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Latest Volume of Oxyrhynchus Papyri

October 5, 2018

The latest volume in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series includes several manuscripts of biblical texts, including the much referenced fragment of the Gospel of Mark:  The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXXIII, ed. P. J. Parsons and N. Gonis (London:  Egypt Exploration Society, 2018).

I’ve just completed a review of the volume for Review of Biblical Literature, focusing particularly on these biblical texts (which comprise only four of the 59 items included in the volume, the remaining majority being a variety of new literary and sub-literary texts, a goodly number of documentary texts such as letters, contracts, etc., and several paintings and drawings).

The volume leads off with a single leaf of a sixth-century codex of the Psalms (P. Oxyrhynchus 5344; Rahlfs 2228).  The leaf preserves Psalm 2:1-8, and there are page numbers, indicating that it gives us pages 3-4 of the codex.

It is the second item, however, that will likely elicit the most attention among NT scholars:  P. Oxyrhynchus 5345; P137), the much-rumored fragment of Mark that has generated such interest and controversy over the last few years.  (The Egypt Exploration Society issued a statement responding to questions about the fragment and the rumors surrounding it here.)

Contra earlier sensationalist claims, the editors (D. Obbink and D. Colomo) date the fragment to sometime in the late second to early third century.  It preserves lines from Mark 1:7-9, 16-18.  It is not possible to determine whether the codex contained only Mark (which would have occupied 78 pages), or other writings as well.  But, as the editors note, the sequence of the text, from the vertical fibers side to the horizontal fibers side of the leaf, suggests that it was a single-quire codex.

This is now perhaps the earliest witness to Mark, as P45 is dated toward the mid-third century, and P137 is now certainly the earliest witness to these verses (as P45 is so fragmentary).

The third item in the volume, P. Oxyrhynchus 5346; P138, is two fragments from a codex leaf, palaeographically dated to the third century, giving us remnants of lines of Luke 13:13-17, 25-30. The extant writing is only several letters per line, and so much of the text must be reconstructed from the Nestle-Aland edition of the NT.

The fourth item is a fragment of a codex leaf giving parts of lines of Philemon 6-8, 18-20 (P. Oxyrhunchus 5347; P139), dated by the editor (D. Lincicum) to the fourth century.  The codex was apparently in two-column format, likely containing the traditional Pauline corpus.

One general observation is that these papyri show no major disruptions, excisions or interpolations in the texts that they preserve.  The variants are essentially small (and largely accidental) ones of the sort that we expect to see in texts copied by hand.  This suggests that already by the late second century (if not much earlier) there was an interesting stability in these texts.

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  1. Tom Hennell permalink

    just to note that the Egypt Exploration Society have released on line the section of the publication relating to the (much discussed and much misrepresented) fragment from Mark chapter 1 here:

    images of the fragments are included.

  2. S Walch permalink

    Nice to see you back and posting again, Prof. Hurtado 🙂

    Three quick questions on these papyri:

    1) Do they, even in their fragmentary nature, look more like they preserve the proto-Alexandrian text, or western?

    2) Do you know whether they will be on the Oxyrhynchus Online website anytime soon?

    3) Does the 6th century Psalm manuscript exhibit any difference in the LXX text that we haven’t seen already in the manuscript tradition?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    • The fragments are rather small for assigning them to text-types, and the whole notion of using text-types based on later mss to judge earlier papyri is now challenged. Also, the “Western text” is a somewhat amorphous category. Some early papyri variants are echoed in “Western” witnesses later, and others in witnesses to other textual traditions.

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