The Oxyrhynchus Hymn

After years of waffling about it, I’ve finally decided to add a third and final volume to my Then Sings My Soul series of books of hymn studies. Hopefully it’ll be out near the end of the year from Thomas Nelson Publishers. While researching this volume, I’ve come across the oldest Christian hymn in existence in terms of words and music.

In 1918, archaeologists in Oxyrhynchus (pronounced Oxy-reen’-kus), a site about 100 miles south of Cairo, uncovered the greatest treasure in the history of Christian hymnody. It’s a papyrus containing the words and musical notations for a Christian hymn, dating from the late AD 400s. While we have the lyrics to earlier hymns, the Oxyrhynchus Hymn is our earliest extant hymn with both words and music. With a little imagination, we can transport ourselves back 1600 years and listen as this chant-like hymn of praise is sung during Sunday services. This ancient papyrus is now housed in the Sackler Library in Oxford. The words, as translated from the Greek, say, in part:

Let it be silent

Let the luminous stars not shine,

Let the winds and all the noisy rivers die down;

And as we hymn the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Let all the powers add “Amen! Amen!”

You can hear this hymn sung on a YouTube video here. And keep watching for Then Sings My Soul Book 3!