Early Christian Lives

Project TitleResurrecting Early Christian Lives
Project Websitewww.papyrology.ox.ac.uk
Start Date7 April 2014
End Date30 April 2016
UK Project ManagerJames Brusuelas, University of Oxford, Classics, james.brusuelas@classics.ox.ac.uk
Project TeamDirk Obbink, University of Oxford, Classics, dirk.obbink@chch.ox.ac.uk
James Brusuelas, University of Oxford, Classics, james.brusuelas@classics.ox.ac.uk
Lead InstitutionUniversity of Oxford, www.ox.ac.uk
Project PartnersUniversity of Minnesota, www1.umn.edu/twincities/index.html
Project Planhttp://repository.jisc.ac.uk/5656/
Progress Reporthttp://repository.jisc.ac.uk/6051/


Resurrecting Early Christian Lives investigates papyrus documents unearthed from the garbage dumps around the outskirts of Bahnasa in Egypt, known in antiquity as Oxyrhynchus, the city of the ‘sharp-nosed’ fish. Since the early 20th century this vast heap of papyri has yielded a range of ancient texts: the lost poetry of Sappho, new gospels and homilies, private letters, and documents such as contracts, loans, census returns, and fiscal accounts. More importantly, due to the immense volume of papyrus fragments discovered, these texts continue to produce new data and new discoveries. Building on data from the crowd-sourced transcriptions of our Ancient Lives project, we will now focus on papyri relevant to early Christianity. Furthermore, to increase the range of our dataset, we will also develop a transcription tool for Coptic, the final stage of the indigenous language of Egypt, notably used by Christians. Resurrecting Early Christian Lives will develop a web-based interface that will allow scholars to data mine the results of the transcriptions, thus examining in detail the complex networks of identity and authority and how Christians saw their new religion as part of their other identities (Greek, Egyptian, Roman, merchant, monk).


Resurrecting Early Christian Lives seeks to show how scholars can improve our understanding of the Christian use of texts. What new data will emerge to aid our identification of long-lost scriptures as we track scribal habits, book construction, and practices of reading? How do styles of worship and habits of mind translate into new forms when religious texts move from the Greek language into Coptic? Why did ancient Egyptian monks trade their books, and thus perhaps also their theologies and liturgies? These are the sorts of questions being opened up to close inspection by our project.

Anticipated Outputs and Outcomes

The anticipated output of our project is the development of a Coptic transcription interface for Ancient Lives, a pipeline for yielding a consensus of Coptic transcriptions, a data-mining tool to isolate and extract Christian documents from the Ancient Lives Database, a prototype universal search tool, and scholarly research papers. All algorithms and development design will be freely available via GitHub for the benefit of other research projects. In conjunction with published academic research, our project will reach across the disciplines of classics, religion, history, history of economy, and computer science.

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