Monday, 28 May 2018

The new papyrus of the gospel of Mark

I give here a copy of the new papyrus of the gospel of Mark: Oxyrhynchus papyrus 5345, or P. Oxy. 5345 for short. This isn’t new work (mostly), but is simply intended to be slightly more accessible than the article that has now appeared in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 83 (2018). I also give some basic guidance on how to read papyrological notation, and a condensed selection of notes on the text.

The Egypt Exploration Society has made their publication open access: the publicly available PDF copy of the article is here.


In December 2011 Scott Carroll, until 2012 the director of the Green Collection, announced that he knew of a New Testament manuscript older than any other that was publicly known. In February 2012 the papyrologist Daniel Wallace cited the existence of a papyrus of Mark dating to the 1st century, as supporting evidence in a public debate.

These announcements were important because a first-century copy of any New Testament text would be of great intrinsic interest. It wouldn’t have much impact on any argument about the historicity of any aspect of the New Testament: nearly all biblical scholars date Mark to the 1st century anyway. So while the existence of a first-century papyrus would be very exciting, it wouldn’t be shocking.

Still the oldest: P. Rylands 457
In May 2018, this month, Dirk Obbink and Daniela Colomo published the papyrus in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. It is now dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century. It is definitely not the earliest known New Testament manuscript (that honour still rests with Rylands papyrus 457, mid-100s). But it is the earliest known copy of Mark.

In itself that doesn’t add anything to our state of knowledge: we already had external testimony of the text’s existence before 200. Still, the 2018 publication has again generated intense interest. But misinformation spreads virally where reliable information is difficult to come by. The real news here isn’t the text in the papyrus: there’s nothing very important there. The news is how knowledge about the papyrus has been abused.

On Wednesday last week, on 23 May 2018, Carroll stated that Dirk Obbink tried to sell the papyrus to the Greens in 2011 and 2013; that the papyrus was ‘in his [Obbink’s] possession’; and that Obbink had stated ‘unequivocally’ that it dated to the first century. Also on 23 May, Wallace stated that he had been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before being allowed to see the papyrus in 2012; that he had been informed that an unnamed organisation had already bought the papyrus; and that he had been told by the same source that ‘a high-ranking papyrologist had confirmed that FCM [the Mark papyrus] was definitely a first-century manuscript.’

And the following day, the Egypt Exploration Society stated that the papyrus was and still is in their collection; that they have never sold it or intended to sell it; that it was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt’s excavations at Oxyrhynchus in the period 1896 to 1906, probably in 1903; and the first-century dating was ‘a provisional dating when the text was catalogued many years ago’.

This talk of the papyrus being for sale, and that it was definitely 1st-century, could in principle be the result of miscommunication. But what the unnamed informant did to Wallace was both deceptive and unethical: lying to Wallace about having bought the papyrus; compelling him to sign a non-disclosure agreement -- these things show a deep, reckless dishonesty. I imagine I share few opinions with Wallace, but I must commiserate with him for the plight he was placed in.

The text: introduction

The text below is designed to be read with the font New Athena Unicode installed. It is likely that the sublinear dots (U+0323) will appear incorrectly aligned in any other font.

The most important conventions for presenting a papyrus text are as follows:
  • A diplomatic text is a letter-by-letter transcription with no modern orthographic marks: so no spaces between words, no punctuation, no capitalisation, and no accents or diacritics except where they appear on the papyrus.
  • A reading text adds modern orthographic conventions and fills in missing text where possible. (Note that the publication in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 83 combines the diplomatic and reading texts: in my opinion, greater clarity comes from keeping them separate.)
  • Square brackets ] [ represent edges of the papyrus.
  • A dot underneath a letter or space represents places where the papyrus has visible ink, but not enough to be certain (without further evidence) of which letter was there.
  • In the reading text, round brackets ( ) represent where an abbreviation has been filled in.
  • Recto refers to the ‘front’ side of the papyrus, verso to the ‘back’.
Notes specific to this papyrus:
  • On orthography:
    • Lunate sigma ϲ is used throughout, rather than the modern forms σ (medial) and ς (final). The latter variants belong to Byzantine and later orthography; ancient papyri regularly use the lunate variant.
    • Iota adscript is not written in this papyrus: see verso 2.
  • Line numbering follows the edition of Obbink and Colomo, but I add an extra line above recto 1: see my note on recto 1.
  • The papyrus is a fragment of a leaf from a codex. That is to say: the book was in the form of multiple leaves bound at the margin, and not a scroll. That is unsurprising, as even the earliest Christian texts are nearly universally in codex format. Outside Christian texts, the codex was still the minority format before 200 CE.
  • Obbink and Colomo estimate that the leaf held 20 lines per side, and approximately 28 letters per line. These figures are entirely normal. They estimate a total written area of 9.4 × 12 cm, plus margins; the surviving fragment is 4.4 × 4 cm. The fragment comes from the bottom of the leaf. Part of the bottom margin is preserved, with about 1.5 cm space to the text. The layout is consistent with the top of the recto side beginning at Mark 1.1, possibly with a heading.

NA28 = Nestle-Aland, Novum testamentum graece, 28th edition
Obbink-Colomo = D. Obbink and D. Colomo (2018), ‘5345. Mark I 7-9, 16-18’, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 83: 4-7.


0                        ]  ̣[
1                        ]μι̣[  ]  ̣[
2                        ]τ̣ω̣ν̣[  ]π̣[
3       ]ωεβαπτ̣ιϲαυμα̣ϲ̣υδ̣[
4        ]ιϲειϋμ̣[  ]ϲ̣π̣ν̣ιαγ̣[
5          ]ιναιϲ̣[  ]ϲημε[

0  ‘[ ... ἔρχεται ὁ ἰϲ]χ̣[υρότερόϲ]
1  [μου ὀπίϲω μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰ]μὶ̣ [ἱ]κ̣[ανὸϲ κύ]-
2  [ψαϲ λῦϲαι τὸν ἱμάντα] τ̣ῶ̣ν̣ [ὑ]π̣[οδημά]-
3  [των αὐτοῦ. ἐγ]ὼ ἐβάπτ̣ιϲα ὑμᾶ̣ϲ̣ ὕδ̣[ατι],
4  [αὐτὸϲ δὲ βαπτ]ίϲει ὑμ̣[ᾶ]ϲ̣ π̣ν̣(εύματ)ι ἁγ̣[ίω.’ καὶ]
5  [ἐγένετο ἐν ἐκε]ίναιϲ̣ [ταῖ]ϲ ἡμέ[ραιϲ ἦλθεν ... ]

Critical apparatus:
1 Obbink-Colomo ]μ̣  ̣[ ]  ̣[
3 prob. orig. ϋμαϲ ϋδατι: tremata not preserved in papyrus
4 NA28 ἐν πνεύματι

‘[ ... One stronger than I comes after me, and I a]m [not w]o[rthy to bend down and undo the clasp] of his [s]a[ndals. ]I baptised you with wa[ter, but he will bapt]ise y[o]u with the [holy] spirit.’ [And it happened, in th]ose da[ys (Jesus) came ... ]


1                   ]  ̣  ̣[
2         ]τ̣ηθαλ̣α[
3        ]ναυτοιϲδευτ̣ε̣ο̣π̣[
4       ]ϋμαϲγενεϲθαιαλι[
5        ]ϲ̣αφεντε[  ]τ̣αδικ[

1  [ ... τὸν ἀδελφὸ]ν̣ Ϲ̣[ίμωνοϲ ἀμφιβάλλον]-
2  [ταϲ ἐν] τ̣ῆ θαλ̣ά[ϲϲη· ἦϲαν γὰρ ἁλιεῖϲ].
3  [καὶ εἶπε]ν αὐτοῖϲ· δεῦτ̣ε̣ ὀ̣π̣[ίϲω μου, καὶ]
4  [ποιήϲω] ὑμᾶϲ γενέϲθαι ἁλι[εῖϲ ἀνθρώπων].
5  [καὶ εὐθὺ]ϲ̣ ἀφέντε[ϲ] τ̣ὰ δίκ[τυα ... ]

Critical apparatus:
1 Obbink-Colomo suggest ἀ̣δ̣[ελφὸν αὐτοῦ (omitting Ϲίμωνοϲ) or ἀδελϕὸ]ν̣ τ̣[οῦ Ϲιμωνοϲ
2 θαλ̣α[: Obbink-Colomo θαλ̣α̣[
3 NA28 αὐτοὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς
4 Obbink-Colomo ἁλι̣[εῖϲ or ἁλε̣[εῖϲ

[ ... (Jesus saw Simon, and Andrew) the brothe]r of S[imon, fishing on both sides in] the se[a; for they were fishermen. And he sai]d to them, ‘Come aft[er me, and I shall make] you become fish[ers of people.’ And immediate]ly they released the nets [ ... ]


Recto 1. Obbink-Colomo express uncertainty over , on the grounds that some manuscripts omit κύψαϲ, and that would mean the line-lengths would be off. However, is clearly legible, with the same letter-form as in verso 4.

Above a dot of ink is visible at the edge of the papyrus which could be part of almost any letter near the start of recto 0 ἰϲχυρότερόϲ.

Recto 4. ἐν is missing in many later manuscripts as well. It makes little difference to the meaning. βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς πνεύματι ἁγίωι (‘he will baptise you with the holy spirit’), with a plain instrumental dative, means much the same as βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίωι, with instrumental ἐν.

The abbreviation of πνεύματι (‘spirit’ in ‘holy spirit’) is a nomen sacrum (‘sacred name’). This is a feature of many Jewish texts and ancient Christian texts: the idea is to avoid writing the name of God in full, or even the word ‘god’, and instead use an abbreviation. A nomen sacrum regularly appears with overlining, as it does here.

Verso 1. The ink over the second α of 2 θαλ̣ά[ϲϲη looks to me like it makes most of a circle, which would indicate ε, ο, or ϲ. If it is Ϲ̣[ίμωνοϲ, that makes verso 3 a little short at 27 letters: I guess that is why Obbink-Colomo try to read the letter as δ or τ.

Verso 2. The second α of θαλ̣ά[ϲϲη looks clear to me.

Verso 3. Jesus’ name is omitted. This does not significantly change the meaning, and it is not necessarily another case of a nomen sacrum (see note on recto 4, above). That would be the situation if the papyrus had replaced ‘Jesus’ with an abbreviation. Instead, the name is simply absent, so that the meaning is ‘he said’ rather than ‘Jesus said’.

However, Obbink-Colomo suggest a possibility that the omission may be an error resulting from an earlier copy with a nomen sacrum for Jesus. If so, the earlier copy would have read ειπεν αυτοιϲ ο Ιϲ. Without spaces and capitalisation this would appear as ειπεναυτοιϲοιϲ. -οιϲοιϲ could have seemed to be an erroneous repetition, and the scribe of this papyrus might have ‘corrected’ it by omitting the second -οιϲ. Wallace also points out this possibility.

Verso 4. The ink after λ looks like a perfectly vertical stroke, and the blob of ink at the bottom of the stroke is similar to that in verso 3 αὐτοῖϲ, so it looks to me that ἁλι[εῖϲ can safely be read.

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