Dominik Opatrny, «The Figure of a Blind Man in the Light of the Papyrological Evidence», Vol. 91 (2010) 583-594
This article presents the status of a blind man in ancient society. There are three characteristics often associated with blind persons in the Bible: anonymity, passivity and beggary. The aim of this study is to confront these characteristics with the evidence found in Greek papyri. The author discusses both similar and opposite cases and comes to a more detailed conclusion on the situation of these people.
THE FIGURE OF A BLIND MAN
There is even more striking evidence of an interest in a nearly blind
man : In the above-mentioned story of Gemellus this man complains that
â€œ the elders of the village of Karanis of the same division of Herakleides,
men without the least scruple, with their habitual violence and arrogance
< . . . > me whom they nominated as their colleagueâ€ (P.Mich. VI 426.9-11)
and gave him the name Horon against his will 15. In this case, the nearly
blind person is not excluded, but other citizens force him to accept a pub-
lic office. However, everybody seeks to avoid these compulsory services
called leitoyrgÄ±a (â€œ liturgy â€), and that is precisely the aim of this letter 16.
In some cases, the blind person is even so outstanding or dominant,
that he is used to designate other persons. A private letter concerning
business P.Koeln IV 198 (3rd century AD, unknown provenance) informs
its addressee that some wine-vat was sold to the people around Diodoros
the blind. In other cases some inhabitants are designated as â€œson of
someone the blindâ€: P.Mich IV 223 (Karanis, 171-2 AD), P.Mich. IV 224
(Karanis, 172-3 AD), P.Oxy XII 1446 (Oxyrhynchus, 161-210 AD).
When we return to our opening question, our answer is: Yes, there is
evidence for the conviction that anonymity can also be interpreted as a
result of the social exclusion of a blind person. However, the precise sig-
nificance of the anonymity has to be determined in the context of the peri-
3. Passivity of the blind
Passivity of the excluded person is the complementary attitude to the
hostile or disdainful approach of the majority. We can ask again, how
characteristic this attitude is of the situation of blind persons in ancient
society â€” were they set apart from the everyday course of events, left in
seclusion and had to wait until someone decided to help them, or on the
contrary was this attitude something unexpected?
When we check the gospels, we realize that the healing stories are not
unanimous on this point. On one hand blind men act actively in Matt
9,27 ; 20,30 (21,14); Mark 10,46-47 and Luke 18,35, on the other hand
He may take it ironically as a wordplay â€œ Ã¼Wron mh orwn â€ as can be seen
further in the text, although in his former letters he uses this name.
Another such letter is to be found in PSI XII 1243 â€” for the discussion
cf. PESTAMEN, The New Papyrological Primer, 212-213. These duties, called
leitoyrgÄ±a, included public unpaid service of a citizen to his community.
Usually these persons possessed some property and worked (often involuntari-
ly) for their homeland â€” which was not the case of Gemellus, who came to
Karanis from Antinopolis. See PALME, â€œThe range of documentary textsâ€, 385.