supervised the PhD thesis of Greg Horsley, UNE’s Professor of Classics and Ancient History, and Professor Horsley, in turn, has supervised PhD theses in early Christian studies and on topics such as Greek inscriptions. The full title of next week’s lecture is “The puzzle of Christian presence in Egypt before Constantine (and its link with Classics and Ancient History at UNE)”, and the free event will begin at 5 pm with drinks and light refreshments to celebrate this “passing on of scholarly training”. Books by Professor Judge and Professor Horsley will be on display, as well as some by Dr Anna Silvas, an Australian Research Council Fellow based at UNE in Classics.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew, will chair the event.

THE  PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows a papyrus codex from Egypt containing sections of the Gospel of John Chapter 18 – verses 31-33 (pictured here) and verses 37-38 (on the reverse side). This is one of the earliest surviving manuscripts of the New Testament, and dates from the mid second century AD. It is held in the John Rylands University Library, Manchester.