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E04385: Fragmentary papyrus sheets from a codex with an account in Greek of the miracles and martyrdom of *George (soldier and martyr, S00259), one of the earliest extant Greek manuscript of the so-called 'legend of Saint George'. The preserved fragments describe his resurrection of the dead, his healing of a widow's son, the third resurrection of George by Christ, and the tempting of George by king Dadianos (= the initial passages of the conversion of Queen Alexandra). A miracle by *Michael (the Archangel, S00181) is also mentioned. Found at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably 7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-18, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
The extant pieces, registered as BHG 669y, preserve the following elements of the text of the 'legend', as known from 13th-16th c. manuscripts. For a short description of the manuscripts, see the comments. For a descriptions of the entire 'legend', see $E06147.


Pieces I-IV, lines 1-97 of Casson and Hettich's edition, describe the episode of the resurrection of the dead by George. The Persian king Dadianos shows George a sarcophagus and orders him to resurrect the deceased.
George kneels, prays, an earthquake occurs, and a great fire. Five men, nine women, and three children are resurrected from the bones and ashes kept in the sarcophagus. The king talks to one of the resurrected. He says that he died 200 years ago. He did not know Christianity, and was a worshipper of Apollo. The king is advised to acknowledge Christ as the Saviour. The Last Judgement is mentioned.

Portions of this passage are very close to its counterpart in the Athenian codex.

Pieces V - mid-VI, lines 98-169 of Casson and Hettich's edition, describe the episode of the poor widow. A wooden staff miraculously becomes a tree with long branches and leaves. Michael the Archangel descends from Heaven and brings heavenly bread (ἄρτος οὐράνιος), which is consumed by George. The table at the widow's house is miraculously filled with food. The widow falls at the saint's feet. George raises her and instructs her that he himself is not the God of the Christians, but a mere servant of God. The widow asks George to heal her blind, deaf, and crippled child. She brings the child in and lays him on George's lap. George invokes God and 'blows air' (ἐμφυσάω) into the child's eyes. The child is healed.

This passage alternates between agreement with the Parisian and Athenian MSS. Here, and in the following pieces, some lines are annotated by a second hand, adding sentences apparently omitted by the principal scribe.

Pieces mid-VI - mid-VII, lines 170-219 of Casson and Hettich's edition, describe the episode of the conversion of the servants. George's corpse is brought to 'Toros' (probably a corruption of τὸ ὄρος/'the Mountain' differently identified in manuscripts: Asinaris, Seres, Siris, Asûrion, Yedrâs, Didria, Edria). Servants (ὑπηρέται) are present. It thunders, and Christ descends upon clouds, in glory. He orders George to rise from the dead. The servants convert to Christianity and are baptised by George. The servants return to their kings, and confess they are now Christians. They are executed.

This passage is omitted in the Parisian manuscript.

Pieces mid-VII - VIII, lines 220-261 of Casson and Hettich's edition, describe the episode of Queen Alexandra's conversion. George is summoned to the kings. King Dadianos offers him care and wealth in exchange for sacrificing to pagan gods. George purports that he will sacrifice to Apollo. The king rejoices.

The passage seems to be corrupted, as the respondents of George are first 'kings', and then a single 'king'. Verb forms are also confusing (both plural and singular in the same dialogue). The scribe was aware of this inconsistency, and tried to cope with it by introducing a sentence introducing king Dadianos as the speaker, unparalleled in known manuscripts.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

George, soldier and martyr of Diospolis/Lydda : S00259 Michael, the Archangel : S00181

Saint Name in Source

Γεώργιος Μιχαήλ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles Late antique original manuscripts - Papyrus codex


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Nessana Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle with animals and plants Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Other specified miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Pagans Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Slaves/ servants Other lay individuals/ people Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


Nessana/Auja Hafir was an important town (actually termed a kome/'village' in documents) in the southwest Negev desert, located on the caravan route from 'Aila/'Aqaba to Gaza, and the pilgrim route towards Sinai, and is sometimes identified with the site of the hostel (xenodochium) of Saint George, visited by the Piacenza Pilgrim (see E00507; for an alternative identification, see E02006). The site was excavated by the Colt Expedition, led by Harris Dunscombe Colt, between 1935 and 1937, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Although the site had suffered serious damage during World War I, it soon yielded rich epigraphical evidence (more than 150 Greek and Nabataean inscriptions), and two invaluable collections of 6th-7th c. documentary and literary papyri, comprising several distinguishable archives. The first, smaller collection of papyri, was found in Room 3 of the South Church (about six rolls, parts of rolls, and many fragments; they belong to a 6th c. archive, and deal mainly with property rights). The second group was found in Room 8 of the North Church (damaged and mostly fragmentary documents, including some blank sheets); the room where they were kept is unlikely to have been a proper archive room, but rather a place where unneeded documents were deposited. In 1987 Dan Urman resumed archaeological exploration of the site on behalf of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, but no new papyri have been discovered. Some of the literary papyri, now in New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, H. Dunscombe Colt Collection, were published in 1950 by Lionel Casson and Ernest Hettich, in the second volume of the Excavations at Nessana. The volume contains 13 groups of texts, including a glossary to the Aeneid, a general Latin dictionary, the Latin text of the Aeneid, fragments of New Testament books (the Gospel according to John, Paul's Letters), a version of the apocryphal correspondence of Abgar and Jesus, a fragmentary legal work on the transport of water, a religious work in Syriac (hymns or homilies, examined by Theodore Gaster, as far as we know scarcely legible and unpublished), and other religious works in Greek. Among them there is also a fragmentary text of the so-called 'legend of Saint George'. The present text of the 'legend of George' is written on four fragmentary and five complete papyrus leaves from a codex, which form two successive four-sheet signatures, totalling sixteen pages. The codex's overall dimensions are given by the editors as 23.5 cm x 10 cm. The text is written in an uncial hand, with black ink. Corrections in the margins in cursive script were added by a different hand. The editors divide the preserved text into eight 'pieces'/passages (I-VIII).


The importance of this text lies in the fact that it is one of the earliest extant manuscripts of a very popular hagiographic work, describing the miracles and martyrdom of Saint George, whose different versions are preserved in Greek, Latin, Coptic (E03585), Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, and Ethiopic. It is also the earliest extant manuscript of a number of specific passages that constitute different elements of the legend. The editors compared the present text with the results of Karl Krumbacher's studies on the origins and development of Saint George's Greek hagiographic dossier (published post-mortem, in 1911). According to Krumbacher, the 'legend' was composed in Greek, in the East, in the 5th c., and was very quickly translated into the major languages of both Eastern and Western Christianity. Krumbacher argued that the presumed 'original' version (which he defined as a 'folk'/'popular' version) was eventually edited by the Church authorities, who had the most cruel and implausible descriptions of tortures removed, etc. They are, however, present in several Greek manuscripts, considered by Krumbacher witnesses to the earliest form of the legend of George: 1) Initial fragments of the legend on five pages of the so-called 'Vienna palimpsest' (Cod. Vindob. lat. 954). The Greek text is written below the Latin text of Jerome's letters datable to the 8th c. The five pages come from an earlier, reused Greek codex, dated by different scholars to the 5th or 6th c. 2) The Athenian codex (Cod. Athen. 422; AD 1546), considered by Krumbacher the most faithful of the complete versions. 3) The Parisian codex (Cod. Paris. gr. 770; AD 1315) with the text 'biased' by some interpolations. 4) The Vienna codex (Cod. Vindob. theol. gr. 123; 13th c.), combining elements of the 'popular' and 'edited' versions. Casson and Hettich concluded that the Athenian and Parisian codices contain very similar recensions to that of the Nessana papyrus. The Vienna codex (4) proved to be less closely related. They could not compare the Vienna palimpsest (1), as its few scant passages do not overlap with ours. In their concluding statement on p. 127, the editors seem to assume that the papyrus' agreements with the Parisian manuscript suggest that this one is somehow closer to the archetype in the stemma than Krumbacher believed, but if this is what they meant then this is on principle wrong since shared archaisms have no weight in genealogical criticism, only shared errors/innovations. It is merely an indication that Cod. Athen. 422 too has sometimes a more innovative text whereas Paris. gr. 770, despite in general being a later redaction, may on occasion preserve an older layer of text than the Athenian. They also pointed out that the version of Nessana was free from certain 'intrusions' which we encounter in the Athenian and Parisian manuscripts, and that it contained a number of passages preserved in versions translated into other languages, which did not appear in the Greek Athenian and Parisian texts. Finally, the editors take the markings by a second hand as proof of the existence and diffusion of several early versions of the legend already in the 5th or 6th c. Dating: Casson and Hettich dated the religious literary texts from Nessana to the 7th-8th c., but in his edition of documentary papyri from Nessana, Casper Kraemer argues that the literary texts are in fact very unlikely to post-date AD 700 (see Excavations at Nessana, vol. 3, p. 9). This is suggested chiefly by the chronological framework of the dated documentary papyri, found in the North Church.


Edition: Casson, L., Hettich, E.L., Excavations at Nessana, vol. 2: Literary Papyri (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Univeristy Press, 1950), no. 6. Further reading: Analecta Bollandiana 69 (1951), 393. Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca, 669y. Caner, D.F., Brock, S., Price, R., History and Hagiography from the Late Antique Sinai (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010), 255, note 13. Krumbacher, K., [Erhard., A., ed.], Der helige Georg in der griechischen Überlieferung (Abhandlungen der königlich bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-his. Klasse 25/3, Munich: Verlag der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1911), 1-3; 106-109. Meimaris, Y., Sacred Names, Saints, Martyrs and Church Officials in the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Pertaining to the Christian Church of Palestine (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity, 1986), 124-125, nos. 666-674; 141, no. 729. Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 132.

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