# Rylands Library Papyrus P52

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New Testament manuscripts
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Papyrus $\mathfrak{P}$52

The Rylands Papyrus 52 at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England
Text John 18:31–33, 37–38
Date c. 125
Script Greek
Found Egypt
Now at John Rylands University Library
Cite C. H. Roberts, "An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library" (Manchester University Press, 1935)
Size fragment
Type not ascertainable
Category I

The Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St. John's fragment, is a fragment from a papyrus codex, measuring only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 by 6 cm) at its widest; and conserved with the Rylands Papyri at the John Rylands University Library (Gr. P. 457), Manchester, UK. The front (recto) contains parts of seven lines from the Gospel of John 18:31–33, in Greek, and the back (verso) contains parts of seven lines from verses 37–38.[1] Since 2007, the papyrus has been on permanent display in the library's Deansgate building.

Although Rylands $\mathfrak{P}$52 is generally accepted as the earliest extant record of a canonical New Testament text,[2] the dating of the papyrus is by no means the subject of consensus among scholars. The style of the script is strongly Hadrianic, which would suggest a most probable date somewhere between 117 CE and 138 CE. But the difficulty of fixing the date of a fragment based solely on paleographic evidence allows a much wider range, potentially extending from before 100 CE past 150 CE.

The fragment of papyrus was among a group acquired on the Egyptian market in 1920 by Bernard Grenfell.[3] The original transcription and translation of the fragment of text was not done until 1934, by Colin H. Roberts.[4] Roberts found comparator hands in papyri then dated between the mid 1st and mid 2nd centuries, with the closest match of Hadrianic date. Since this gospel text would be unlikely to have reached Egypt before c. 100 CE[5] he proposed a date in the first half of the 2nd century. Over the 70 years since Roberts's essay, the estimated ages of his comparator undated literary hands have been revised (in common with most other undated antique papyri) towards dates a couple of decades older; while other dated comparator hands have subsequently been suggested with dates ranging into the second half of the 2nd century.

## Greek text

John Rylands Library Papyrus P52, recto
John Rylands Library Papyrus P52, verso

The papyrus is written on both sides, and the surviving portion also includes part of the top and inner margins of the page. The recto consequently preserves the top left corner of a right-hand page; while the verso preserves the top right corner of a left-hand page. The characters in bold style are the ones that can be seen in Papyrus $\mathfrak{P}$52.

Gospel of John 18:31-33 (recto)

ΟΙ ΙΟΥΔΑΙΟΙ ΗΜΙΝ ΟΥΚ ΕΞΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΠΟΚΤΕΙΝΑΙ
OYΔΕΝΑ ΙΝΑ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΙΗΣΟΥ ΠΛΗΡΩΘΗ ΟΝ ΕΙ-
ΠΕΝ ΣHΜΑΙΝΩΝ ΠΟΙΩ ΘΑΝΑΤΩ ΗΜΕΛΛΕΝ ΑΠΟ-
ΘΝHΣΚΕΙΝ ΕΙΣΗΛΘΕΝ ΟΥΝ ΠΑΛΙΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΠΡΑΙΤΩ-
ΡΙΟΝ Ο ΠIΛΑΤΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΕΦΩΝΗΣΕΝ ΤΟΝ ΙΗΣΟΥΝ
ΚΑΙ ΕΙΠΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΣΥ ΕΙ O ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΤΩΝ ΙΟΥ-
ΔAΙΩN
...

the Jews, "For us it is not permitted to kill
anyone," so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he sp-
oke signifying what kind of death he was going to
die. Entered therefore again into the Praeto-
rium Pilate and summoned Jesus
and said to him, "Thou art king of the

Jews?"

Gospel of John 18:37-38 (verso)

ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΕΙΜΙ ΕΓΩ ΕΙΣ TOΥΤΟ ΓΕΓΕΝΝΗΜΑΙ
ΚΑΙ (ΕΙΣ ΤΟΥΤΟ) ΕΛΗΛΥΘΑ ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΚΟΣΜΟΝ ΙΝΑ ΜΑΡΤY-
ΡΗΣΩ ΤΗ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ ΠΑΣ Ο ΩΝ EΚ ΤΗΣ ΑΛΗΘΕI-
ΑΣ ΑΚΟΥΕΙ ΜΟΥ ΤΗΣ ΦΩΝΗΣ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΩ
Ο ΠΙΛΑΤΟΣ ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ ΚAΙ ΤΟΥΤO
ΕΙΠΩΝ ΠΑΛΙΝ ΕΞΗΛΘΕΝ ΠΡΟΣ ΤΟΥΣ ΙΟΥ-
ΔΑΙΟΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΙΣ ΕΓΩ ΟΥΔEΜΙΑΝ
ΕΥΡΙΣΚΩ ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΑΙΤΙΑΝ
...

a King I am. For this I have been born
and (for this) I have come into the world so that I would
testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth
hears of me my voice." Said to him
Pilate, "What is truth?" and this
having said, again he went out unto the Jews
and said to them, "I find not one

fault in him."

There appears insufficient room for the repeated phrase (ΕΙΣ ΤΟΥΤΟ) in the second line of the verso, and it is suggested that these words were inadvertently dropped through haplography.

The writing is generously scaled – letter forms vary between 0.3 and 0.4 cm in height, lines are spaced approximately 0.5 cm apart, and there is a margin of 2 cm at the top. C. H. Roberts commented: ".. to judge from the spacing and the size of the text, it is unlikely that the format was affected by considerations of economy". This suggests that the manuscript was intended for public reading. If the original codex did indeed contain the entire text of the canonical Gospel of John, it would have constituted a single quire book of around 130 pages (i.e. 33 large folded papyrus sheets written on both sides); measuring approximately 21 by 20 cm when closed. Roberts noted a glued vertical join in the papyrus slightly inside the inner margin and visible on the verso, indicating that the large sheets used for the codex were likely to have been specially prepared for the purpose, each having been constructed from two standard sized sheets measuring approximately 21 cm by 16 cm, with a central narrower sheet approximately 21 cm by 8 cm constituting the spine. Roberts describes the handwriting as "heavy, rounded and rather elaborate", but nevertheless not the work of "a practised scribe" (i.e. not a professional bookhand). Roberts notes comments that had recently been made by the editors of the Egerton Gospel; and says similarly it could be said of $\mathfrak{P}$52 that it "has a somewhat informal air about it and with no claims to fine writing is yet a careful piece of work".

In total, 114 legible letters are visible on the two sides of the fragment, representing 18 out of the 24 letters of the Greek Alphabet; beta, zeta, xi, phi, chi, and psi being missing. Roberts noted that the writing is painstaking and rather laboured, with individual letters apparently inked twice (e.g. sigma at line 3 of the recto). Several letters are inclined to stray away from the notional upper and lower writing lines. Another peculiarity is that there are two distinct forms of the letter alpha; most are formed from a separate loop and diagonal stroke, where the stroke has a distinctive decorative hook; but on the fourth line of the verso there is a smaller alpha formed by a single spiralling loop with no decorative hook. These observations support the supposition that the scribe was an educated person writing carefully, rather than a professional scribe writing to order; such that, on occasion, the writer inadvertently reverted to the letter forms of his smaller everyday hand.

In 1977, Roberts surveyed fourteen Christian papyri, comprising all the Christian manuscripts then commonly assessed as likely having a second century date and including $\mathfrak{P}$52. He considered that only three of these texts had a calligraphic bookhand, such as was then standard in formal manuscripts of Greek literature, or in most Graeco-Jewish biblical scrolls. Of the other eleven, including $\mathfrak{P}$52, he states that their scribes were:

..not trained in calligraphy and so not accustomed to writing books, though they were familiar with them; they employ what is basically a documentary hand but at the same time they are aware that it is a book and not a document on which they are engaged. They are not personal or private hands; and in most a degree of regularity and of clarity is aimed at and achieved. Such hands may be described as "reformed documentary". (One advantage for the paleographer in such hands is that with their close links to the documents they are somewhat less difficult to date than purely calligraphic hands).[6]

It may be added that the codex of $\mathfrak{P}$52, with its good quality papyrus, wide margins, large clear upright letters, short lines, and bilinear writing, would have presented an overall appearance not far from that of professionally written books such as $\mathfrak{P}$64 or $\mathfrak{P}$77, even though its actual letter forms are not as fine, and are closer to documentary exemplars.

## Date

The significance of $\mathfrak{P}$52 rests both upon its proposed early dating and upon its geographic dispersal from the presumed site of authorship; traditionally thought to have been Ephesus. As the fragment is removed from the autograph by at least one step of transmission, the date of authorship for the Gospel of John must be at least a few years prior to the dating of $\mathfrak{P}$52. The location of the fragment in Egypt extends that time even further, allowing for the dispersal of the documents from the point of authorship and transmission to the point of discovery. The Gospel of John is perhaps quoted by Justin Martyr, and hence is highly likely to have been written before c. 160 CE; but many New Testament scholars have argued from the proposed dating of $\mathfrak{P}$52 prior to this, that the latest possible date for the composition of the Gospel should be pushed back into the early decades of the second century – indeed not much later than the traditionally accepted date of c. 90 CE, or even before that.

Scepticism about the use of $\mathfrak{P}$52 to date the Gospel of John (not about the fragment's authenticity) is based on two issues. First, the papyrus has been dated based on the handwriting alone, without the support of textual evidence. Secondly, like all other surviving early Gospel manuscripts, this fragment is not from a scroll but from a codex; a sewn and folded book not a roll. If it dates from the first half of the second century, this fragment would be amongst the earlier surviving examples of a literary codex. (Around 90 CE, Martial circulated his poems in codex form, presenting this as a novelty.) The year before Roberts published $\mathfrak{P}$52, the British Museum library had acquired papyrus fragments of the Egerton Gospel which are also from a codex, and these were published in 1935. Since the text of $\mathfrak{P}$52 is that of the canonical Gospel of John, whereas the Egerton Gospel is not, there was considerable interest amongst biblical scholars as to whether $\mathfrak{P}$52 could be dated as the earlier of the two papyri.

$\mathfrak{P}$52 is a literary text and, in common with almost all such papyri, has no explicit indicator of date. Proposing a date for it required comparison with dated texts, which tend to be documentary (contracts, petitions, letters) and, unlike $\mathfrak{P}$52, are often the work of professional scribes. Roberts proposed four dated papyri as close comparators: Abb 34 (ca. 110-117 CE), P. Fayum 110 (94 CE), P. London 2078 (81-96 CE), and P. Oslo 22 (127 CE). Of these, P. Fayum 110 is the only one that shares the characteristic dual form of alpha found in $\mathfrak{P}$52; while P. Oslo 22 is most similar in some of the more distinctive letter forms, e.g. eta, mu and iota. Roberts also suggested two literary texts as comparators: P. Berol. 6845 (a fragment of the Iliad estimated to date around 100 CE) which he suggested (other than in the form of the letter alpha) is "the closest parallel to our text that I have been able to find"; and the Egerton Gospel itself, which was then estimated to date around 150 CE. He stated that it had "most of the characteristics of our hand ... though in a less accentuated form". Roberts circulated his assessment to three fellow paleographers: Frederic G. Kenyon, W. Schubart and H. I. Bell; all concurred with his dating of $\mathfrak{P}$52 in the first half of the 2nd century. Kenyon suggested another dated comparator in P. Flor I (153 CE); but Roberts did not consider the similarity to be very close, other than for particular letters, as the overall style of that hand was cursive. In the same year 1935, Roberts's assessment of date was supported by the independent studies of A. Deissmann, who, while producing no actual evidence, suggested a date in the reigns of Trajan (98-117) or Hadrian (117-138).[7] In 1936 the dating was supported by Ulrich Wilcken on the basis of a comparison between the hand of P52 and those of papyri in the extensive Apollonius archive which are dated 113-120.

Subsequently, a number of other comparator papyri have been suggested, notably P.Oxy. 2533, where a literary text dated to the early second century in a hand very close to $\mathfrak{P}$52 has been written on the back of a re-used document in a late first century business hand. In addition, the discovery of several other papyrus codices of the early second century suggested that this form of book was more common for literary texts at this date than had previously been assumed. Consequently, until the 1990s, the tendency was to suggest a date for $\mathfrak{P}$52 towards the earlier half of the range suggested by Roberts and his correspondents. However, a cautionary note was raised by the discovery that a papyrus fragment in Cologne constitutes part of the Egerton Gospel. In this fragment the letters gamma and kappa are separated by an apostrophe, a feature very rare in dated second century papyri; which accordingly implies a date for the Egerton Gospel closer to 200 CE - and indicates the perils of ascribing a date for a papyrus text of which only a small part of two pages survives.

The early date for $\mathfrak{P}$52 favoured by many New Testament scholars has been challenged by Andreas Schmidt, who favours a date around 170 AD, plus or minus twenty-five years; on the basis of a comparison with Chester Beatty Papyrus X and with the redated Egerton Gospel.[8] Brent Nongbri[9] has criticized all attempts to establish a paleographic date for papyri like $\mathfrak{P}$52 within such narrow ranges. Nongbri collected and published a wide range of dated comparator manuscripts; demonstrating that, although there are plentiful examples of hands similar to that of $\mathfrak{P}$52 in the early second century, two later dated papyri also had similar hands (P. Mich. inv. 5336, dated to 152 CE; and P.Amh. 2.78, an example first suggested by E. G. Turner, that dates to 184 CE). Nongbri suggests that this implied that older styles of handwriting might persist much longer than some scholars had assumed, and that a prudent margin of error must allow a still wider range of possible dates for the papyrus:

What emerges from this survey is nothing surprising to papyrologists: paleography is not the most effective method for dating texts, particularly those written in a literary hand. Roberts himself noted this point in his edition of $\mathfrak{P}$52. The real problem is the way scholars of the New Testament have used and abused papyrological evidence. I have not radically revised Roberts's work. I have not provided any third-century documentary papyri that are absolute "dead ringers" for the handwriting of $\mathfrak{P}$52, and even had I done so, that would not force us to date P52 at some exact point in the third century. Paleographic evidence does not work that way. What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. Thus, P52 cannot be used as evidence to silence other debates about the existence (or non-existence) of the Gospel of John in the first half of the second century. Only a papyrus containing an explicit date or one found in a clear archaeological stratigraphic context could do the work scholars want P52 to do. As it stands now, the papyrological evidence should take a second place to other forms of evidence in addressing debates about the dating of the Fourth Gospel.

Nevertheless, most scholars continue to favour the earlier dating, though the possibility of a later date cannot be entirely discounted. The John Rylands Library continues to maintain Roberts's assessment of the date of $\mathfrak{P}$52, that it "may with some confidence be dated in the first half of the second century A.D.",[10] and the date is given as c. 125 in standard reference works.

## Text-critical significance

If the early dating of the papyrus is in fact correct, then the fact that the fragment is from a codex rather than a scroll would testify to the very early adoption of this mode of writing amongst Christians, in stark contrast to the invariable practice of contemporary Judaism. Furthermore, an assessment of the length of 'missing' text between the recto and verso readings corresponds with that in the counterpart canonical Gospel of John; and hence confirms that there are unlikely to have been substantial additions or deletions in this whole portion. Other than two itacisms, and in the probable omission of the second ΕΙΣ ΤΟΥΤΟ from line 2 of the verso, $\mathfrak{P}$52 agrees with the Alexandrian text base. In lines 4 and 5 of the recto the reconstructed text reads ΠΑΛΙΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΠΡΑΙΤΩΡΙΟΝ in agreement with $\mathfrak{P}$66 and with the Codex Vaticanus whereas the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and the Majority Text all have the alternative word order; ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΠΡΑΙΤΩΡΙΟΝ ΠΑΛΙΝ, but this is hardly a significant variant. Since this fragment is small – about nine by six centimeters – it cannot be proven that it comes from a full copy of the John that we know; but it may be presumed that the original text was at least of near full gospel length to be worth the extra care and time required in writing in codex form.

$\mathfrak{P}$52 is small, and although a plausible reconstruction can be attempted for most of the fourteen lines represented, the proportion of the text of the Gospel of John for which it provides a direct witness is necessarily limited, so it is rarely cited in textual debate.[11][12][13] There has, however, been some contention as to whether the name ΙΗΣΟΥ (Jesus) in the 'missing' portions of recto lines 2 and 5 was originally written as nomen sacrum; in other words, was it contracted to ΙΣ or ΙΗΣ in accordance with otherwise universal Christian practice in surviving early Gospel manuscripts, including the Egerton Gospel? Roberts originally considered that the divine name was more likely to have been written in full, but later changed his mind. This is also the view of Larry W. Hurtado; with C. M. Tuckett maintaining Roberts' original opinion. The verses included in $\mathfrak{P}$52 are also witnessed in Bodmer Papyrus $\mathfrak{P}$66 – usually dated to the beginning of the 3rd century CE – there is also some overlap with $\mathfrak{P}$60 and $\mathfrak{P}$90 of the 7th and 2nd centuries respectively. No two of the four contain the same exact text as reconstructed for John 18:31-38, but $\mathfrak{P}$52 seems to represent an example of the same proto-Alexandrian text-type. Aland described it as a "Normal text", and placed it in Category I (because of its age).[1]

## First publication

• C. H. Roberts (editor), An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1935.[14]

## Notes

1. ^ a b Aland, Kurt; Barbara Aland; Erroll F. Rhodes (trans.) (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-8028-4098-1.; Kurt und Barbara Aland, Der Text des Neuen Testaments. Einführung in die wissenschaftlichen Ausgaben sowie in Theorie und Praxis der modernen Textkritik. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart 1989, S. 109. ISBN 3-438-06011-6
2. ^ See 7Q5 for an alternative candidate.
3. ^ The papyrus may have come surreptitiously from Oxyrhyncus.
4. ^ Roberts, “An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library”, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library XX, 1936:45-55.
5. ^ For the date of the text, see Gospel of John.
6. ^ Roberts, C. H. Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt, London: OUP for the British Academy, 1979 (based on the 1977 series of Schweich Lectures), pp. 12-14
7. ^ Deissmann, Adolf. "Ein Evangelienblatt aus den Tagen Hadrians." Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung; 564, 3 Dezemb. 1935
8. ^ A. Schmidt, "Zwei Anmerkungen zu P. Ryl. III 457," Archiv für Papyrusforschung 35 (1989:11–12).
9. ^ Nongbri, p. 48.
10. ^ St John Fragment John Rylands Library
11. ^ Tuckett 2001:544
12. ^ New Testament Manuscripts: Papyri
13. ^ "The oldest New Testament: P52" Historian.net.
14. ^ An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library; ed. C. H. Roberts. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1935

## References

• Hurtado, Larry W. (2003) "P52 (P.Rylands Gr 457) and the Nomina Sacra; Method and Probability." Tyndale Bulletin 54.1.
• Nongbri, Brent (2005) "The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel." Harvard Theological Review 98:23-52.
• Roberts, C. H. (1936) "An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 20:45-55.
• Roberts, C. H. (1979) Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt, OUP.
• Schnelle, Udo (1998) The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings.
• Tuckett, Christopher M. (2001) "P52 and Nomina Sacra." New Testament Studies 47:544-48.
• Comfort, Philip W.; David P. Barrett (2001). The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers. pp. 365–368. ISBN 978-0-8423-5265-9.