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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Papyrus Paper
2. Egyptian Papyri
3. Aramaic Papyri
4. Greek Papyri
5. Their Discovery
6. Classical Papyri
7. Septuagint Papyri
8. New Testament Papyri
9. Theological Papyri
10. Documentary Papyri
11. Contribution to New Testament Study
12. Chief Collections
13. Coptic, Arabic and Other Papyri
A marsh or water plant, abundant in Egypt in ancient times, serving many purposes in antiquity. The papyrus tuft was the emblem of the Northern Kingdom in Egypt. Like the lotus, it suggested one of the favorite capitals of Egyptian architecture. Ropes, sandals, and mats were made from its fibers (see Odyssey xxi. 391; Herod. ii. 37,69), and bundles of the long, light stalks were bound together into light boats ( Isaiah 18:2; Breasted, History of the Egyptians , 91).
1. Papyrus Paper:
Most importantly, from it was made the tough and inexpensive paper which was used from very ancient times in Egypt and which became the common writing-material of the ancient world. The white cellular pith of the long triangular papyrus stalk was stripped of its bark or rind and sliced into thin strips. Two layers of these strips were laid at right angles to each other, pasted together (Pliny says with the aid of Nile water), dried and smoothed. The sheets thus formed were pasted one to another to form a roll of any length desired. The process and the product are described by Pliny the EIder (
2. Egyptian Papyri:
Egyptian papyrus rolls are in existence dating from the 27th century BC, and no doubt the manufacture of papyrus had been practiced for centuries before. The Egyptian rolls were sometimes of great length and were often beautifully decorated with colored vignettes (Book of the Dead). Egyptian documents of great historical value have been preserved on these fragile rolls. The Papyrus Ebers of the 16th century
3. Aramaic Papyri:
In very recent years (1898,1904, 1907) several Aramaic papyri have been found on the Island of Elephantine, just below the First Cataract, dating from 494 to 400 BC. They show that between 470,408
4. Greek Papyri:
With Alexander's conquest of Egypt (332 BC), and the subsequent Ptolemaic dynasty, Greeks came more than ever before into Egypt, and from Greek centers like Alexandria and Arsinoe in the Faytum the Greek language began to spread. Through the Ptolemaic (323-30 BC), Roman (30
5. Their Discovery:
The first important discovery of Greek papyri made in modern times was among the ruins of Herculaneum, near Naples, where in 1752 in the ruins of the house of a philosopher which had been destroyed and buried by volcanic ashes from Vesuvius (79 AD) a whole library of papyrus rolls was found, quite charred by the heat. With the utmost pains many of these have been unrolled and deciphered, and the first part of them was published in 1793. They consist almost wholly of works of Epicurean philosophy. In 1778 the first discovery of Greek papyri in Egypt was made. In that year some Arabs found 40 or 50 papyrus rolls in an earthen pot, probably in the Faytum, where Philadelphus settled his Greek veterans. One was purchased by a dealer and found its way into the hands of Cardinal Stefano Borgia; the others were destroyed as of no worth. The Borgia Papyrus was published 10 years later. It was a document of little value, recording the forced labor of certain peasants upon the Nile embankment of a given year.
In 1820 another body of papyri was found by natives, buried, it was said, in an earthen pot, on the site of the Serapeum at Memphis, just above Cairo. These came for the most part from the 2nd century BC. They fell into various hands, and are now in the museums of London, Paris, Leyden, Rome and Dresden. With them the stream of papyri began to flow steadily into the British and Continental museums. In 1821 an Englishman, Mr. W.J. Bankes, bought an Elephantine roll of the xxivth book of the Iliad , the first Greek literary papyrus to be derived from Egypt. The efforts of Mr. Harris and others in 1847-1850 brought to England considerable parts of lost orations of Hyperides, new papyri of the 17th book of the Iliad , and parts of Iliad ii, iii, ix. In 1855 Mariette purchased a fragment of Alcman for the Louvre, and in 1856 Mr. Stobart obtained the funeral oration of Hyperides.
The present period of papyrus recovery dates from 1877, when an immense mass of Greek and other papyri, for the most part documentary, not literary, was found in the Fayum, on the site of the ancient Arsinoe. The bulk of this collection passed into the hands of Archduke Rainer at Vienna, minor portions of it being secured by the museums of Paris, London, Oxford and Berlin. These belong largely to the Byzantine period. Another great find was made in 1892 in the Faytum; most of these went to Berlin some few to the British Museum, Vienna and Geneva. These were mostly of the Roman period.
It will be seen that most of these discoveries were the work of natives, digging about indiscriminately in the hope of finding antiquities to sell to tourists or dealers. By this time, however, the Egypt Exploration Fund had begun its operations in Egypt, and Professor Flinders Petrie was at work there. Digging among Ptolemaic tombs at Gurob in 1889-90, Professor Petrie found many mummies, or mummy-casings, adorned with breast-pieces and sandals made of papyri pasted together. The separation of these was naturally a tedious and delicate task, and the papyri when extricated were often badly damaged or mutilated; but the Petrie papyri, as they were called, were hailed by scholars as the most important found up to that time, for they came for the most part from the 3century BC. Startling acquisitions were made about this time by representatives of the British Museum and the Louvre. The British Museum secured papyri of the lost work of Aristotle on the Constitution of Athens , the lost Mimes of Herodas, a fragment of an oration of Hyperides, and extensive literary papyri of works already extant; while the Louvre secured the larger part of the Oration against Athenogenes , the masterpiece of Hyperides. In 1894 Bernard P. Grenfell, of Oxford, appeared in Egypt, working with Professor Petrie in his excavations, and securing papyri with Mr. Hogarth for England. In that year Pettie and Grenfell obtained from native dealers papyrus rolls, one more than 40 ft. in length, preserving revenue laws of Ptolemy Philadelphus, dated in 259-258 BC. These were published in 1896 by Mr. Grenfell, the first of many important works in this field from his pen.
With Arthur S. Hunt, of Oxford, Mr. Grenfell excavated in 1896-1897, at Behnesa, the Roman Oxyrhynchus, and unearthed the greatest mass of Greek papyri of the Roman period thus far found. In 9 large quarto volumes, aggregating 3,000 pages, only a beginning has been made of publishing these Oxyrhynchus texts, which number thousands and are in many cases of great importance. The story of papyrus digging in Egypt since the great find of 1896-1897 is largely the record of the work of Grenfell and Hunt. At Tebtunis, in the
6. Classical Papyri:
Thus far upward of 650 literary papyri, great and small, of works other than Biblical have been published. The fact that about one-third of these are Homeric attests the great popularity enjoyed by the Homeric poems in Greek-Roman times. These are now so abundant and extensive as to make an important contribution to the Homeric text. Rather less than one-third preserve works of other ancient writers which were already known to us through later copies, medieval or modern. Among these are works of Plato, Demosthenes, Isocrates, Thucydides, Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschines, Herodotus and others. Rather more than one-third preserve works, or fragments of works, which have been either quite unknown or, oftener, regarded as lost. Such are portions of Alcman and Sappho, fragments of the comedies of Menander and the iambi of Callimachus, Mimes of Herodas, poems of Bacchylides, parts of the lost Antiope and Hypsipyle of Euripides, Aristotle On the Constitution of Athens , the Persae of Timotheus (in a papyrus of the 4th century BC, probably the oldest Greek book in the world), and six orations, one of them complete, of Hyperides. In 1906 Grenfell and Hunt discovered at Oxyrhynchus the unique papyrus of the lost Paeans of Pindar, in 380 fragments, besides the Hellenica of Theopompus (or Cratippus?), whose works were believed to have perished.
7. Septuagint Papyri:
Of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) more than 20 papyri have been discovered. Perhaps the most important of these is the Berlin Genesis (3or 4th century) (1) in a cursive hand, purchased at Akhmim in 1906. Other papyri preserving parts of Gen among the Amherst (2), British Museum (3), and Oxyrhynehus (4), papyri date from the 3or 4th century.
8. New Testament Papyri:
Twenty-three papyri containing parts of the Greek New Testament have thus far been published, nearly half of them coming from Oxyrhynchus (O.P. 2,208, 209,402, 657,1008, 1009,1078, 1079,1170, 1171). The pieces range in date from the 3to the 6th century. Their locations, dates and contents are:
1. Philadelphia, Pa. 3or 4th century Matthew 1:1-9 , Matthew 1:12 , Matthew 1:13 , Matthew 1:14-20 (O.P. 2).
2. Florence. 5th or 6th century John 12:12-15 .
3. Vienna. 6th century Luke 7:36-45; Luke 10:38-42 .
4. Paris. 4th century Luke 1:74-80; Luke 5:3-8; 5:30 through 6:4.
5. London. 3or 4th century John 1:23-31 , John 1:33-41; John 20:11-17 , John 20:19-25 (O.P. 208).
6. Strassburg. ? century John 11:45 .
7. Kiew. ? century Luke 4:1 , Luke 4:2 .
8. Berlin. 4th century Acts 4:31-37; Acts 5:2-9; Acts 6:1-6 , Acts 6:8-15 .
9. Cambridge, Mass. 4th or 5th century 1 John 4:11-13 , 1 John 4:15 , 1 John 4:17 (O.P 402).
10. Cambridge, Mass. 4th century Romans 1:1-7 (O.P. 209).
11. Petersburg. 5th century 1 Corinthians 1:17-20; 1 Corinthians 6:13 , 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 7:3 , 1 Corinthians 7:4 , 1 Corinthians 7:10-14 .
12. Didlington Hall. 3or 4th century Hebrews 1:1 .
13. London. 4th century Hebrews 2:14 through 5:5; 10:8 through 11:13; 11:28 through 12:17 (O.P. 657). This is the most considerable papyrus of the New Testament, and doubly important because Codex Vaticanus breaks off with Hebrews 9:14 .
14. Sinai. 5th century 1 Corinthians 1:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 1 Corinthians 3:8-10 , 1 Corinthians 3:20 .
15. Oxford. 4th century 1 Corinthians 7:18 through 8:4 (O.P. 1008). Philippians 3:9-17; Philippians 4:2-8 (O.P. 1009).
16. Manchester (Rylands). 6th or 7th century Romans 12:3-8 .
17. Manchester (Rylands). 3century Titus 1:11-15; Titus 2:3-8 .
18. Oxford. 4th century Hebrews 9:12-19 (O.P. 1078).
19. Oxford. 3or 4th century Revelation 1:4-7 (O.P. 1079).
20. Oxford. 5th century Matthew 10:32 through 11:5 (O.P. 1170).
21. Oxford. 3century James 2:19 through 3:2, James 3:4-9 (O.P. 1171).
22. Florence. 7th century Matthew 25:12-15 , Matthew 25:20-23 .
23. Florence. ? century John 3:14-18 , John 3:31 , John 3:32 .
Berlin Pap. 13,269 (7th century) is a liturgical paraphrase of Luke 2:8-14 .
Further details as to Numbers 1-14 may be found in Gregory, Textkritik , 1084-92, and for Numbers 1-23 in Kenyon, Handbook to Text . Crit . 2 , or Milligan, New Testament Documents , 249-54.
9. Theological Papyri:
Among other theological papyri, the Oxyrhynchus Sayings of Jesus (O.P. 1,654), dating from the 2nd and 3centuries, are probably the most widely known (see
10. Documentary Papyri:
We have spoken thus far only of literary papyri, classical and theological. The overwhelming jority of the papyri found have of course been documentary - private letters, accounts, wills, receipts, contracts, leases, deeds, complaints, petitions, notices, invitations, etc. The value of these contemporary and original documents for the illumination of ancient life can hardly be overestimated. The life of Upper Egypt in Ptolemaic and Roman times is now probably better known to us than that of any other period of history down to recent times. Many papyrus collections have no literary papyri at all, but are rich in documents. Each year brings more of these to light and new volumes of them into print. All this vast and growing body of material contributes to our knowledge of Ptolemaic and imperial times, often in the most intimate ways. Among the most important of these documentary papyri from Ptolemaic times are the revenue laws of Ptolemy Philadelphus (259 BC) and the decrees of Ptolemy Euergetes II, 47 in number (118 BC, 140-139 BC). Very recently (1910) a Hamburg papyrus has supplied the Constitutio Antoniniana , by which Roman citizenship was conferred upon the peregrini of the empire. The private documents in ways even more important illustrate the life of the common people under Ptolemaic and Roman rule.
11. Contribution to New Testament Study:
It is not necessary to point out the value of all this for Biblical and especially New Testament study. The papyri have already made a valuable contribution to textual materials of both Old Testament and New Testament. For other early Christian literature their testimony has been of surprising interest (the Oxyrhynchus Logia and Gospel fragments). The discovery of a series of uncial manuscripts running through six centuries back of the Codex Vaticanus bridges the gap between what were our earliest uncials and the hand of the inscriptions, and puts us in a better position than ever before to fix the dates of uncial manuscripts. Minuscule or cursire hands, too, so common in New Testament manuscripts of the 10th and later centuries, appear in a new light when it is seen that such writing was not a late invention arising out of the uncial, but had existed side by side with it from at least the 4th century BC, as the ordinary, as distinguished from the literary, or book, hand. See WRITING . The lexical contribution of these documentary papyri, too, is already considerable, and is likely to be very great. Like the New Testament writings, they reflect the common as distinguished from the literary language of the times, and words which had appeared exceptional or unknown in Greek literature are now shown to have been in common use. The problems of New Testament syntax are similarly illuminated. Specific historical notices sometimes light up dark points in the New Testament, as in a British Museum decree of Gaius Vibius Maximus, prefect of Egypt (104 AD), ordering all who are out of their districts to return to their own homes in view of the approaching census (compare Luke 2:1-5 ). Most important of all is the contribution of the papyri to a sympathetic knowledge of ancient life. They constitute a veritable gallery of New Testament characters. A strong light is sometimes thrown upon the social evils of the time, of which Paul and Juvenal wrote so sternly. The child, the prodigal, the thief, the host with his invitations, the steward with his accounts, the thrifty householder, the soldier on service receiving his viaticum, or retired as a veteran upon his farm, the Jewish money-lender, the husbandman, and the publican, besides people in every domestic relation, we meet at first hand in the papyri which they themselves in many cases have written. The worth of this for the historical interpretation of the New Testament is very great.
12. Chief Collections:
The principal collections of Greek papyri with their editors are Schow, Herculaneurn Papyri; Peyron, Turin Papyri; Leemans, Leyden Papyri; Wessely, Rainer and Paris Papyri; Kenyon and Bell, British Museum Papyri; Mahaffy and Smyly, Pettie Papyri; Grenfell and Hunt, Oxyrhynchus, Amherst and Hibeh Papyri (with Hogarth), Faytum Papyri, and (with Smyly and Goodspeed) Tebtunis Papyri; Hunt, Rylands Papyri; Nicole, Geneva Papyri; Krebs, Wilcken, Viereck, Schubart and others, Berlin Papyri; Meyer, Hamburg and Giessen Papyri; Deissmann, Heidelberg Papyri; Vitelli and Comparetti, Florence Papyri; Mitteis, Leipzig Papyri; Preisigke, Strassburg Papyri; Reinach, Paris Papyri; Jouguet and Lesquier, Lille Papyri; Rubensohn, Elephantine Papyri; Maspero, Cairo Papyri; Goodspeed, Cairo and Chicago Papyri. The Munich papyri have been described by Wilcken. Milligan's Greek Papyri , Kenyon's Paleography of Greek Papyri , and Deissmann's Light from the Ancient East are useful introductions to the general subject. Mayser has prepared a Grammatik der Ptolemaischen Papyri .
13. Coptic, Arabic, and Other Papyri:
Coptic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Demotic papyri are numerous; even Latin papyri are found. The Coptic have already made important contributions to early Christian literature. A considerable Coptic fragment of the Acts of Paul, and a Coptic (
Arabic papyri first began to appear from Egypt in 1825, when three Arabic pieces were brought to Paris and published by Silvestre de Sacy. Two others, from the 7th century, were published by him in 1827. It was not until the great papyrus finds of 1877-1878, however, that any considerable number of Arabic papyri found their way into Europe. The chief collections thus far formed are at Vienna (Rainer Collection), Berlin and Cairo. Becker has published the Schott-Reinhardt Arabic papyri at Heidelberg, and Karabacek has worked upon those at Vienna. They belong of course to the period after the Arabic conquest, 640 AD.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Papyrus'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/p/papyrus.html. 1915.
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11