Monday, August 28, 2006

Farewell to the Prologue of John

This is the abstract of a lecture I will give to a plenary session of the British New Testament Conference this coming Friday.

John 1:1-18 is now nearly universally identified as a sense unit of the text of the Fourth Gospel. Frequently the term 'Prologue' is applied to these verses. This paper examines the way the opening of John's Gospel has been divided through history, considering the evidence of manuscripts, early versions, church fathers, liturgy, printed editions and commentators. It is observed that the earliest division (attested in P66 and P75 and probably deriving from the archetype of the textual tradition) marks a division after 1:5, but no similar division after 1:18. At a slightly later stage significant breaks are found in witnesses after 1:14 and 1:17 (1:1-17 frequently forming a lection). Even with the advent of printing, 1:1-14 and 1:1-17 are initially marked as units. As increasingly 1:1-18 is regarded as the basic unit, the break after 1:5 becomes less prominent and a break after 1:13 tends to take over from the break after 1:14 since 1:14 is no longer a final climax. The earlier ways of dividing the text still present significant advantages in analysing the opening section of John's Gospel. The near-universal adoption of 1:1-18 as the basic unit has allowed various speculative theories as to the origin of these verses to arise. Proponents of these theories usually ignore the hypothetical nature of the textual division which is foundational to their proposals.


  1. Thank you, Pete.
    So it seems you will point, inter alia, to the little space P75 has after John 1:5 and to the chapter division of Codex Vaticanus (different from all other codices except Zacynthius and minuscule 579: first division marker is in John 1:5, AND one in 1:17)?

  2. Vaticanus has the following breaks (bars beneath the first letter of a line) in this part of John:
    after 1:5
    after 1:9
    after 1:14
    after 1:17
    after 1:18.
    This is the only original division by the first hand scribe. Everything else is later.

    Of the so called "Vatican" sections, which are also quite early (4-6th CE), there is one
    after 1:5
    and one after 1:17.

    Best wishes

    (PS: I hope this works now. I have a new computer. So far I was not able to post comments here. When I entered the 5-letter code I was asked again and again to enter another code.)

  3. "The near-universal adoption of 1:1-18 as the basic unit has allowed various speculative theories as to the origin of these verses to arise."

    But do sense divisions marked in the mss have anything to do with the origin of text units? Supposing some scholar wishes to identify in John sections of verses at the beginning and end that were added to an already existing body, that scholar will be dividing the text according to criteria that differ from those used by early scribes to identify sense divisions. No?

  4. In theory this is correct. However, many scholars begin their source-critical investigations with preconceptions about unit division. I think that it can be argued that the description of 1:1-18 as a unit has become so ubiquitous in the last couple of centuries that scholars have begun with the foundation of a certain view of the division of the text and have then looked for possible sources behind that unit.

    What they have generally not done is to start with an undivided text and to see what sources might be behind parts of it.

    Source criticism often struggles with being in principle unknowable. What I seek to point out here is that there is an additional layer of hypothesis in the views of those who, like Burney, Brown and Ehrman, posit an original independence to the material in John 1:1-18.