Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 9-2018



The texts of Christian scripture find their way into a variety of ancient artifacts. The manuscript form has been the most widespread, yet manuscripts manifest distinct patterns of organization and structure according to their different purposes. Many include companion texts sharing the page with that of scripture—texts that gloss, provide commentary, give liturgical direction, or otherwise assist the reader in understanding or using scripture. In many instances, pages containing scripture have acquired additional texts over the years–e.g. marginal notes, corrections, claims of ownership, prayers, and fragments of other texts. One of the least well-studied phenomena is the sort of artifact that puts scripture and divinatory content on the same page. Intended for the practice of sortilegium, these divinatory tools provided personal guidance through the drawing of lots connected to particular passages of scripture. Although such applications of sacred books and texts have often been suspect or even proscribed by the established religious authorities, repeated mention of these practices and the surviving evidence for them, though rare and sketchy, indicate the practices may have been common. This paper will examine textual artifacts from the 5th–9th centuries that pair texts of John’s Gospel with divinatory sortes, in several languages, for the purpose of formally classifying this little-studied evidence. The evidence, though geographically and linguistically diverse, shares key features. They each construct authority for their sortes by putting oracular text alongside the text of John on the same page, and they all draw on a body of oracular material with a common ancestry. Yet the artifacts are formally distinct. Some are basically amulets. In other cases, the oracular material is painstakingly distributed throughout the margins and coded to the Gospel text. In others, later users scribble the oracular material into the margins, centuries after the original preparation of the codex. In perhaps the most remarkable form, a divinatory apparatus is systematically incorporated directly into the biblical text itself, as part of its original execution. An analysis of these extraordinary artifacts will help us to classify their forms and better understand the purposes for which their creators chose to affix divinatory texts to the pages of scripture.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.