A Challenge to the Dating of P75
In the latest issue of Journal of Biblical Literature, Brent Nongbri has a lengthy article directly challenging the now-commonly accepted date of NT papyrus P75 (P.Bodmer XIV-XV): “Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” JBL 135.2 (2016): 405-37.
Since its publication in the early 1960s, P75 has often been taken as likely dated approximately 175-225 CE, with some scholars preferring a date somewhat later into the 3rd century. But Nongbri proposes that a 4th-century date is just as plausible, perhaps even more so.
The first and main part of his article involves a close comparison of the handwriting of P75 with various other manuscripts, focusing particularly on those that can be dated more securely. These include several dated in the late 3rd century or early 4th century CE.
In the second stage of his argument, Nongbri focuses on the shape of the codex page of P75, drawing upon Eric Turner’s now-classic proposal to date codices by their dimensions/shape: Eric G. Turner, The Typology of the Early Codex (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977; reprint, Wipf & Stock, 2010). Nongbri observes that P75 seems to fit in Turner’s “Group 8,” codices with a page-height roughly twice their page-width, and notes a similar shape to some of the codices securely dated to the 4th century (in particular, codices in the Nag Hammadi cache).
At several points, Nongri grants that he has not shown (and does not contend) that P75 must therefore also date to the 4th century, only that a 4th-century date is as plausible (or more so) than the early 3rd century date more commonly accepted.
The wider import of the issue is considerable. The early 3rd century dating of P75, combined with its remarkably close textual affinity with Codex Vaticanus, led in the late 20th century to the view that (contrary to earlier views) the Vaticanus-type text was not the product of a 4th century recension but instead could be traced back at least a century earlier, and probably further back into the 2nd century CE. In Nongbri’s argument, however, if both Codex Vaticanus and P75 can be assigned to the 4th-century CE, “then textual critics of the New Testament may need once again to entertain the idea that the ‘B Text’ [i.e., Vaticanus-type] is indeed the result of some sort of recensional activity in the fourth century,” and so we might need to “rethink one of the twentieth century’s most significant conclusions in New Testament textual criticism” (437).
In an earlier article, using basically the same kinds of evidence, Nongri also challenged the dating of NT papyrus P66: “The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P. Bodmer II (P66),” Museum Helveticum 71 (2014): 1-35, proposing that it too may as/more likely be dated in the early 4th century CE. One gets the impression of a programme!
But we should all welcome such a well-prepared challenge to established views, and it will now be appropriate (even necessary) for other scholars to consider Nongbri’s challenge fairly and fully. At present, his seems to be a somewhat novel stance on P75 and P66, as other experts have dated these items no later than sometime in the 3rd century: e.g., Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88.4 (2012): 443-74 (who place P75 ca. 200-250 CE). I intend to give the matter further thought, and I hope others with a strong interest in early manuscripts will do so too.