Famously, some scholars have argued that a small papyrus fragment from Qumran, with only around ten clear letters on five lines and only one complete word KAI, is a copy of Mark’s Gospel, and that this should be added to the standard list.[i] Although, this identification has been resisted by NT scholars generally, and to my mind rightly, it should also be admitted that there are manuscripts included within the list with rather similar profiles. P113 is the smallest of all New Testament manuscripts, with only one complete word (ou) and fourteen clear letters on one side over four or five lines (and 11 clear letters on the other side).[ii] This problem requires careful work, but currently the list seems perfectly well managed and this is only a theoretical problem, not an actual one requiring revision of the list.
But a second, already well known, problem exists with the standard list, in that not all of the manuscripts included in the list seem to have been what they are meant to have been, that is ‘continuous text manuscripts of a book of the New Testament’.[iii] Given the small size of many of the papyri (a subject to which we shall turn in a moment), it is simply not always possible to determine the original form and content of the papyrus manuscript. Sometimes we have sufficient information to determine that a text is certainly not from a continuous text of the New Testament.
- Some texts could be from a church father (or mother, or daughter) quoting a text (P7),[iv]
- or from a lectionary rather than continuous text (as has been proposed for good reason in connection with P2, P3, P44),[v]
- or even from a songbook (P42)[vi];
- some portions certainly were originally (or at some point) used as amulets (P50, P78).[vii]
- Some portions seem to be school exercises in copying (P10);[viii]
- others could well be part of a series of excerpts (e.g. P12, P43, P62).[ix]
- Recently a Greek-Latin lexicon has been included in the list (P99).[x]
- Another group of papyrus manuscripts which are clearly not continuous text manuscripts are those manuscripts (all V – VIII) of John which feature ‘hermeneiai’ – prophetic sentences presented alongside portions of John’s Gospel (P55, P59, P60, P63, P76 and P80) – which are clearly a separate type of production and not a ‘continuous text manuscript’.[xi]
No doubt there are some inconsistencies here, either because those who manage the list have exercised an ‘occasionally uncritical attitude’ – and thus included texts that were never continuous manuscripts of the Greek New Testament; [xii] or because, having taken a more inclusive approach to witnesses to the Greek New Testament on papyrus, a number of similar manuscripts (especially of excerpts of texts in amulets – the Lord’s Prayer and the opening sentences of the gospels appear frequently) have not actually been included into the list.[xiii] We could note in passing that many of these manuscripts which are clearly not continuous text manuscripts are also from the later period of the papyri and are relatively unimportant for editing a Greek New Testament (although doubtless full of interest for the history of reception and interpretation of the New Testament).
[i] C.P. Thiede, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? The Qumran Fragment 7Q5 and its Significance for New Testament Studies (London: Paternoster, 1993).
[ii] I do not in fact think that the two manuscripts are indistinguishable in terms of the security or otherwise of their identification. In the case of P113 I consider the identification completely secure on the basis of the fit of all the clear letters, the secure nomen sacrum, the fit of all the unclear ‘traces’ without any sense of ‘struggle’, the coherence of front and back material (and the coherence of the shape and size of the original codex with known patterns within early Christianity), without any special pleading based on unusual variants or unusual lettering. In all these respects P113 contrasts with 7Q5. P.M. Head, ‘‘Notes on P. Oxy 4497 [P113]: The Smallest Portion of the New Testament Ever Identified’ New Testament Textual Criticism Group SBL 2007; and cf. esp. Stefan Enste, Kein Markustext in Qumran: Eine Untersuchung der These: Qumran Fragment 7Q5 = Mk 6, 52-53 (Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus 45; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000). R.H. Gundry, ‘No Nu in Line 2 of 7Q5: A Final Disidentification of 7Q5 with Mark 6:52-53’ JBL 118 (1999), 698–707 on the Qumran fragment.
[iii] Cf. E.J. Epp, ‘The Papyrus Manuscripts of the New Testament’ in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestiones (ed. B.D. Ehrman & M.W. Holmes; SD 46; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 3-21, p. 5, although as we shall see Epp is clearly mistaken in supposing that ‘All of the papyri [ie. the 96 known from the Liste in 1995] are continuous-text MSS, that is MSS containing (originally) at least one NT writing in continuous fashion from beginning to end’. Aland & Aland, Text of the New Testament, 85 acknowledge the problem; discussed more fully in S.E. Porter, ‘Textual Criticism in the Light of Diverse Textual Evidence for the Greek New Testament: An Expanded Proposal’ in New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and their World (eds. Thomas J. Kraus & Tobias Nicklas; TENT 2; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 305-337; this is ‘expanded’ from his earlier similar discussion in ‘Why so many holes in the papyrological evidence for the Greek New Testament?’ in The Bible as Book: The Transmission of the Greek Text (ed. S. McKendrick & O. O’Sullivan; London: British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 2003), 167-186.
[iv] So Elliottt, ‘Absent Witnesses’, 50. P7 (III/IV although some have thought VI) consists of a single fragment with some sort of homily and a citation (marked) of Luke 4.1-3 (cf. K. Aland, ‘Neue neutestamentliche Papyri’ NTS 3 (1957), 261-265)
[v] These all exhibit unusual combinations of texts: P2 (VI) has John 12.12-15 in Greek and Coptic on the verso, with Luke 7.22-26 in Coptic on the recto (and Luke 7.50 in Coptic on the verso); P3 (VI/VII) has Luke 7.36-45 on one side and 10.38-42 on the other side of the same sheet; P44 (VI/VII) consists of 13 fragments containing Matt 17.1-3, 6f; 18.15-17, 19; 25.8-10; John 9.3-4; 10.8-14; 12.16-18. Aland & Aland, Text of the New Testament, 85 identifies these as lectionaries; Porter, ‘An Expanded Proposal’, 317-318 agrees and suggests adding P53 (III) on the (to my mind insufficient) grounds that it is unlikely that the two leaves (one containing Matt 26.29-35 & 36-40; the other Acts 9.33-38 & 9.39-10.1) came from the one very large codex.
[vi] Aland & Aland, Text of the New Testament, 85. P42 from VII/VIII is a bilingual (Gk-Coptic) text containing Luke 1.54-55 and 2.29-32 (along with eleven other songs from Scripture). It was originally published by P. Sanz and W. Till as ‘Eine griechisch-koptische Odenhandschrift’ MBE 5 (1939), 9-112.
[vii] Aland & Aland, Text of the New Testament, 85. Peter Parsons, editor of P78 (P. Oxy 2684) opined that ‘most probably we have to do with an amulet’ (The Oxyrhynchus Papyri XXXIV (London 1968), 5); cf. for a full discussion T. Wasserman, ‘P78 (P. Oxy XXXIV 2684): The Epistle of Jude on an Amulet?’ in New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and their World (eds. Thomas J. Kraus & Tobias Nicklas; TENT 2; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 137-160 (answering in the affirmative). Some scholars would add others to this list (e.g. T.J. Kraus adds P105 in ‘ “Pergament oder Papyrus?”: Anmerkungen zur Signifikanz des Beschreibstoffes die der Behandlung von Manuskripten’ NTS 49 (2003), 425-432 (from p. XXX); J.K. Elliott thinks that P31 (‘a single sheet, blank on the reverse, that contains only Rom. 12. 3-8’) ‘was probably a text used as an amulet’ (‘Absent Witnesses? The Critical Apparatus to the Greek New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers’ in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (ed. A.F.Gregory & C.M. Tuckett; Oxford: OUP, 2005), 47-58 (here from p. 49).
[viii] P10 (P. Oxy 209, IV) contains Romans 1.1-7 on the top portion of a single sheet, with a blank space and then some cursive writing (Grenfell and Hunt: ‘a writing exercise’ Oxy Pap II, p. 8 [CHECK]).
[ix] P12 (III/IV) also contains only Heb 1.1 above a letter, and Gen 1.1-5 on the verso; P43 (VI/VIII) contains Rev 2.12-13 on one side and 15.8 – 16.2 on the other (in a different hand?) of a single sheet; P62 (IV) is a small codex with Matt 11.25-30 followed by Dan 3.53-55.
[x] Chester Beatty Codex ac. 1499 (IV/V); this is a glossary containing single words and phrases from the Pauline epistles with Latin gloss: Rom 1.1; 2 Cor 1.3-6, 1.6-17, 1.20-24, 2.1-9, 2.9-5.13, 5.13-6.3, 6.3-8.13, 8.14-22, 9.2-11.8, 11.9-23, 11.26-13.11; Gal 1.4-11, 1.18-6.15, 1.14-2.4, 2.4-3.19, 3.19-4.9; Eph 1.4-2.21, 1.22(?), 3.8-6.24 (but not even in this canonical order). A. Wouters, ed. The Chester Beatty Codex AC 1499: A Graeco-Latin Lexicon on the Pauline Epistles and a Greek Grammar (Chester Beatty Monographs, no. 12; Leuven: Peeters, 1988).
[xi] On these see B.M. Metzger, ‘Greek Manuscripts of John’s Gospel with “Hermeneiai”’ in Text and Testimony: Essays on New Testament and Apocryphal Literature in Honour of A.F.J.Klijn (eds T. Baarda et al.; Kampen: Kok, 1988), 162-169; D.C. Parker, ‘Manuscripts of John’s Gospel with Hermeneiai’ in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies (ed. J.W. Childers. and D.C. Parker; Texts and Studies 3/4; Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias, 2006), 48-68 – Parker argues plausibly for the inclusion of P60 in this list despite the fact that the extant portion lacks any part of the term e(rmhnei/a; he also discusses 0210 and 0302, see esp. p. 50 re the format, although note his conclusion that the text of these manuscripts is important. On the function of such features see P.W. van der Horst, ‘Sortes: Sacred Books as Instant Oracles in Late Antiquity’ The Use of Sacred Books in the Ancient World (ed. L.V. Rutgers et al.; CBET 22; Peeters, LUP, 1998), 143-173.
[xii] Porter notes the tension between the statement in Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 85 which attributes some of these inclusions to ‘the occasionally uncritical attitude of earlier editors of the list’, and the fact that ‘Kurt Aland was responsible for the papyri list from P48 onwards, and so at least ten were placed on the list during Aland’s tenure’ (‘An Expanded Proposal’, 313 and n 25).
[xiii] For a discussion of this problem and a list of seventeen additional textual witnesses to the Lord’s prayer see T.J. Kraus, ‘Manuscripts with the Lord’s Prayer – They are more than simply Witnesses to that Text itself’ in New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (TENTS 2; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 227-266.
Previous Posts in this series: Part One and Part Two