Oxyrhynchus Gospels

Oxyrhynchus Gospels

The Oxyrhynchus Gospels are two fragmentary manuscripts (British Library accession numbers 840 and 1224), discovered among the rich finds of discarded papyri at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Unknown to most laymen, they throw light on early non-canonical Gospel traditions.


Oxyrhynchus 840

Oxyrhynchus 840, found in 1905, is a single small vellum parchment leaf with 45 lines of text written on both sides in a tiny neat hand that dates it to the 4th century, almost square, less than 10 cm across; the text probably dates from before 200, but no more is determinable from this evidence. In his introduction in The Complete Gospels, Philip Sellew notes that this fragment was likely a talisman text, kept as an amulet, perhaps worn around the neck. The text itself has been dated to the first half of the second century. Sellew calls it "similar to the New Testament gospels in its style and tone."

The fragment begins with the end of a warning to an evildoer who plans ahead, but who doesn't take the next life into account. There follows sections of a narrative unparalleled in any other known gospel tradition, about Jesus' encounter with "a Pharisee, a leading priest" who tries to order Jesus and the disciples out of the Temple as ritually unclean. Jesus responds by contrasting ritual cleanliness, gotten by bathing with water used by dogs and pigs, like a harlot, against the life-giving water that comes down from heaven in baptism.

Jesus is called "Savior" (Greek: Σωτήρ), which is rare in the New Testament, but not unparalleled.[1] The author of the fragment also believes that laymen have to change their clothes to enter the temple, for which there is no other evidence. The author is distinctly hostile to Judaism, but as he knows little about it, the text is presumably not from Judea; the author's vague grasp of details of Temple rituals have suggested a Johannine circle, perhaps in Syria.[2]

Oxyrhynchus 1224

Oxyrhynchus 1224 consists of two small papyrus fragments from the late 3rd or early 4th century. It contains six passages, each about a sentence. Two of the longer ones are parallel to Mark 2:17 and Luke 9:50, but the differences in phrasing show they are textually independent of the Gospels. A precise date for composition is unknown; 50 is possible,[3] though a date of around 150 C.E. is more widely accepted by scholars.[4] John Dominic Crossan notes the mutilated condition in his introduction to the fragmentary text in The Complete Gospels resulting in highly conjectural reconstructions of the text, which, however, "does not seem to be dependent on the New Testament gospels.... As an independent gospel, it belongs, insofar as its fragmentary state allows us to see, not with discourse gospels involving the risen Jesus (e.g., the Secret Book of James and the Gospel of Mary), but with sayings gospels involving the earthly Jesus (e.g., Q document and the Gospel of Thomas). Crossan suggests that the document might have been written as early as the mid-first century.

See also


  1. ^ e.g. Luke 1:69, 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31, 13:23
  2. ^ Sellew's note to 2:2; for Syria, see Geoff Trowbridge, "The Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel".
  3. ^ Miller's introduction, Complete Gospels, p.416, and notes to fragments 5 and 6.
  4. ^ Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, p. 61

Further reading

  • Grenfell, Bernard P. and Arthur S. Hunt, Fragments of an Uncanonical Gospel
  • The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version gen. ed. Robert J. Miller; Sonoma CA: Polebridge 1992. ISBN 0944344291 Oxy. 840 is introduced and translated by Philip Sellew, p. 412-5, Oxy. 1224 by Prof. Miller (after a draft by Thomas J. Crossan), pp. 416–8. English only; no Greek text given.
  • Kruger, Michael J., The Gospel of the Savior: an analysis of P. Oxy. 840 and its place in the Gospel traditions of early Christianity. Leidin: Brill, 2005.

External links

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