A Curious Example of Early Christian Devotion to Scripture

A curious example of the role of Scripture in early Christianity was the phenomenon of the miniature codex.

The early Christians probably used the miniature codex format for a number of reasons including private reading, portability for long journeys, and sometimes even in a “magical” sense (thinking it provided protection for the one who possessed it). But, it seems they also used these books as a visible sign of their Christian identity.  Christians would carry these books on their bodies, often hung around their necks, as a sign that they were devoted to Scripture and thereby devoted to Christ.

 

I have argued in numerous places–articles, blog posts, books–that Scripture played a central role in the life of early Christians.  They not only read and preached from these books, but they copied and distributed them in great numbers.

An additional (and rather curious) example of the role of Scripture in early Christianity was the phenomenon of the miniature codex.  From the time of the third century, and especially in the fourth and fifth centuries, Christians began to create these little “pocket Bibles” that contained portions of Scripture and sometimes even held multiple scriptural books (e.g., see my analysis of P.Ant. 12).

The early Christians probably used the miniature codex format for a number of reasons including private reading, portability for long journeys, and sometimes even in a “magical” sense (thinking it provided protection for the one who possessed it).

But, it seems they also used these books as a visible sign of their Christian identity.  Christians would carry these books on their bodies, often hung around their necks, as a sign that they were devoted to Scripture and thereby devoted to Christ.

Aside from the miniature codex in particular, we know Christians often treated scriptural books in just such a fashion.  For instance, a biblical codex was placed on a throne at the Council of Ephesus (c.431) as a powerful visual representation of the presence of Christ.

Similarly, Epiphanius describes the power of just seeing scriptural books, “The mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.”[1]

The monk Philoxenus of Mabbug (fifth century) shows a similar devotion to the Gospels as a physical object: “Take the Gospel in your hands. Place it on your eyes and your heart…place the Gospel on the cushion and prostrate yourself before it up to ten times… [and] you will conceive in your heart the internal adoration and the effect of divine grace.”[2]

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