Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Extremely Narrow Basis of the Papyri

The following is a map showing all the major archaeological sites where papyri have been discovered:

Click to Enlarge
 Of course we must immediately note that virtually all papyrus sites are located in Egypt.   The main trade and commerce route of this country was naturally the Nile River.   The flow of water goes from the mountains in the South, and finally Northward, branching out to Alexandria and other Mediteranean ports.  The flow of the New Testament texts however was in the opposite direction, reaching the main port Alexandria, and from the underground church and scribal centers there, spreading Southward and branching out to various smaller towns and colonies along the Nile.
The significance of this is profound:  pretty much all of the Egyptian papyri come from a single source or fountainhead, Alexandria.  At the same time, most of the actual NT papyri come from one single site or cluster centering around the colony of Oxyrhynchus (see map).  Fully 95% of all these NT fragments come from this one town.
The papyri then have two strikes against them as to purity of text:

1)  The narrow basis of their texts, namely Alexandria.

2)  Their secondary nature, as copies from a small town in Southern Egypt.

This is the severe weakness of the papyri witnesses to the text:  They simply can't adequately represent the state of the text throughout the Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries, and they only survived at all because of the extremely dry climate and isolated nature of the deposits.     Scrap papyrus is regularly burned for fuel, for warmth and cooking by nomad tribesmen who discover them.   Their value is often unknown to their discoverers.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Folks,

    Nicely done !

    Kurt Aland acknowledged this problem in a somewhat backhanded manner.

    The Text of the New Testament (1995)
    Kurt and Barbara Aland

    We should not forget that apart from 0212 (found at Dura Europus) all the early witnesses listed above on p. 57 are from Egypt, where the hot, dry sands preserved the papyri through the centuries (similar climatic conditions are found in the Judaean desert where papyri have also been discovered). From other major centers of the early Christian church nothing has survived. This raises the question whether and to what extent we can generalize from the Egyptian situation. Egypt was distinguished from other provinces of the Church, so far as we can judge, by the early dominance of gnosticism; this was not broken until about A.D. 200. when Bishop Demetrius succeeded in reorganizing the diocese and establishing communications with the other churches. Not until then do we have documentary evidence of the church in Egypt ...

    Oh, the Dura Europus fragment is a Diatessaron text.

    Steven Avery