Undiscovered’ Gospels are well-known in the libraries and private collections of Europe, although not all of them show evidence of controversial theological views. This is a third-century Greek fragment acquired by the John Rylands Library in 1917. Roberts’s catalogue entry identifies the fragment as part of a lost gospel.
Interestingly, P.Rylands 464 is written on the verso of what seems to be an administrative document in an early third-century hand. A gospel fragment of this type–written on a re-used sheet of papyrus rather than on a two-sided folio bound into a codex–was probably used as an amulet. It may have been folded and carried in a small pouch around an individual’s neck: the pattern of damage is consistent with folding.
The diversity of gospels which survive from antiquity, along with the small-sized single-page gospel amulets such as P.Rylands 464, point to a religious culture in third-century Egypt in which Christians saw the biblical text as ‘words of power’ which could protect them. In an age where literacy was rare, many Christians were not aware of the wider theological context within which their own community practiced the faith. If every-day Christians were aware of ideas of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’, it was for the most part an uncomfortable awareness of ‘outsiders’ who could not be trusted, rather than any firm sense of theological points of dispute.
Rylands Greek Papyrus 464: Apocryphal Gospel (?) / Official Document, 3rd Century CE
C. H. Roberts, ed., Catalogue of Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library Manchester, Vol. 3, Theological and Literary Texts (Nos 457-551) (Manchester, 1938), p. 24.