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Document Details :

Title: The Emergence of God(s) in Private Greek Papyrus Letters
Author(s): CLARYSSE, Willy
Journal: Ancient Society
Volume: 50    Date: 2020   
Pages: 129-151
DOI: 10.2143/AS.50.0.3289081

Abstract :
In this article I intend to draw a picture of the growing presence of religion in Greek papyrus letters, mostly private correspondence, by looking at the appearance of god(s) in texts up to the fourth century AD. In Ptolemaic letters the gods are only rarely mentioned, whereas in Christian letters of the fifth or sixth centuries God is omnipresent, in the greeting formula ἐν κυρίωι, in prayers for the health of the addressee, up until the final greeting which is often again 'in the lord'. A simple 'perhaps' has turned into θεοῦ θέλοντος (inshallah), a firm statement is underlined by an invocation to god, and everything happens with his help (σὺν θεῷ), even the numbering of the indictions. The phenomenon does not necessarily point to increasing religiosity (people in the third century BC also firmly believed in their gods), but rather to a growing tendency to advertise one’s religion, in order to ingratiate oneself with the addressee by employing 'a rhetoric of piety'. This is exactly the opposite of the situation today, where reference to religion has completely disappeared from our emails. I want to draw a picture of the ancient phenomenon with the help of some simple statistics, and to investigate how it came about.

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