Christian scriptorium existed in Oxyrhynchus by the end of the second century or beginning of the third.99
One caveat is in order in discussing the papyri: a certain time lag must be assumed between the composition or copying of a text on papyrus and its deposit in the place where the papyrus was found. Also, a fragment found in the chora could have been copied elsewhere, most likely Alexandria. Even so, we can assume from papyrological evidence that Christianity penetrated Upper Egypt and the Fayum during the second century. It was probably present in the delta as well, though one cannot expect to find papyri from that area.
The evidence from the third century, both literary and papyrological, is much richer.100 The most important literary evidence consists of the voluminous correspondence of bishop Dionysius partially preserved in quotations by Eusebius and others. Several of these are encyclical letters addressed to Egyptian bishops, including some establishing the date of Easter and its preceding fast.101 It is probable that, during the course of the third century, all of the nomes of Egypt came to have their own bishops, ostensibly under the authority of the Alexandrian bishop.102
It is also during the third century that the Coptic language was developed, first of all for the purpose of translating the Christian scriptures into the native tongue of the Egyptians.103 To be sure, the Coptic language itself, which appropriated Greek words and phrases into its vocabulary and syntax, is evidence of a bilingual environment. It is probably the case that Christianity spread less rapidly in rural areas, where the use of Greek was less prevalent, than in urban centres such as the nome capitals and other towns in the chora.104 But Roger Bagnall is probably right in his estimate that Christians were in the majority in Egypt by the time of the death of Constantine in 337.105 Nevertheless, one should not speak too hastily of a Christian 'triumph', for, as David Frankfurter has shown,106 basic patterns of Egyptian religion survived in Christian dress.
99 Roberts, Manuscript, society and belief, 24.
100 For the papyrological evidence, in addition to van Haelst's Catalogue and Naldini's collection of Christian letters (IlcristianesimoinEgitto), seeJudge andPickering, 'Papyrus documentation'.
101 Dionysius was the first Alexandrian bishop, so far as we know, to send out annual letters establishing the date of Easter. See Bienert, Dionysius von Alexandrien, 138-77.
102 Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung, vol. 11, 712.
103 For a convenient survey see Emmel, 'Coptic language'.
104 So Llewelyn, in NewDocs, vol. iv, 212.
105 Bagnall, Egypt in late antiquity, 281. Bagnall observes that the situationin the third century is 'unquantifiable' (ibid.), but allows that Christians were numerous.
106 Frankfurter, Religion in Roman Egypt.
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