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Papyrus

PAPYRUS

pa-pi'-rus (Cyperus papyrus; bublos, biblos, whence biblion, a roll, ta biblia, "the Books" = the Bible):

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 (NH,.xiii.11-13).

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 BC sums up the medical lore of the Egyptians of the time of Amenhotep I. The Papyrus Harris, 133 ft. long, in 117 columns, dates from the middle of the 12th century BC and records the benefactions and achievements of Ramses III. For the XIXth, XXth and XXIst dynasties, indeed, papyri are relatively numerous, and their contribution important for Egyptian history, life and religion. By the year 1000 BC, papyrus had doubtless come to be used for writing far beyond the limits of Egypt. The Wenamon Papyrus (11th century) relates that 500 rolls of papyrus were among the gifts sent from the Delta to the Prince of Biblus, but except in the rarest instances papyri have escaped destruction only in Upper Egypt, where climatic conditions especially favored their preservation.

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 and 408 BC a flourishing colony of Jews existed there, doing business under Persian sway, and worshipping their god Yahu, not in a synagogue, but in a temple, in which they offered meal offerings, incense and burnt offerings. In 408, the Egyptians had destroyed their temple at Yeb, and the Jews appealed for redress to the Persian governor. It is well known that some Jews had taken refuge in Egypt in 586 BC, taking the prophet Jeremiah with them, and with some such band of refugees the Yeb colony may have originated, although it may have been much older (compare Jeremiah 44:1,15; Biblical World, XXIX, 1907, 305; XXXI, 448; chief publications by Euting, Sayce and Cowley, and especially Sachau, Drei aramdische Papyrusurkunden aus Elephantine, 2nd edition, 1908; Aramaische Papyrus und Ostraka, 1911).

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 BC-292/93 AD), and Byzantine periods (292/93-640 AD), that is, from the death of Alexander to the Arab conquest, Greek was much used in Upper and Lower Egypt, and Greek papyri from these times are now abundant. The 300 Aphrodito Greek and Coptic papyri published by Bell and Crum (1910) date from 698-722 AD, and show how Greek persisted in the Arab period.

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 3rd century 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 Faytum; in 1900, they found a great mass of Ptolemaic papyri, comparable in importance with their great discovery at Oxyrhynchus. One of the most productive sources of papyri at Tebtunis was the crocodile cemetery, in which many mummies of the sacred crocodiles were found rolled in papyrus. Important Ptolemaic texts were found in 1902 at Hibeh, and a later visit to Oxyrhynchus in 1903 produced results almost as astonishing and quite as valuable as those of the first excavations there. The work of Rubensohn at Abusir in 1908 has exceptional interest, as it developed the first considerable body of Alexandrian papyri that has been found. The soil and climate of Alexandria are destructive to papyri, and only to the fact that these had in ancient times been carried off into the interior as rubbish is their preservation due. Hogarth, Jouguet, Wilcken and other Continental scholars have excavated in Egypt for papyri with varying degrees of success. The papyri are found in graves a few feet below the surface, in house ruins over which sand has drifted, or occasionally in earthen pots buried in the ground. Despite government efforts to stop indiscriminate native digging, papyri in considerable quantities have continued to find their way into the hands of native dealers, and thence into English, Continental, and even American collections.

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 Persac 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 (3rd or 4th century)

(1) in a cursive hand, purchased at Akhmim in 1906. Other papyri preserving parts of Ge among the Amherst

(2), British Museum

(3), and Oxyrhynehus

(4), papyri date from the 3rd or 4th century. A Bodleian papyrus leaf

(5) (7th or 8th century) preserves Song of Solomon 1:6-9. An Amherst papyrus

(6) (7th century) contains Job 1:21; 2,3. There are several papyri of parts of the Psalms. An Amherst papyrus

(7) (5th or 6th century) has Psalms 5:6-12. Brit. Mus. 37 (Fragmenta Londinensia, 6th or 7th century)

(8), of thirty leaves, contains Psalms 10:2-18:6 and 20:14-34:6. This was purchased in 1836 and is one of the longest of Biblical papyri. Brit. Mus. 230

(9) (3rd century) preserves Psalms 12:7-15:4. A Berlin papyrus

(10) contains Ps 40:26-41:4. Oxyrhynchus papyrus 845

(11) (4th or 5th century) contains parts of Psalms 68; 70. Another Amherst papyrus

(12) (7th century) shows parts of Psalms 108; 118; 135; 138-140. There is also a papyrus at Leipzig

(13) which contains part of the Psalms. Of the Prophets the chief papyrus is the Heidelberg codex

(14) (7th century), which contains Zechariah 4:6 through Malachi 4:5. Oxyrhynchus 846

(15) (6th century) contains Am 2. A gainer papyrus

(16) (3rd century) preserves Isaiah 38:3-5,13-16, and a Bodleian

(17) (3rd century) shows Ezekiel 5:12-6:3. The Rylands papyri include Deuteronomy 2; 3

(18) (4th century); Job 1; 5; 6

(19) (6th or 7th century); Psalms 90

(20) (5th or 6th century). Recent Oxyrhynchus volumes supply parts of Ex 21; 22; 40

(21; 22) (3rd century, O.P. 1074, 1075); and of Genesis 16

(23) (3rd century, O.P. 1166), and Genesis 31

(24) (4th century, O.P. 1167). The great antiquity of some of these documents gives especial interest to their readings.

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 3rd to the 6th century. Their locations, dates and contents are:

1. Philadelphia, Pa. 3rd or 4th century Matthew 11-9,12,13,14-20 (O.P. 2).

2. Florence. 5th or 6th century John 12:12-15.

3. Vienna. 6th century Luke 7:36-45; 10:38-42.

4. Paris. 4th century Luke 1:74-80; 5:3-8; 5:30-6:4.

5. London. 3rd or 4th century John 1:23-31,33-41; 20:11-17,19-25 (O.P. 208).

6. Strassburg. ? century John 11:45.

7. Kiew. ? century Luke 4:1,2.

8. Berlin. 4th century Acts 4:31-37; 5:2-9; 6:1-6,8-15.

9. Cambridge, Mass. 4th or 5th century 1John 4:11-13,15,17 (O.P 402).

10. Cambridge, Mass. 4th century Romans 1:1-7 (O.P. 209).

11. Petersburg. 5th century 1 Corinthians 1:17-20; 6:13,18; 7:3,4,10-14.

12. Didlington Hall. 3rd or 4th century Hebrews 1:1.

13. London. 4th century Hebrews 2:14-5:5; 10:8-11:13; 11:28-12:17 (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; 2:6-8; 3:8-10,20.

15. Oxford. 4th century 1 Corinthians 7:18-8:4 (O.P. 1008). Philippians 3:9-17; 4:2-8 (O.P. 1009).

16. Manchester (Rylands). 6th or 7th century Romans 12:3-8.

17. Manchester (Rylands). 3rd century Titus 1:11-15; 2:3-8.

18. Oxford. 4th century Hebrews 9:12-19 (O.P. 1078).

19. Oxford. 3rd or 4th century Revelation 1:4-7 (O.P. 1079).

20. Oxford. 5th century Matthew 10:32-11:5 (O.P. 1170).

21. Oxford. 3rd century James 2:19-3:2,4-9 (O.P. 1171).

22. Florence. 7th century Matthew 25:12-15,20-23.

23. Florence. ? century John 3:14-18,31,32.

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 3rd centuries, are probably the most widely known (see LOGIA). Other Oxyrhynchus pieces preserve parts of the Apocalypse of Baruch (chapters 12-14; 4th or 5th century; O.P. 403); the Gospel according to the Hebrews (? in its later form, if at all; 3rd century; O.P. 655); the Ac of John (4th century; O.P. 850, compare 851); the Shepherd of Hermas (3rd or 4th century; O.P. 404); Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., iii.9 (3rd century; O.P. 405). Other small fragments of the Shepherd and Ignatius are among the Amherst and Berlin papyri. Early Christian hymns, prayers and letters of interest have also been found.

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 Ac of Paul, and a Coptic (Akhmimic) codex of 1 Clement, almost complete, have recently been published by Carl Schmidt. Another much mutilated papyrus of 1 Clement, with James, complete, is at Strassburg. A Coptic text of Proverbs has been brought to Berlin from the same source which supplied the Clement codex (the White Convent, near Akhmim); indeed, Biblical papyri in Coptic are fairly numerous, and patristic literature is being rapidly enriched by such discoveries of Coptic papyri, e.g. the Deuteronomy, Jonah; Ac papyrus, 1912 (compare the Sahidic New Testament, Oxford, 1911).

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.

Edgar J. Goodspeed


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'PAPYRUS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.