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The Use and Abuse of ∏52:

Papyrological Pitfalls in the


Dating of the Fourth Gospel
Brent Nongbri
Yale University

 Introduction
The thesis of this paper is simple: we as critical readers of the New Testament
often use John Rylands Greek Papyrus 3.457, also known as ∏52, in inappropriate
ways, and we should stop doing so.1 A recent example will illustrate the problem.
In what is on the whole a superb commentary on John’s gospel, D. Moody Smith
writes the following about the date of John:
For a time, particularly in the early part of the twentieth century, the possibility
that John was not written, or at least not published, until [the] mid-second cen-
tury was a viable one. At that time Justin Martyr espoused a logos Christology,
without citing the Fourth Gospel explicitly. Such an omission by Justin would
seem strange if the Gospel of John had already been written and was in circula-
tion. Then the discovery and publication in the 1930s of two papyrus fragments
made such a late dating difficult, if not impossible, to sustain. The first and most
important is the fragment of John chapter 18 . . . [∏52], dated by paleographers to
the second quarter of the second century (125–150); the other is a fragment of a
hitherto unknown gospel called Egerton Papyrus 2 from the same period, which
obviously reflects knowledge of the Gospel of John. . . . For the Gospel of John
to have been written and circulated in Egypt, where these fragments were found,
a date no later than the first decade of the second century must be presumed.2
1
Colin H. Roberts produced the editio princeps as An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth
Gospel in the John Rylands Library (Manchester: The University Press, 1935). I shall discuss the
circumstances of publication in some detail below.
2
John (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1999) 41–42. In the course of the discussion of ∏52, I shall
also address the other papyrus to which Smith refers, Egerton Papyrus 2.

HTR 98:1 (2005) 23–48


24 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Moody Smith is not alone in his assessment of the situation.3 In the introduction
to his influential commentary on the Fourth Gospel, Raymond Brown concludes
the section on “the latest plausible date” of John with the following:
The most conclusive argument against the late dating of John has been the
discovery of several 2nd-century papyri texts of John. In 1935 C. H. Roberts
published Rylands Papyrus 457 (∏52). . . . The dating of this papyrus to
135–150 has been widely accepted; and the latest attempt to date NT papyri
by K. Aland . . . assigns to ∏52 a date at the “beginning of the 2nd cent.”4

For Brown, this papyrological evidence is enough to mark 100 C.E. as the latest
possible date of composition of John. While both authors mention other papyri
paleographically dated to the second century, they both view ∏52 as the main evi-
dence for an early dating of John. Many scholars have followed this judgment.5

3
Indeed, such assertions began on the very day Roberts’s monograph was published (12 November
1935). C. H. Dodd wrote in that day’s edition of the Manchester Guardian: “There has been a great
deal of controversy about the date to which the composition of the Fourth Gospel is to be assigned.
One school of critics has long upheld the view that it was not written until about A.D. 135–140.
Unless the experts are very far wrong in their judgement upon the new papyrus, this date becomes
obviously impossible.” Dodd’s remarks are reprinted in full in BJRL 20 (1936) 4–6. In the same
issue, Roberts’s An Unpublished Fragment is reprinted in full with minor changes (44–55).
4
The Gospel according to John (I–XII) (AB 29; New York: Doubleday, 1966) lxxxii–lxxxiii;
Brown maintains this position in An Introduction to the Gospel of John (ed. Francis J. Moloney;
New York: Doubleday, 2003) 209. The other papyri to which Brown refers are ∏66 (P.Bodmer II
and other fragments, paleographically dated to the late second or early third century) and ∏75
(P.Bodmer XIV and XV, paleographically dated to the third century). Similar statements of the
import of ∏52 for the dating of John abound in the scholarly literature of the last sixty-five years,
though few match the literary flair of Bruce Metzger, who writes, “Just as Robinson Crusoe, seeing
but a single footprint in the sand, concluded that another human being, with two feet, was present
on the island with him, so ∏52 proves the existence and use of the Fourth Gospel during the first
half of the second century in a provincial town along the Nile, far removed from its traditional
place of composition (Ephesus in Asia Minor)” (The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration [3rd ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992] 39). See also
Werner Kümmel’s Introduction to the New Testament (rev. ed.; trans. H. C. Kee; Nashville, Tenn.:
Abingdon, 1975) 246. Martin Hengel has made a similar argument with great vigor, claiming that
with the discovery of ∏52, “which according to Aland is now ‘by general consensus put around
125’ . . . the final redaction of the Fourth Gospel must be put at least a generation earlier than was
usual in so-called critical scholarship. The Gospel of John in its present form (and the letters) was
surely published a decade or so before the letters of Ignatius” (The Johannine Question [trans. J.
Bowden; London: SCM Press, 1989] 88–89). Brown and Hengel both refer to Kurt Aland’s dating
of ∏52, on the problems of which see n. 22, below.
5
See the literature in the previous note. In the entry for John’s gospel in the Anchor Bible Diction-
ary, often a good barometer of widely-held scholarly opinions, Robert Kysar writes that “the latest
possible date [of John] has been fixed by the discovery in Egypt of the Rylands Papyrus 457 (∏52)”
(ABD 3:918, my italics). The comments of J. K. Elliott are similar (“The Biblical Manuscripts of the
John Rylands University Library of Manchester,” BJRL 81 [1999] 7). A few scholars, such as C. K.
Barrett, have been somewhat more careful in their assessment of the evidence. Barrett wrote in the
first edition of his The Gospel according to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on
the Greek Text (New York: Macmillan, 1957) that ∏52, “which cannot be dated more precisely than
the middle of the second century,” established 140 C.E. as the terminus ante quem for the Gospel of
BRENT NONGBRI 25

This assessment is not, however, without problems. First, paleographic dating


of papyri is never a simple matter,6 and because of the constant accumulation of
new evidence, the dating of manuscripts—even more so than other aspects of our
discipline—is an ongoing process.7 Second, as Smith’s observation suggests, in
early Christian writings there are few early quotations of and allusions to John, and
even those few are highly questionable. Scholars were debating the nature of these
alleged references to John in early Christian authors until the publication of ∏52 in
1935, when such debates, so scholars thought, had now become moot.8
This state of affairs calls for two responses. First, as Georg Strecker noted almost
fifteen years ago, “there is an urgent need for a new analysis of ∏52 that would
objectively set out the pros and cons of a possible dating.”9 Second (but outside the

John (p. 108). Though he adopted a more standard position in the second edition of his commentary
(London: SPCK, 1978), he maintained that outside of Egerton Papyrus 2 and ∏52, “there is no other
satisfactory evidence of the existence of the Fourth Gospel before A.D. 150” (p. 110).
6
The assertion is commonplace. Paleography is a last resort for dating. See, e.g., Eric G. Turner,
Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (2d rev. ed.; London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1987) 19–23.
We would also do well to remember the standard rule of thumb for precision in paleographic dating.
Turner writes, “For book hands, a period of 50 years is the least acceptable spread of time” (ibid., 20).
7
The flow of new evidence is constant. See Ann Ellis Hanson, “Papyrology: A Discipline in
Flux,” in Disciplining Classics—Altertumswissenschaft als Beruf (ed. G. W. Most; Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002) 191–206.
8
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Johannine scholars’ main interest in the writings
of the Apostolic Fathers and Justin pertained to the issue of Johannine authorship of the gospel.
James Drummond (An Inquiry into the Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel [New
York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904] 351) had strongly argued that the evidence of Justin and the
Fathers confirmed Johannine authorship of the gospel, ignoring the opinion of William Sanday (The
Authorship and Historical Character of the Fourth Gospel [London: Macmillan, 1872] 3), who had
(correctly) asserted that this external evidence on its own could not answer the question of authorship
affirmatively or negatively. At the close of the nineteenth century, Paul W. Schmiedel sharpened
the question, noting that while the external evidence could not determine authorship, it could shed
light on the question of whether or not the gospel even existed in the late first and early second
centuries. See his “John, son of Zebedee,” in Encyclopaedia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the
Literary, Political, and Religious History; The Archaeology, Geography, and Natural History of
the Bible (rev. ed. in one volume; New York: Macmillan, 1899–1903) cols. 2545–50. Benjamin W.
Bacon provides a good overview of these debates in the essays collected in his The Fourth Gospel
in Research and Debate: A Series of Essays on Problems Concerning the Origin and Value of the
Anonymous Writings Attributed to the Apostle John (2d ed.; New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Press, 1918). To be sure, there has been subsequent debate in the twentieth century about the role
of John in authors of the second century, but these inquiries have usually assumed the gospel’s
existence and been concerned with other matters, such as the old issue of the authorship of John.
See, e.g., John S. Romanides, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” GOTR 4 (1958) 115–34; and
D. M. Davey, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” Scr 17 (1965) 117–22.
9
The Johannine Letters: A Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John (trans. L. M. Maloney; Minneapolis:
Fortress, 1996) xli n. 78; trans. of Die Johannesbriefe (KEK 14; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ru-
precht, 1989) 27–28 n. 27. To my knowledge, the most recent examination of the early manuscripts
of the New Testament is that of Philip W. Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest
New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 2001), a problematic volume. (It is a
“corrected, enlarged edition” of the same authors’ The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament
Manuscripts [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999].) The editors display a very marked tendency
26 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

purview of this study), we should reopen some of the debates of the early twentieth
century that tapered off with the publication of ∏52, namely, debates about the pres-
ence (or absence) of references to John in the writings of early Christian authors,
both “orthodox” and “non-orthodox.”10
With regard to the first point, although Victor Salmon published in 1969 a short
monograph with images of three of the six papyri first used to date ∏52, there is
not to my knowledge a convenient and comprehensive collection of images of the
papyri that have contributed to the discussion of the date of ∏52.11 I hope that by
bringing together the images of the manuscripts cited in previous treatments of ∏52,
as well as some of my own comparanda, I can highlight the uncertainty involved

to date manuscripts early. Of the 64 manuscripts they present, Comfort and Barrett depart from the
original editors’ dating on at least 27 manuscripts. For 25 of those 27 manuscripts, they propose
their own earlier date or accept an earlier date advanced in scholarly discussion; they accept a later
date from the scholarly discussions in only 2 cases. Their bias is clear. With slim and weak evidence
(discussed in detail in n. 26, below), Comfort and Barrett push the date of ∏52 back to “the early
second century (ca. 100–125)” or even “A.D. 100, plus or minus a few years,” 365–67.
10
I should be clear about precisely which debates I mean to resurrect. “Late” dating of John (after
ca. 130 C.E.) is most often associated with the work of F. C. Baur, who argued John was late because
its theological development fell on the late end of his linear model of early Christian thought; see his
Kritische Untersuchungen über die kanonischen Evangelien (Tübingen: L. F. Fues, 1847) 77–389.
Such arguments are unconvincing, given that most scholars now accept that the early followers of
Jesus demonstrated a wide variety of beliefs from the time very soon after Jesus’ death. The debates
that interest me are those of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that focused on the
“external evidence” for John’s gospel (see n. 8, above). More recently, Melvyn Raymond Hillmer
thoroughly examined the evidence in his Harvard dissertation, “The Gospel of John in the Second
Century” (Th.D. thesis, Harvard Divinity School, 1966). While he rather uncritically accepted an
early date for ∏52 and hence for the composition of John (1 n. 2), he nonetheless concluded that
“there is no clear example of a literary relationship [with John’s gospel] in any writing before 150
AD” (171). Titus Nagel has recently reopened some of these questions with his study, Die Rezeption
des Johannesevangeliums im 2. Jahrhundert: Studien zur vorirenäischen Aneignung und Auslegung
des vierten Evangeliums in christlicher und christlich-gnostischer Literatur (Leipzig: Evangelische
Verlagsanstalt, 2000), which examines the possible use of John’s gospel in all manner of Christian
literature assigned to the second century. Another noteworthy contribution to this debate came into
my hands just as this article went to press, Charles E. Hill’s The Johannine Corpus in the Early
Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). While Nagel and Hill both loosen (without
sufficient justification, to my mind) the criteria of what constitutes an allusion to John’s gospel, their
close examinations of authors of the second century is just the kind of study that is needed.
11
See (with considerable caution) Salmon’s Histoire de la tradition textuelle de l’original grec
du quatrième Évangile (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1969) 19–21, published in English as The Fourth
Gospel: A History of the Textual Tradition of the Original Greek Gospel (trans. M. J. O’Connell;
Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976) 15–16 and plates 6, 8, and 10. Plate 12 is what he
calls “Berlin Greek Papyrus 173” (I believe this is actually B.G.U. 1.73), a text that Salmon claims
Roberts used to date ∏52 (ibid., p. 16). I have not yet found such a citation in Roberts’s work.
Salmon himself suggests that P.Ryl. 3.544 (a fragment of the Iliad) is an illuminating parallel in
terms of letter formation, but the parallels are not even close. (Incidentally, P.Ryl. 3.544 is plate 15
in Salmon’s text, not plate 12 as the English translation indicates on p. 16, and the caption to plate
15 incorrectly states that this is a papyrus “certainly dating from the end of the first century.” It is
assigned to the beginning of the second century on p. 16 of the text.) In any event, neither B.G.U.
1.73 nor P.Ryl. 3.544 is as close to ∏52 as Roberts’s other comparanda.
BRENT NONGBRI 27

in paleographic dating and encourage caution when using ∏52 to assess the date
(and thus the social setting) of the Fourth Gospel.12

 The Original Publication of ∏5213


In 1920, Bernard P. Grenfell acquired in Egypt, for the John Rylands Library, the
lot of papyrus fragments that included ∏52.14 The duty of sorting and publishing the
papyri accumulated for the Rylands collection fell to the other giant of the early study
of papyri, Arthur S. Hunt. Hunt published two volumes of the Catalogue of Greek
Papyri in the John Rylands Library in 1911 and 1915. After only a small amount of
preliminary work with the remainder of the early material and the newer acquisi-
tions, which included P.Ryl. 3.457, Hunt died in 1934, and Colin H. Roberts took
up the task. It was Roberts who identified the fragment containing John 18:31–33
12
Some more recent German scholarship has questioned the date of ∏52, creating an atmosphere
quite distinct from that of Anglo-American scholarship. Andreas Schmidt has proposed that the
similarities between ∏52 and P. Chester Beatty X and III might suggest a considerably later date of
around 170 C.E. for ∏52. See his “Zwei Anmerkungen zu P. Ryl. III 457,” APF 35 (1989) 11–12 (for
criticism of Schmidt’s work, see nn. 49 and 51, below). Walter Schmithals has commented that ∏52
was probably not written before the end of the second century and “es ist also für die Datierung des
JohEv praktisch ohne Wert” (Johannesevangelium und Johannesbriefe. Forschungsgeschichte und
Analyse [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1992] 9). Nagel even prefaces his study of the second-century reception
of John’s gospel with the following remark: “Wenn der ∏52 seine Funktion als sicherer terminus non
post quem in der Diskussion verliert . . . ” (23). The work of R. Alan Culpepper is an exception within
recent English-language scholarship in entertaining (albeit briefly) the idea of a later date for ∏52. See
his John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press,
1994) 108. For similar caution about an early date for ∏52, see Stuart R. Pickering, “Short Notes,”
New Testament Textual Research Update 2 (1994) 5–6; Bart D. Ehrman, “The Text as Window: New
Testament Manuscripts and the Social History of Early Christianity,” in The Text of the New Testa-
ment in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (ed. Bart D. Ehrman and Michael
William Holmes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 371–72 and n. 49; and Larry W. Hurtado, “∏52 (P.
Rylands Gk. 457) and the Nomina Sacra: Method and Probability,” TynBul 54 (2003) 7 n. 20.
13
It must be said at the outset that I am very hesitant to critique the work of one of the great
papyrologists—the person who, quite literally, wrote the book on dating literary hands: Greek Lit-
erary Hands. 350 B.C.–A.D. 400 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1955). Two reasons suggest the undertaking
is necessary: First, a sizeable amount of evidence has been published since 1935 that no one has
brought to bear on the question of dating ∏52. Second, the publication of ∏52 occurred very early in
Roberts’s life; its publication predated his work on the remainder of the Rylands collection and the
rest of his impressive career, although before ∏52 he had published individual papyri in the Journal of
Egyptian Archaeology and Aegyptus. On the early career of the precocious Roberts, see the memorial
in Proceedings of the British Academy 84 (1994) 479–80. Roberts maintained the second-century
date for ∏52 in his later work, although he did not put forward new evidence. See his The Birth of
the Codex, coauthored by T. C. Skeat (London: Oxford University Press, 1987) 40.
14
Descriptions of this hoard of fragments are disappointingly vague. Roberts (An Unpublished
Fragment, 24) writes, “The group to which it belongs consists of some literary texts and documents
of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, all of which are stated to have come either from the Fayum
or from Oxyrhynchos.” Even absent that statement of provenance, we would be on safe ground
assuming one of those two locales simply given the relative numbers of papyri discovered at those
locations. Comfort and Barrett’s strange claim that ∏52 may have circulated in both Oxyrhynchus
and the Fayûm (Text of the Earliest Greek New Testament Manuscripts, 365, 367), and their attribu-
tion of this view to Roberts (367), are, as far as I can tell, simply errors.
28 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

on the recto and 18:37–38 on the verso. An image of ∏52 is reproduced in figure 1,
along with an adapted version of Roberts’s transcription.15
Before comparing ∏52 with other papyri, I shall describe some of its important
features. Roberts called the hand “heavy, rounded and rather elaborate.”16 There are
two forms of alpha, both noteworthy. One (of the type in ajlhqe[iva~] on line 3 of
the verso) has an arched vertical stroke; the other (of the type in aujtw/` on line 4 of
the verso) is written in a single sequence with a loop. The upsilon is also sometimes
written in two strokes (see oujdevna on line 2 of the recto) and sometimes with a
loop (see aujtw/` on line 4 of the verso). The center of the mu dips all the way to the
baseline (see hJme[ i`n] on line 1 of the recto), and the delta has an arch much like
that of the first type of alpha (see ijoudai`[oi] on line 1 of the recto). These letters
are the main points Roberts uses for comparison.17
In addition to these characteristics, I would add a few comments. In more general
terms, the hand is upright with perhaps a slight tilt to the left (visible, for instance,
in the iota of i{na on line 2 of the verso). The space between each line is about equal
to the height of a line. There is an impression of a rough bilinearity,18 although the
hooking alpha breaches the top line, as do the upsilon and iota on occasion, and both
examples of the rho extend well below the line. The iota and the kappa also merit
notice. As mentioned, the iota occasionally extends vertically beyond surrounding
letters, particularly in -[d]aiw[n] in line 7 of the recto; it also features hooks on its
ends. The only fully preserved kappa was written like the looping upsilon, with the
lower leg added in a second stroke. Finally, it is also worth noting the rather small size
of the paleographic sample (111 fully visible letters, with 8 partially visible according
to Roberts’s transcription). Eighteen of the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet
are represented. Lacking are letters that can extend above and below the line, such
as phi and psi, whose presence would provide a better paleographic sample.

15
My transcription abstains from some of Roberts’s reconstruction and leaves the spelling of
∆Ihsou`n and ∆Ihsou` open. See n. 17, below.
16
An Unpublished Fragment, 13.
17
Although none of the terms usually abbreviated in early manuscripts of the New Testament
(the so-called nomina sacra) are present in ∏52, Roberts speculated, on the basis of the number
of letters in each line, that ∆Ihsou`n (which likely would have appeared on line 5 of the recto) and
∆Ihsou` (which would have likely appeared on line 2 of the recto) were not abbreviated. He argued
that this conjecture provided “slight support for the early date” (An Unpublished Fragment, 19).
Three scholars have very recently revisited this question of abbreviation. See Christopher M. Tuckett,
“∏52 and Nomina Sacra,” NTS 47 (2001) 544–48; Charles E. Hill, “Did the Scribe of ∏52 use the
Nomina Sacra? Another Look,” NTS 48 (2002) 587–92; and Hurtado, “∏52 (P. Rylands Gk. 457)
and the Nomina Sacra,” 1–14. Tuckett gives reasons to believe the names were not abbreviated,
and Hill counters those reasons and tentatively suggests that the names were indeed abbreviated.
Hurtado presents a stronger case in favor of abbreviation. Either way, Roberts correctly noted
that for the purposes of dating the fragment, “not much stress can be laid on this argument” (An
Unpublished Fragment, 18–19).
18
That is, while the letters do not maintain perfect regularity in height, the strings of letters give
a fairly strong impression of the upper and lower notional lines that the scribe used to determine
the heights of the letters. See Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World, 3.
BRENT NONGBRI 29

Recto
oi i>oudaio≥i≥ hme[in ouk exestin apokteinai]
oudena i>na o lo≥[go~ tou . . . plhrwqh on ei]
pen shmainw[n poiw qanatw hmellen apo]
qnhskein is[hlqen oun palin ei~ to praitw]
rion o p[ilato~ kai efwnhsen ton . . . ]
kai eip[en autw su ei o basileu~ twn iou]
[d]aiw[n . . . ]

Verso
[ . . . to]uto g[e]gennh≥mai
[ . . . ko]smon i>na martu
[rhsw th alhqeia pa~ o wn] ek th~ alhqe≥[i]
[a~ akouei mou th~ fwnh~] legei autw
[o pilato~ ti estin alhqeia k]a≥i touto≥
[eipwn palin exhlqen pro~] tou~ io≥[u]
[daiou~ kai legei autoi~ egw oud]emi[an]

Figure 1 ∏52 (P.Ryl. 3.457). 6.0 cm W x 8.9 cm H. Reproduced by courtesy of the Librarian
and Director, The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester.
30 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

In 1935, this fragment was rushed into publication before the rest of the third
volume of the Catalogue. It appeared in its own thirty-five-page volume, An Un-
published Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library.19 The reason
for the hurry was excitement concerning Roberts’s dating of the fragment: “On the
whole, we may accept with some confidence the first half of the second century as
the period in which P.Ryl. Gk. 457 was most probably written.”20 Roberts’s own
speculation about the date of John’s gospel in light of his dating of the papyrus
was relatively cautious: “But all we can safely say is that this fragment tends to
support those critics who favor an early date (late first to early second century)
for the composition of the Gospel rather than those who would still regard it as a
work of the middle decades of the second century.”21
Subsequent scholars have been bolder; they have tended to assign to ∏52 a date
closer and closer to the early end of Roberts’s tentative range, and without provid-
ing new evidence.22 They have, moreover, done so in spite of the encouragement of
caution from other papyrological experts. In 1977, Eric Turner had the following
to say about Roberts’s dating of ∏52: “I have no evidence to invalidate the first

19
The publication of P.Ryl. 457 produced a small international sensation. See Adolf Deissmann,
“Ein Evangelienblatt aus den Tagen Hadrians,” Deutsche allgemeine Zeitung 564 (3 December 1935;
English trans. in British Weekly, 12 December 1935); Giuseppe Ghedini’s review of Roberts in Aeg
15 (1935) 425–26; Hans Lietzmann, “Neue Evangelienpapyri,” ZNW 34 (1935) 285–93; August
Merk, “De Fragmento Quarti Evangelii Vetustissimo,” Bib 17 (1936) 99–101; and Joachim Jeremias,
“Das neugefundene Fragment des Johannesevangeliums,” TBl 15 (1936) 97–99. The fragment was
later published as part of the third volume of the Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the
John Rylands Library (Manchester: The University Press, 1938).
20
An Unpublished Fragment, 16.
21
Ibid., 26.
22
The slippage in terminology here is remarkable. Most early commentators did not add anything
to Roberts’s analysis and maintained the exact wording of his fairly loose date of “the first half of
the second century” (e.g., Wilhelm Schubart and H. Idris Bell, An Unpublished Fragment, 16). See
Ellwood M. Schofield, “The Papyrus Fragments of the Greek New Testament” (Ph.D. thesis, Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary, 1936) 330, 339; W. H. P. Hatch, The Principal Uncial Manuscripts
of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939) plate I; Frederic Kenyon, Our
Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (4th ed.; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1940) 128; Bruce M.
Metzger, “Recently Published Greek Papyri of the New Testament,” BA 10 (1947) 39; and Georg
Maldfeld, “Die griechischen Handschriftenbruchstücke des Neuen Testamentes auf Papyrus,” ZNW
42 (1949) 251. Ulrich Wilcken made a passing comment that ∏52 “könnte vom paläographischen
Standpunkt aus gleichaltrig mit den Bremer Papyri [which date to around 120 C.E.] sein,” although
he provided no specific examples. See his “Die Bremer Papyrus-Sammlung,” FF 12 (1936) 90.
Deissmann asserted (with no new evidence) a more precise date in the time of Hadrian or possibly
even Trajan (see n. 19, above). Kurt Aland appears to be the one guilty of popularizing this earlier
dating. In his many lists of New Testament papyri, Aland describes ∏52 as “Anfang 2. Jahrhun-
dert,” citing only the authorities listed above; see, e.g., Aland’s “Zur Liste der neutestamentlichen
Handschriften VI,” ZNW 48 (1957) 149. He has even come to speak of a “consensus” dating of
the papyrus in the early part of the second century, transforming Roberts’s “first half of the second
century” to an overly specific “about 125”: “Er wird im allgemeinen Konsens in die Zeit um 125
n. Chr. angesetzt” (“Der Text des Johannesevangeliums im 2. Jahrhundert,” in Studien zum Text
und zur Ethik des Neuen Testaments. Festschrift zum 80. Geburtstag von Heinrich Greeven [ed.
W. Schrage; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1986] 1). He and Barbara Aland reassert this “consensus” in their
BRENT NONGBRI 31

editor’s dating to the first half of the second century. But I should echo his warning
about the need for caution.”23 He goes on to cite P.Amh. 2.78, a petition of 184 C.E.,
which is as good a parallel to ∏52 as any of those adduced by Roberts.24
What is needed, then, is a re-examination of all Roberts’s evidence and particu-
larly an update of comparanda, preferably documentary papyri with dates,25 in order
to question New Testament scholars’ early and overly specific dating of ∏52, typified
by the recent work of Comfort and Barrett. In the latest edition of their collection of

standard handbook on textual criticism and (with absolutely no evidence) push the date still earlier:
“The critical significance of ∏52, which preserves only a fragment of John 18, lies in the date of
‘about 125’ assigned to it by the leading papyrologists. Although ‘about 125’ allows for a leeway
of about twenty-five years on either side, the consensus has come in recent years to regard 125 as
representing the later limit, so that ∏52 must have been copied very soon after the Gospel of John was
itself written in the early 90s A.D.” (The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical
Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism [trans. E. F. Rhodes; 2d rev.
ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989] 85). Finally, Eldon Epp has subsequently claimed that
∏52 was “written in the first quarter of the second century, but probably nearer 100 than 125,” and
in a footnote adds, “Though at an earlier time dated 125–150, recent opinion moves it back into the
100–125 period, perhaps very early in that quarter century.” He cites only Roberts and the above
quotation from the Alands as evidence (“The Significance of the Papyri for Determining the Nature
of the New Testament Text in the Second Century: A Dynamic View of Textual Transmission,” in
Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism [ed. E. J. Epp and G. D. Fee;
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993] 278–79 and 279 n. 10 [original article 1989]). This so-called
“consensus” in “recent opinion,” as it rests on assertions with no evidence, is highly dubious.
23
The Typology of the Early Codex (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977) 100.
Although Turner noted that for ∏52’s format “there are no parallels among early papyrus codices,
but there are among later parchment codices,” he pushed the date of ∏52 only slightly later than
Roberts, and, on the whole, he approved of Roberts’s work: “The Rylands papyrus may therefore be
accepted as of the first half of the second century. It is the only codex in my list that I would place
so early, for I would not be willing to admit any of the others to a date earlier than the second half
of the century. While this appreciation removes to a slightly later period in time the particular manu-
scripts on which C. H. Roberts has built his account of the codex, I do not think it does any serious
damage to his general theory. Indeed I should think that this independent critical assessment of the
evidence has reinforced its acceptability” (ibid.). It is noteworthy, though, that in Turner’s typology
of codices, ∏52 actually falls into “Aberrants of Group 5” with five other examples, none of which
are earlier than the late third or early fourth century (ibid., 18). In addition, the parchment codices
that more nearly match Turner’s estimated dimensions of the pages of ∏52 (18 cm W x 21.3 cm H)
are from the fifth century (ibid., 27). H. Idris Bell, who generally approved of Roberts’s edition of
P.Ryl. 3.457, also emphasized caution in the dating, preferring “not later than about the middle of
the second century” to Roberts’s “first half of the second century,” though he later remained open to
a date “considerably earlier than 150.” See Bell’s review of Roberts in JEA 21 (1935) 266–67 and
his Recent Discoveries of Biblical Papyri: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered before the University
of Oxford on 18 November 1936 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1937) 21.
24
I provide an image and discussion of P.Amh. 2.78 below (fig. 13, p. 42).
25
Turner (Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World, 19–20) notes that the ideal situation would be
to compare literary hands to other dated literary hands. Unfortunately, examples of literary papyri
with firm dates are in short supply, especially relative to the number of dated documentary papyri
(see further the discussion in Roberts, Greek Literary Hands, xii–xv). While the distinction between
literary papyri, most often written in neat “book hands,” and documentary papyri, often written
in “cursive hands,” has been fundamental from the inception of Greek papyrological paleography
(see, e.g., Frederic Kenyon, The Palaeography of Greek Papyri [Oxford: Clarendon, 1899] 9), these
32 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

early manuscripts of the New Testament (2001), they bring only one new papyrus
into the discussion of dating ∏52, P.Oxy. 31.2533, a fragment of New Comedy of
unknown authorship published in 1966 and dated paleographically by its editors
to the “second century.”26 With only this sliver of evidence in hand, Comfort and
Barrett assert a date “closer to A.D. 100, plus or minus a few years” for ∏52!27

 Roberts’s Dating of ∏52


So that readers can judge for themselves, I have assembled images of all of Roberts’s
comparanda, and shall discuss them in the order Roberts presents them. Afterwards,
I shall provide examples of more recently published papyri that show that many
of the characteristics of Roberts’s comparanda are present in papyri produced well
into the third century.28
The closest parallels that Roberts presents are other literary texts that also
lack firm dates. Figure 2 reproduces a portion of a scroll of the Iliad containing
book 8, published as P.Berol. 6845, to which the original editor assigned a date

designations do not imply that the handwriting of every papyrus falls neatly into one of the two
groups. As Roberts (Greek Literary Hands, xi–xii) correctly observes, “No sharp line was drawn
between book hands and the documentary hands used for official, business, and private purposes.”
Though the extremes of the literary type and the documentary or cursive type are distinctly dif-
ferent, “the gradations between the most elegant book hand and the most fluent cursive are almost
infinite.” The comparanda I have chosen are (like Roberts’s own documentary comparanda) legible
with reasonably uniform style and some ligatures.
26
Comfort and Barrett chose in P.Oxy. 31.2533 a difficult papyrus for comparative dating purposes.
The original editors’ full statement of dating is as follows: “The text of the recto of this papyrus
is a document, written in a practised upright business hand, neat but employing cursive forms of
varying size, all of which could be paralleled in first-century documents; the general impression,
however, suggests the second century. [A transcription of this highly fragmentary document appears
before the editors continue.] On the verso is written a passage of New Comedy in a semi-literary
hand, upright, rounded, and clear; the letters are somewhat variable in size, and several (notably
e and k) show cursive forms; ligature is common. The appearance of the recto and verso texts is
superficially dissimilar, but examination of the letters shows so many identical forms that it seems
likely that the writer was the same” (J. W. B. Barns et al., eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri XXXI
[London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1966] 9 and plate II). The dating of the New Comedy passage
is thus itself fairly questionable, and the similarities between ∏52 and either side of P.Oxy. 31.2533
are not particularly striking. An image of the recto and verso of P.Oxy. 31.2533 is nonetheless
provided below in appendix 1, p. 47.
27
The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, 367. This kind of precision dating
defies the realities of scribal activity. The productive writing life of a scribe was probably around
thirty or thirty-five years. Add to that the fact that the scribal profession was an apprenticed trade,
with students learning a particular style from a teacher, and we find that a given hand may be present
over multiple generations of scribes. Thus the “rule of thumb” should probably be to avoid dating
a hand more precisely than a range of at least seventy or eighty years. The evidence presented
below bears out this reasoning.
28
Strecker (The Johannine Letters, xli n. 78) makes a valid point about Roberts’s choice of
comparanda: “It is indicative that the editor adduced only older papyri for the handwriting com-
parison, without verifying whether other manuscripts, dated near the end of the second or in the
third century, might reveal similarities.”
BRENT NONGBRI 33

Figure 2 P.Berol. 6845. 13.5 cm W x 13.0 cm H. Courtesy of the Staatliche Museen zu


Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin.

(on paleographic evidence) in the early second century.29 There are some definite
similarities between letters in the two manuscripts, particularly upsilon and mu,
but the pi and alpha of ∏52 are quite distinct from those of P.Berol. 6845. The ep-
silon of P.Berol. 6845, with its middle bar consistently approaching and frequently
meeting the upper bar, is also different from that of ∏52. The rho of P.Berol. 6845
does not stretch below the other letters, as does the rho of ∏52. Overall, the hand
is not dissimilar from ∏52, but, as we shall see, the similarities seen here persist in
documents of the third century C.E.

29
Wilhelm Schubart, Papyri Graecae Berolinenses (Bonn: A. Marcus et E. Weber, 1911) XVII
with plate 19c. Another description is available in Wilhelm Schubart and U. von Wilamowitz-
Moellendorff, Berliner Klassikertexte V (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1907) 1. The text has
been re-edited since Roberts’s publication of ∏52, but its dating is essentially the same. See William
Lameere, Aperçus de paléographie homérique à propos des papyrus de l’Iliade et de l’Odyssée des
collections de Gand, de Bruxelles et de Louvain (Paris: Éditions Érasme, 1960) 81–83. The text is
entry 831 in Roger A. Pack, The Greek and Latin Literary Texts from Greco-Roman Egypt (2d rev.
ed.; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965).
34 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Figure 3 Egerton Papyrus 2 (Recto, Leaf 2). Complete fragment measures 9.7 cm W x
11.8 cm H. By permission of The British Library.
The next text that Roberts mentions as a close overall parallel is the famous
fragment of an unknown gospel, Egerton Papyrus 2.30 The recto of the second leaf
is reproduced in figure 3. Roberts notes the similar upsilon, mu, and delta. The
alpha, however, is only of the looped type. The original editors of this set of frag-
ments dated it to the middle of the second century, but the problematic nature of
paleographically dating these papyri comes into even sharper relief when we notice
that the principle comparanda for dating Egerton Papyrus 2 are for the most part
the same as those later used by Roberts to date ∏52.31 The independent value of
Egerton Papyrus 2 for dating ∏52 is thus minimal. Also, in 1987, Michael Gronewald
identified P.Köln 6.255 as an additional fragment of Egerton Papyrus 2.32 He noted
30
The fragments, also sometimes called “P.Lond.Christ. 1,” were first published in 1935. See
H. Idris Bell and T. C. Skeat, Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and Other Early Christian Papyri
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935). The same authors produced a corrected and popularized
edition later in the same year, The New Gospel Fragments (London: Trustees of the British Museum,
1935). Both the portion of the editio princeps dealing with the Egerton fragments and The New
Gospel Fragments are available online at Wieland Willker’s “The Papyrus Egerton 2 Homepage,”
http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/Egerton/egerton-publicat.html (accessed 2 February 2005). An
up-to-date bibliography of recent work on Egerton Papyrus 2 is also available there at http://www-
user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/Egerton/egerton-biblio.html.
31
Bell and Skeat discuss P.Berol. 6854 (= B.G.U. 1.22), P.Lond. 1.130, and P.Fayûm 110; see
Fragments of an Unknown Gospel, 1–2. Only P.Lond. 1.130, another literary text without a definite
date, is absent from Roberts’s discussion of ∏52. I have included an image of P.Lond. 1.130 below
in appendix 2, p. 48.
32
Kölner Papyri VI (ed. M. Gronewald et al.; Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1987) 136–45 and
plate V.
BRENT NONGBRI 35

Figure 4 P.Fayûm 110. Complete fragment measures 10.2 cm W x 26.9 cm H. Courtesy of


the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

that P.Köln 6.255 displayed an apostrophe between two consonants, a feature that
led him to date Egerton Papyrus 2 considerably later, ca. 200 C.E.33
While Roberts notes that the similarities are not as close, he does provide some
parallels from dated documentary papyri. Figure 4 shows P.Fayûm 110, from 94 C.E.34

33
Strecker has already brought this point to bear in reconsidering the date of ∏52 (The Johannine
Letters, xli n. 78); so also Hurtado, “∏52 (P. Rylands Gk. 457) and the Nomina Sacra,” 7 n. 20.
Stuart R. Pickering is also appropriately cautious about the paleography of Egerton Papyrus 2
(“The Egerton Gospel and New Testament Textual Transmission,” in The New Testament Text in
Early Christianity: Proceedings of the Lille Colloquium, July 2000 [ed. C.-B. Amphoux and J. K.
Elliott; Lausanne: Éditions du Zèbre, 2003] 229–33). Even those scholars who argue that the gospel
on Egerton Papyrus 2 is independent of the synoptics and John, such as Helmut Koester, endorse
Gronewald’s later dating of the papyrus at ca. 200 C.E. See Koester’s Ancient Christian Gospels:
Their History and Development (London: SCM Press, 1990) 206.
34
Bernard P. Grenfell, Arthur S. Hunt, and David G. Hogarth, Fayûm Towns and Their Papyri (Lon-
don: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1900) 261–64 and plate V (not plate VI, as p. 261 suggests). Roberts
reprinted this image in his Greek Literary Hands and reasserted its resemblance to ∏52 (p. 11).
36 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Figure 5 Detail of P.Fayûm 110. Courtesy of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
Columbia University.

Roberts especially emphasizes the importance of P.Fayûm 110 because it “shows, as


does our text, the simultaneous use of two forms of alpha.”35 In figure 5, I have enlarged
the ends of lines 7–9, which display this characteristic. The alpha of bavqo~ in line 8
is looped; the alpha of ejlai- at the end of line 7 is not looped, but neither is it arched
like the non-looping alpha of ∏52.The alpha of P.Fayûm 110 looks more like the alpha
of martu[rhvsw] in line 2 on the verso of ∏52. The delta is also similar to that of ∏52.
He next notes similarities with P.Lond. inv. 2078 (= SB 5.7987), a letter written
under the reign of Domitian (81–96 C.E.).36 SB 5.7987, reproduced in figure 6, is, in
my opinion, the least convincing of Roberts’s parallels. Its upsilon is distinctly dif-
ferent, the alpha has neither arches nor loops, and the delta is not at all similar. Only
the mu closely resembles that of ∏52 (and occasionally the rho, as in kaivsaro~ in
the middle of the penultimate line).

An Unpublished Fragment, 15.


35

This papyrus was published in the New Palaeographic Society’s Facsimiles of Ancient Manu-
36

scripts, etc. (London: Oxford University Press, 1913–1930) series ii, plate 98.
BRENT NONGBRI 37

Figure 6 P.Lond. inv. 2078 (= SB 5.7987). 17.1 cm W x 21.6 cm H. By permission of The


British Library.
38 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Figure 7 P.Oslo. 2.22. Complete fragment measures 9.1 cm W x 20.5 cm H. Courtesy of


the Oslo University Library.

Figure 8 Detail of P.Oslo. 2.22. Courtesy of the Oslo University Library.

Roberts then refers to P.Oslo 2.22, here figure 7, a petition to a strategus writ-
ten in 127 C.E.37 He sees resemblances in the eta, mu, and iota. In figure 8, I have
enlarged the beginning of line 3, which reads -mh~ qeadelfeiva~ and shows all three
of those letters. The overall appearance is not terribly close to that of ∏52, but the
letters that Roberts identifies are similar. Some letters, however, are very different,
such as the sigma, which curves sharply downward in P.Oslo. 2.22.

37
Samson Eitrem and Leiv Amundsen, Papyri Osloenses II (Oslo: Norske videnskaps-akademi i
Oslo, 1931) 48 and plate iii. The same editors published a new edition with slight changes, “Com-
plaint of an Assault, with Petition to the Police,” JEA 40 (1954) 33.
BRENT NONGBRI 39

Figure 9 B.G.U. 1.22. Complete fragment measures 7.5 cm W x 25.5 cm H. Courtesy of


the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin. Photo: Margarete Büsing.

The next papyrus Roberts mentions is now known as B.G.U. 1.22 (fig. 9), a docu-
ment dated to 114 C.E.38 Roberts does not point out any specific characteristics of this
papyrus, and I am uncertain what similarities he sees here. The alpha is different,
lacking both the arch and loop of ∏52’s two types of alpha. The vertical stroke of
the tau of B.G.U. 1.22 often leans to the right. The upsilon is perhaps similar, but
on the whole, this document is not an overly impressive parallel.

Aegyptische Urkunden aus den koeniglichen Museen zu Berlin (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buch-
38

handlung, 1895) 36. There is no plate in the first edition, but a plate with transcription appeared in
Wilhelm Schubart’s Griechische Palaeographie (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung,
1925) 59, plate 34. The image reproduced here shows lines 6–21 of the 43-line papyrus.
40 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Figure 10 P.Flor. 1.1. Complete scroll measures 100 cm W x 23 cm H. Image appears courtesy
of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana,
Florence. Reproduction prohibited.

The final papyrus Roberts mentions in his discussion of dating ∏52 is P.Flor. 1.1,
a document from 153 C.E. brought to his attention by Frederic Kenyon.39 The plate
of P.Flor. 1.1 published with the editio princeps is of poor quality; but fortunately,
color images of two large portions of this scroll have been recently published.40 I
reproduce a portion of the left end of this scroll in figure 10. Roberts writes, “In
this text the upsilon, the omega and sometimes the alpha are similar to those in our
text, but other letters are radically different and its general style is not very close”
to that of ∏52.41 Roberts prefers the late-first- and early-second-century parallels
he presented earlier.
I agree with some of the similarities that Roberts points out in these papyri. The
difficulty is that the features he isolates in papyri from the late first to mid second
centuries persist into the late second and the third centuries. We can clearly see
these examples in P.Amh. 2.78 and in more recently published papyri.

 Some New Comparanda


Since Roberts downplayed similarities between ∏52 and P.Flor. 1.1, the latest docu-
ment that he examined, I shall begin with a document from the same period. P.Mich.

Girolamo Vitelli, Papiri greco-egizii, volume primo: Papiri fiorentini (Milan: Ulrico Hoepli,
39

1905) 1–4.
40
Guglielmo Cavallo et al., Scrivere libri e documenti nel mondo antico: Mostra di papiri della
Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Firenze 25 agosto – 25 settembre 1998 (Florence: Edizioni Gonnelli,
1998). Gabriella Messeri discusses P.Flor. 1 on pp. 197–98, and the images are on plates 113–14.
41
An Unpublished Fragment, 16.
BRENT NONGBRI 41

Figure 11 P.Mich. inv. 5336 (= SB 22.15782). 18 cm W x 12.4 cm H. Courtesy of the


Papyrology Collection, Graduate Library, The University of Michigan.

Figure 12 Detail of figure 11, SB 22.15782 (left), and figure 1, ∏52 (right).

inv. 5336 (= SB 22.15782), reproduced in figure 11, is a petition from ca. 152 C.E.42
Several individual letters resemble those of ∏52, and the overall impression is similar.
The vertical spacing of the lines is more compressed, but the spacing between letters is
comparable, as is the rough bilinearity. Notice in particular the alpha forms in ajrgurivou
at the beginning of line 2 and in the next word in line 2, dracmw`n. Although the rho of
dracmw`n is like the rho of martu[rhvsw] of ∏52, the rho of SB 22.15782 generally does
not dip below the other letters and often curves to the right. The delta of dhmovsion at
the beginning of line 5 is also noteworthy. The entire word th`~ at the beginning of line 4
is remarkably close to the th`~ in line 3 on the verso of ∏52. The two words are enlarged
in figure 12. The tau-omega sequence in tw/` of line 5 of SB 22.15782 also matches that
of the aujtw/` on the verso of ∏52. The affinities in letter forms between SB 22.15782 and
∏52 are as close as any of Roberts’s documentary parallels.

This papyrus was published by P. J. Sijpesteijn, “Known and Unknown Officials,” ZPE 106
42

(1995) 216–18 and plate VIIIa.


42 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Figure 13 P.Amh. 2.78. Complete fragment measures 9.0 cm W x 26.6 cm H. Courtesy of


the Pierpont Morgan Library and Oxford University Press.

The next document to consider is P.Amh. 2.78 (fig. 13), which Turner had put forth
as an illuminating parallel.43 As Turner noted, this petition to a centurion from 184 C.E.
shows “similarities in its overall uprightness (or even slight lean to the left), roundness
43
This papyrus is now in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library. The image reproduced
here is from the original publication by Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, The Amherst Papyri
II (London: Oxford University Press, 1901) 97–98 and plate xvii.
BRENT NONGBRI 43

Figure 14 P.Oxy. 51.3614. 14.0 cm W x 9.5 cm H. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.

and scale, and in the forms of particular letters. . . . But the letters are crushed more
closely together and not so even in size, as would in any case be expected in a docu-
ment.”44 P.Amh. 2.78 displays both forms of the alpha (e.g., the arch in eujpora` and the
loop in aujth`~, both in line 6) and a very similar omega (e.g., kwvmh~ in line 3). Turner
notes a similar epsilon, pi, and iota as well. While the epsilon-iota combination in P.Amh.
2.78 is generally much sloppier than that of ∏52 (see, e.g., the second word of line 8
of P.Amh. 2.78, eij~), it sometimes resembles the combination in levgei in line 4 of the
verso of ∏52 (see the eij~ at the beginning of line 19 of the Amherst papyrus).
A more cursive document that bears some resemblance to ∏52 is P.Oxy. 51.3614
(fig. 14). This piece records a judgment of Septimius Severus from 200 C.E., so the
papyrus must date from sometime after that.45 P.Oxy. 51.3614 shows more ligatures
than ∏52, but the vertical and horizontal spacing is similar. Several individual letters
also show affinities. The long iota with hooks on top and bottom (such as those in
ejpivtropoi in the middle of line 4) recalls the iota in -[d]aiw[n] in line 7 of the recto
of ∏52. The pi and eta, with their hooking right legs, also match those of ∏52. The rho
has a small loop and extends below the line, but the rho of P.Oxy. 51.3614 displays a
hook at the bottom of the vertical stroke that is absent from the rho of ∏52. While the
kappa in lines 1 and 7 is distinctive because of its height, it was written in the same
two-stroke manner as the kappa of ∏52. Looping and non-looping forms of alpha are
both represented, although the non-looping alpha (as in the tav after the first hole in
line 5) lacks a clear hook and more closely resembles the alpha of i{na in line 2 of the
verso of ∏52. The sequence aut in the au{th of line 9 closely matches the sequence
in ∏52’s aujtw/,` though the tau leans in the opposite direction.
44
The Typology of the Early Codex, 100.
45
J. R. Rea, ed., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri LI (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1984) 35–38
and plate V.
44 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Figure 15 P.Oxy. 52.3694. Complete fragment measures 12.4 cm W x 11.1 cm H. Courtesy of


the Egypt Exploration Society.

In terms of the individual letter forms that Roberts pointed out, it will be useful
to look at a somewhat later document—P.Oxy. 52.3694, an invitation to a strategus
that dates either between 218 and 225 C.E. or to 278 C.E. (fig. 15).46 The editors favor
the earlier date range. The same features that Roberts notes in his parallels (the oddly
formed alpha, the looping upsilon, the mu dipping to the bottom of the line) are all
present here. We even see both forms of the alpha, the loop (in strathgw/` at the end
of line 1) and the arch (in kalei` in line 3). The eta, such as the one in kwvmh~ in line 2,
is also similar to those of our papyrus. The hand of P.Oxy. 52.3694 is obviously less
well formed and less regular than that of ∏52, but it is to be expected that a document
would be written more quickly and less deliberately than a literary text.
The same can be said about our next example, P.Oxy. 41.2968 (fig. 16), a receipt
that is part of a group that dates to the later part of 190 C.E.47 This text also displays
the two characteristic forms of the alpha (the loop is clear in the par’ of line 8 and
the kaiv beginning line 10; the arch is clear in the first letter of the name ajmmwna`to~
at the end of line 3 and in the ajpov of line 14). The upsilon of P.Oxy. 41.2968 (e.g., in
the name dionusivou in line 1) is also very similar to those of ∏52, as is the mu (e.g.,
mhtrov~ in the middle of line 4). The rho of the mhtrov~ that extends below the line is
also fairly close to the rho of -rion at the beginning of line 5 on the recto of ∏52.48

H. M. Cockle et al., eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri LII (London: Egypt Exploration Society,
46

1984) 144–46 and plate VIII. The name of the strategus, Aurelius Harpocration, is attested twice in
the Oxyrhynchite nome. See J. E. G. Whitehorne, “A Checklist of Oxyrhynchite Strategi,” ZPE 29
(1978) 167–89; and more recently, Guido Bastianini and John Whitehorne, Strategi and Royal Scribes
of Roman Egypt: Chronological List and Index (Florence: Edizioni Gonnelli, 1987) 155.
47
G. M. Browne et al., eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri XLI (London: Egypt Exploration Society,
1972) 52–54.
48
In order to keep the length of this paper to a minimum, I will simply list some other third-century
BRENT NONGBRI 45

Figure 16 P.Oxy. 41.2968. 8.4 cm W x 16.4 cm H. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.

documentary texts that are worth comparing to ∏52: P.Oxy. 41.2997 (214 C.E.); P.Oxy. 67.4593 (a
petition to a prefect dating from between 206 and 211 C.E.; note the two forms of alpha, the eta
with a high horizontal, the delta, and the mu); and P.Mich. inv. 2789a+b (= SB 22.15775, between
203 and 206 C.E.), which was published in Sijpesteijn, “Known and Unknown Officials,” 208–9
and plate VIc (note the delta, mu, epsilon, and omega).
46 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

 Conclusion
What emerges from this survey is nothing surprising to papyrologists: paleography
is not the most effective method for dating texts, particularly those written in a
literary hand.49 Roberts himself noted this point in his edition of ∏52.50 The real
problem is thus in the way scholars of the New Testament have used and abused
papyrological evidence. I have not radically revised Roberts’s work. I have not
provided any third-century documentary papyri that are absolute “dead ringers”
for the handwriting of ∏52, and even if I had done so, that would not force us to
date ∏52 at some exact point in the third century. Paleographic evidence does not
work that way.51 What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the
window of possible dates for ∏52 must include dates in the later second and early
third centuries. Thus, ∏52 cannot be used as evidence to silence other debates
about the existence (or non-existence) of the Gospel of John in the first half of the
second century. Only a papyrus containing an explicit date or one found in a clear
archaeological stratigraphic context could do the work scholars want ∏52 to do.52
As it stands now, the papyrological evidence should take a second place to other
forms of evidence in addressing debates about the dating of the Fourth Gospel.53

49
Even though some literary papyri have come to light that bear a resemblance to ∏52 (most
notably P.Oxy. 64.4404 [now ∏104], a small fragment of Matthew’s gospel dated by its editor to the
second half of the second century), they are of no help in the present project since they are them-
selves paleographically dated. Although Turner recommends comparing literary hands with literary
hands, such a process can become very circular without the inclusion of some firmly dated (usually
documentary) manuscripts to act as a control. Thus, using other biblical papyri often regarded as
early (∏46, ∏66, ∏90, etc.) to date ∏52 (or vice versa) is also an unhelpful exercise. For this reason,
Schmidt’s arguments in “Zwei Anmerkungen” (pp. 11–12) are not very strong.
50
Roberts writes, “Any exact dating of book hands is, of course, out of the question” (An Un-
published Fragment, 13).
51
Schmidt’s argument falters on this ground just as much as the arguments of those who want
an overly specific early date for the papyrus. Schmidt claims (“Zwei Anmerkungen,” 11) that
paleographic similarity between ∏52 and P. Chester Beatty X and III (each paleographically dated
to the third century) would exclude a date of 125 C.E. for ∏52. This claim is untrue. Nor would pa-
leographic similarities to documents from 40 C.E. in any way rule out a third-century date for ∏52.
Such examples would simply increase the range of possible dates for ∏52 and confirm my thesis that
we should avoid building arguments on unrealistically specific dates proposed for papyri.
52
The papyri of Herculaneum, which cannot postdate 79 C.E., would fall into this category.
53
I have incurred more than the usual number of debts in the course of this project. I happily of-
fer my thanks to the numerous librarians and keepers of manuscripts who gave me access to various
papyrus pieces or helped me to acquire such access. Also, for helpful advice and criticism on this
project (more of which I probably should have heeded), I would like to thank Harold W. Attridge,
Robert G. Babcock, Ann Ellis Hanson, and William A. Johnson, as well as the anonymous readers
at HTR. Finally, thanks also to my colleague Tudor Sala for a couple of timely favors during the
production of this piece.
BRENT NONGBRI 47

 Appendix 1: P.Oxy. 31.2533

Recto

Verso

Figure 17 P.Oxy. 31.2533. 7.5 cm W x 11.3 cm H. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.
Comfort and Barrett argue that P.Oxy. 31.2533, the fragment of New Comedy
pictured here (verso), is a good parallel for ∏52. Aside from the looping upsilon,
I do not see many similarities (although an argument could be made that the mu
and rho are similar to those of ∏52). The delta is quite different. Of the few letters
legible on the recto, the tau and eta occasionally resemble those of ∏52. In any
event, the dating of P.Oxy. 31.2533 is itself so uncertain (see n. 26, above) that it
can be of little use for dating ∏52.
48 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

 Appendix 2: P.Lond. 1.130

Figure 18 P.Lond. 1.130. Complete scroll measures 64.8 cm W x 25.4 cm H. By permission


of The British Library.

Bell and Skeat suggest that the hand of P.Lond. 1.130 resembles that of Egerton
Papyrus 2 (Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and Other Early Christian Papyri
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935] 2). Although there is some similarity in
the upsilon and delta, I am not particularly impressed. P. Lond. 1.130 is a horo-
scope with an introductory letter attached. The editor dated the piece to the first or
second century C.E. The text was published in 1893 in Frederic G. Kenyon’s Greek
Papyri in the British Museum: Catalogue, with Texts (5 vols.; 1893–1917; repr.,
Milan: Cisalpino-Goliardica, 1973) 1:132–39, but no images were included. This
image comes from the top of column 4. A similar image was published in Wilhelm
Schubart’s Griechische Palaeographie (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuch-
handlung, 1925) 122, plate 81.

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