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E01365: Coptic miniature parchment codex of the Sortes Sanctorum (oracle answers) presented in the name of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), datable to the 6th c.

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posted on 2016-05-15, 00:00 authored by gschenke
The codex offers answers to lot oracles performed in the name of *Mary, mother of Christ, most likely at a shrine dedicated to her. On 75 very small pages one finds 37 statements to be given as possible answers to common questions asked with respect to clients’ private future.

Title page:
ⲡⲉⲩⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲓⲟⲛ ⲛⲛⲉⲕⲗⲏⲣⲟⲥ ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁ ⲧⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲙⲡϫⲟⲥ ⲓⲥ ⲡⲉⲭⲥ ⲧⲉⲛⲧⲁ ⲅⲁⲃⲣⲓⲏⲗ ⲡⲁⲣⲭⲏⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲟⲥ ⲉⲓⲛⲉ ⲛⲁⲥ ⲙⲡϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϥⲉ
ⲡⲉⲧⲛⲁϯ ⲡⲉϥⲟⲩⲟ ϩⲙ ⲡⲉϥϩⲏⲧ ⲧⲏⲣϥ ϥⲛⲁⲙⲁⲧⲉ ⲙⲡⲉⲧϥϣⲓⲛⲉ ⲛⲥⲱϥ ⲟⲩ ⲙⲟⲛⲟⲛ ⲛϥⲧⲙⲣϩⲏⲧ ⲥⲛⲁⲩ

'The (book of) good news (ⲉⲩⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲓⲟⲛ) from the oracular lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom the archangel Gabriel once brought the good news. Whoever will proceed wholeheartedly, will obtain what he is looking for and will not be doubtful for even a moment.'

The answers offered are kept vague enough to fit a large range of circumstance. Typical examples include the following:

Oracle answer 5:
ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲧⲁⲛϩⲟⲩⲧⲕ ϩⲙ ⲡⲉϩⲱⲃ ⲑⲁⲣⲓ ⲛⲁⲕ ⲛⲅϩⲩⲡⲟⲙⲓⲛⲉ ϫⲉ ⲡⲉⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓϣ ⲡⲏⲧ ⲉⲣⲟⲕ · ⲙⲡⲣⲑⲗⲓⲃⲉ ⲛⲅⲕⲁⲧⲟⲟⲧⲕ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲟⲩⲇⲉ ⲙⲡⲣⲗⲩⲡⲏ ϫⲉ
ⲟⲩ(ⲛ)ⲧⲁⲕ ⲙⲙⲁⲩ ⲛⲟⲩϩⲉⲗⲡⲓⲥ ⲉⲥⲧⲁϫⲣⲏⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲓⲧⲙ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ·

'One will believe you in this matter. Have trust and endure, because the time comes for you. Do not despair, do not give up, and do not be distressed, for you have solid hope by the hand of God.'

Oracle answer 6:
ⲁⲡϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲥⲱⲧⲙ ⲉⲡⲉⲕⲁⲓⲧⲏⲙⲁ ⲁⲩⲱ ϥⲛⲁϫⲟⲟⲩ ⲙⲡⲉϥⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲟⲥ ⲛϥⲙⲟⲟϣⲉ ϩⲁ ⲧⲉⲕϩⲏ · ⲁⲩⲱ ⲕⲛⲁⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲧⲡⲁⲣⲣⲏⲥⲓⲁ ⲙⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲉⲧⲛⲁⲧⲁϩⲟⲕ · ⲡⲗⲏⲛ ⲙⲡⲣϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲛⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲥ · ϫⲉ ⲡϩⲱⲃ ⲛⲁϣⲱⲡⲉ ⲁⲛ ⲥⲉ ϥⲛⲁϣⲱⲡⲉ

'The Lord God heard your request. He will send his angel and he will walk before you. You will see the trust in God, which will satisfy you. But do not be negligent, because the event will not happen. It will certainly happen!'

There are also opposing answers, such as this pair of examples:

Oracle 13:
ⲙⲡⲣⲙⲉⲉⲩⲉ · ϭⲉ ⲉⲡⲧⲁϫⲣⲟ ⲱ ⲡⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲛⲅⲛⲁϫⲣⲟ ⲁⲛ ⲧⲉⲛⲟⲩ · ⲕⲛⲁϣⲡ ϩⲉ(ⲛ)ⲛⲟϭ ⲛϩⲓⲉ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϫⲉ ⲙⲡⲁⲧⲉ ⲡⲉⲟⲩⲟⲉⲓϣ ⲉⲧϩⲟⲥⲉ ⲟⲩⲉⲓⲛⲉ
ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲓϫⲱⲕ ⲧⲉⲛⲟⲩ ⲙⲡⲣⲕⲁϩⲧⲏⲕ ⲉⲛϣⲁϫⲉ ⲛⲛⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲉⲧϣⲟⲩⲉⲓⲧ

'Do not think about the strength then, human being! You will not be victorious now. You will endure great suffering, since the difficult time has not yet passed over you. Now, do not trust the words of vain people!'

Oracle 14:
ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲧⲁⲛϩⲟⲩⲧⲕ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲕⲛⲁⲣϫⲟ ⲉⲡⲉϩⲱⲃ ⲧⲁϫⲣⲉ ⲡⲉⲕϩⲏⲧ ⲟⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲓⲧⲙ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲓϩⲱⲃ ⲙⲡⲣⲣϩⲟⲧⲉ ⲛⲧⲟⲕ ϩⲱⲃ ⲛⲓⲙ ⲉⲕⲛⲁⲁⲁⲩ
ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ϣⲟⲟⲡ ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲕ ·

'One will believe you. You will be victorious concerning this matter. Strengthen your heart! That thing comes from God. Do not be afraid! Anything that you will do, God is with you.'

Text: Luijendijk 2014. Translations: Gesa Schenke.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Gabriel, the Archangel : S00192

Saint Name in Source

ⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁ ⲧⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲙⲡϫⲟⲥ ⲓⲥ ⲡⲉⲭⲥ ⲅⲁⲃⲣⲓⲏⲗ

Type of Evidence

Early manuscripts - Books/scrolls Other


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs



The miniature parchment codex (size: 7.5 x 6.87 cm) belongs to the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Harvard University and was a gift of Mrs. Beatrice Kelekian in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian, 1984.669. There is no information as to where it was found. The manuscript has been dated to the 6th century on palaeographical grounds. For colour images and acquisition details see:


For similar divination practices performed at other shrines of saints, such as e.g. the healing shrine of *Kollouthos in Antinoopolis, see E00999. The oracle answers preserved here were chosen by lot by the inquiring supplicant. It is not possible to say whether this booklet was used at a local shrine of Mary, or was a private copy for personal use. Its very small size, however, suggests, that it was portable and therefore intended for private use, though the oracle answers it provides may well have been taken from a copy used at an established shrine of Mary. Whether inquiries through oracle lots was a service regularly available at Marian shrines, or offered much more restrictively, remains at this point unknown. The original publication of this text presented the title of the codex misleadingly, as 'The Gospel of the Lots of Mary', under a main heading 'Forbidden Oracles?', thus giving the impression that this is a secret and forbidden apocryphal gospel, rather than a book of answers to the very common practice of inquiry into the future.


Edition: Luijendijk, A., Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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