Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament

Article excerpt

Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV is the well-known single-quire papyrus codex containing substantial portions of the Gospels of Luke and John in Greek.1 The bulk of the codex was published in two volumes in 1961, complete with photographic plates of most of the extant pages.2 The editors calculated that the codex originally consisted of 144 pages, more than 100 of which have survived. From the time of its discovery until 2006, the codex formed a part of the collection amassed by the Swiss bibliophile Martin Bodmer in Geneva. In 2006, it was sold through Christie's auction house for an undisclosed sum to American Frank J. Hanna III on behalf of a consortium. The codex was subsequently donated to the Vatican Library, where it presently resides.3 The Vatican now officially calls this codex "Hanna Papyrus 1, Mater Verbi."4 For the sake of brevity, I will hereafter refer to it by its familiar INTF designation, p75.5

P75 has been dubbed "the most significant" New Testament papyrus that has come to light in the twentieth century.6 This evaluation is based on the manuscript's relatively good state of preservation, the early date generally assigned to it (usual descriptors for the date of the codex include ca. 200 CE and 175-225 CE), and the striking level of agreement between its text and what is now generally called the "B Text," best represented in Codex Vaticanus (Vatican Library, Cod. Gr. 1209; LDAB 3479), the famous parchment Greek Bible of the fourth century.7 This potent combination of p75's early date and its text so closely matching that of Vaticanus has been taken to refute the idea, quite widely accepted in the first half of the twentieth century, that the text of Vaticanus was the result of a recension produced in the fourth century.8 P75 has been understood to prove definitively that the "B Text" of the New Testament was not created in the fourth century but instead has roots in the early third and into the second century and that it was transmitted in a stable form.9

The evidence gathered in the present essay calls these conclusions into question by showing that the date of 175-225 CE commonly assigned to p75 represents only one possibility, and not the most probable possibility, for the date of the production of this codex. This early date was established solely on the basis of paleography (the analysis of handwriting), which cannot reliably produce such a narrow window of possible dates for Greek literary writing of the Roman era. In fact, good parallels for the handwriting of p75 can be found in manuscripts produced in the fourth century. More importantly, too great a focus on paleography can cause us to neglect other evidence relevant to the dating of manuscripts. In terms of codicology (the format and construction of the codex), p75 fits comfortably in a fourth-century context. Further, the other "Bodmer papyri" with which it was apparently discovered are for the most part products of the fourth and fifth centuries. These observations, combined with the fact that the text of p75 so closely matches that of Vaticanus-a codex widely acknowledged to be a product of the fourth century-suggest that we should seriously consider the possibility that p75 was also produced in the fourth century and hence that the "B Text" is also a fourth-century development.

I. The Original Publication of P75 and Subsequent Discussions of Its Date

The original editors of p75, Victor Martin and Rodolphe Kasser, assigned the codex to a date between 175 and 225 on the basis of its handwriting, which the editors described as "une jolie onciale verticale, élégante et soignée."10 In order to establish a date for the hand, Martin and Kasser referred in the first instance to a series of Oxyrhynchus papyri edited by Edgar Lobel: P.Oxy. XXI 2293 ("wretched scraps" of a commentary on Sappho from a papyrus roll assigned to the second century), P.Oxy. XXII 2322 (verses in Ionic on a papyrus roll assigned to the second or early third century), P. …

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