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Review of Peter M. Head, “Some Recently Published NT Papyri from Oxyrhynchus: An Overview and Preliminary Assessment,” Tyndale Bulletin 51.1 (2000) 1-16.

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In the last three years, our fund of New Testament papyri has increased dramatically. The latest volumes of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri—64, 65, and 66 (the last of which is not yet available in the States)—have yielded seventeen NT papyri, bringing the total NT papyri officially to 115 (although some of these fragments are part of other extant papyri, bringing the actual total to about 111). These latest fragments range in date from the second to the sixth century, and contain portions of texts from Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Hebrews, James, and Revelation. In particular, the dates of these MSS should be underscored: three from as early as the second century (P77 [new portion], P103, 104), eleven from as early as the third century (P100, 101, 102, 106, 107, 108, 109, 111, 113, 114, 115), and only one dated as late as the sixth century (P105 [dated by the editors at V/VI). In addition, several of the papyri have punctuation marks, rough breathings, or even paragraph notations.

Head notes that the longest of these fragments is P100, having portions of about twenty verses. He surmises that the fragmentary nature of the Oxyrhynchus NT papyri (including virtually all of the forty-seven that have been discovered there) has kept textual critics from giving this material more attention.

In his analysis, Head notes the popularity of Matthew and John at Oxyrhynchus (seven of the papyri are from Matthew, four are from John). In addition, he notes that P100, which contains portions of James 3:13-4:4, 4:9-5:1, has page numbers in the upper margins, beginning with page 6. This is significant because this third-fourth century fragment probably indicates that James headed up a codex of several catholic letters, perhaps even all of them.

Among the more interesting readings found in these papyri, two are especially noteworthy. P106 (III century) reads ὁ ἐκλεκτός at John 1:34, in agreement with P5vid א* itb, e, ff2* syrs,c. Although the UBSGNT4 committee rejects this reading in favor of ὁ υἱός (giving the latter a B rating), that decision will surely have to be revisited in light of now clear Greek testimony from the third century1 for ὁ ἐκλεκτός. As Head notes (11), “This early support in Greek, Latin and Syriac indicates a geographical diversity behind this reading.” P115 (III/IV century) is now apparently our earliest witness to the AC text of the Apocalypse. This MS includes twenty-six fragments of Revelation, covering portions of chapters 2 through 15. Not only is it an early witness to the AC text (the most important textual strand for the Apocalypse), but it also is the earliest witness to the reading “616” at Rev 13:18.

Head concludes his study by noting the popularity of the “codex format in early Christian book production” (16), as well as the popularity of Matthew and John in the early period. Although Head had noted earlier (13-14) that P100 shares two readings with the Byzantine text, he concludes that “In general terms these manuscripts confirm the text of the great uncials which forms the basis of the modern critical editions” (16).

All in all, this is a carefully done essay on recently discovered papyri. There are no real surprises here; rather, we have in these latest finds confirmation that Hort was on the right track after all.


1 The witness of P5vid has been omitted in NA27, most likely because the papyrus has a lacuna at the point of the wording. However, since ἐκλεκτός is not a known nomen sacrum, and υἱός is, the only possible wording on this line—between these two variants—is ἐκλεκτός.

Related Topics: Canon