Preliminary Report on the “Willoughby Papyrus” of the Gospel of John and an Unidentified Christian Text
Formerly in the possession of Harold Willoughby of the University of Chicago, this unpublished fragment of the Gospel of John in Greek created a stir when it appeared briefly on a well-known auction site in January of 2015. Having obtained permission from the owner to edit and publish the manuscript, I will offer in this presentation the initial results of my analysis of the so-called “Willoughby Papyrus.” I will demonstrate that this fragment complies with the 1970 UNESCO convention on cultural property and discuss the circumstances of its discovery and rediscovery. On the basis of new images of the fragment, I will also provide a transcription of the text, discuss its apparent bookroll format, and assess its text-critical value. Finally, I will present the secondary text on the verso and entertain the possibility that it belongs to an otherwise unknown Christian apocryphal text.
The papyrus made it to the news in New York Times yesterday with an image of the verso with the secondary text (apparently up-side-down compared with the recto).
The first time I heard about the fragment of John was actually from Brice J. Jones blog in April this year, when he blogged about A Greek Papyrus of the Gospel of John for Sale on eBay. Jones posted an image of the papyrus and an accompanying note of Willoughby's inventory and the seller's description:
“Very rare ancient papyrus fragment in Greek, John I 50-51 in it’s original display glass and sleeve. This is part of the MS collection of Harold R. Willoughby, who did extensive research with Edgar Goodspeed. Mr. Willoughby was a world traveler, and well-known professor of Theology at the University of Chicago. At the time of his death, he had a library of over 3500 rare bibles. This case with fragment, literally fell out of a stack of letters. I'm sure it was tucked away for security. Mr. Willoughby was a relative, and I attest this info to be true. Good luck bidding on a very rare piece with no reserve.”According to the description, the seller is a relative of Mr. Willoughby. We will see if Geoff Smith has more to say today. Brice Jones also mentioned the accompanying note which listed several other items in Willoughby's collection. According to the list, the papyrus was one of three Greek New Testament manuscripts which seemed to be unregistered and without Gregory-Aland numbers.
Here is Brice Jones' description of the recto (John 1:50-51) based on the image then provided on eBay:
The fragmentary papyrus contains 6 partial lines of text written with the fibers (-->). There are several strips of adhesive (front and back) that are presumably keeping the fragment in place. The image also shows two smaller, isolated fragments bearing ink but their placement is uncertain. The fragments are framed in between glass along with a card of identification that reads “John I, 50-51.” Presumably, there is writing only on one side, since there is no image of the other side and the card identifies text only on the front. If it is indeed written only on on side, then this would be very odd for a Greek New Testament papyrus. Normally, literary texts that are written on one side of a sheet of papyrus means that it is probably from a roll and not a codex. But in fact, none of the extant Greek New Testament papyri come from a roll (P22 is a question mark here). Thus, while the papyrus does bear witness to the text of the New Testament, we cannot rule out the possibility that it may be a fragment of an amulet—again, assuming that there is no text on the other side. In fact, two amulets cite passages from the immediate context. P.Berl. inv. 11710 cites John 1:49 and P.Vindob. G 2312 cites John 2:1-2. But we must suspend judgment about this matter until we can confirm that the other side is indeed blank. [Update: The seller has uploaded (rather shoddy) images of the other side confirming that there is writing; nomen sacrum is visible.]I will post a brief report on Geoff Smith's presentation today, here in Atlanta. Six years ago, at another SBL meeting in New Orleans, Geoff Smith presented a paper on a “New Oxyrhyncus Papyrus of Mark 1:1–2," which I reported about here and here (an except from my larger article on Mark 1:1). The question is whether this might be another amulet.
The image is sufficient enough to attempt an analysis of the handwriting. The letters slope slightly to the right, are separated, undecorated, and roughly bilinear. The middle element of ψ descends well below the line, the oblique of ν connects high up on the second hasta, ο is small, the saddle of μ low. There is little contrast between thick and thin strokes, and punctuation and tremata are absent. This is a good example of what C.H. Roberts described as a “reformed documentary” hand and it exhibits many features typical of papyri that have been dated palaeographically to the 3rd-4th centuries. P.Oxy. 1079 (P18, 3rd-4th century) is a good example of this type of hand (cf., in particular, ν, ο, ε). While all palaeographical dating is inevitably tentative, the general impression of the handwriting suggests a date of 3rd-4th century.
The text is from John 1:50-51. I have provided a provisional transcript below in both diplomatic and full forms.
3: It is not clear whether the papyrus reads μείζω (NA28) or μείζων (P75 037 579 1424 l 2211).
4: ὑμῖν ὄψεσθε follows the text of NA28 along with P66 P75 01 03 020 032s over against the reading ἀπ' ἄρτι found in many manuscripts whose scribes harmonized to Matt. 26:64 (including 02 017 036 037 038 Maj et al.).
5: Oddly, the scribe wrote the nomen sacrum θεοῦ in scriptio plena; cf. l. 6.
6: There is a faint trace of a supralinear stroke above the ν of υἱόν. ἀνθρώπου is also abbreviated.
–: The text appears to read καί τῇ τρίτῃ [ἡμέρᾳ], which is attested in some manuscripts (03 038 f13) over against the wider tradition.