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The Nash Papyrus is a collection of four papyrus fragments acquired in Egypt in 1898 by W. L. Nash, the secretary of the Society of Biblical Archaeology. He presented them to Cambridge University Library in 1903. They comprise a single sheet and are not part of a scroll. The papyrus is of unknown provenance, although allegedly from Fayyum. The text was first described by Stanley A. Cook in 1903. Though dated by Cook to the 2nd century AD, subsequent reappraisals have pushed the date of the fragments back to about 150-100 BC. The papyrus was by far the oldest Hebrew manuscript fragment known at that time, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.
Twenty four lines long, with a few letters missing at each edge, the papyrus contains the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, followed by the start of the Shema Yisrael prayer. The text of the Ten Commandments combines parts of the version from Exodus 20:2-17 with parts from Deuteronomy 5:6-21. A curiosity is its omission of the phrase "house of bondage", used in both versions, about Egypt — perhaps a reflection of where the papyrus was composed.
Some (but not all) of the papyrus' substitutions from Deuteronomy are also found in the version of Exodus in the ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint also interpolates before Deuteronomy 6:4 the preamble to the Shema found in the papyrus, and additionally agrees with a couple of the other variant readings where the papyrus departs from the standard Hebrew Masoretic text. The ordering of the later commandments in the papyrus (Adultery-Murder-Steal, rather than Murder-Adultery-Steal) is also that found in most texts of the Septuagint, as well as in the New Testament (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9, and James 2:11, but not Matthew 19:18).
According to the Talmud it was once customary to read the Ten Commandments before saying the Shema. As Burkitt put it, "it is therefore reasonable to conjecture that this Papyrus contains the daily worship of a pious Egyptian Jew, who lived before the custom came to an end".
It is thus believed that the papyrus probably consisted of a liturgical document, specifically the constituents of a Phylactery, which may have purposely synthesised the two versions of the Commandments, rather than directly from Scripture. However, the similarities with the Septuagint text give strong evidence for the likely closeness of the Septuagint as a translation of a Hebrew text of the Pentateuch extant in Egypt in the 2nd century BC, which differed significantly from the texts later collated and preserved by the Masoretes.
- Cook, Stanley A. "A Pre-Massoretic Biblical Papyrus." Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 25 (1903): 34-56.
- Albright, William F. "A Biblical Fragment from the Maccabean Age: The Nash Papyrus." Journal of Biblical Literature 56 (1937): 145-176.
- Nash Papyrus, Cambridge Digital Library
- Burkitt, F.C., The Hebrew Papyrus of the Ten Commandments, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 15, 392-408 (1903)
- Greenberg, Moshe, "Nash Papyrus" in Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol.14, ed. Skolnik, Fred, et al. (Keter Publishing House, 2007), 783-784.