The 37 oracles are all written vaguely; for instance, oracle seven says, “You know, o human, that you did your utmost again. You did not gain anything but loss, dispute, and war. But if you are patient a little, the matter will prosper through the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Another example is oracle 34, which reads, “Go forward immediately. This is a thing from God. You know that, behold, for many days you are suffering greatly. But it is of no concern to you, because you have come to the haven of victory.” Throughout the book “the text refers to hardships, suffering and violence, and occasionally one finds a threat. On the whole, however, a positive outlet prevails,” Luijendijk wrote in her book. Another interesting example, that illustrates the ancient book’s positive outlook, is oracle 24, which reads, “Stop being of two minds, o human, whether this thing will happen or not. Yes, it will happen! Be brave and do not be of two minds. Because it will remain with you a long time and you will receive joy and happiness.” A ‘gospel’ like no other In the ancient world, a special type of book, sometimes called a “lot book,” was used to try to predict a person’s future. Luijendijk says that this is the only lot book found so far that calls itself a “gospel” – a word that literally means “good news.” “The fact that this book is called that way is very significant,” Luijendijk told Live Science in an interview. “To me, it also really indicated that it had something to do [with] how people would consult it and also about being [seen] as good news,” she said. “Nobody who wants to know the future wants to hear bad news in a sense.” Although people today associate the word “gospel” as being a text that talks about the life of Jesus, people in ancient times may have had a different perspective. “The fact that this is not a gospel in the traditional sense gives ample reason to inquire about the reception and use of the term ‘gospel’ in Late Antiquity,” Luijendijk wrote. Where did it come from?
The text is now owned by Harvard University’s Sackler Museum. It was given to Harvard in 1984 by Beatrice Kelekian, who donated it in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian. Charles’ father, Dikran Kelekian (1868-1951), was “an influential trader of Coptic antiquaries, deemed the ‘dean of antiquities’ among New York art dealers,” Luijendijk wrote in her book. It is not known where the Kelekians got the gospel. Luijendijk searched the Kelekian family archive but found no information about where the text came from or when it was acquired. It’s possible that, in ancient times, the book was used by a diviner at the Shrine of Saint Colluthus in Egypt, a “Christian site of pilgrimage and healing,” Luijendijk wrote. At this shrine, archaeologists have found texts with written questions, indicating that the site was used for various forms of divination. “Among the services offered to visitors of the shrine were dream incubation, ritual bathing, and both book and ticket divination,” Luijendijk wrote. Miniature text One interesting feature of the book is its small size. The pages measure less than 3 inches (75 millimeters) in height and 2.7 inches (68.7 millimeters) in width. The codex is “only as large as my palm,” Luijendijk wrote. “Given the book’s small size, the handwriting is surprisingly legible and quite elegant,” she wrote. The book’s small size made it portable and, if necessary, easy to conceal. Luijendijk notes that some early church leaders had a negative view of divination and put in place rules discouraging the practice. Regardless of why its makers made the text so small, the book was heavily used, with ancient thumbprints still visible in the margins. “The manuscript clearly has been used a lot,” Luijendijk said.