The following is an excerpt from "The Earliest Account of a Martyrdom in Coptic," by Peter van Minnen, Analecta Bollandiana 113 (1995):13-38.This papyrus from Egypt contains the record of the trial and execution by burning of an otherwise unknown Christian priest, Stephanos, of the village of Lenaios in Middle Egypt. The early date of the manuscript, which can be assigned to the second half of the fourth century A.D., makes it the earliest Coptic martyrdom in existence, roughly contemporary with the earliest Greek martyrdoms on papyrus. It brings us closer to the original records of the trial and execution of Egyptian martyrs, which were written in Greek, than any of the martyrdoms we find in later Coptic literature. The importance of the text for students of this literature and indeed for historians of the early church in general cannot be overstated.
The text can be analysed as follows:
I Date and place of the martyrdom of Stephanos (lines 1-5) II Proceedings between the governor Arianos and Stephanos (lines 5-34) a Stephanos is introduced to Arianos' presence (lines 5-9) b Altercation between Arianos and Stephanos (lines 9-28) c Final remarks of Arianos (28-34) III Verdict of Arianos and execution of Stephanos (34-37)
The text can be translated as follows:
[In the fourteenth] year of the reign of Valerius Constan-
[tius the emperor and in] the second year of our lords Va-
[lerius Severus] and Maximinus the emperors, when Aria-
[nos was governor over the] Thebaid, he sat down on the tribunal in Kleopa-
[tris on x] Choiak. As they brought Stephanos in the middle
[of ], Hierax the commentariensis said: Ste-
[phanos (here) is the] priest of Lenaios in the nome of Anti-
[noopolis. They ordered] to throw him in prison (and) after that to set him be-
[fore the tribunal to] sacrifice. Arianos the governor of the Thebaid
[said: Who are you?] He said: Stephanos. He said to him:
[Where are you from? He] said: I [am from] Lenaios of the island
[of ] God (?). What [ ] I am a priest.
[Arianos] the governor [said:] It is [my] wish that you live.
[ ] Stephanos [said to him:] I am a Christian.
[Arianos said:] Sacrifice to the gods. [He said:] I will not sacrifice.
[Arianos] said: [ ] your thinking [ ] give you time for
[ He said: ] Truly, this [matter that you] are thinking of is vain.
[ ] gods or [ ] in your thinking about
[ ] What [do you say]? Will you [sacrifice?] Yes or no?
[Stephanos] said: [A] Christian [will not] sacrifice. Arianos said
[to him: Sacrifice] to the gods. [He] said: No. The governor said:
[ ] to wait [ ] so that you can think it
[over ] Stephanos [said: ]. Arianos
[the governor of the] Thebaid said: [ ] I rise. [Stephanos] said:
[I will not] sacrifice. Arianos [the] governor of [the Thebaid]
[said:] Stephanos, [I] have the authority [to] let you [live ]
[ ] yourself (?) [ ]. Stephanos said:
[I am a] Christian. [The] governor said to him: [ ]
[ ] I ordered you, but [ ]
[ ] and you will live [ ]. For . . . . .
[ ] who sets [ ] or plead with you so that you
[listen to the command of] our lords the emperors that you should live.
[ ] you make yourself like the wild animals.
[Listen therefore to the] verdict that you deserve. And he ordered
[ to] write his name as follows: Stephanos
[from Lenaios they will] burn alive. He fulfilled his martyr-
[dom in a] blessed and noble manner. Amen.
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Last updated by Peter van Minnen and Suzanne Corr on 6/29/95