PALEOGRAPHY: How Do They Date the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 120 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Paleography is the study of ancient handwriting and manuscripts. Included in the discipline are the practices of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts,[1] and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of scriptoria.

The first half of the article is an overview, which is easy to understand by Edward D. Andrews. The second half of the article we quote paleographer Philip W. Comfort to offer the reader an intermediate level understanding of paleography. Because we have taken liberty with quoting Comfort’s book we will link it just before his section like we do other books because of its importance even though it is not by Christian Publishing House.

Greek Paleography and Its Beginnings

Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741), a French Benedictine monk, who established the new discipline of paleography, laid the groundwork for the meticulous study of Greek manuscripts. He is also viewed as the originator of modern archaeology. As time passed, other scholars would make their contributions, as well. Tischendorf would comb Europe and its libraries, cataloging and discovering manuscripts along the way. During several trips to the Middle East, he had the opportunity to investigate several hundred other manuscripts. In the end, he would publish his findings in numerous critical editions of the Greek text, but his eighth (1869-72), to this day is used by textual scholars as a colossal thesaurus of variant readings.

The 20th century saw an explosion of tools that have served as helps to paleographers. We have the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM), the Marcel Richard list of some 900 catalogs that describe 55,000 Greek manuscripts, The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and the Institute for New Testament Textual Criticism in Münster, Germany. All of these are found on the internet, giving access to anyone who owns a computer. For the textual scholar, as well as the paleographer, this storehouse of information has made the job of determining a manuscript’s age much easier and more precise.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

How do Paleographers Date Manuscripts?

Imagine that we are paleographers rummaging through the library of an old monastery, one that dates back to the third century C.E. As we carefully move books aside, we discover that there are other loose pages within one of the books on the shelf. As we pull out the pages, we have discovered what looks to be an ancient uncial Greek document. As we continue to work our way through the books, looking for more pages, we are wondering about the age of this document. To our delight, the last page provides a clue that would establish the date within 50 years. It was not the same manuscript, but it was the same hand, the same style, the same handwriting, the same punctuation, as well as other features that would establish this as the same person who made the other Biblical manuscript. However, this manuscript has a date on it.

Sadly, it was not a practice of scribes to place dates in their manuscripts after they had completed them. Thus, the textual scholar must compare other documents that have dates, both Biblical and non-Biblical documentary texts, to make a determination from an investigation of the handwriting, punctuation, abbreviations, and the like. What we may have at times is a literary text on one side of the page, and a documentary text on the other side, making it easier to establish the date of the literary text.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Handwriting Investigation

How do textual scholars know that the manuscript dates to the second, third, or fourth century C.E., or to any other century? If we were to pull any book from our bookshelf and turn a few pages in it, we would normally find the date of publication on the copyright page. If we bought a used book that was missing the copyright page, we would have no idea of when it had been published. It is only because of modern technology that we could date the book. Extant ancient literary manuscripts hardly ever had dates on them. However, ancient documentary manuscripts do, and this is crucial in our ability to be able to date the undated literary manuscripts.

It is by means of the art and science of paleography that we can arrive at an approximate date when the manuscript was written. Terminus post quem (“limit after which”) and terminus ante quem (“limit before which”) specify the known limits of dating a manuscript. A terminus post quem is the earliest time the manuscript could have been written, and a terminus ante quem is the latest time the manuscript could have been written.

Paleographers could be viewed as manuscript detectives; through their knowledge of the writing of ancient texts, the forms, and styles, we get a reasonably close idea of when a manuscript was copied. As an example, when looking at our modern languages today, we can see that within every generation or two there are subtle changes. This holds true of ancient languages as well. Through painstaking comparison of hundreds of small features within an ancient manuscript, a paleographer can provide us with a date that is usually correct to plus or minus 25 to 50 years.[2] Such features can distinguish certain periods as the amount of punctuation within a manuscript, abbreviations, and the amount of spacing between words. There are certain documents such as receipts, letters, leases, and petitions that do contain dates. It is these that have formed a library of letters with the styles that go into making each letter during different time periods.[3]

The new paleographers/papyrologists have created some of our earliest papyri to later dates. For example, P52 was initially dated to 100-150 C.E., and now Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse dates P52 to 125-175 C.E., Andreas Schmidt specifically to 170 C.E., Brent Nongbri 175-225 C.E., Michael Gronewald 200-300 C.E. So, we have a trend o creating early papyri to later dates and also of expanding the dating range as well. We have had a terminus post quem (“limit after which”) and terminus ante quem (“limit before which”) specify the known limits of dating a manuscript. This would be like C. H. Roberts with his 100-150 C.E. A terminus post quem is the earliest time (e.g., 100 C.E.) the manuscript (P52) could have been written, and a terminus ante quem is the latest time (e.g., 150 C.E.) the manuscript (P52) could have been written. Fifty years was a common time period. The new thinking is to have one hundred or even two hundred years of a (terminus post quem) earliest time and a (terminus ante quem) latest time, such as 200-300 C.E., or even a 200-400 C.E. Really, nothing has changed in the world of New Testament paleography other than the hand handwriting styles becoming more clear than ever before, so the fifty years of a (terminus post quem) earliest time and a (terminus ante quem) latest time being more certain. The in-depth investigation of the Oxyrhynchus collection of more than five thousand manuscripts, the manuscript work of the Center for the Study of New Testament manuscripts, as well as other collections, the dates on documents, as well as the shifts in writing styles (calligraphy) throughout the centuries, have vastly increased our knowledge and understanding. It should be noted that my personal thoughts are that many of the early New Testament manuscripts have been dated to late. In addition, they have not been dated precisely enough.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS
The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Papyrus 52 - P52 A blown-up portion of the front (recto) side of P52 John 18:31-33. The back (verso) side, not shown here, contains parts of seven lines from 18:37-38

The Rylands Papyrus 52 at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England
Text John 18:31–33, 18:37–38
Date 110-125 C. E.

C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”

Script Greek
Found Egypt
Now at John Rylands University Library
Cite C. H. Roberts, “An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library” (Manchester University Press, 1935)
Size 8.9 cm x 6 cm
Type Seems to be Alexandrian
Category I
P52
P52 – John 18:31–33, 37–38

At left and above is P52, a fragment of John’s Gospel. If we were to look closely at the actual copy (See high definition mage CSNTM),[4] we would see that this copyist added a little hook or embellishment to his manuscript. For example, a loop or curly line, while also omitting certain marks, incorporating a unique type of cross-stroke and rounded stroke of particular letters, which place this fragment in the early part of the second-century C.E.

While some textual scholars may disagree, as of the time of this writing, 10 codices are dated within the second century C.E., with another 56 codices that are dated to the third century. These are undoubtedly some of the most valuable manuscripts in establishing the original text of the Christian Greek Scriptures.

Philip Comfort dates P52,

This dating is derived from comparing P52 to manuscripts such as P. Fayum 110 (A.D. 94), the Egerton Gospel (A.D. 130–150), P. Oslo 22 (A.D. 127), P. London 2078 (reign of Domitian, A.D. 81–96), and P. Berolinenses 6845 (ca. A.D. 100). Though each of these manuscripts bears significant resemblance to P52, P. Berolinenses 6845 is the closest parallel, in Roberts’s opinion. Another manuscript shares many similarities with P52, P. Oxy. 2533. The editors of P. Oxy. 2533 said that its handwriting could be paralleled with first-century documents, but since it had the appearance of being second century, they assigned it a second-century date. Thus, both P. Oxy. 2533 and P52 can safely be dated to A.D. 100–125. However, its comparability to manuscripts of an even earlier period (especially P. Berol. 6845), pushes the date closer to A.D. 100, plus or minus a few years. This is extremely remarkable, especially if we accept the consensus dating for the composition of the Fourth Gospel: A.D. 80–85. This would mean that P52 may be only twenty years removed from the original.”[5]

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS I AM John 8.58

This author would date the writing of the Gospel of John to A.D. 98. Therefore, P52 would have to date to about 110-150 A.D., latest 175 A.D., only a few decades after the original was written. These few decades would have given it time to make its way down to Egypt, where it was discovered at the turn of the 20th century.

Now, all is not settled because some recent scholars are making efforts to redate P52 to a later date. Andreas Schmidt dates it to around 170 C.E.[6] and Brent Nongbri dates it to the late second early third centuries (no earlier than 200 C.E.),[7] and Elijah Hixon has cited these scholars to support his position of a later date for P52.

Papyrus Egerton 2, fragment 2 (recto)
Papyrus Egerton 2, fragment 2 (recto)

Stanley E. Porter has further re-examined in detail the relationship of P52 to P.Egerton 2.[8] Porter has offered two more early biblical papyri [P. Oxy IV 656 (fragment of Genesis) and P.Vindob. G. 2325 (apocryphal gospel, the Fayum Fragment)], as he has offered us a comprehensive examination of the history and the variety of views amongst the papyrologists for the dating of P52 and P.Egerton 2, as he presents his argument that Roberts was correct on all three points: (1) both P52 and P.Egerton 2 are close parallels, (2) they are set apart by widely separate dates, and that P52 is to be set to the earlier date. Porter points out that P.Egerton 2 is in “a less heavy hand with more formal rounded characteristics, but with what the original editors called “cursive affinities.” (p. 82) He goes on to add that “Both manuscripts were apparently written before the development of a more formal Biblical majuscule style, which began to develop in the late second and early third centuries. (p. 83) Based on this, he also notes that even though the hooked apostrophe, which is found in P.Egerton 2 is unique as far as the second century is concerned, people are misconstruing what Turner actually says: “In the first decade of iii AD this practice [of using an apostrophe between two consonants, such as double mutes or double liquids] suddenly becomes extremely common and then persists.” Porter then writes, “Note that Turner does not say that the practice does not exist before the third century AD, but that in the first decade it becomes extremely common’ and then ‘persists.’” (p 83) Porter concludes, “The result is to bring the two manuscripts together, somewhere in the middle of the second century, perhaps tending towards the early part of it.” (p 84)

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Stanley Porter has also challenged Nongbri’s contention that there are legitimate comparisons that can be made between P52 and documentary papyri of the later second and early third centuries. Porter notes the warning from Eric Turner, “[c]onfidence will be strongest when like is compared with like: a documentary hand with another documentary hand, skillful writing with skillful, fast writing with fast. Comparison of book hands with dated documentary hands will be less reliable, the intention of the scribe is different in the two cases.” (p 79) Based on this Porter cautions against Nongbri’s misguided view that literary texts should be compared primarily with documentary hands that have dates, disregarding the comparison of other literary texts. (p 81) Porter goes on to say, “Whereas dated manuscripts must enter into consideration and form the overall basis for much dating, I believe that it is also important to distinguish documentary from literary or semi-literary hands and attempt to use literary manuscripts for comparison with literary manuscripts.” (p 79) Porter goes on to argue that Nongbri’s submitted late second and third-century manuscripts to be compared with P52 are in many cases quite different from P52 so that they require comparison to concentrate on detailed letterforms without thought of the overall formation, trajectory, and style of the script. The final analysis is that “the result is to bring the two manuscripts together, somewhere in the middle second century, perhaps tending toward the early part of it, as a workable and serviceable date of transcription.” (p 84).

Codex Vaticanus Luke Ending

While the act of copying the Vaticanus Codex itself dates it to about 300-330 C.E., Westcott and Hort argued that the material (the written text, not the handwriting style)[9] therein was much earlier or even original. Let me offer a generic example so we can understand how a manuscript can be dated to 300-330, and yet at the same time can be spoken of as containing a written text itself that is much earlier. Assume that we have four hypothetical NT manuscripts: P002 (c.125), P0045 (c.200), P0067 (c.275), and Codex Z (c.325). One means of dating manuscripts is comparing the style of handwriting, as we explained above, i.e. by the way the letters are formed.[10] The paleographer will find other Greek texts that have dates on them and match the handwriting in the text. Imagine that there are ten secular Greek manuscripts with the date of 100 C.E. on them, which match our P002 (c.125). We can then date the manuscript up to 50 years in both directions, between 50–150 C.E.

Now, setting aside the date of the manuscript as to when it was made, we find that each of these manuscripts has a written text that is similar to others of that time period. We are not talking about handwriting styles that are used to date the text’s time of being copied; rather, we are talking about certain features: the way words are spelled, the material is added or missing, notes are incorporated from correctors, and the like. As a result, we say that our Codex Z dates to 325 C.E. because the handwriting style places it at this date. However, some of the features mentioned above are not like the other manuscripts of 325 C.E. but are the same as those of our earlier P002, dating to 125 C.E. Hence, going to our codex Vaticanus, we would say it dates to being copied about 300-330 C.E. based on the writing style (form of letters), but its written text (spelling, format, corrections, added/missing material) is earlier, dating to about 150–200 C.E., because it is almost exactly like P75.

Many scholars had felt that Westcott and Hort’s belief that the text of Vaticanus was written earlier, and was perhaps even original, was presumptuous; therefore, these scholars believed that Vaticanus reflected a third- or fourth-century text, from the time of its being copied. However, after the publication of P75, it was openly acknowledged that the two texts are, in fact, essentially the same, vindicating Westcott and Hort. Vaticanus itself was copied about 300-330 C.E., but its written text was from the middle of the second century at least, if not earlier. Hort’s view that Vaticanus is essentially original, minus a few discrepancies, is not so farfetched after all.

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

Handwriting styles are different from one time period in comparison to another, and by matching a Greek Christian NT manuscript’s style to a secular manuscript that contains a date, or a known style of a certain period, one can reasonably date an undated NT Greek manuscript.

[1] See Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. A corrected, enlarged ed. of The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001), S. 24.

Paleographers have been able to distinguish four major kinds of handwriting, each of which reveals something about the training (or lack thereof) of the copyist who produced it. The four types are as follows:

1.) Common: The work of a semiliterate writer who is untrained in making documents. This handwriting usually displays an inelegant cursive.

2.) Documentary: The work of a literate writer who has had experience in preparing documents. This has also been called “chancery handwriting” (prominent in the period A.D. 200–225). It was used by official scribes in public administration.

3.) Reformed documentary: The work of a literate writer who had experience in preparing documents and in copying works of literature. Often, this hand attempts to imitate the work of a professional but does not fully achieve the professional look.

4.) Professional: The work of a professional scribe. These writings display the craftsmanship of what is commonly called a “book hand” or “literary hand,” and leave telltale marks of professionalism such as stichoi markings (the tallying of the number of lines, according to which a professional scribe would be paid), as are found in P46.

Various handwriting styles are more pronounced in one time period over another and thereby help in dating manuscripts.

Paleographers divide ancient Greek handwriting into two basic categories–book hand, which is elegant and formal, and cursive, a form of “running” or flowing, writing used in nonliterary documents. Greek scribes also used various styles of letters, which can be categorized loosely as capitals, or majuscules to be correct–frequently called uncials–and cursive, or more precisely minuscules. The larger book hand, uncial writing, was used from the fourth-century B.C.E. until the eighth or ninth century C.E. Minuscule writing, the small form of book hand, was employed from the 8th or 9th century C.E. till the middle of the fifteenth-century when printing by means of movable type began in Europe. The minuscule script could be written more rapidly and compactly, which saved both time and parchment.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Let’s date one more manuscript. The dating of Papyrus 4 (P4) is easier to nail down because we know its place of origin (provenance).

Papyrus 4 - P4

PAPYRUS 4

P4

  • Contents: Luke 1:58–59; 1:62–2:1, 6–7; 3:8–4:2, 29–32, 34–35; 5:3–8; 5:30–6:16
  • Date: 150–175 C.E.
  • Discovered: Coptos, Egypt in 1889
  • Housing Location: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Suppl. Gr. 1120
  • Physical Features: P4 is one the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke and contains extensive sections of the first six chapters: 1:58-59; 1:62-2:1; 2:6-7; 3:8-4:2; 4:29-32, 34-35; 5:3-8; 5:30-6:16

Textual Character: P4 is of the Alexandrian text-type and agrees with P75 and B 93 percent of the time. The copyist of P4 was likely a professional scribe. “P4 and P75 are identical in forty complete verses, with only five significant exceptions (Luke 3:22, 36; 5:39; 6:11, 14).” Comfort and Barret in their book Text of the Earliest NT Greek Manuscripts inform us that P4 came from the same codex as P64/67.

Initially, textual scholars’ dates for P4 differed as to its age, being dated anywhere from the late second century to the sixth century. As might be expected because of a lack of knowledge of scholars about papyrus manuscripts, Vincent Scheil in 1892 dated P4 to the sixth century.[11] In 1938, J. Merell dated P4 to the early fourth century.[12] Kurt Aland in 1963 dated P4 to the third century. In 1979, C. H. Roberts set the date for P4 as a late-second-century manuscript, also saying that P4 is part of the same manuscript as P64 and P67. Comfort writes, “If P4 can be shown to have come from the same codex as P64/P67, or at least from the same scribe, then it would naturally have an identical or similar date.”[13]

REASONING FROM THE SCRIPTURES APOLOGETICS CONVERSATION EVANGELISM

P4 was used as padding on a codex of Philo’s treatises. It had been hidden in a house in Coptos, a small town in the Qena Governorate of Egypt. This was done so that it would not be seized during Diocletian’s persecution in 303 C.E., as Coptos had been plundered by the Roman Emperor at that time. The codex of Philo’s treatises is from the third century and could be dated to the middle of the third century. On this Comfort writes, “The owner of the Gospel codex was probably a Christian and therefore would have valued the Gospels. He would not have used a newly copied Gospel as stuffing for Philo’s treatises,26 so this Gospel codex must have been well used and well worn. In fact, it must have been a discarded copy replaced by another codex. Thus, P4 may have been made as early as a hundred years prior to A.D. 250, if not earlier. So we are fairly certain of at least a late-second-century date, but this does not preclude an earlier date, because the codex may have been in use more than a hundred years before it was discarded. Therefore, all three papyrus pieces—P4, P64, and P67—fit easily into the same chronological window.[14]

From this, the preliminary conclusion can be that P4/P64/P67 is a second-century manuscript, being dated to about 175-200 C.E. In addition, Comfort adds “We can conclude, then, that P4/P64/P67 is a second-century manuscript, probably dated to the third quarter of the century. The handwriting style lines up with P. Oxy. 2404 (second century), P. Oxy. 661 (ca. a.d. 175), and especially P. Vindob G 29784 (late second century). It shares some similarities with P. Oxy. 224/P. Ryl. 547 (late second century), P. Oxy. 2334 (second century), P. Oxy. 2750 (later second century), and P. Rylands 16 (late second century).”[15] He then goes on to add another line of evidence, saying, “Another feature of P4/P64/P67 suggests an early date: the small number of nomina sacra (used only for “God,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “Spirit”) compared to other late-second and early-third-century manuscripts, which add to those listed above nomina sacra for “Son,” “Father,” “man,” “cross,” and “crucify.” In P4/P64/P67 we may be seeing the nomina sacra in a relatively early phase of evolutionary development.”[16]

Jesus Paul THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

Paleographers have their preferred methods of dating manuscripts. They first take an overall look at the script–wide-angle views, so to speak–and then they examine it more closely, analyzing individual letters. Because it usually took a long time for significant changes to occur in the general style of handwriting, a close examination of the script, while useful, provides only a broad indication of the time of writing.

Thankfully, there are other ways to narrow down the date. These include identifying and dating the introduction of certain handwriting practices. For instance, in Greek texts after the year 900 C.E. scribes began to increase the use of ligatures (two or more characters joined). Scribes also began to use interlinear writing (the writing of certain Greek letters below the line) as well as pronunciation aids called breathing marks.

As Metzger remarked, a person’s handwriting tends to remain constant throughout his life. Therefore, texts often cannot be dated more narrowly than within 50 years. What is more, scribes sometimes used earlier manuscripts as models, making the copy seem older than it is. Despite the many challenges, however, dates have been assigned to a number of important Bible manuscripts.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS WHY DON'T YOU BELIEVE

Dating Key Greek Bible Manuscripts

Codex Alexandrinus (A or 02) is an impressive codex, now in the British Library, and the most investigated manuscript, as it was the first major Bible manuscript that was made available to the scholars. It contains most of the Old and New Testament, written in uncials on vellum, a high quality of parchment made from calfskin. Paleographers date this codex to about the fifth century C. E. This is mainly because of the changes that took place in uncial writing in the middle of the fifth and sixth centuries, as illustrated in a dated document called the Dioscorides of Vienna.

Codex Sinaiticus (01) was discovered by textual scholar Constantin Von Tischendorf at the monastery of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai. Sinaiticus was also penned in Greek uncials on parchment. At present part of the Greek Old Testament has perished, with the whole of the New Testament surviving. Of this codex, 43 leaves are held in Leipzig, Germany; 347 leaves at the British Library in London; and portions of 3 leaves in St. Petersburg, Russia. Paleographers have dated Codex Sinaiticus to about 360 C.E. They arrive at this date, in part, because of the marginal tables (cross-references) in the gospels, which were invented by the fourth-century historian Eusebius of Caesarea, known as the Eusebian Canons.

Codex Vaticanus (B or 03) is the most valuable of all manuscripts, which contained the entire Bible at one time. As is indicated by its name, it is housed in the Vatican Library at Rome, first becoming known in 1475. It too was penned in Greek uncials on 759 leaves of parchment. Today, it still contains most of the Old Testament, except most of Genesis, and part of Psalms. It is missing some portions of the New Testament as well. It is dated to about 340 C.E. It is viewed as belonging to the earlier part of the fourth century as it lacks the Eusebian Canons mentioned above.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Treasure from a Garbage Dump

In 1920 the John Rylands Library of Manchester, England, attained a heap of papyruses recently discovered in an ancient Egyptian garbage dump. As he sorted out the pieces of unpublished papyri, which encompassed letters, receipts, and census documents, scholar Colin H. Roberts caught sight of a fragment inscribed with text he recognized—a few verses from John chapter 18. Based on the style of the script, Roberts dated this scrap as the earliest Christian Greek text identified up to that time, even to date. It is the early date of P52 that holds its greatest value. Bible critics had argued that the Gospel of John was not penned until the second century, which would mean that the apostle John was not its author. The finding of P52 establishes that John had to be written before the close of the first century C.E., to be copied in Fayum or Oxyrhynchus, Egypt about 110-125 C.E.

This fragment came to be known as the John Rylands Papyrus 457, being designated as P52 because of its being penned on papyrus.[17] It was written in Greek uncials and has been dated to about 110-125 C.E., within just a few decades of the original writing of the Gospel of John! Significantly, even though the text only comprises a few verses, the text agrees almost exactly with the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. Its contents include John 18:31-33, 37-38.

The Holy Spirit_02 THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Ancient but Accurate!

In his book A General Introduction to the Bible, apologetic scholars Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix wrote that the Greek New Testament “has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other Greek book–a form that is 99.5 percent pure.” (Geisler and Nix 1996, 367) Similarly, regarding the integrity of the Hebrew Scriptures, scholar William H. Green stated, “It may be safely said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted.” (Free 1964, 15)

Those observations call to mind the words of the apostle Peter: “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass; the grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”–1 Peter 1:24-25.

Encountering the Manuscripts_02 Encountering the Manuscripts_02 Encountering the Manuscripts_02 Encountering the Manuscripts_02

We Quote Extensively from Paleographer Philip W. Comfort

CRITERIA USED FOR DATING MANUSCRIPTS

Before I identify what I think are the earliest New Testament manuscripts, I need to stipulate the criteria I have used for dating manuscripts. These criteria are as follows: archaeological evidence, codicology, comparative palaeography, and the evolution of the nomina sacra. The third area, comparative paleography, is the most complex and therefore requires the most discussion. In this area, I will first look at the issue of determining dates for literary texts based on dated documentary manuscripts, and then I will examine comparative morphology (a study of comparable handwriting styles).

Archaeological Evidence

The first means used in dating a manuscript is to look at archaeological evidence. External and circumstantial factors can help scholars date manuscripts. For example, the terminus ante quem (latest possible date) for the Herculanuem manuscripts is AD 79, the date of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and for the Dead Sea Scrolls is AD 70, the date the Qumran caves were abandoned. Scanlin writes, “Around AD 70 Qumran was destroyed during the Jewish war and Roman invasion. Thus, assuming that the Dead Sea Scrolls found near the Qumran settlement were the product of that community, then the latest date for the manuscripts hidden in nearby caves is AD 70.” Of course, not all the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts may have come from the Qumran community. The caves could have been used by other Jews hiding manuscripts at some other time. Nonetheless, very few scholars would date any of the Dead Sea Scrolls after the middle of the first century AD (both on archaeological grounds and paleographical).

The New Testament papyrus manuscript P4+P64+P67 cannot be dated later than AD 200 because it was placed in strips (perhaps as binding) for a third-century codex of Philo. Some length of time must be allowed for a well-written codex to have been used to such an extent that it was torn up and used as binding. The Gospel harmony manuscript 0212 cannot be dated later than AD 256 and is likely to be dated ca. 230 because the manuscript was discovered in the filling of an embankment erected in AD 256. A Christian house (in existence from 222 to 235) nearby the site of discovery was destroyed when the embankment was built.

Unfortunately, most manuscripts cannot be dated according to archaeological evidence because the attending circumstances are vague or ambiguous. Thus, for the dating of most biblical manuscripts, paleographers use the following criteria: codicology and comparative paleography, which also includes comparative stylistics and morphology.

Codicology

As was discussed in a previous chapter, the codex was in use prior to the end of the first century AD. It was the book form used exclusively by Christians for making copies of biblical writings. Therefore, any New Testament codex manuscript could be as early as the late first century. Knowledge concerning this dating of the codex increased with precision during the second half of the twentieth century, as more and more of the papyri were published. Paleographers living at the beginning of the twentieth century considered the codex to be a late second-century or early third-century invention and therefore would hardly date a Christian manuscript prior to the third century. Such was the case with Grenfell and Hunt, who assigned many third-century and fourth-century dates to Christian Old Testament manuscripts and New Testament manuscripts, when the handwriting clearly belonged to an earlier century. Increased knowledge about the creation of the codex has prompted paleographers to redate many of these manuscripts to an earlier period. This redating is addressed manuscript by manuscript in the following discussion.

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Comparative Paleography

Biblical manuscripts are literary manuscripts. Dates were rarely if ever written on literary manuscripts. By comparison, documentary texts (i.e., manuscripts having documentary information) often provide exact dates if not explicitly so, at least implicitly by something written in the document. These documents provide the only paleographic means for dating manuscripts.

If a literary text has been written on the recto (the best and therefore the primary side of a papyrus or parchment leaf) and a dated documentary work has been written on the verso, the date of the documentary text provides the terminus ante quem (latest possible date) because the documentary text will be later. For example, a literary text on the recto, having a documentary text dated AD 150 on the verso, indicates that the literary text must be dated earlier than AD 150. We cannot be sure how much earlier, but the length of time could be quite substantial, perhaps as long as fifty to one hundred years because a literary text would normally have been used (or shelved) for a long period prior to being relegated to documentary use. As will be discussed below, one sumptuous literary text in the Heroninos collection, P. Rylands 16 (an unknown Comedy), was not relegated to documentary use (on the verso) for well over fifty to seventy-five, perhaps even one hundred years.

Fortunately, several manuscripts have been discovered that have a literary text on the recto and a dated documentary text on the verso. These manuscripts have enabled paleographers to establish the terminus ante quem (latest possible date) for the literary texts. As a rule of thumb, paleographers will usually subtract twenty-five to fifty years from the terminus ante quem when dating the literary text, for it is conjectured that the literary text (on the recto) must have been well used and well worn before being relegated to documentary use. Such literary texts with relatively certain dates provide models for comparative paleography.

If a literary text has been written on the verso of a documentary text (such as a letter or an official edict), which provides a date, then the documentary text provides the terminus post quem (the earliest possible date) for the literary text. For example, a date of AD 150 for a documentary text on the recto, with a literary text on the verso, means that the literary text cannot be dated earlier than AD 150. The length of time between the reuse of a documentary text for literary purposes would normally be shorter, probably around five to fifteen years at most inasmuch as the user would not have valued the document highly if he or she quickly put it to literary use. Let us take, for example, the Christian Psalms fragment, PSI 921 (Psalm 77:1–18). This is a fragment of Psalms written on the verso of a roll containing a bank register (on the recto) dated in AD 143/144. As such, it is quite likely that the Psalms portion should be dated anywhere between AD 155 and 170 (see comments below on this specific manuscript). Another example is P. Michigan 130, the Shepherd of Hermas. This manuscript, containing “The Mandates” of The Shepherd, was written on the verso of a scroll; the recto contains a document that can be dated to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180). Thus, it stands to reason that P. Michigan 130 could be dated AD 180–200.

The primary means of dating a New Testament manuscript, as an undated literary text, is by doing a comparative analysis with the handwriting of other dated documentary texts. The second method is to do a comparative analysis with literary manuscripts having a date based on the association with a documentary text on the recto or verso. Since several of the New Testament papyrus manuscripts exhibit a documentary hand, it is possible to find comparable dated documentary manuscripts. Fortunately, there are several documentary manuscripts that belong to the Heroninos correspondence (all dated around 260 and part of the Florentine Papyri) which have helped scholars to date several New Testament manuscripts (with a “documentary” hand), with corresponding handwriting, to the mid-third century. This pertains to P17, P37, P53, P80, and P86. A few literary texts, each dated ca. 200 (or a little earlier in the case of P. Rylands 16), reused for documentary purposes in the Heroninos collection, can help in the dating of New Testament manuscripts such as P39, P45, P91, P110, and P115.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Another two hundred Greek documentary papyri, dated AD 113–120, have come from the archive of Apollonios, a strategos of Hermopolis. A thorough study of these manuscripts prompted the papyrologist Ulrich Wilcken to date P52 to the same era, on the basis of comparable paleography (see discussion on P52 below).

In the following pages, various dated documentary manuscripts and literary texts with certain dates will be cited as supporting a date I propose for the earliest New Testament manuscripts. Admittedly, dating a literary text by comparing it with other literary texts involves some subjectivity, because it is as much an art as it is a science. Dating a manuscript is usually done by the person who produces the editio princeps of the manuscript. Sometimes this date is accepted by other paleographers; often it is challenged. As would be expected, paleographers do not agree on dates because of the subjectivity involved in the comparative analysis. Furthermore, it must be remembered that a manuscript could have been produced by an old scribe using a style he learned as a young man, or a manuscript could have been written by a young scribe just when a certain style was nascent. These factors could add or subtract twenty-five to fifty years to or from the date of any manuscript. All things considered, it is safest to date manuscripts within a range of fifty years. This allows for an early date and a later one for each manuscript. Usually both dates are defensible because we can see a complementary style in other manuscripts at both ends.

As paleographers seek to assign a date to a manuscript, they employ comparative morphology, which is a comparative study of letter forms. Paleographers in the past (such as Kenyon) used to look for a match of certain individual letter forms. This practice called the “test-letter” theory is no longer fully endorsed. Rather, paleographers look at the letters in relation to the entire piece of writing; in other words, it is the overall likeness that constitutes a morphological match. Of course, this doesn’t exclude matching letters, but the match must be more than just in a few letters.

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Comparative Stylistics

Another way that paleographers date manuscripts is to determine its handwriting style and thereby place it in a time period where that style was prominent. Often, a paleographer can also determine if the manuscript shows early or late features of that period by comparative analysis with other manuscripts that have firm dates. In the following discussion, I will speak of four specific styles: Roman Uncial, Biblical Uncial, Decorated Rounded, and Severe (Slanting) Style. Several Christian manuscripts both of the Old Testament and New Testament display one of these styles.

Various papyrologists, such as Roberts and Turner,8 note scribal tendencies of the first three centuries AD. Roberts and Turner both indicate that there was a strong tendency for scribes in the first and second centuries to keep all their letters at an imaginary top line. Most bookhands display bilinearity, which is an attempt to keep all letters at an imaginary top and bottom line. Slanting handwriting begins in the second century. (Prior to that, letters were written upright.) Other second-century features are (1) the final nu on a line replaced with an extending overbar over the last letter (mid-second century), (2) a small omicron in documentary hands, which becomes prominent in third-century literary hands, and (3) angular letters (e.g., P45, P75) also in the late second and early third. In documentary and Greek biblical manuscripts, beginning in the first century AD and onwards, there was a strong tendency for documentary scribes to enlarge the first letter of each line and/or of each new section.

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Other Features Used in Dating Manuscripts

Some paleographers take note of the ink color as an aid to making an estimation about a manuscript’s date. For example, lustrous black ink (also known as carbon ink) is earlier than brown. Brown ink has probably been mixed from an iron salt or other chemical compound and therefore generally points to a date after AD 300. The issue of black ink and brown ink is significant to the dating of P15 and P16 (see discussion below). Metallic ink usually points to a later date. However, P. Oxyrhynchus 2269, written in metallic ink, is dated AD 269.

Turner indicates that another feature began in the early third century, namely, the use of a separating apostrophe between double consonants. Some paleographers of late seem to have adopted this observation as “fact” and thereby date manuscripts having this feature as post AD 200. Some paleographers would even redate manuscripts displaying this feature. For example, Schmidt redates P52 to ca. 200 based on the fact that its hand parallels that of the Egerton Gospel, which is now thought by some to date closer to ca. 200 based on this feature appearing in a newly published portion of the Egerton Gospel. However, I would argue that the previously assigned date of such manuscripts was given by many scholars according to their observations of several paleographic features. Thus, the presence of this particular feature (the hook or apostrophe between double consonants) determines an earlier date for its emergence, not the other way around. Thus, the Egerton Gospel, dated by many to ca. 150, should still stand, and so should the date for P52 (as early second century). Another way to come at this is to look at P66, dated by several scholars to ca. 150 (see discussion below). Turner, however, would date P66 later (early third) largely because of the presence of the hook between double consonants. What I would say is that the predominant dating of P66 (i.e., the dating assigned by most scholars) predetermines the date for this particular feature. Furthermore, there are other manuscripts dated prior to AD 200 that exhibit the apostrophe or hook between double consonants:

1. BGU iii 715.5 (AD 101)
αγ❒χωριμφις

2. P. Petaus 86 (= P. Michigan 6871) (AD 185)
αγ❒γων

3. SPP xxii 3.22 (second century)
απυγ❒χεως

4. P. Berol. 9570 + P. Rylands 60 (dated by the editors of the editio princeps to ca. 200, dated by Cavallo to ca. 50)
φαλαγ❒γας

THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST by Stalker-1 The TRIAL and Death of Jesus_02 THE LIFE OF Paul by Stalker-1

Handwriting Styles

Four handwriting styles of the early period of Christianity are worthy of our attention for New Testament paleography. The first is called the Roman Uncial, the second is called the Biblical Uncial, the third is named the Decorated Rounded Uncial, and the fourth is the Severe (or Slanted) style. It must be said that all four styles are not always clearly distinct, nor can one exactly pinpoint the birth of one style, for there was a great deal of crossbreeding and mingling in the process. Nonetheless, there are some common features to each style, and there is a chronology for the emergence, popularity, and disappearance of each style.

The Roman Uncial

Paleographers date the emergence of the Roman Uncial as coming on the heels of the Ptolemaic period, which ended in 30 BC. Thus, early Roman Uncial begins around 30 BC, and the Roman Uncial hand can be seen throughout the first two to three centuries of the Christian era. The Roman Uncial script, generally speaking, shares the characteristics of literary manuscripts in the Roman period (as distinct from the Ptolemaic period) in that these manuscripts show a greater roundness and smoothness in the forms of letters and are somewhat larger than what was penned in the Ptolemaic period. Furthermore, the Roman Uncial typically displays decorative serifs in several letters, but not all. (By contrast, the Decorated Rounded style aims at making the decorations rounded and replete.)

Generally speaking, the Roman Uncial was a precursor to the Biblical Uncial—the one style emerging into the next. As such, it can be seen that certain paleographers interchange the two terms. However, the true Biblical Uncial differs from the Roman Uncial in that the Biblical Uncial typically displays no or little decoration and has noticeable shading, i.e., “the deliberate alternation of thick and thin pen-strokes, related to the angle at which the pen meets the paper.” In Kenyon’s estimation, a good New Testament example of a Roman Uncial is found in the manuscript P46. Concerning P46, the editor of the editio princeps, Kenyon said, “The letters are rather early in style and of good formation of the Roman period.” (See the discussion below on P46.)

The Biblical Uncial

Another name for the Biblical Uncial is the Biblical Majuscule; this refers to large uncial letters, each stroked separately so as not to connect with other letters (as occurs with a running hand producing cursives or what is called ligatures). The term Biblical Uncial does not apply only to biblical texts; it was a term first coined by Grenfell and Hunt to describe the handwriting of certain biblical texts and then was extended to any kind of manuscript displaying that kind of handwriting, whether biblical or not. The Biblical Uncial is noted for retaining a bilinear appearance—that is, there is a conscious effort to keep a line of text within an imaginary upper and lower line. In this style, all letters except iota, rho, phi, psi, omega fit into squares of equal size, and all letters except gamma, rho, phi, psi have the same vertical extension (bilinearity). In Biblical Uncial there is a deliberate alternation of thick vertical strokes and thin horizontal strokes, with sloping strokes coming in between. In this style, rectangular strokes display right-angled shapes, and circular letters are truly circular, not oval. There are no ligatures (connecting letters) and no ornamentation at the end of strokes (such as serifs and blobs).

This style began to emerge in the first century AD. A few paleographers have recognized that a particular Herculaneum manuscript, P. Herculaneum 1457 (dated pre-AD 79), shows an early form of the Biblical Uncial. This was first recognized by Domenico Bassi in Papiri Ercolanesi (Tomo 1; Milan 1914 with 7 plates). W. Schubart affirmed this in his volume, Griechische Paleographie, 111–12, as did G. Cavallo in Libri scritture scribi a Ercolano, who (after referring to Bassi’s work) says, “P. Here. 1457 tra gli esempi pui antichi di onciale biblica.” (Cavallo considered P. Herculaneum 1457 to be an example anticipating the Biblical Uncial.) When Kim spoke of the Biblical Majuscule hand (in his article on P46 discussed at length below) and its early type, he referred to P. Herculaneum 1457. In dating P64+67 to the late first century, Thiede also drew attention to the Herculaneum Papyri (referring to Schubart and an article by Cavallo, see discussion below), though he did not explicitly mention P. Herc. 1457.

An early form of the Biblical Uncial style can also be seen in P. London II 141, a document dated to AD 88 (for photo, see GLH 12a). The editors of this text wrote: “This document has a special value, being written in uncials of a type more nearly approaching the uncial writing of early vellum MSS than is to be found in any other extant document which can be attributed to so early a period. Moreover, it bears an actual date, and thus affords a standard of early uncial writing.”13

Roberts said this manuscript “is an early and dated example of the large rounded hand which is fully developed in the second century in Hawara Homer (NPS I. 126) and P. Tebtunis II 265.” In other words, P. London II 141 is an early form of what came to be known as the Biblical Uncial.

As was just alluded to by Roberts, three noteworthy examples of Roman Uncial manuscripts showing features of the Biblical Uncial are (1) P. Hawara 24–28 (Homer’s Iliad), dated by most paleographers to the second century (for photo, see Cavallo, pl. 2; Montev. pl. 63); (2) P. Tebtunis II 265 (for photo, see Tebtunis Papyri, vol. 2); and (3) P. Oxyrhynchus 20 (for photo, see Cavallo, pl. 3), dated second century. The last two mentioned papyri are very similar in appearance. In fact, the editors of Tebtunis II 265 (Grenfell, Hunt, Goodspeed) dated it to the second century on the basis of its likeness to P. Oxyrhynchus 20.

P. Oxyrhynchus 20 has a firm date: second century. The recto contains Homer’s Iliad (II. 730–828), written in a large upright calligraphic uncial. On the verso are some accounts in a cursive hand of the late second or early third century. The sumptuous Homer had to have been in use for quite some time before it was relegated to documentary use. Hence, I would judge that it was composed in the first half of the second century.

G. Cavallo, in his majesterial work, Richerche sulla Maiuscola Biblica, makes a strong case for the style known as Biblical Uncial taking definitive shape in the middle to late second century AD. In order to justify this dating, he drew upon a few significant manuscripts whose dates are fairly well established. Cavallo pays special attention to P. Oxyrhynchus 661 (for photo, see Cavallo pl. 16; GLH 16a), as one of the earliest examples. This manuscript is dated with great certainty to the second half of the second century. Grenfell and Hunt said that on the verso of P. Oxyrhynchus 661 is a cursive hand “which is not later than the third century, and quite likely to fall within the second. The text of recto [P. Oxy. 661], then, can be assigned with little chance of error to the second half of the second century.” C. H. Roberts, dating P. Oxyrhynchus 661 to the latter part of the second century, says it “may also rank as the earliest datable example of the Biblical Uncial style” (GLH 16a).

Cavallo cites many other manuscripts belonging to the same era (the latter part of the second century) as also displaying the Biblical Uncial. Some of the more significant ones are as follows:

1. P. Oxyrhynchus 678, late second century (Cavallo, pl. 13a). Grenfell and Hunt wrote: “It is an upright and rather heavy calligraphic hand similar to [P. Oxy.] 661, and probably, like that papyrus, of the latter part of the second century.”

2. P. Oxyrhynchus 2356, dated ca. 175 (Cavallo, pl. 12). The editors wrote: “The text is written in a square upright uncial of a common type, of which it is only a moderately well made example, comparable with P. Ryl. 547 and attributable to the late second century.”

3. P. Oxyrhynchus 2364, second half of second century (Cavallo, pl. 13b). The editors wrote: “The hand is a good upright uncial of the so-called biblical type very like that of P. Berol. 13411 (which likewise contains choral lyric), [P. Oxy.] 661 (assigned to the second half of the second century), BM Inv. no. 2560.”

According to Cavallo, P. Oxy. 678, 2356, 2364 should be dated “intorno all fine del terzo venticinquennio del II secolo” (“around the end of the third quarter of the second century”—175).

4. P. Rylands 16, latter part of the second century (for photo, see GLH 22b). Cavallo points to P. Rylands 16 as one of the earliest examples of the Biblical Uncial. The dating of this manuscript is fairly certain because this literary text contains a documentary text on the verso (namely, a letter dated AD 255/256). The editor of P. Rylands 16, A. S. Hunt, remarked:

The hand of [P. Rylands 16] is extremely similar to that of P. Oxyrhynchus 661 (IV, Plate V), and like it can fortunately be dated with some accuracy, since the verso is inscribed with a letter to Heroninos (cf. e.g. P. Flor. 9, intro.), written in the third year of (of Gallienus), i.e., AD 255–256. A manuscript so elaborate would probably not be quickly destroyed, and hence the text on the recto can hardly be later than about the year 215 and may well belong, as there was reason to suppose that P. Oxyrhynchus 661 belonged, to the latter part of the second century.

Cavallo, more conservatively, dates P. Rylands 16 to 220–225, allowing for only thirty years before such a sumptuous manuscript was put to documentary use. C. H. Roberts (GLH 22b) would date it ca. 200. And E. G. Turner, who is usually very conservative in his dating, dated P. Rylands 16 to the second century. He posited this date because he observed that some of the documents in the Heroninos archive were already a century old before they were reused for writing letters.18 Taking all things into consideration, it is probably best to date P. Rylands 16 to the latter part of the second century.

5. P. Berol. 7499, ca. 200 (Schubart’s Greek Pal., pl. 93; Cavallo, pl. 19a). Schubart dated it to the beginning of the fourth; Cavallo would date it to the end of the second century/beginning of the third.

6. P. Oxyrhynchus 2395, end of the second century (Cavallo, pl. 15b). The editors wrote: “The script is a conventional upright uncial of the ‘biblical’ type much like [P. Oxy.] 1179, which is assigned to the early part of the third century.” But P. Oxy. 1179 could have also been written at the end of the second century.

7. P. Lit. London 78, late second century (Cavallo, pl. 14). This manuscript is a “round medium-sized rather heavy uncial hand of biblical type.”

8. PSI 1377 (Illiad IX) + P. Rylands 542 (Illiad V), end of second/beginning of third, ca. 200 (Cavallo, pl. 20a, b). These two manuscripts are part of the same work. Bartoletti, editor of the editio princeps, dated PSI 1377 “avanza l’ipotesi del II secolo: sarei invece del parere di assegnal III (inizio)” (i.e., possibly second century, more likely beginning of the third).

9. P. Oxyrhynchus 2334, later second century (Cavallo, pl. 29). The editor said it displays “a rounded, heavy hand, the precursor of the so-called ‘Biblical Uncial’ (cf. P. Rylands iii 547, [P. Oxy.] 2169, and 661.”

10. P. Vindob. 29784, end of the second century (Cavallo, pl. 15a).

11. P. Vindob. 29768, ca. 175 (Cavallo, pl. 12a), The two P. Vindob. manuscripts are discussed below in connection with the New Testament manuscript P4+64+67

12. P. Oxyrhynchus 224+P. Rylands 547, later second century (Cavallo, pl. 6). These two manuscripts are part of the same text. P. Oxyrhynchus 224 was originally dated to the third century and then redated to the later second century, with the attachment of P. Rylands 547 (as part of the same manuscript), due to the influence of the dating of P. Oxyrhynchus 661, a manuscript sharing many features with P. Oxyrhynchus 224+P. Rylands 547. (P. Oxyrhynchus 224+P. Rylands 547 is discussed below in connection with the dating of P4+64+67.)

13. P. Oxyrhynchus 2750, latter part of the second century. The editor wrote: “The hand is another example of the early Biblical uncial style similiar to [P. Oxyrhynchus] 661 … and may be dated around the later part of the second century AD.”

14. P. Oxyrhynchus 1179 (for photo, see Cavallo, pl. 28b), ca. 200. The editor wrote: “This small fragment offers another example of the ‘biblical’ type of uncials on papyrus. The hand closely resembles those of [P. Oxyrhynchus] 664 and P. Rylands 16, and may be assigned with some confidence to the earlier decades of the third century, if not to the end of the second.”

The early New Testament manuscripts written in Biblical Uncial are as follows: P4+64+67, P30, P35, P39, P40, P70, P95, 0162, and 0189. Each is discussed below.

Decorated Rounded Uncial

Another style of handwriting was prominent during the early period of the church; it is called the Decorated Rounded Uncial. In this style, every vertical stroke finishes with a serif or decorated roundel. Schubart (naming this style Zierstil) thought this style existed from the last century of the Ptolemaic period (first century BC) to the end of the first century AD. Other scholars, such as Turner, see it as extending to the end of the second century (and perhaps even into the early third). He said, “The classification ‘Formal round’ is attained by far fewer hands. They are almost instantly recognizable, if only from the generous size of their letters.” He sees this as a single feature of several styles that existed from the second century BC to the second century AD.21 Concurring with Turner, Parsons writes: “Turner rightly insists that Schubart’s ‘decorated style’… is not really a style but a single feature of several styles spread over a period of four centuries from ii BC.”

Whether it is a single style or a single feature of several styles, manuscripts with the Decorated Rounded type of handwriting are conspicuous. There are several extant examples of dated manuscripts (i.e., manuscripts with certain dates) exhibiting this style that fall within the period of 100 BC to AD 150. Here is a representative list, cited in chronological order. (Some of the following manuscripts are also noted by Parsons, and other by Welles.) Some of these manuscripts display what could be called a Formal Round and others an Informal Round. The documentary manuscripts tend to be more informal than the literary, but they often provide good comparisons for the particular biblical manuscripts written in reformed documentary and documentary hands, while the more formal often provide good comparisons for biblical manuscripts displaying a bookhand.

1. P. Rylands 586+P. Oxyrhynchus 802 (Deed of Loan, 99 BC; for photo, see GLH 8a) (later Ptolemaic decorated style)

2. P. Fouad 266 (Septuagint) (mid first century BC, a cursive note on this papyrus is unmistakably Ptolemaic; for photo, see GMAW 56)

3. Greek Minor Scroll Prophets from Nahal Hever, 8HevXIIgr (50 BC to AD 50).

4. 7Q1 (Exodus) (100 BC)

This style is clearly Zierstil (Decorated Rounded), according to the editio princeps. in DJD IV, Grote 7, Fragments of Papyrus.

5. 7QS (50 BC to 50 AD)

This manuscript, whose identification has been highly debated (see discussion below), clearly displays a Zierstil (decorated rounded style), according to the editio princeps in DJD IV, Grote 7, Fragments of Papyrus.

6. Several manuscripts from Herculaneum (first century BC). Many of the manuscripts from Herculaneum display a Decorated Rounded style. These manuscripts must be dated pre-AD 79, when the town was buried. However, since many of the manuscripts came from Philodemus’s library or were his personal works, they probably should be dated pre-40 BC, the presumed date of Philodemus’s death. Some of the more noteworthy manuscripts are P. Here. 1005 (for photo, see Cavallo’s Ercolano, pl. 22); P. Here. 1423 (for photo, see Cavallo’s Ercolano, pl. 50); and P. Herc. 697 (for photo, see Cavallo’s Ercolano, pl. 32).

7. P. Murabba‘at 108, dated “moitie du 1er siecle apres J.-C.” (beginning of the first century AD). The hand is clearly Zierstil, with affinities to manuscripts like P. Berolinses 6926 and P. Oxyrhynchus 246 (see below).

We know that the caves of Murabba’at had been inhabited repeatedly from 4000 BC to the Arabian period. A great number of documents including two letters from Simon ben Koshiba (Bar Kochba) show that the caves were a refuge during the second Jewish revolt (AD 132–135).

8. P. Oxyrhynchus 1453 (Oath of Temple Lamplighters, 30–29 BC; for photo, see GLH 8b).

9. P. London II.354 (Petition to Caius Turranius, 7–4 BC; for photo, see GLH 9a) (informal round, slightly decorated).

10. P. Oxyrhynchus 2555 (after AD 46). This should be dated mid to late first century inasmuch as the document mentions a horoscope dated AD May 13, 46.

11. P. Oxyrhynchus 3700 (ca. AD 50). P. Oxyrhynchus 3700 “is given a reasonably secure terminus ante by the writing on the back: several sets of documentary phrases, doodling or draft, among them a date clause of AD 48–9.”

12. P. Oxyrhynchus 2471 (Cancellation of a Loan, ca. AD 50; for photo, see GMAW 64).

13. P. Oxyrhynchus 246 (Return of Sheep, AD 66; for photo, see GLH 10c).

14. P. Oxyrhynchus 2987 (Petition to Gaius Aeturnius Fronto, AD 78–79).

15. P. Berol. 6926 (Romance of Ninus, Prince of Assyria; second half of first century AD; for photo, see GLH 11a). The terminus ante quem (latest possible date) is supplied by the verso on which are some accounts of the reign of Trajan, referring to AD 100–101. Roberts said, “Compared with the first century hands already illustrated this hand is more rounded and uniform and displays a greater tendency to equality in the size of letters; in this it anticipates the hands of the second century” (GLH 11a).

16. P. London II 141 (AD 88; for photo, see GLH 12a). Roberts said, “It is a large, rounded bookhand which is fully developed in the second century” (GLH 12a).

17. P. Lit. London 6 (first century AD; for photo, see New Paleographic Society II, pl. 53), a further fragment of which has been published as P. Rylands 540. This is a manuscript of the Iliad of which on the verso is a document dated AD 88/89.

18. P. London 130 (Greek Papyri in the British Museum 1.132ff; for photo, see Schubart’s Paleography 81). This manuscript mentions a horoscope dated April 1, AD 81. Therefore, it is not likely to be later than the early part of the second century.

19. P. Oxyrhynchus 270 (AD 94).

20. P. Fayum 110 (Letter of Lucius Bellenus Gemellus to Epagathus, AD 96; for photo, see GLH 11b). Roberts said, “This is written in a rounded, regular hand … This hand is perhaps closer than that of any other dated document to those of the earliest Christian papyri, P. Rylands III 457 (= P52) and P. London Christ. 1 (= Egerton Gospel)” (GLH 11b).

21. P. Berolinses 6845 (Homer’s Iliad), dated by Schubart first/second century (for photo, see P. Berol., pl. 19c).

22. P. Yale 1273 (Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women), ca. AD 100 (for photo, see Yale Literary Papyri, pl. ii).

23. P. Berolinses 6854, dated to the reign of Trajan (AD 98–117; for photo, see Schubart’s Greek Pal. 34). C. H. Roberts points to this manuscript in determining his date for Chester Beatty VI (Num.–Deut.), as being slightly later than P. Berolinses 6854. (See comments on Beatty VI below.)

24. P. Berolinses 6855, dated by Schubart as AD 135? (for photo, see P. Berol, pl. 22b).

25. P. Oxyrhynchus 454 + PSI 119 (Plato’s Gorgias 507–508; second quarter of the second century, AD 125–150; for photo, see GMAW 62). The date of this manuscript is quite solid inasmuch as it was written on the verso of a roll of military accounts providing a date of sometime after AD 111. Given the rule of thumb that a literary text written on the verso of a documentary text could have occurred in a short timespan (five to twenty-five years), the Plato text could be dated anywhere between AD 115 and 140. According to Turner (in GMAW 62), the hand is a “medium-sized, upright, rounded, ‘decorated,’ capital … The hand is of the professional type, but makes an impression of informality.”

26. P. Oxyrhynchus 1083 (second century; for photo see Oxy. vol. and Schubart’s Greek Pal., 74). Concerning the dating of this, the editors wrote: “The following fragments of a Satyric drama are written in upright uncials which are slightly above the medium size and of rather heavy and ungraceful appearance. They may be assigned to the second century, a date to which the cursive notes … would also seem to point.”

All these aforementioned documents, nearly all of which have solid dating, provide evidence for the existence of the decorated rounded hand during a certain time-frame. Significantly, there are hardly any dated documents beyond AD 150 that provide evidence of this style. In this regard, Welles is generally correct (as was Schubart): the greatest concentration of dated manuscripts displaying the Decorated Rounded is found between the period 100 BC to AD 100 (op. cit.). The evidence indicates that this should be extended to AD 150 but not much further.

E. G. Turner disagrees. He points out that P. Oxyrhynchus 3093 (dated AD 217) displays the serifs featured in the Decorated Rounded hand (GMAW, second ed., p. 21). However, this hand is clearly not a bookhand, but a cursive with thickenings at the tops and feet of verticals and occasional serifs. Turner says, “If these ‘decorations’ are regarded as a legacy of Schubart’s ‘decorated style’ (Zierstil), the lower terminus of that style must be extended into the third century” (Turner, as cited in P. Oxy. 3093). And in GMAW 87, he calls our attention to P. Oxyrhynchus 3030 (Official Letter of a Royal Scribe; 31 March 207 [or 211]) as providing another late example. P. J. Parsons, the editor of P. Oxyrhynchus 3030, said, “The letters are thickly ornamented with serifs and back-hooks. The general effect is much like that of [P. Oxy.] 2555, of the late first century. It is salutary to have, precisely dated, so late an example of this fragile decorated style.”

Turner admits that P. Oxyrhynchus 3030 is “late survivor” of this style (see GMAW 87). As such, an early third century date is not the norm for Decorated Rounded hands, nor is the late second century, for which we do not have any comparable dated documentary manuscripts. Rather, the highest concentration would be between 100 BC and AD 125/150. Interestingly, many Christian Greek Old Testament manuscripts, displaying the Decorated Rounded hand, have accordingly been dated to the late first century or second century, while scholars have usually been reluctant to do the same for New Testament manuscripts. Nonetheless, there are a few New Testament manuscripts displaying the Decorated Rounded style which belong in the period prior to AD 150, specifically, P32, P66, P90, and P104. (Each of these is discussed below.)

Severe Style

For the most part, formal Greek handwriting remained upright during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. In due course, however, writers began to slant their letters to the right. When handwriting is upright, the angles will be right angles and the curves will be more rounded. When handwriting slopes, the angularity of the broad letters will be emphasized and the curves look like ellipses. This kind of hand also displays a mixture of narrow letters and broad letters. Turner, therefore, calls it Formal Mixed, while Schubart names it Strenge Stil (Severe style). Turner was of the opinion that there was no effort in documents to make a contrast between broad and narrow letters before the age of Hadrian (117–138). (See Turner’s discussion in GMAW, pp. 26–27.) This is countered by G. Cavallo in his work, Libri scritture scribi a Ercolano, who makes it quite clear that documents displaying wide and narrow letters appeared in Herculaneum prior to the second century.

Some second-century, third-century, and early fourth-century manuscripts, with firm dates, displaying this style are as follows:

1. P. Giss. 3, AD 117 (for photo, see GLH 15a). The date is certain; it is a libretto in celebration of the accession of Hadrian (reigned 117–138). The hand is one of the earliest examples of the broad, slanting style, which became quite popular later.

2. P. Michigan 3, second half of second century (for photo, see GLH 15c). This is dated solidly to the second half of the second century, inasmuch as a documentary text on the verso has a date of AD 190 (the terminus ante) written in a cursive hand.

3. P. Oxyrhynchus 2341, AD 202 (for photo, see GLH 19c). The date is certain; it is the record of a legal proceeding.

4. P. Florentine II. 108, ca. 200 (for photo, see GLH 22a). This papyri came from the Heroninos archive, a collection of papers and official documents found at Theadelphia in the Fayum. All the documents date around AD 260. The literary texts written on the rectos of many of these documents would date about fifty years earlier. Hence, this manuscript (Homer’s Iliad III) is ca. 200.

5. P. Rylands I. 57, ca. 200 (for photo, see GLH 22c). As with the above manuscript, this is a literary piece (Demosthenes, De Corona) on the recto of a document in the Heroninos archive. Its date must then be ca. 200.

6. P. Florentine II. 259, ca. 260 (for photo, see GLH 22d). This is a letter in the Heroninos archive written in a professional hand that resembles the common literary hand of the day.

7. P. Oxyrhynchus 2098, first half of third century (for photo, see GLH 19b). The recto has a portion of Herodotus, book 7; on the verso is a land survey dated to the reign of Gallienus (253–268). As such, the recto should be about fifty years earlier, ca. 200–225.

8. P. Oxyrhynchus 1016, early to middle third century (for photo, see GLH 20a; GMAW 84). The dating on this is difficult because the literary text (Phaedres) is written on the verso of a document, which is a land register (published as P. Oxyrhynchus 1044), mentioning the thirteenth year of a particular unnamed Roman emperor. The date could be 173/174 (Severus) or 195/196, according to C. H. Roberts, or 204/205 (Sept. Severus), according to Hunt, or 233/234 (Severus Alexander) according to E. G. Turner (see GMAW 84 for Turner’s arguments). At the latest, then, the literary text would have been written no later than ca. 240–250.

9. P. Oxyrhynchus 223, early third century (for photo, see GLH 21a). The Homer text (Iliad V = P. Oxyrhynchus 223) was written on the verso of Oxyrhynchite provenance dated AD 186 (= P. Oxyrhynchus 237). Thus, P. Oxyrhynchus 223 must be dated early third century.

10. P. Herm. Rees 5, ca. AD 325 (for photo, see GMAW 70). The person to whom this letter is addressed is known from the John Rylands archives as a scholasticus (government official) in the 20s of the fourth century.

The early New Testament manuscripts displaying this Severe (slanted) style are as follows: P13, P45, P48, P49, P110, and P115. Each is discussed below.

Encountering the Manuscripts_02 Encountering the Manuscripts_02 Encountering the Manuscripts_02 Encountering the Manuscripts_02

Dating New Testament Manuscripts According to the Evolution of the Nomina Sacra

It is evident that the nomina sacra went through an evolutionary process. The initial repertoire of nomina sacra included special written significations for the divine names kurios (Lord), Iesous (Jesus), Christos (Christ), and theos (God). As will be argued in the next chapter, the divine title pneuma (Spirit) appears in the earliest stages of textual transmission and is nearly as ancient as the other four. Another early nomen sacrum was used for the words stauros (cross) and stauromai (crucify). In due course, other nomina sacra were added for huios (Son) and pater (Father), as well as for words such as anthropos (man), Israel (Israel), Ierosalem (Jerusalem), and ouranos (heaven).

Given this evolutionary process, one would think that the fewer the nomen sacrum, the earlier the manuscript. T. C. Skeat, for example, pointed this out when he dated P4+64+67 to the second century. (This manuscript displays only the basic five nomina sacra.) However, another second-century manuscript, P66, has far more nomina sacra. In fact, its repertoire of nomina sacra is nearly identical to that found in Chester Beatty VI (of the early to middle second century). Hunger, who dated P66 to the first half of the second century, pointed out this concurrence of nomina sacra as one of his arguments for giving P66 a second-century date.

The problem in using the nomina sacra for dating New Testament manuscripts is that their evolution began in the first century (perhaps at the time many of the New Testament books were first written) and was well underway in the second century. Thus, by the time we get to the mid-second century, many of the divine names are displayed as nomina sacra. Some of these names are always written as such; others such as Son and Father are sometimes written as nomina sacra and sometimes not in the very same manuscript. This inconsistency in displaying the nomina sacra form, as opposed to the full (plene), written-out form, shows that a particular nomen sacrum was in an evolutionary process. For example, it can be observed that the titles Son and Father were evolving in the second and early third centuries and became more or less fixed nomina sacra in the third century and thereafter. For example, in the second-century manuscript P4+64+67 Son and Father are not written as nomina sacra. In other prominent second-century manuscripts, P46, P66, and P75, “Son” and “Father” are sometimes written as nomina sacra and just as often are not. In most third-century manuscripts, these two titles are consistently treated as nomina sacra; see, for example, P1, P9, P13, P16, P22, P27, P28, P39, P40 (in part), P49, P53, P70, P72, P91, P107, 0162. This evidence suggests that a manuscript not exhibiting nomina sacra for Father and Son or exhibiting them both in nomina sacra form and in plene form should be considered for a second-century date. Such is the case for P45, which is usually dated to the third century (see discussion below).

Another example of a manuscript displaying both the nomina sacra and the full, written-out (plene) forms for all the names of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) is P46. What is most significant is that the scribe did not always write the nomen sacrum for pneuma (Spirit) where one would expect the scribe to have done so (see discussion in next chapter). This could very well tell us that this title was not yet fixed as a nomen sacrum when the scribe of P46 did his work; in other words, it was still developing. Since all the other second-century manuscripts consistently display pneuma as a nomen sacrum (when refering to the divine Spirit), this phenomenon in P46 could indicate an early date for this manuscript.

Another issue pertains to the presence of the suspended form and short contracted form as preceding the longer contracted form (or what some call the combination form, which I think is a misnomer). As will be discussed in the next chapter, it is possible that the short contracted form (for example, ΙΣ for ιησους) was the first form used in the earliest Christian writings. A variation of this would be a fuller contracted form, such as ΙΗΣ. The question is: Is the fuller form a later evolutionary development? If so, then a manuscript with the fuller contracted form could be dated later than one with the shorter form. But it is just as likely that both forms developed concurrently or nearly concurrently. Some scholars think the suspended form of ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Jesus), ΙΗ, was the earliest. But I have my doubts, all of which are expressed in the next chapter.

The upshot of this is that it is difficult to use the forms of the nomina sacra to date manuscripts. What can be used is the presence and/or absence of certain nomina sacra with respect to the full repertoire, as well as fluctuation in use in a particular manuscript (as in P46).[18]

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[1] ‘Palaeography,’ Oxford English Dictionary.

[2] Dr. Bruce M. Metzger wrote, “Since the style of a person’s handwriting may remain more or less constant throughout life, it is unrealistic to seek to fix upon a date narrower than a fifty-year spread.” (B. Metzger 1981, 50)

[3]John F. Oates, Alan E. Samuel, and Bradford C. Welles, Yale Papyri in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (New Haven, American Society of Papyrologists, 1967), 1:4.

[4] http://csntm.org/manuscript/View/GA_P52

[5] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 366–367.

[6] A. Schmidt, “Zwei Anmerkungen zu P. Ryl. III 457,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung 35(1989:11–12)

[7] Nongbri, Brent (2005) “The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel.” Harvard Theological Review 98:1, 23-48.

[8] Porter, Stanley E. (2013) “Recent efforts to Reconstruct Early Christianity on the Basis of its Payrological Evidence” in Christian Origins and Graeco-Roman Culture, Eds Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts, Leiden, Brill, pp 71–84.

[9] Handwriting styles are different from one time period in comparison to another, and by matching a Greek Christian NT manuscript’s style to a secular manuscript that contains a date, or a known style of a certain period, one can reasonably date an undated NT Greek manuscript.

[10] See Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. A corrected, enlarged ed. of The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001), S. 24.

Paleographers have been able to distinguish four major kinds of handwriting, each of which reveals something about the training (or lack thereof) of the copyist who produced it. The four types are as follows:

1.) Common: The work of a semiliterate writer who is untrained in making documents. This handwriting usually displays an inelegant cursive.

2.) Documentary: The work of a literate writer who has had experience in preparing documents. This has also been called “chancery handwriting” (prominent in the period A.D. 200–225). It was used by official scribes in public administration.

3.) Reformed documentary: The work of a literate writer who had experience in preparing documents and in copying works of literature. Often, this hand attempts to imitate the work of a professional but does not fully achieve the professional look.

4.) Professional: The work of a professional scribe. These writings display the craftsmanship of what is commonly called a “book hand” or “literary hand,” and leave telltale marks of professionalism such as stichoi markings (the tallying of the number of lines, according to which a professional scribe would be paid), as are found in P46.

Various handwriting styles are more pronounced in one time period over another and thereby help in dating manuscripts.

[11] Vincent Scheil, “Fragments de l’Évangile selon saint Luc, recueillis en Égypte,” Revue Biblique 1 (1892): 113.[11]

[12] Merell, “Nouveaux fragments du papyrus IV,” 7.[12]

[13] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 52.

[14] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 53.

[15] IBID, 53.

[16] IBID, 53.

[17] The sources of to the Greek New Testament can be broken up into the categories: (1) papyrus (1st – 6th century C.E.), (2) vellum (4th – 14th century), and (3) paper.

[18] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 104–120.

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