In 1924, H. Idris Bell published a papyrus roll that was discovered in Philadelphia, on the northeast side of the Fayum in ancient Egypt. Now known by its publication number P.Lond. 6.1912, it was soon recognized that this papyrus was a copy of a letter from the Roman emperor Claudius (41-54) to the Greek embassy in Alexandria. The contents of this letter have contributed to its massive popularity among papyrologists and historians alike, because it gives us a glimpse of imperial policy and regional disputes in Egypt. In fact, it has received more studies than almost any other papyrus discovered in Egypt.
In his letter, emperor Claudius was responding to a letter sent from the Alexandrians in 41 CE who wrote for three main reasons: 1) to congratulate Claudius on his accession to the imperial seat, 2) to ask for certain favors, and 3) to have him settle a dispute between the Alexandrians and the Jews of the city. In the first part of the letter, the emperor addresses the various honors the Alexandrians had offered to him, such as the erection of statues. One of the interesting facets of this part of the letter is Claudius’ description of himself as “not wanting to be arrogant to men of my own day, for sacred things and the like are granted by every age to the gods along as special honors, in my opinion” (ll. 47-50). However, scholars have questioned whether we can take this description of Claudius' character at face value, since it may well have been politically motivated.
The section of the letter that has received the most attention comes at the end of the papyrus, in columns four and five: Claudius’ response to the feud between the Greeks and Jews. The Alexandrians’ question on this matter is often referred to as “the Jewish question.” Basically, Claudius sternly warns the Alexandrians that if they do not stop fighting with each other, he will be forced to intervene: “I shall be forced to show what a benevolent leader is when turned toward righteous rage” (ll. 80-81). He orders the Alexandrians to leave the Jews alone, because they have been inhabitants of the city “from a long time ago.” Additionally, they are to respect Jewish customs. As for the Jews, they are not to agitate, intrude in the contests, or “bring in Judeans from Syria or sailing down from Egypt.” Claudius was exercising good public policy, holding to a “perfectly judicial attitude” (Bell, 22). We learn from the prefect’s edict at the very beginning of the papyrus that not everyone in Alexandria was present to hear Claudius’ letter read out publicly. So, the prefect ordered that the letter be publicly posted in Alexandria, “so that man by man each understanding the letter you may wonder at the majesty of our god Caesar and for his goodwill toward the city be grateful” (ll. 7-11).
While the papyrus itself is not dated (almost certainly the original letter would have been), the edict is dated to 10 November 41, which offers a terminus ante quem, that is, a latest possible date for the papyrus. Our copy of Claudius’ letter is written on the verso of a long roll, whose recto bears the text of a tax register. There is a question as to why this letter turned up in Philadelphia in the Fayum in a first century tax archive of an official named Nemesion, son of Zoilos. Bell was of the opinion that the contents of the letter may have been of interest to the officials in Philadelphia, who could refer to it on matters related to Alexandrian citizenship.
What follows is an English translation of the section dealing with the “Jewish question.” For a complete English translation, see here; for the Greek text of the papyrus, see here. For further reading, see the following two works:
"But for the riot and uprising against the Judaeans (=Ioudaioi), rather, if the truth be told, the war, which of the two sides was responsible, even though (75) your envoys strove for great honour from the confrontation, and especially Dionysios son of The[o]n, still I did not want to have a strict investigation, while storing up in me unrepentant rage against the ones starting again. But I announce frankly that, unless you put a stop to this (80) destructive, relentless rage against each other, I shall be forced to show what a benevolent leader is when turned toward righteous rage. For this I yet again still bear witness that Alexandrines, on the one hand, behave gently and kindly with the Judeans, the inhabitants of the same city from a long time ago, (85) and not be disrespectful of the customs used in the ritual of their god, but let them use their customs as in the time of the god Sebastos even as I myself, after hearing both sides, have confirmed; to the Judeans I give strict orders not to agitate for more than (90) they had before, nor as though dwelling in two cities to send in future two delegations, which had not ever been done before; nor intrude in the gymnasiarchic or kosmetic contests reaping the fruits of their households while enjoying (95) the abundance of benefits without envy in a foreign polis; nor to introduce or bring in Judeans from Syria or sailing down from Egypt, from which I shall be forced to have serious suspicions; or else I shall take vengeance on them in every way as though (100) rousing up some common plague on the world. If after you stand aside from these things you both should wish to live together with gentleness and kindness towards each other, I shall send forth to the highest degree providence for the city as belonging to our household from bygone times. (105) I bear witness to my companion Barbillus always showing regar[d] for us (you?) before me, and who just now with complete zeal for honour has consult[ed] about the contest about you, and to Tiberius Claudius Archibios my compan[ion.] Farewell."
Well, it has been six years since the announcement that an apparent first century fragment of Mark's Gospel had been discovered, a topic of debate that I have followed closely since the news first broke. It was announced by Dan Wallace during a debate with Bart Ehrman back in 2012. Following the announcement, the academic community began to scratch its head: Where is this fragment? Who owns it? Who has dated it? Is it being published? If so, where is it being published?
Wallace has refused to provide any details, because he indicated he was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement not to talk about the fragment. Given the lack of details, some even surmised that the fragment simply did not exist. Answers to some of the questions became apparent (or somewhat apparent) only after years of public inquiry, largely based on bits of information pieced together from the internet.
The obvious significance of a first-century fragment of Mark is that it would be the first-known manuscript of the Greek New Testament (GNT) to exist. Craig Evans reported that this fragment was “dated to the 80s” (see here also) and I told CNN in 2015 that this was rubbish, based on how scholars date manuscripts according to the handwriting (=palaeography).
Today, Elijah Hixson posted a blog post over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog about a Markan fragment that is to appear as no. 5345 in the 83rd volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series. The initial post questions whether or not this fragment is the same fragment as the so-called “first century fragment of Mark.”
Dan Wallace, who first announced the discovery of this fragment, has finally broken his silence and responded to Hixson’s post, verifying that P.Oxy. 83.5345 is indeed the fragment he was referring to back in 2012. Significantly, this fragment has now officially been dated to the second/third century, as indicated in a draft of the publication shown on the ETC blog.
Wallace admits that he was “urged to make the announcement [of the fragment] at the debate.” I wonder: who urged him and for what reason? Could it have been for financial reasons?
I ask this question because Scott Carroll (on whom see here, here and here) contributed comments to Hixson’s post indicating the following:
“D. Obbink offered a papyrus of Mark 1 for sale in late 2011 to the Greens and it was still in his possession and he was trying to sell it in 2013. On both occasions, he unequivocally said that the papyrus dated to the late first or early second century and detailed reasons for his dating.”
So, based on Carroll’s comments, Dirk Obbink, the co-editor of the Markan fragment, was apparently trying to sell off this fragment for a few years. [Side note: Wallace claims in his post that he learned later the famous papyrologist who dated the fragment to the first century already adjusted his views about the dating prior to Wallace's announcement of its discovery in 2012. Carroll's comment indicates that Obbink was still arguing for a first century date in 2013, a year after the initial announcement. So, we need clarification here.] According to Hixson’s post, the Greens were “possibly inline to purchase it,” but the transaction never took place.
I have not seen the full publication or an image of this fragment [UPDATE: image of the papyrus is at the top of this post], so I cannot make any real judgments about dating, etc. But, I would be interested in knowing how Obbink got his hands on an Oxyrhynchus papyrus (presumably) outside of the Oxhyrhynchus collection, and who gave him the authority to sell it. If what Carroll says is true, Obbink was in the business to make money off this papyrus. Could it be that the manuscript was purchased by Obbink and that he finally sold it to the EES and it ended up in the Oxyrhynchus collection? Or, could the Oxyrhynchus collection/EES have been attempting to deaccession this fragment in an attempt to raise money (this seems very improbable to me)?
If Carroll's assertations are true, does the fact that we are now seeing this fragment in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series undermine the integrity of the series? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
I want more answers to the questions raised above before I say anything else. But, I will say this: some people/groups apparently missed the mark (no pun intended) by more than a century or two!
UPDATE: The EES has issued a statement about P.Oxy. 5345 and uploaded the section of the publication which includes the editio princeps of the manuscript along with an image. See here.
Methodius of Olympus was a Christian bishop who died as a martyr in c. 311 C.E. Unfortunately, we know very little about Methodius. Most of what we do know comes from a brief biographical account in Jerome’s On Illustrious Men, which was composed at the end of the fourth century. Methodius was mainly known as an antagonist of Origen. In particular, he had a problem with Origen’s doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which he rejects outright in his treatise On the Resurrection.
Methodius wrote several important works (see Roger Pearse’s list here), but almost all of these come down to us in fragmentary form. The only complete work of Methodius that we possess is his Symposium or Banquet—a treatise in praise of voluntary virginity. Until quite recently, the earliest manuscript of this text was an eleventh century codex known as Patmiacus Graecus 202, which is housed in the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos.
But, a remarkable discovery was recently been made in the Montserrat Abbey in Spain. Sofia Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, who have been working on the manuscript collection in the Montserrat Abbey for many years, published a fragment of Methodius’ Symposium that they date on palaeographical grounds to the fifth-sixth century—about 450 years earlier than the Patmos codex mentioned above. (On another recent, important discovery by Tovar and Worp, see here.) Published as P.Monts. Roca 4.57, this fragment is the first attestation of a work of Methodius from Egypt. It is a narrow strip of parchment, with thirty partial lines preserved on the hair side (see image of fragment at right). The text on this side of the fragment comes from Oratio 8:16.72-73, 3:14.35-40, 8.60-61, and 9.18-19 (in that order). The flesh side contains thirty-five partial lines of text unrelated to the Methodian text. This is an unidentified Christian text with “Gnomic” sentiments, as the authors explain.
In addition to the wonderful fact that we now have a significantly earlier manuscript witness of Methodius’ text, there is also another remarkable feature in the new manuscript: a previously unattested saying about the Nile. In lines 5-8, the manuscript reads:
“The rise of the Nile is life and joy for the families”
ἡ ἀνάβα̣σ̣ε̣ι̣[ς] τοῦ Νείλου̣ ζω̣ή̣ ἐστι κ̣[αὶ] χαρὰ ἑστία[ις]
As the authors note, this saying does not occur in Methodius. And indeed, it does not fit the immediate context. Where it comes from is a mystery, but the saying is nonetheless very interesting. All in all, this is a fascinating discovery for scholars of Early Christianity and we commend the authors for their editorial work in making this text available to the world.
Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. and Canada. According to Wikipedia, this holiday is “a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.” This is a time when many children send cards and flowers showing their appreciation to their mothers. While this holiday is modern in origins, we do find some examples of mothers becoming angry when their children do not write to them or show proper acknowledgment.
One case in particular comes to mind. In a first-century Greek papyrus letter known as P.Berenike 2.129, found in a Roman dump in Egypt, a mother named Hikane writes to her son Isidoros scolding him for not writing to her. Here is the opening of Hikane's letter:
“[Hikane] to Isidoros [her son, greetings. First of all] I thought it necessary, since the packet boat was putting out to sea, to write . . . me. I am in Berenike. I wrote you a letter [?but did not receive a] letter. Was it for this that I carried you for ten months and nursed you for three years, so that you would be incapable of remembering me by letter? And similarly you dimissed me though the Oasites . . . not I you. But I left your brothers in Arabia . . . so that . . Egypt I might see your face and . . . breath. I only ask and beg and adjure you by the one whom you . . . and by the memory of the one who begot you, to sail away if you are well.”
The papyrus is fragmentary, but Hikane’s frustration is clear. Through rhetorical coloring, she reminds Isidoros that she carried him in her womb for ten months and nursed him for three years. So, what is the moral of this story? Maybe it is that you should write to your mothers. Otherwise, you could receive a letter like Hikane's. Or worse: your mom takes her anger to Facebook!