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Second/Third-Century Christian Texts: Update

October 15, 2018

I’ve just got around to placing an updated list of Christian texts dated to the second/third century, including now the relevant items in the recently published Oxyrhynchus Papyri volume (vol. 83).  That is, P137 (the Mark fragment), and P138 (the Luke fragment).

As before, this list is in the items under the tab “Selected Published Essays,” here.

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  1. I am learning a lot, Thank you for lending ear to some of my questions.Another question if you have the time:

    Is it true that only 1% of Greek Manuscripts contain the whole New Testament?

    • The “New Testament” is a collection of writings produced in the first and early second centuries AD. The collection was completed, and the “canon” of the “New Testament” effectively completed in the Byzantine period, 4th century and later. It was very difficult initially to produce a single codex that contained all 27 writings. Most manuscripts were produced for liturgical usage, and so contained the four Gospels, or a collection of NT epistles. Once the printing press was developed, however, it was easier to produce editions with all 27 writings in one book.

      • Ah i see, I was reading a book by Metzger and he mentions only 60 manuscripts contain the entire NT. So I did some simple math, 60/5800= 0.0103 or 1% contain the entire NT.

        Another question I have, you mentioned Codex Sinaiticus, would you say it could possibly be a forgery? I recall it was found in a “Garbage-Bin” or something like that. But keeping that aside, I found this:

        Here are some excerpts from. Metzger’s book. I am not saying he believes it, but could the case be made?

        Metzger, Bruce M. Manuscripts of the Greek Bible : an introduction to Greek palaeography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Print.

        -Besides errors in spelling, here and there in the work of all three scribes one finds other faults, particularly accidental omissions. In the light of such carelessness in transcription, it is not surprising that a good many correctors (apparently as many as nine) have been at work on the manuscript, some contemporary (or identical) with the original scribes (~a), and others as late as the twelfth century. Tischendorf’s edition of the manuscript enumerates some 14,800 places where some alteration has been made to the text. By far the most extensive of the corrections are those made by a group of scholars in the seventh century…

        And from another scholar:

        Taken from :
        Codex Sinaiticvs Petropolitanvs: The New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas preserved in the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg, now reproduced in facsimile from photographs by Helen and Kirsopp Lake, with a description and introduction to the history of the Codex by Kirsopp Lake. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

        -The Codex Sinaiticus has been corrected by so many hands that it affords a most interesting and intricate problem to the palaeographer who wishes to disentangle the various stages by which it has reached its present condition….” (Codex Sinaiticus – New Testament volume; page xvii of the introduction).

        Thank you for your time,

      • Codex Sinaiticus isn’t a forgery. It’s a 4th century manuscript of the entire Christian Bible that was found housed in the St.Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai by Constantine Tischendorf in the 19th century. The many correctors reflected in the manuscript reflect its continued usage over centuries. The vast majority of the many corrections are minor things, of the sort that happen to any text (including the Qur’an!) in the course of hand-copying.

      • I didn’t know that, could you provide an academic reference for the Qur’an?

        Another Biblical Scholar, Bart Ehrman, mentions something to the contrary :

      • For an introduction to the kinds of variants that we find in early Qur’an manuscripts: Keith Small, Textual Criticism and the Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011). As Small notes, on the whole the Qur’an manuscripts show an effort at faithful copying, but there are some variants of the sort that happen almost unavoidably in hand-copying.
        Ehrman, as is his tendency in popular addresses, is a bit unguarded and exaggerates things. E.g., the incidence of deliberate changes to the text of Christian copies of the NT is actually very small, whereas he gives the impression at times that things were rather wild and crazy.

      • “….but there are some variants of the sort that happen almost unavoidably in hand-copying.”
        I can’t seem to get a copy of his book, can you refer me to some examples that he alludes to?

        From what I have seen the oral tradition is very solid. Muslims have memorized their Qur’an, word for word, letter for letter, dot for dot. Keeping that aside, the manuscript tradition of the Muslims far outweighs that of the Christians. You may refer to some short observations have posted on the issue:

        As for our hadith corpus, that is second to none. If you ever get the chance, I humbly suggest you look into our ‘Isnad system’. Here is a video I have put on my blog from Professor Jonathan Brown:

        “…Hadith science is an amazing accomplishment, that stands as one of the most impressive intellectual feats and edifices in human history…”- Prof. Jonathan Brown

      • Before we continue this discussion, please observe the rules of this site, which include identifying yourself. You know who I am. Who are you? “Archiveisliam” is not your name.
        Now to the questions before us: As to the textual history of the Qur’an, you will find a helpful discussion (respectful of Muslim tradition, but also noting serious questions about it) in Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Introduction (Edinburgh Univ Press, 2017), e.g. (but not solely) pp. 30-34. As he notes, medieval-ear Muslim scholars quite readily noted such textual variants, although later tradition seems to have tried to suppress knowledge of them.
        Also, you blog posting ( is both simplistic and ill-informed. There are actually portions of several manuscripts of NT writings that are dated to within about 100 yrs of their likely date of composition. You mention one “credit card sized” item (which, I presume, you mean the Rylands fragment), but there are actually several more, as any consultation of manuscript lists will show. Also, the “second century” (i.e., 100-199 CE) is well within the “first” century of the life of NT writings, which were written variously ca. 50-110 CE).
        Further, the Qur’an text was stablized under the 3rd Califph, who then had destroyed all conflicing Qur’anic manuscripts. So, of course, the subsequent manuscript tradition is impressively stable. The NT never underwent such an action, which means that the NT manuscript tradition is much more valuable in tracing the early history of its text. For the Qur’an, the Sanaa palimpsest and other early manuscripts show that the pre-Uthman state of the Qur’an was much more flexible and varied than later.
        So, I know you want to try to bend things to promote Islam, and that you’re an apologist, not a scholar. But it doesn’t help your cause to make ill informed claims.

      • Apologizes, my pen name is AbdurRahman, I am a humble layman, I do not bear the degrees and qualifications that you hold. I am just someone who has the honor and privilege of having an intellectual discourse with someone of your calibre and expertise.

        You mentioned that “medieval-era Muslim scholars quite readily noted such textual variants, although later tradition seems to have tried to suppress knowledge of them”. That’s a bold claim, and I would humbly request you elaborate on that point.

        “. There are actually portions of several manuscripts of NT writings that are dated to within about 100 yrs of their likely date of composition.”
        Apologizes again, It seems I have not elucidate the matter clearly. From the year 0 AD/CE to 100 AD/CE, do you have any fragments or manuscripts of the Greek NT? I think we can agree that there are no Greek Manuscripts from the first century of the Christian Calendar.That was the point I am making not 100 years after the composition of your texts.
        Now if your you telling me that the majority of your corpus was written after the “death and resurrection” of Jesus, that’s a different story. But brings up more questions than answers. For example, no one bothered to write something down during the ministry of Jesus? That seems odd and peculiar.

        “Further, the Qur’an text was stablized under the 3rd Califph, who then had destroyed all conflicing Qur’anic manuscripts. So, of course, the subsequent manuscript tradition is impressively stable. ”
        —- Conflicting? Please bring forth your evidence. Now If the argument is that information is lost because burning, then the NT has no standing. Your manuscripts were burned as well, albeit through persecution and what not. Moreover I know Christians often bring up “Criterion of Embrassement”, why would Muslims mention this own story in their books of hadith? Keeping that all aside, we do have extant manuscripts before the burning. I.e. Birmingham manuscript.

        “So, I know you want to try to bend things to promote Islam, and that you’re an apologist, not a scholar.” I must respectfully ask, that we do not engage in any form of Ad Hominems. Let us focus on the points and merits of the arguments being brought forth.

        Thanks for your time.

      • AburRahman: First, I intended for ad hominem in my closing comment. It is merely a statement of fact, is it not? You are an apologist for a very traditional form of Islamic ideas, and so ready to make ill-informed statements of invidious contrast of Qur’an with NT. I didn’t do this. You did.
        Second, Caliph Uthman is reported to have been worried about the divergence in Qur’anic manuscripts and recitations, which prompted his effort to create one standarized/authoritative text. He wouldn’t have done this otherwise. The Birmingham text is only a witness to one of these variant forms. The Sanaa manuscripts are witnesses to others.
        The point I’m making is simply that the Qur’an was shaped by historical forces, just like any other text. Now if you’re willing to grant this, we can talk about them. But if you start from the premise that the Qur’an is a miracle-text, immune from historical forces, then . . . we have little to discuss.

  2. Is it true that the Apostolic Writings are modern fabrications?

    • First, it’s not clear what you mean by “Apostolic Writings.” In any case, the writings ascribed to apostles, whether in the NT or somewhat later as the “apocryphal” writings, are all ancient texts, not “modern fabrications.” Where do you get your ideas???

      • I was reading this book, I may have misinterpreted. Please advise.

        From Bart Ehrman’s The Apostolic Fathers, Volume I: I Clement. II Clement. Ignatius. Polycarp. Didache, page 11:

        The collection, as we have seen, is a modern fabrication. Some of the books were clearly not written near the time of, let alone by companions of, the apostles (e.g., 2 Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus), whereas other books that are not included in the collection probably do go back to at least the first part of the second century (e.g., the Gospels of Thomas and Peter, which have never been included in the corpus).

        I have quoted more of this, but I don’t want to post the link of my blog, without your permission.

      • The “Apostolic Fathers” is a name given to a number of writings that were put together as a collection in modern times. But the writings, as Ehrman wrote, were composed in the first few centuries AD. The term “Apostolic Fathers” never meant to claim them as written by apostles, but by early “Fathers”/writers near the “apostolic” period. The collection, “the Apostolic Fathers” was put together well before the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of peter was discovered, so it’s a bit odd to complain that they weren’t included.
        For the best introduction to this collection, and for the Greek and English texts of them, Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, third edition (Baker Academic, 2007).

      • Thanks for your reply. What do you think of the claim that the if all the NT were burned, you could recompile it from the writings of the apostolic fathers?

      • That’s not a valid claim. The writings of the “Apostolic Fathers” don’t quote the NT writings sufficiently for this task. Let’s leave such rumors aside, can we??

  3. Matthew Hamilton permalink

    “A Proposal for a New LXX Text among the Cave 7 Fragments”, by L. Blumell, RQ, no.109 Tome 29 fasc.1 (Juin 2017), p.105-117

    Have not seen any responses to Blumell’s article that agrees or refutes the re-identification

    • The cave 7 fragments are so . . .. fragmentary, typically on two or three letters, that it’s hard to nail down only one possibility.

  4. Have any of these been radiocarbon-dated?

    • Not to my knowledge. Radio-carbon is no more precise than palaeographical dating. And it requires destruction of a small portion of the item, so museums and owners are typically reluctant.

      • More than 90 percent of the NT, comes after the 9th Century. Since none of these are radiocarbon-dated, I would put that up to a full 100 percent. In essence your NT is nothing more than Medieval fabrication.

      • Portions of copies of NT writings were excavated in places such as Oxyrhynchus and can be dated to early centuries. We have entire NT manuscripts (e..g., Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) from the 4th century. Please do learn the facts about something before spouting your ridiculous nonsense. This will be our last exchange.

      • Have they been radiocarbon dated?

      • I’ve answered that question. Things excavated from ancient sites are . . . ancient.

  5. Dr Hurtado, a big thank you for sharing this. This is a fantastic summary of manuscripts that is also relevant to the survey your blog encouraged me to complete – of the articles preceding Kyrios right across the LXX. Still looking for a bit more interest there and adoption by a PhD student.

    Quick question – are we to assume that all of these manuscripts are Greek? I wasn’t 100% sure. Maybe 99%.


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