Mike Aquilina

Why We Hoard Books

Sunday January 16th 2011, 11:11 am

At last, an ancient Christian book-owner gets credit where credit’s due.

AnneMarie Luijendijk of Princeton University has identified the owner of a Greek New Testament papyrus as Aurelius Leonides, a flax merchant from Egypt. Discovered in the late 19th century at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, the papyrus contains verses 1-7 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

“It is the first and only ancient instance where we know the owner of a Greek New Testament papyrus,” writes Luijendijk in the Journal of Biblical Literature. “For most early New Testament manuscripts, we do not know where they were found, let alone who had owned them,” she continues.

I read and loved Luijendijk’s book Greetings in the Lord: Early Christians and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (Harvard Theological Studies). Trolling in that glorious garbage dump in the “town of the sharp-snouted fish,” Dr. Luijendijk gathered the remains of a church that was hierarchical, richly liturgical, and deeply learned. Her study of the use of the word “Papas” — both “pope” and “father” — is illuminating.

God rest Aurelius Leonides for the care he took with this book. Surely he had to keep thousands in order for one to have survived. That’s what I’ll tell my wife.