Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A New Testament Papyrus and Its Documentary Context: An Early Christian Writing Exercise from the Archive of Leonides (P.Oxy. II 209/p^sup 10^)

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A New Testament Papyrus and Its Documentary Context: An Early Christian Writing Exercise from the Archive of Leonides (P.Oxy. II 209/p^sup 10^)

Article excerpt

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In this article I present a NT papyrus (P.Oxy. II 209/p10) as part of a known archive. Although scholars have been familiar with this papyrus and its NT text, they have not known its larger social context. The identification of this piece as part of an archive allows a glimpse into the life and social milieu of its owner: a literate man from the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, a flax merchant and a member of a guild, with connections to a church reader. As such, it is the first and only ancient instance where we know the owner of a Greek NT papyrus.

I. The Papyrus and Its Texts

P.Oxy. II 209 preserves Rom 1:1-7, the proemium of the apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans. With its Pauline pericope, this papyrus is a constant witness to the text of the NT. It ranks as Papyrus 10 (p10) of the NT papyri and thus belongs among that elite group of most important witnesses to the text of the Christian Bible.1 In their Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period, Guglielmo Cavallo and Herwig Maehler described the handwriting of this papyrus as having "rather crude and irregular letters."2 Underneath the biblical passage a different hand has penned a couple of random phrases in cursive writing. On the back it reads "apostle." The texts, the first in uncial letters, the second in cursive script, are written in black ink on a caramel-colored papyrus sheet of 25.1 by 19.9 centimeters. Property of Harvard University's Semitic Museum, the papyrus is presently housed in Houghton Library.3 The sheet has survived in relatively good condition but has suffered some damage as a result of folding and the occasional nibbles of bookworms.

Below is my new transcription of the text based on a recent digital photograph of the papyrus. It does not alter the reading of the editio princeps, but shows the (present) state of the papyrus more accurately:

A

...

(blank)

(2nd hand in cursive script)

...

(blank)

...

On the verso.

...

(1st hand) A

traces of ink

...

The text is copied sloppily. The writer made several spelling mistakes, as indicated below the transcription. The one variant, reading "Christ Jesus" instead of "Jesus Christ" (lines 11-12) does not contribute in any meaningful way to exegetical or other discussions on the apostle's longest letter.6 As we will discover, the importance and interest of this papyrus stretch beyond textual technicalities of the Letter to the Romans. The papyrus is an artifact that allows us to catch glimpses into the circles in which it was produced and the people who owned it.

The sentences scribbled underneath the passage from Romans in cursive handwriting begin with the name "Aurelius Paulus," followed by ungrammatical expressions containing the words "produce" and "account" (... and ...). They may have served to test the pen.7 Incomprehensible as these lines remain, these terms fit in the mercantile environment of the archive to which this papyrus belongs, as we will see next.

II. Identifying the Archive

In their edition of this papyrus in the second volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt made the tantalizing remark, often repeated in scholarship, that "the papyrus was found tied up with a contract dated in 316 a.d., and other documents of the same period."8 This means that they found this papyrus as part of an archive, in Alain Martin's strict definition of the word, namely, a group of texts deliberately organized by their ancient users.9 But what archive? Grenfell and Hunt did not provide any further clues. They were not particularly interested in the social context of the texts they had unearthed, or perhaps they were too busy editing their enormous find.

Modern search engines and old-fashioned historical detective work led to the identification of this archive. …

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