The Egerton Gospel (British Library Egerton Papyrus 2) refers to a collection of three papyrus fragments of a codex of a previously unknown gospel, found in Egypt and sold to the British Museum in 1934; the physical fragments are now dated to the very end of the 2nd century CE. Together they comprise one of the oldest surviving witnesses to any gospel, or any codex. The British Museum lost no time in publishing the text: acquired in the summer of 1934, it was in print in 1935. It is also called the Unknown Gospel, as no ancient source makes reference to it, in addition to being entirely unknown before its publication. The fragmentary manuscript forms part of the Egerton Collection in the British Library. A fourth fragment of the same manuscript has since been identified in the papyrus collection of the University of Cologne.
The surviving fragments include four stories: 1) a controversy similar to John 5:39-47 and 10:31-39; 2) curing a leper similar to Matt 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16 and Luke 17:11-14; 3) a controversy about paying tribute to Caesar analogous to Matt 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26; and 4) an incomplete account of a miracle on the Jordan River bank, perhaps carried out to illustrate the parable about seeds growing miraculously. The latter story has no equivalent in canonical Gospels:
Jesus walked and stood on the bank of the Jordan river; he reached out his right hand, and filled it.... And he sowed it on the... And then...water...and...before their eyes; and it brought forth fruit...many...for joy...
Dating the manuscript
The date of the manuscript is established on paleography alone. When the Egerton fragments were first published its date was estimated at around 150 CE; implying that, of early Christian papyri it would be rivalled in age only by 52, the John Rylands Library fragment of the Gospel of John. Later, when an additional papyrus fragment of the Egerton Gospel text was identified in the University of Cologne collection (Papyrus Köln 255) and published in 1987, it was found to fit on the bottom of one of the British Library papyrus pages. In this additional fragment a single use of a hooked apostrophe in between two consonants was observed, a practice that became standard in Greek punctuation at the beginning of the 3rd century; and this sufficed to revise the date of the Egerton manuscript. This study placed the manuscript to around the time of Bodmer Papyri 66, c. 200; noting that Eric Turner had confirmed the paleographic dating of 66 as around 200 CE, citing use of the hooked apostrophe in that papyrus in support of this date.
The revised dating for the Egerton Papyrus continues to carry wide support. However, Stanley Porter has reviewed the dating of the Egerton Papryus alongside that of 52; noting that the scholarly consensus dating the former to the turn of the third century and the latter to the first half of the second century was contra-indicated by close paleographic similarities of the two manuscripts. The 1987 redating of the Egerton Papyrus had rested on a comment made by Eric Turner in 1971 (albeit that Turner himself had continued until his death in 1983 to accept a mid second century date for the Egerton Papyrus), "in the first decade of III AD this practice (of using a apostophe between two consonants, such as double mutes or double liquids) suddenly becomes extremely common, and then persists.". Porter notes that Turner had then nevertheless advanced several earlier dated examples of the practice from the later second century, and one (BGU III 715.5) dated to 101 CE. Porter proposes that, notwithstanding the discovery of the hooked apostrophe in P. Köln 255, the original editors' proposal of a mid second century date for the Egerton Papyrus accords better with the paleographic evidence of dated comparator documentary and literary hands for both 52 and this papyrus "the middle of the second century, perhaps tending towards the early part of it".
Date of composition
Jon B. Daniels writes the following in his introduction in The Complete Gospels:
On the one hand, some scholars have maintained that Egerton's unknown author composed by borrowing from the canonical gospels. This solution has not proved satisfactory for several reasons: The Egerton Gospel's parallels to the synoptic gospels lack editorial language peculiar to the synoptic authors, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They also lack features that are common to the synoptic gospels, a difficult fact to explain if those gospels were Egerton's source.
On the other hand, suggestions that the Egerton Gospel served as a source for the authors of Mark and/or John also lack conclusive evidence. The most likely explanation for the Egerton Gospel's similarities and differences from the canonical gospels is that Egerton's author made independent use of traditional sayings and stories of Jesus that also were used by the other gospel writers.
Such traditional sayings are posited for the hypothetical Q Document. Ronald Cameron states: "Since Papyrus Egerton 2 displays no dependence upon the gospels of the New Testament, its earliest possible date of composition would be sometime in the middle of the first century, when the sayings and stories which underlie the New Testament first began to be produced in written form. The latest possible date would be early in the second century, shortly before the copy of the extant papyrus fragment was made. Because this papyrus presents traditions in a less developed form than John does, it was probably composed in the second half of the first century, in Syria, shortly before the Gospel of John was written."
Helmut Koester and J. D. Crossan have argued that despite its apparent historical importance, the text is not well known. It is a mere fragment, and does not bear a clear relationship to any of the four canonical gospels. The Egerton Gospel has been largely ignored outside a small circle of scholars. The work cannot be dismissed as "apocrypha" or "heretical" without compromising the orthodoxy of the Gospel of John. Nor can it be classed as "gnostic" and dismissed as marginal. It seems to be almost independent of the synoptic gospels and to represent a tradition similar to the canonical John, but independent of it. Additionally it tells us an otherwise unknown miracle, in the Johannine manner.
Conservative scholar Craig Evans supports a date for Egerton Gospel later than the canonical Gospels in a variety of ways. He finds many parallels between the Egerton Gospel and the canonical Gospels that include editorial language particular to Matthew and Luke. While Koester argues that these show a tradition before the other gospels, Craig Evans sees these as drawing from the other Gospels just as Justin Martyr did. He also finds words such as the plural "priests" that show lack of knowledge of Jewish customs.
- Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-514182-2.
- Bell & Skeat
- Michael Gronewald (1987). "Papyrus Köln 255: Unbekanntes Evangelium oder Evangelienharmonie (Fragment aus dem "Evangelium Egerton")". Kölner Papyri (in German) 7 (6): 136–145. ISBN 3-531-09931-0. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
Nachzutragen ist, daß sich in dem Kölner Fragment nun auch Apostroph zwischen Konsonanten (aneneg'kon) wie in P.Bodmer II findet, was nach E.G. Turner, Greek Manuscripts 13, 3 eher ins dritte Jahrhundert weist. Doch auch bei einer eventuellen Datierung um 200 würde P.Egerton 2 immer noch zu den frühesten christlichen Papyri zählen.
- Porter, p. 83.
- Eric G Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World, Oxford, OUP, 1971, p11 n50
- Porter, p. 84.
- Evans, Craig A. Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Books, 2008.
- Bell, Idris and Skeat, T.C. Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and other Early Christian Papyri. Oxford, OUP, 1935.
- Ronald Cameron, editor. The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts, 1982
- Porter, Stanley E. (2013) "Recent efforts to Reconstruct Early Christianity on the Basis of its Papyrological Evidence" in Christian Origins and Graeco-Roman Culture,Eds Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts, Leiden, Brill, pp 71–84.
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