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Orsini’s Recent Dating of P66 & P75

June 23, 2016

Pasquale Orsini is a respected papyrologist and palaeographer who has recently offered dates for the various papyri in the Bodmer collection: Pasquale Orsini, “I papiri Bodmer: scritture e libri,” Adamantius 21 (2015):  60-78.  In a table (p. 77), he dates both P66 (P.Bodmer II) and P75 (P.Bodmer XIV-XV) 3rd/4th century CE (which would roughly = 250-325 CE).

It is interesting that this moves the dates of both papyri somewhat later than in the earlier article co-written with Willy Clarysse:  “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88(2012):  443-74.  In this earlier article, they dated both P66 and P75 “200-250” (Table 1, pp. 469-72).  It’s not very clear to me what may have moved Orsini to adjust his proposed dating of these two NT papyri.  It would be good to have some illumination on the matter.

In his now-classic work, The Typology of the Early Codex (University of Pennsylvania, 1977; reprint, Wipf & Stock, 2010), Eric Turner judged that P66 should be dated ca. 200-250 CE and P75 ca. 225-275 CE.  His dates were several decades later than the dates proposed by the original editors (in both cases, 200 CE +/- 25).

As noted in my earlier posting, Brent Nongbri has even proposed that both NT papyri could (perhaps should) be dated into the 4th century.

Of course, dating papyri on the basis of palaeography and page-format is always a matter of juggling a number of features, and so competent experts can often differ by as much as a century or sometimes even more.  Also, it’s understandably safer (or at least more cautious) to suggest a date toward the later end of a possible spectrum.  But I wonder what further thoughts might have moved Orsini to shift his dates for P66 and P75 in the few years between the earlier article and the more recent one.

(See Brent Nongbri’s posting on the volume in which Orsini’s article appears, and the conference from which it came here.)

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  1. Glynn permalink

    Why not just use carbon dating,the dead sea scrolls utilized it.

    • As stated in my posting Carbon 14 is no more precise than palaeographical dating.

  2. Dear Prof. Hurtado,

    What are the criteria for deciding if something is “more daring”?
    Why is it “safer” to date something late?
    “Safer” for whom?
    Why is an early dating more daring than an extremely late one?
    For example, would it be more daring to date P52 to the end of the first century than to the 3rd?

    These are honest questions from a Christian layman interested in this stuff 😉

    A late date still could be wrong and the early date correct.

    Scholars who do early dating are often accused of doing apologetics (as if apologetics would be wrong in and of itself). This does amount not to much more than to an ad hominem attack especially when the arguments for the early date are not addressed.
    The same can also apply of people who prefer the later date: anti-Christian apologetics.
    We should in both cases first look at the data before look at the motives.

    Is it even possible to give any kind of probabilities if an earlier date or later date is correct except the numbers of scholars which would lean in a given direction?

    If one talks in general about the dates for the Papyri, wouldn’t it be better just to take the middle of the earliest possible and latest possible dates and increase the error bars accordingly? Instead of just giving a later dates with smaller error bars and therefore giving the impression that there are not capable scholars opting for an earlier date.

    Kind Regards from Germany

    • When we have comparators for palaeographical dating that range, for example, roughly 150 to 300 CE, why should one push for the earlier end of the timeframe, when the earlier one goes the greater the odds against a manuscript surviving? Yes, we could in such a case say that a date roughly 150-300 CE is all to be said. But that means no more reason to push an earlier than a later date in that range. Those (such as Nongbri) who are critical of the early datings given to some papyri are often reacting against an overly-narrow positing of early dates by scholars. E.g., note how often P52 is referred to as written “125 AD” in handbooks and other places, when on palaegraphical grounds P52 is better placed ca. 150-225. Nongbri hasn’t shown that P66 or P75 are later, only that the bases for positing an early date for them are not beyond argument.

      • Michael permalink

        …and no adulteress verses in P66…

  3. Thank you, Prof. Hurtado. It occurred to me that shifting these dates has a potential ripple effect in dating other textual traditions. I’m thinking of my own use of P66 and P75 as datable indices to estimate the sequence of layers in Codex Bezae. In my case, these articles are a reminder of the need for caution in attempting to date readings on the basis of attesting witnesses. Of course, this becomes even more of a concern in light of the unexplained shift you note in the post.

  4. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H.,
    It would be informative to see what, if any, evidence was involved in the redating. I find it extremely interesting that later dates almost always are easily accepted in academia while arguments for early dates also based on palaeographic evidence are dismissed.


    • Dating a MS at the early end of a possible timeframe is more daring, and (rightly) requires more reason than a “safer” and less daring of it in the later end of the timeframe.

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