Thursday, September 07, 2006

The John manuscript 'without John 21'

The first edition of a Coptic manuscript which is bound to generate a certain amount of discussion has now appeared. This manuscript could be seen as giving support to the scholars who have long suggested that ch. 21 is a later addition to the Fourth Gospel.

Publication details: Gesa Schenke, 'Das Erscheinen Jesu vor den Jüngern und der ungläubige Thomas: Johannes 20,19-31' in Louis Painchaud and Paul-Hubert Poirier, eds, Coptica - Gnostica - Manichaica: Mélanges offerts à Wolf-Peter Funk (Les presses de l'Université Laval / Peeters, 2006) pp. 893-904.

The article gives a basic description of the manuscript, a transcription, commentary and photos (which are not clear enough for me to be able to make any decision independent of the author).

The papyrus is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and is registered as MS Copt.e.150(P) (perhaps some of our bloggers in Oxford, with their newly acquired palaeographical skills, can toddle along and give us more information based on autopsy). It is a single leaf, written on both sides and contains John 20:19-31 with some nice clean space under v. 31 showing that John 21 was not written thereunder. Hence Hans-Gebhard Bethge at the recent SNTS congress seemed pretty certain that this is part of a manuscript of John without the final chapter, demonstrating that the Gospel originally lacked ch. 21.

The handwriting is claimed to place the manuscript in the fourth century.

The papyrus was apparently known to Paul Kahle as far back as 1953 since he made a transcription of it.

A significant issue is how to reconstruct the opening of the page. If it really does begin with the opening word of v. 19 at the top of the page then the page beginning coincides precisely with a new pericope in John. This might lend support to the view that the papyrus is an extract from John (a position shared by Mink at INTF). The view that the first word of the page is also the first word of v. 19 appears to me to have much to commend it.

Clearly much work is to be done on the manuscript, but I would like to mention five preliminary reasons why this manuscript should not be held as evidence that John originally lacked ch. 21:

The manuscript lacks a subscriptio, which would be the most common way of ending a Gospel.

It is not very likely that the last leaf of a codex survives, while the rest is lost or perishes.

If this ms did come from a codex then the codex would have been of a non-standard size.

The final verse of the text is in a very confused state, without even the last letter of the last word being present. The space at the end of the page therefore needs to be interpreted with some caution.

If there really were manuscripts circulating as late as the fourth century without ch. 21 then we should expect some patristic evidence of this.


  1. Thanks Pete.

    What do you mean by "the codex would have been of a non-standard size"?

  2. "The manuscript lacks a subscriptio, which would be the most common way of ending a Gospel."

    In Greek and Latin, yes, but for sure in Coptic?

    Sounds like an unfinished ms.

  3. DB,

    Yes in Coptic, too. "Unfinished manuscript" could be correct, or (a slight variation) maybe a discarded quire.


    On what basis can they so evaluate Coptic literary handwriting here to give it a date?

  4. In the Nag Hammadi texts a subscriptio is usual.

    The fact that the last word is not complete (lacking iota at the end) might suggest that it is incomplete.

    I suppose one might qualify my statement about the lack of subscriptio by examination of a good photo or by autopsy. It's not clear to me from the poor photo I have exactly how much space is below the final element of the text. If there is not much then there might still have been a subscriptio further down.

    Coptic literary handwriting is normally dated by reference to Greek with the caveat that the equivalent styles in Coptic may have run later than the Greek ones. However, I think that the question of true date range is well worth exploring.

  5. In answer to PMH's question:

    "Ein Kodex mit Gesamtmaßen von 14,5 x 22 cm bzw. 16 x 22 cm würde Turners Group 6 aberrant bzw. Group 7 aberrants 1 entsprechen." (Schenke, p. 895)