Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robinson on Fragments of P75

James M. Robinson, 'Fragments from the Cartonnage of P75' Harvard Theological Review 101 (2008), 231-252. (HT: Mark Goodacre)

Robinson discusses and publishes some photographs which had been made by the British Museum while conserving the leather binding of P75, and were turned over to him in 1985 (so that he could make them available to te academic community). The photos seem a bit clearer (since they used infra red photography) than those published by Marie-Luise Lakmann (here for details), and Robinson has a strage little spat with Lakmann, apparently for doing precisely what she said she did: publish Bodmer photographs, but studying (for the transcriptions) the infra-red photographs.
The substance of the article is thus the four pages of photographs at the end, which supplement Lakmann's work with more easily read photographs. Robinson doesn't actually correct any of Lakmann's work, although I suppose he does confirm it as accurate. The rest of the article is rather space-filling in my opinion: general descriptions of how he came to have the photographs, what has happened to P75 in its sale and move to the Vatican, other miscellaneous details about the Dishna collection (which I seem to have heard a few times before), and about how readings from these fragments may or may not have influenced NA editions.

Three points I might add:
1. Lakmann (but not Robinson) refers to the interesting article which refers to these photographs. S.A. Edwards, 'P75 under the Magnifying Glass' Novum Testamentum 18(1976)190-212. Edwards also saw these fragments while undergoing conservation in the British Museum. In a memorable section she wrote:

  • " I was almost unbelievable to walk to work down that long corridor, past the Rosetta Stone, past the statue of Tiglath Pileser III, past the Elgin Marbles, then ring a bell and when the door was unlocked, climb the steep stairs to the work-room of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities. Once there, the battered remains of P75 were wheeled out on a stretcher, like a hospital patient. A chemical bath, infra-red photography, and careful mounting between paes of glass made these fragments somewhat visible." (p. 194)

2. I can confirm that no one in the British Museum or British Library had any idea about the locations of these photographs, as a couple of years ago (after reading about them in Edwards' article) I had an extensive but fruitless round of emails with various folk in both institutions (beginning with the Department of Egyptian Antiquities, but taking in Photographic Archives, Western Manuscripts etc.) about these photographs. Little did I (or they for that matter) know that on the retirement of the conservator of papyrus in 1985 (not named by Robinson, perhaps Mr Shaw as named by Edwards), they had been entrusted to Robinson 'to make available to the academic community'. I am grateful that he has now completed this task.

3. According to a message posted to the textual criticism email list last May (by the way, it is good to have you back Willker) the Vatican Library is working on a complete study of the manuscript:

  • "Unfortunately, the Vatican Library cannot give you permission to publish this image because we are presently working on a definitive reorganization of the various fragments of the Papyrus. Photographs previously taken do not reflect the new insights gained in the proper placement of the fragments as a result of a very lengthy scientific study. Furthermore, for a number of reasons the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV will not be available for the next 4 years. At this point in time, we are bound by an agreement with the donor neither to give photos of the papyrus nor give permission to publish any the Papyrus' images. We are truly sorry not to be able to grant your request but trust that you appreciate the circumstances."


  1. I have the two most important images from the Robinson article here for a few days:

  2. "...they had been entrusted to Robinson 'to make available to the academic community'. I am grateful that he has now completed this task."

    This reminds me...well...understood.



  3. If you read the article you will see that Robinson in fact mailed copies of the photos to Kurt Aland and Bruce Metzger. And they were used in the apparatus of NA. But if you look at the IGNTP volume on John Papyri you will see that they did not have access to any of these photos.

  4. Thanks Peter, but I thought your remarks were a sigh that it took Robinson 20 years to fulfil his task.

    In academia there are many such events which apparantly are regulated by less seemly motives.


  5. In the interest of clarification, the title of Robinson’s article uses the term “Cartonnage.” I am familiar with term in relation to Egyptian mummification. Is Robinson uses the term as a synonym for “papyri”?

  6. "Cartonnage":
    The first and last pages of P75 have been glued together to strengthen the binding. No joke!

    Normally "cartonnage" can be taken as "paper-mâché", which is actually a good description of what we find in P75.

    I am wondering what glue has been used. The BL was able to remove it quite completely. Good job!