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How Christian was Fourth Century Egypt? Onomastic Perspectives on Conversion

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Abstract In 1982 Roger Bagnall published a ground-breaking article about conversion to Christianity in fourth century Egypt. Using onomastic data for individuals in seleced texts, he tried to demonstrate that the growth of the Christian element in the population was early and rapid, rising to 90% by the end of the century. A new date for one of the documents led to a revision of the pace of growth in 1987, but his method was never tested on other datasets. In this article we apply an adapted vesion of his method to a large new dataset, containing all attestations of personal names in fourth century documentary papyri and ostraca. We also investigate the accuracy of Christian names as a binary test for Christianity, and estimate the mutiplication factor which can be applied to determine the number of Christians. Our results are similar to the curve which can be distilled from Bagnall’s adapted results in 1987, with 20-30% Christians around 313, a Christian majority around 350 and virtually complete Christianization around the middle of the fifth century.

Affiliations: 1: KU Leuven

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/content/journals/10.1163/15700720-12341144
2013-01-01
2016-12-02

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