Evangelical Textual Criticism

Friday, April 08, 2011

Early Manuscript of Hebrews Discovered

Brian Small, PhD student at Baylor University and regular reader of this blog, published the following startling announcement (Polumeros kai Polutropos)
Newly Discovered Manuscript Fragment on Hebrews
Baylor University is hosting a King James Bible conference this weekend. Concurrent with the conference is an exhibit showcasing ancient manuscripts and Bibles through the Middles Ages and Reformation and beyond. One of the manuscripts is a newly-discovered (three weeks ago!) papyrus fragment containing a portion of Hebrews 11. It was discovered in a funerary mask and is dated to the second century! I have pictures but I cannot post them here since the manuscript has been assigned to someone for study and publication.

Apparently, it seems to be Scott Carroll, Research Professor of Manuscript Studies and the Biblical Tradition at Baylor, who is the scholar in charge of this collection to which I assume the early papyrus belongs. On his webpage we read about Carroll that "He is presently directing the research of some of the earliest-known Greek literary papyri in the world which Dr. Carroll extracted from mummy cartonnage and some of the earliest biblical texts known to-date."

In the 1990's Carroll helped Robert van Kampen build the private Van Kampen Collection of Bibles and related material in Florida. Now he is working with another wealthy family, Green, to build up another great collection of bibles and manuscripts to be exhibited in a Bible museum in Dallas. More information about the Green collection in NY Times story here and here (slideshow). One of the MSS they acquired last year from Cambridge was Codex Climaci Rescriptus, which we reported about here (with further links). Apparently, Carroll himself is currently working on a publication of Codex Climaci Rescriptus.

In addition to the growing collection, there is the Green Scholars Initiative which has been organized allow scholars to research and produce scholarship around items in the Green Collection. Scott Carroll is Director and Principal investigator of the collection, whereas Jerry Pattengale is Director of the Green Scholars Initiative.

While we wait for a scholarly edition of the Hebrews papyrus, hopefully including images, and adequate information about the provenience, we have to be extremely cautious about the claimed second-century date. In the past there have been numerous claims from representatives of collections like these including the Van Kampen collection, and of course there is, coupled with a strong interest to promote the items in the collection, a real danger to through out sensational claims about "earliest biblical texts known to-date," etc (which media just loves). For a discussion of the the "early dating issue" raised by Roger Bagnall recently, see Peter Head's posts here and here.

The papyrus is on display at Baylor University until tomorrow. Perhaps some reader of this blog, who lives nearby Baylor could go there and take a peek for us? Any significant readings?

Conference schedule here

Conference and exhibition flyer here

Up-date: Some photos from the exhibition have been posted on the Baylor web-site (here) - image 13 has P39 and another papyrus text - probably the Hebrews text under discussion. (HT: MH)

37 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I hope someone here is near enough to Baylor to go investigate!

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  2. Yes, you are correct. The fragment was not very large. Unfortunately, I am not a palaeographer and I couldn't make out which passage it was from.

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  3. Brian,

    Can you tell us the dimensions of the fragment?

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  4. We should be suspicious of dating any manuscript to the second century based on paleography as a matter of good practice. Usually, multiple century time-frames are more appropriate. In this instance, there may be other factors influencing the date. Were there other papyri within the cartonnage with dated texts or with prices? Perhaps, the mummy itself offers some clues?

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  5. Perhaps the funeral mask can be related to a burial that can be dated. That would be nice, of course. But it's just a guess.

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  6. It is nice to have a new papyrus fragment for Hebrews, irrespective of its date (IMO). Hopefully someone can tell the rest of us what the fragment has.

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  7. In the display case was also P39 and the new fragment is roughly the same size; not as long but a little wider. So, that should give you a basis for comparison.

    I don't know why it was dated to the second century. I guess I should have been more inquisitive, but my time was limited. With time I might have been able to figure out specifically which verses are contained in the fragment. But I don't know much more that I could say legally since it has been assigned to someone for study.

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  8. Thanks Brian. P39 is not a bad little scrap. If this new papryus is as easy to read as P39, it shouldn't take the assigned scholar long to collate and publish findings.

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  9. I can assure you it is not as easy to read. I could easily make out words on P39 and I am not a palaeographer. But hopefully we won't have to wait long for the results to be published.

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  10. Texts from mummy cartonnage are not usual after the reign of Augustus, although the Cologne Archilochus Epode is dated paleographically to the second AD.

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  11. The reported size of P39 is "About 25.6 cm. x 8 cm."

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  12. Just after reading this post, I called about visiting the collection. Unfortunately, it was due to close within the hour which did not leave enough time to make the drive.

    I'll look forward to its publication.

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  13. The item was dated by The Director of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Project at Oxford, Dirk Obbink. The papyus is being researched and prepared for publication. The Baylor student who illicitly photographed the item, Brian Small, who has posted information about it on this site admitting he can not read it, was in violation of Baylor's contractual agreement with the Exhibition and has been held accountable for his unethical actions by the university. As for the collection's credibility, items have been lawfully acquired and research is being led by leading scholars in the world. Claims are not Evangelical wishful rhetoric. This collection is destined to be a non-sectarian, public access museum and research center. If you are qualified professor with an earned PhD and have an interest in working with unpublished items with students under the direction of the leading scholars in the world, contact: greensholarsinitiative.org.

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. While extremely significant literary papyri have come from mummy cartonnage and from domestic cartonnage in the collection, it was nowhere suggested that this papyrus came from cartonnage. The piece is quite legible, for someone who can read Greek and has basic training in paleography. The text was tentatively dated by a world-renown specialist. The papyrus has been assigned for research. It will be published according to the highest academic standards in due time. There was a contractual agreement between Baylor and the exhibition prohibiting photography of items nevertheless Brian Small took pictures, tried to work on the papyrus and took the liberty to report on it despite being told explicitly that if he did so he would be acting unethically. He has been reprimanded by Baylor. Ownerships, intellectual property rights, contracts and one's word, matter.

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  16. Ah Anonymous, how embarissing!
    Please, stop this nonsense ...
    Why is it unethical to report about a new papyrus? This is absurd!
    Brian Small, you did the right thing.
    Anonymous, we will know who you are when the papyrus is published. [filed ---> Resubmission] :-)

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  17. Anonymous ... your comment makes you and Baylor look petty. I certainly hope that Brian has not received grief for this.

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  18. It is presumptuous and naive to call control of intellectual property rights by an owner (private or public), petty. You presume you have the right of access to any and everything in this age of digital immediacy. You cannot walk into any library. museum, exhibition, or achaeological site in the world, set up a tripod and start shooting photos for your own use without permission and imagine especially when it it specifically prohibited. Nor can you demand to see things institutions chose not to show you. That's the way it works--everywhere. Call Small a scholarly crusader. I call it unethical--especially after he gave his word. It has nothing to do with Baylor or the owner. And if Anonymous is given as an option for submission, why would you castigate, deride or even make a veiled threat against someone for choosing to use it? Talk about petty.

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  19. I heartily agree with Wieland and Christian.

    We have a saying in Swedish, "You cannot both keep the cookie and eat it." If you put a papyrus on display (along with some basic information), why make fuss if someone blogs about it. Was the idea to promote the collection for a certain public except for scholarly circles? The bottom line of Brian's blogpost, which he has apparently deleted now, and my blogpost is that we welcome this as good news. We are very grateful that the papyrus has been assigned to a scholar to edit, and we are eagerly awating its publication. This excitement and anticipation ought to be very positive for the scholar working on the editio princeps.

    I am very suprised and disappointed with the harsch attitude reflected by "anonymous." The thought that you might represent the Green Scholars Initiative or Baylor university makes me sad.

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  20. I agree with Tommy. The view presented by "anonymous" (whoever) does not reflect well on the academia, if it represents it at all.

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  21. If the papyrus was displayed publicly, and identified by the exhibitors, what on earth can be the problem?
    I am relieved to hear the papyrus is not from cartonnage— that (as I implied earlier) would really have been spectacular per se.

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  22. Museums and exhibitions around the world display items, expecting comments to be made on what is made public or can be derived by an observer, but almost universally restrict unsolicited photography. No problem with speculation on a blog site. The point is, which seems to missed on some, that the student came into the exhibition and took photos surreptitiously and apparently for his own advantage (he is working on a dissertation on Hebrews) without even seeking permission, which would have been denied. As I understand, he never even requested to talk to the anyone representing the collection about the object to find out anything about it and although approached about his actions, went straightaway with the photos and tried to work on the images, posting what he could derive from it. This has nothing to do with scholarship or academic freedom. It is a question of ethical conduct. This is precisely how misinformation is disseminated. The item will be properly published in due time.

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  23. Not really a great start for the Greek Collection Initiative. Perhaps we should start a scrap book.

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  24. I thank you all for coming to my defense. Regarding the photographs: when I entered the exhibit hall, I was given permission to use photography without flash. I saw other people taking photographs as well. If there was a contractual agreement about photography, the attendants on hand did not seem to be aware of it. I did not publish or distribute the photographs in any way. So where am I in the wrong about this?

    The most sinister motives have been put on my actions. It has been suggested that I represented the work as my own work and that I have claimed to be an expert in identifying the manuscript. I have made neither claim. I was simply reporting what I saw and learned about a new manuscript that was on public display. The placard at the exhibit identified it as a manuscript on Hebrews 11 dated to the second. All 4,000 people who went to the exhibit could read the same words I read and learn about the manuscript in the same way. Neither have I "worked" on the manuscript; some people asked questions and I responded. There was a discussion, just as if I had discussions among my own colleagues at Baylor, but in this case it is a more public forum.

    If it was inappropriate for me to report the discovery of a new manuscript on Hebrews, then I apologize. I certainly meant no harm and there was no intention to undermine the work of another scholar. There is still much that needs to be studied about this manuscript and I look forward to the publication of its results.

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  25. Apparently two comments by "anonymous" had got stuck in the spamfilter, so they have now been published and appear in chronological order; the first starts with "The item was dated by The Director of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Project at Oxford, Dirk Obbink. " The second with "Museums and exhibitions around the world display items, expecting comments to be made on what is made public or can be derived by an observer, but almost universally restrict unsolicited photography."

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  26. I was in Lichfield cathedral last week during the Birmingham colloqium. As I entered the exhibition of several invaluable items, like the Chad Gospels, or first edition of the King James, I asked if I could take photographs.

    Yes, but without flash was the answer. Apparently, this was also what the visitors were told by the staff during the exhibition at Baylor. If what the staff said about photos was "in violation of Baylor's contractual agreement with the Exhibition" then whose problem is that?

    Why do you (anonymous) suggest that the student took photos "surreptitiously" and who does not take photos for their "own advantage"?

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. I too, am a little concerned about the treatment of Brian. If the papyrus was on display, it's fair game to blog about. No IP is involved. The payprus itself is clearly too old to be copyrighted. Patents and trademarks don't apply. The only 'IP' that can apply is the owners right to control physical access to the article (known in IP circles as 'trade secret').

    Brian clearly did not from post the photos out of professional courtesy not because of an legal obligation. He reported only what was plainly published at the show. No one in this group would even think that he was "working on the papyrus". He made it quite clear someone else was working on the papyrus itself.

    If Brian was told *not* to take photos (either explicitly, or by general signage), then on that account (and that account alone) may merit some discipline. Clearly Brian believes that he had permission to take pictures, which makes the breach of contract issue *Baylor's* problem, not Brian's.

    The story had to generated a lot of goodwill for the final publication of the papyrus. Baylor's reaction to the blog has considerably damaged that. An apology from Baylor and Anonymous would probably completely restore that goodwill.

    bob

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  29. Anonymous,

    The statement about cartonnage probably originated as an incorrect deduction based on the statement in Scott Carroll's profile-page at the Baylor University ISR site, where it is stated that Carroll is "presently directing the research of some of the earliest-known Greek literary papyri in the world which Dr. Carroll extracted from mummy cartonnage and some of the earliest biblical texts known to-date."

    Now then: I'm in a Ziba-versus-Mephibosheth moment, but it seems to me that if Brian Small had really made an effort to behave unethically, he would have put his pictures of the papyrus online already. The fact that he did not do so says something. His report was incapable of ruining whatever surprises await when the papyrus is (eventually) published. So other than an apparent misunderstanding - you say photography was prohibited; Brian says non-flash photography was allowed - which does not seem to be Brian's fault, the whole situation seems non-problematic.

    Also: I assure you there has been no "veiled threat" from any participants here; what was meant was what was said; that's all. The intent, I believe, was not at all to castigate you, but to invite you to disclose your identity, since you seem to be invested in the subject somehow and you're basically saying, "We have top men working on it right now." Who?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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  30. So any way the implication behind this announcement is that the Green group have been purchasing unidentified literary papyri (Dr Carroll is working on publishing 15). I wonder where from. Fresh material from Egypt would be an option, but not exactly on the legal side of the spectrum. Literary texts already in Western collections and up for private sale are unlikely to have remained unidentified unless in the hands of someone who didn't care or know what they were. It could be an interesting story.

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  31. There is a nice video here : http://www.parenbonjour.com/2011/04/worlds-largest-private-collection-of.html
    You get a glimpse of a photo of P39 in the background at one point, but I couldn't see any papyri with Hebrews 11!

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  32. I wonder if Baylor U. will try to discipline me as an assossory to Brian's crimes for asking him (see above) to give the dimensions of the fragment?

    In all seriousness, if any of us had been where Brian was, and were told that non-flash photography was OK, we would have snapped photos, then rushed back to the office, and then collated that fragment to see what was there.

    If they had wanted to preserve that task for the assigned scholar, then they shouldn't have put it on public display and given the OK for photos.

    As it is, they apparently expected the public to act like Sargent Schultz after seeing the fragment..."I see nothing...I know nothing!"

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  33. There has obviously been an unfortunate misunderstanding. Anonymous is not an official spokesperson for Baylor University, and no formal reprimand has been lodged against Mr. Small by Baylor. The issue has been resolved internally to the satisfaction of all parties.
    Best Regards,
    Mikeal Parsons
    Department of Religion

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  34. There has obviously been an unfortunate misunderstanding. Anonymous is not an official spokesperson for Baylor University, and no formal reprimand has been lodged against Mr. Small by Baylor. The issue has been resolved internally to the satisfaction of all parties.
    Best Regards,
    Mikeal Parsons
    Department of Religion
    Baylor University
    (sorry I left off my institutional affiliation which is pretty important here!)

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  35. Thanks, Dr. Parsons. I'm glad everything seems to have been sorted out.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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