Chapter 9
The Age of Discoveries (continued)
The Chester Beatty Papyri

The major discoveries of the period between 1881 and 1930 have now been mentioned, and they are sufficient to give this half-century a special distinction in the history of the Bible. But they were accompanied by a multitude of smaller ones, which deserve a brief mention. Vellum manuscripts of some importance continued to come to light; in particular, four handsome volumes, of about the sixth century, emerged from various out-of-the-way places, one from Rossano, in Southern Italy, one from Albania, one from Cappadocia, and one from Sinope on the Black Sea. Two of them contained illustrations, and must have been very sumptuous volumes when complete. All are connected in character, and represent an early stage in the production of the Byzantine text. Another uncial manuscript of good character, especially in Mark, was discovered by Gregory on Mount Athos; it is interesting as having the shorter ending to Mark (in place of vv. 9-20), which is referred to in the marginal note in our Revised Version. Some hundreds of minuscule manuscripts were also added to the list, mainly from monasteries in the East; but these are mostly of small importance.

Meanwhile the flood of papyri from Egypt, which we have already mentioned as having begun in 1877 and still more significantly in 1890, was continuing unabated. One of these, though not strictly speaking Biblical, had a special interest for Christian students. This was a leaf, discovered by Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus and published in 1897, containing several 'Sayings of Jesus', or, as they are commonly called from the Greek word meaning 'sayings' or 'oracular utterances', 'Logia'. These, though they can have little claim to authenticity, and are akin to some sayings recorded in early Christian writings, are remarkable and even impressive in character. For instance: 'Jesus saith, Wherever there are two, they are not without God, and wherever there is one alone, I say, I am with him. Raise the stone, and there thou shalt find me; cleave the wood, and there am I.' Or again: 'Jesus saith, Let not him who seeks cease until he finds, and when he finds he shall be astonished; astonished he shall reach the kingdom, and having reached the kingdom he shall rest.' In 1903 a second leaf, evidently from the same work, though not from the same manuscript, was discovered, and published in 1904. The second quotation above comes from this leaf. [1]

Of the Biblical papyri, which were not numerous, the only one of much size was one which contained a considerable part of the Epistle to the Hebrews, written on the back of an Epitome of Livy. [2] This (which is probably of the late fourth century) is of some importance in view of the fact that the Vaticanus lacks the latter part of this Epistle. The rest were small fragments, individually of slight importance, but collectively of some value as showing that the neutral type of text was by no means universally current in Egypt in the third and fourth centuries, to which most of them belong. Two of them (which have small portions of Acts) are rather definitely 'Western', and none of them are exclusively 'Neutral', though several include readings of that type. None of the earlier fragments are Byzantine. Though their evidence with regard to particular readings does not amount to much, they are of value as throwing a little light on the general character of the type or types of text current in Egypt during this period. Papyri of the Old Testament are of more importance, including two of portions of the Minor Prophets (one in the Freer collection at Washington and one, a late codex, at Heidelberg), two of the Psalms (British Museum and Leipzig), and one of Genesis at Berlin. (An unpublished catalogue of Biblical papyri by Mr. P. L. Hedley enumerates 174 of the O.T. and 157 of the N.T., but most are very small and unimportant.)

Papyri have also been of considerable importance in respect of the Sahidic or Old Coptic version. Of this a large number of fragments (sometimes containing Greek and Coptic texts in parallel columns) and a few substantial manuscripts have come to light. Some of these relate to the Old Testament, notably a complete Psalter of about the seventh century, now in the British Museum, and a less perfect one, on tiny leaves measuring about 3 inches by 2.75 inches, in the Freer collection at Washington. But more important than these are a codex in the British Museum containing Deuteronomy, Jonah, and Acts (a curious combination), which can be dated with some confidence to about the middle of the fourth century, and another, not much later in date, of the Gospel of St. John, excavated by Mr. Starkey (working under Mr. Guy Brunton) and now the property of the British and Foreign Bible Society. From these materials it has been possible for the Rev. G. Horner to reconstruct practically the whole of the Sahidic New Testament, an achievement of great value in view of the age and textual importance of this version.

Such was the position in 1930, when a discovery was made which threw all the others in the shade, and which is indeed only to be rivaled by that of the Codex Sinaiticus. This was the group of papyri now known as the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri. The circumstances of the find have never been fully revealed; indeed they are known only to the natives who made it, and their statements, for obvious reasons, are not very dependable. The first reports spoke of the district of the Fayum, to the west of the Nile; but information given to Dr. Carl Schmidt was to the effect that the actual site was on the opposite side of the river, near the remains of the ancient city of Aphroditopolis. The papyri are said to have been found in a Coptic graveyard, enclosed in one or more jars, which is very probable, for other papyri have from time to time been similarly found, jars or buckets having been frequently used as receptacles for books in antiquity. They passed into the hands of dealers and the bulk of the collection was acquired by Mr. A. Chester Beatty, a well-known American collector resident in England and the owner of a magnificent collection of illuminated manuscripts, both Western and Oriental. Some leaves and fragments, however, were acquired by the University of Michigan, and a few are in other hands; and it is quite possible that others may still turn up, since native discoverers are apt to divide their spoils, and dealers sometimes hold back a portion of a collection. As will be seen, some important additions have already been made to the find as originally announced.

The discovery was first notified by the present writer in an article in The Times of 17th November, 1931. It was then described as consisting of portions of twelve manuscripts, of which eight contained books of the Old Testament, three of the New, while one contained some chapters of the apocryphal Book of Enoch and an unidentified Christian homily. The Old Testament group included: (1) two substantial manuscripts of Genesis, one of the late third and the other of the early fourth century, covering between them the greater part of the book, and of especial value because both the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are almost wholly lacking in this book; (2) a manuscript of Numbers and Deuteronomy, in a beautiful hand which cannot be later than the first half of the second century, of which portions (often very small) of fifty leaves have been preserved out of an original total of 108, with a large number of tiny fragments which it is difficult, if not impossible, to place; (3) a very fragmentary and tattered manuscript of Isaiah, finely written, apparently early in the third century, with a few marginal notes in Coptic; (4) one imperfect leaf (a portion of a second has since been identified) of Jeremiah, of the late second or early third century; (5) a manuscript of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Esther, originally described as two distinct manuscripts, but it is now clear that all the leaves belong to a single codex, though the Ezekiel is written in a different hand from the Daniel and Esther; it originally consisted of 118 leaves, of which 29 are in the Chester Beatty collection (8 each of Ezekiel and Esther, and 13 of Daniel), and 21 of Ezekiel, more perfect, in Princeton University Library; it was a tall, narrow volume, of which the lower third of each Chester Beatty leaf has been lost, in hands which may be assigned to the first half of the third century; (6) one leaf, and part of a second, of Ecclesiasticus, in a large, rough hand of the fourth century.

The New Testament books are of exceptional importance. One was originally a copy of all four Gospels and the Acts, written in a small hand which palaeographers agree in assigning to the first half of the third century-that is to say, a century older than the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Portions of thirty leaves are preserved, out of an original total of 110; two are of Matthew, six of Mark, seven of Luke, two of John, and thirteen of Acts; but those of Matthew are almost negligible fragments, and those of Mark and Acts are small, though sufficient to be very useful. Some small fragments of this manuscript were among the Michigan acquisition, but were generously transferred to Mr. Beatty; and some scraps of Matthew, which combine with the Beatty fragments, are at Vienna. The second New Testament manuscript was originally announced as ten imperfect leaves of a codex of the Pauline Epistles, including portions of Romans, Philippians, Colossians, and I Thessalonians; but subsequent discoveries have greatly enlarged this description. First it was announced that the University of Michigan had acquired thirty leaves, in much more perfect condition, of the same manuscript, which were published in 1935 by Professor H. A. Sanders; and now it is permissible to announce that forty-six more leaves, also in excellent condition, have been secured by Mr. Beatty. Therefore we now have, not merely a small portion, but nearly the whole of a copy of the Epistles of St. Paul, written in a fine hand which is not later than the middle of the third century, and which the foremost of then living papyrologists (Professor U. Wilcken) would place about A.D. 200. Seven leaves are missing at the beginning, and a corresponding number (some of which may have been blank) at the end, but otherwise only four leaves (which one may hope have only been accidentally separated, and may yet turn up) are wanting; so that in all we have eighty-six leaves out of a total of 104. The Pastoral Epistles do not seem to have been included in the volume, for the missing leaves at the end are not sufficient to contain them. Otherwise the collection is complete except for 2 Thessalonians, which must have occupied part of the missing leaves; and it is noticeable that Hebrews is placed immediately after Romans (an almost unprecedented position), which shows that at the early date when this manuscript was written no doubt was felt as to its Pauline authorship. Through the generous co-operation of the Michigan authorities, the whole was published together in 1936, in a Supplement to the Beatty series, constituting a notable addition to the textual apparatus of the Epistles of St. Paul, in a copy written only about a century and a half after his death.

The third New Testament manuscript is ten leaves (about one-third of the whole) of the book of Revelation, written in a rather rough hand, originally assigned to the second half of the third century, but which Wilcken would place in the first half, and perhaps near the beginning of it. In all, therefore, it will be seen that in these three papyrus manuscripts we have all the books of the New Testament, with the exception of the Pastoral and Catholic Epistles, represented more or less in copies which can be confidently assigned to the third century. A large part of the gap between the original writers and the earliest manuscripts which we possessed of them has thus been filled; and who knows what the future may still bring?

Finally, Mr. Beatty has eight leaves and two fragments, and the University of Michigan six leaves, of another manuscript, which contains the last eleven chapters of the Book of Enoch, here entitled 'The Epistle of Enoch', and a Christian homily which Professor Campbell Bonner of Michigan has identified as the work of Melito of Sardis, who wrote in the second half of the second century. His name is plain to see in the papyrus, but the recognition of it is wholly due to Professor Bonner. The Enoch portion of the manuscript gives us for the first time the original Greek text of Chapters 97-107 (Ch. 108, which is avowedly a different work, is not present). Before 1886 the book was only known (apart from a few quotations) in an Ethiopic translation. In that year a vellum manuscript was discovered, at Akhmim, in Egypt which contained the first thirty-six chapters of it in Greek, together with portions of the apocryphal Gospel and Apocalypse of Peter. The present discovery makes a very welcome addition to our knowledge of the book, which was very popular in ancient times, and is quoted in the Epistle of St. Jude. The papyrus is roughly written, by a scribe whose knowledge of Greek was very imperfect. This perhaps gives it a later appearance than its true date, and those who have studied it are inclined to place it in the fourth century. In recognition of the great courtesy of the University of Michigan in respect of the other manuscripts, the publication of Enoch and Melito has been left in the very capable hands of Professor Bonner. (It was published 1937-40).

It will now be realized what an epoch-making addition to our knowledge of the history of the Bible has been made by this discovery. Instead of our evidence for the text of the Greek Bible beginning with the fourth century, we now have several witnesses from the third century, and one even from the beginning of the second. As already indicated in Chapter 3, we have learnt much of the way in which books were written and circulated in the second and third centuries, and a flood of new light has been thrown on the condition of the text, and especially of the Gospel text, during this previously dim period. Let us see what this new evidence amounts to, especially with regard to the New Testament, and its bearing on the problems and controversies which have been stated above.

Imperfect as the papyrus of the Gospels and Acts is, there is enough, except in respect of Matthew, to show what the general character of the text was. Two points are clear at once: it does not align itself wholly with either the Neutral or the Western family, still less with the Byzantine; and its character is not the same in all the books. Fuller analysis of the various readings leads to the interesting conclusion that in Mark it quite definitely shows more agreement with the Caesarean group (especially with the Washington Codex) than with any other, and thus (considering its date) reinforces the probability that the Caesarean text was extant in Egypt before Origen left that country. In Luke and John the Caesarean text has not yet been identified, but the papyrus here comes closer to the Neutral group, without, however, being by any means identical with it. Rather, it may be said to hold an intermediate position between the Neutral and Western groups, inclining to the Neutral side in Luke, and slightly to the Western in John. It has none of the more striking variants found in the more extreme Western authorities in Luke. In Acts it is distinctly nearer to the Neutral group than to the Western. It is interesting and significant to notice that while it contains several readings for which the evidence is mainly Western, or at any rate non-Neutral, it has none of the readings especially characteristic of the Western text, which are particularly numerous and noticeable in this book. The conclusions to be drawn from this will be considered in Chapter 10.

NOTE: The existence of a "Caesarean text" is doubtful. See the opinions of more recent scholars given here. --M.D.M.

With regard to the Pauline Epistles, final results cannot yet be given, since there has not been time fully to digest the new material which has so lately been added to our knowledge of this manuscript. It can, however, be stated with confidence that the character of the manuscript is fairly uniform throughout; that it agrees definitely with the Neutral group (which here includes the Alexandrinus as well as the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) rather than with the Western (which is represented by the three Graeco-Latin manuscripts known as D, F, G) ; and that its agreement is greatest with the Vaticanus, and next to that with the Sinaiticus. One reading of special interest may be noted. There has always been some doubts as to the position of the doxology which in our ordinary texts stands at the end of Romans (xvi. 25-7). This is a case in which our 'received text' does not represent the Byzantine text current in the Middle Ages; for the great mass of the minuscule manuscripts (and one uncial, L) have these verses at the end of chapter xiv. Erasmus, however, preferred here to follow the Vulgate, which agrees with the older Greek manuscripts. The Alexandrinus and a few other authorities have them in both places; which seems to represent a transitional stage in the transposition of the passage from one place to the other, or to show that it was sometimes read in one place and sometimes in the other. The Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Claromontanus, and a few other manuscripts and the older versions have them at the end of chapter xvi. A few Western authorities (a corrector of the Claromontanus and the manuscripts F, G) have them in neither place. There was evidently some uncertainty about the two last chapters in ancient times, and the second-century heretic Marcion seems to have omitted them from his edition of the Pauline Epistles. These doubts have been revived by modern scholars, who especially find difficulties in chapter xvi, with its long list of greetings to individuals in a church which St. Paul had not then visited. Chapter xv is not easily separable from chapter xiv, and the internal arguments against its being an original part of the Epistle are not convincing; but chapter xvi is in any case of the nature of a postscript. It is therefore interesting to find that our papyrus inserts the doxology at the end of chapter xv, proceeding immediately to append the text of xvi. If any authority had previously been known which placed it in this position, it is likely that many scholars would have accepted it as correct, whether they regarded chapter xvi as a postscript or (as some think) as an originally quite distinct letter of introduction for Phoebe to the church at Ephesus. The absence of other support is the main reason which makes one hesitate to accept the evidence of this, the earliest extant authority for the Epistle; but it certainly adds a new element to a puzzling problem. Perhaps the most probable solution is that it was usual to read the doxology in church at the end of either xiv or xv, omitting (as of no edificatory interest) the long list of personal salutations in xvi.

Of the Revelation papyrus all that need be said is that it ranges itself on the whole with the oldest of our previously known authorities, but is independent of all of them. The authorities for this book fall into three groups: (1) four uncial manuscripts, headed by the Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus (the Vaticanus is defective here); (2) a later uncial and about 40 minuscules, which seem to represent a revision; (3) the Byzantine text. The Beatty papyrus shows most agreements with the early uncials, and least with the Byzantine text; but in doubtful readings it disagrees more often than it agrees with each of them.

With regard to the Old Testament portion of the Beatty collection, since we are not dealing here with the Old Testament at any length, it may suffice to call attention to three points which show how important this part of the discovery is. In the first place it gives us by far the oldest text we have of the book of Genesis. The Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are deficient in this book, and we have hitherto had to depend mainly on the Alexandrinus of the fifth century. Now we have the two Beatty papyri, covering between them the greater part of the book; and to these has to be added yet another recent discovery, a very fragmentary papyrus at Berlin, probably of the early part of the fourth century, originally acquired in 1906 but not published till 1927, by C. Schmidt and H. A. Sanders (University of Michigan Studies). Between these three papyri there is a marked affinity, and we now have a fairly secure foundation for the Septuagint text of this book.

Next, the papyrus of Numbers and Deuteronomy has the distinction of being the oldest extant manuscript of any part of the Bible in any language. Its discovery increases our hopes of the eventual discovery of other manuscripts of the second or even the first century. For the Old Testament it would be of the greatest assistance to have a manuscript of some book other than the Pentateuch (in which, as explained above, variations are fewer and less important) earlier than the time of Origen, whose well-meant labours did much to obscure the original form of the Greek version by incorporating the readings of the accepted Hebrew text; and for the New Testament it would go far towards solving the problems of the various families of text that have come down to us.

Thirdly, the papyrus of Daniel has a special interest, which can be briefly explained. In this book the Septuagint version differs markedly from the Hebrew, and there is evidence that it gave dissatisfaction at a very early date. It was accordingly superseded by a new translation, based upon the Hebrew text as established after A.D. 100, made by Theodotion in the second half of the second century; and so effectively was it replaced that it has survived only in a single late Greek manuscript and in a Syriac translation. It is therefore a real contribution to knowledge to find that the Beatty papyrus has the original Septuagint version, for which it supplies us, for a large part of the book, with evidence perhaps a thousand years older than our only other Greek witness, and enables us to check the value of the latter's evidence. So far as appears from a first examination, it seems (as one would expect from its date) to be independent of the influence of Origen.

Such are, in brief summary, the contents and character of the Chester Beatty papyri. They are indeed a momentous discovery, affecting alike the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the non-canonical literature of the Church. They have carried back the evidences of our faith by a century, they have given us specimens of the volumes of the Gospels and of the Pauline Epistles which were in use among the Christians of the third century, and they give us an insight into the manner in which the text of the sacred books was handed down through the ages of persecution. Other discoveries may yet be made -- indeed some, not so directly affecting the Bible text, have already been reported; but these are sufficient to make our generation remarkable in Bible history. It remains to make an attempt to sum up the conclusions to which all the discoveries of the last fifty years seem to point.

Since this book was first in type, two interesting discoveries have been announced. One is a small fragment of a papyrus codex containing parts of John xviii. 31-3, 37, 38, of the first half of the second century, discovered by Mr. C. H. Roberts among the papyri in the John Rylands Library at Manchester. It is the earliest extant fragment of the New Testament, and is a conclusive proof of the early date of the Fourth Gospel. The other consists of portions of three leaves of a papyrus codex of a hitherto unknown Gospel, with close similarities in phrase with the Synoptic Gospels and St. John. This (which is in the British Museum, and has been edited by H. I. Bell and T. C. Skeat) also is of the first half of the second century. Either it is one of the narratives to which St. Luke refers in his preface, or, if it is based upon the canonical Gospels, it is a proof of the early date of all of them, including the Fourth, which must certainly belong to the first century.

1. The first leaf of the Logia is now in the Bodleian, the second in the British Museum.

2. Originally published as Oxyrhynchus papyrus 657; now Brit. Mus. 1532.