Saint NameMary, Mother of Christ : S00033
Saint Name in Sourceμήτηρ θεοῦ
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Literary - Magical texts and amulets
Evidence not before500
Evidence not after1300
Activity not before500
Activity not after1300
Place of Evidence - RegionAsia Minor
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcPriene
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Priene
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
SourceDoorstep slab in a "Byzantine" house at the site of the so-called “Isisterrasse” (also called the “Temple of the Egyptian gods”). Seen and copied probably by Thedore Wiegand in c. 1895 and Hans von Prott in c. 1898/1899. First published by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen in 1906. Now lost. A squeeze of line 1 is kept in the archive of the Inscriptiones Graecae in Berlin.
DiscussionThe inscription is a request for God's grace on behalf of the owner of the house, where it was found. As it was carved on the doorstep, we can suppose that it was also meant to prevent evil powers from entering the building. Line 2 contains a request for help, addressed to Christ, and a sequence of letters, which make no sense in Greek. Such sequences of apparently disconnected letters are common in protective (apotropaic) inscriptions and charms.
Henri Grégoire argued that they are a transcription of the Syriac numerals ʼarbʻîn thišʻâ, meaning forty, nine, followed by a sum of Greek numbers: λτο΄ (= 30 + 300 + 70 = 400). In Greek these numbers correspond to the letters Μ Θ Υ, which, in the Christian context, can stand for the exclamation: βοήθει μ(οι) θ(εοῦ) ὑ(ιὲ) Χρ(ιστέ), 'Help me Christ son of God'. However, Blümel, Merkelbach, and Rumscheid, editors of the new corpus of inscriptions from Priene, found it unconvincing that a sum of Greek numbers would have followed two Syriac numerals. Therefore, they hold only to the first part of Grégoire's interpretation, accepting that in line 2 we have two Syriac numbers: forty (Greek Μ) and nine (Greek Θ), but suggest another expansion of the hidden Greek letters: μ(ῆτηρ) θ(εοῦ) / Mother of God. If we accept their interpretation, we can also wonder whether the abbreviated name of Christ was actually in the genitive form. The phrase would read then: βοήθει (μήτηρ θεοῦ) Χρ(ιστοῦ) / Mother of God the Christ, help!
For a similar use of transcribed Syriac numerals to denote a holy name in a Greek Christian inscription, see: SGO III, no. 14/06/05.
Dating: probably late antique or middle Byzantine (the inscription must postdate the construction of the house in which it was found).
I. Priene (2014) - Blümel W., Merkelbach R., Rumscheid F., Die Inschriften von Priene (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien 69, Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, 2014), no. 222 (after the squeeze).
Grégoire, H. (ed.), Recueil des inscriptions grecques chrétiennes d'Asie Mineure, vol. 1 (Paris: Leroux, 1922), no. 123.
I. Priene (1906) - Hiller von Gaertringen, F. (ed.), Inschriften von Priene (Berlin: Reimer, 1906), no. 217 (after copies and the examination of the stone).
Grégoire, H.,"Note sur une inscription de Priène (Inschriften von Priene, no. 217)", Revue de l'instruction publique en Belgique 51 (1908), 215-216.