Late Antiquity was a time of vibrant and eclectic ritual practices, as well as witnessing Christianity’s rise from minority to majority religion. P.Oslo. I V is an apotropaic papyrus from fourth- or fifth century Egypt, containing both traditional ritual elements, like voces magicae and vowel-strings, as well as distinctly Christian phrases and a doxology. Hence, I have chosen to explore P.Oslo. I V as a case study, examining not only ritual practice in Late Antiquity but also how early Christianity interacted with this.
The historical study of ritual practice, whether conceived as ‘magic’ or religion, is fraught with methodological challenges. For my thesis, I have chosen to proceed using the recent contributions to religious studies from cognitive theory. Cognitive approaches are being used in more and more fields, also within the study of religion, and for my analysis of P.Oslo. I V I apply two major contributions to ritual theory: Thomas Lawson and Robert McCauley’s theory on ritual structure and Jesper Sørensen’s analysis of ritual building on Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner’s ‘blending theory.’
Having first given a thorough presentation of P.Oslo. I V, I proceed to employ these two cognitive ritual theories. My analysis first shows that the Christian and the more traditional ritual elements in the ritual text belong to two separate performative, or ritual, utterances. I then establish how these two are structurally quite similar, while the Christian section still has some distinguishing traits that put it more in line with Christian teaching and worldview. Finally, combining both performative utterances in one blending model, I illustrate how P.Oslo. I V simultaneously follows traditional, pan-Mediterranean ritual practices and demonstrates a knowledge of and respect for Christian teachings.
This last observation goes against several scholars studying religion in Late Antiquity, who hold that the appearance of Christian elements in ritual papyri reflects nothing more than opportunistic and indiscriminate hoarding of deities. Instead, I compare my results to the work of David Frankfurter and David Brakke, who argue for a ‘contextualised’ Christianity in Egypt in Late Antiquity. Referring to early monastic literature, they observe an emphasis on local concerns and practices, which then prompts a continuation, at least among some, of traditional ritual practices. My results support this observation, suggesting that P.Oslo. I V expresses a dynamic interaction between traditional and Christian concepts of ritual efficacy.