Early Christian Testimonia Texts

What follows in this blog post is another fine blog post by my friend and NT colleague Larry Hurtado—


Another noteworthy manuscript recently published in the Oxyrhynchus volumes is P.Oxyrhynchus 73.4933, a papyrus leaf with remains of excerpts of several OT texts in Greek (Jer. 38:24-26 [LXX]; Amos 9:11-12; Psa. 17:1-11).   The editor dates the handwriting (“an upright semi-documentary hand”) to the late third or early fourth century CE.    For full introduction and transcription, see D. Colomo, “4933. Collection of Biblical Excerpts,” in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXIII, ed. Peter Parsons et al. (London:  Egypt Exploration Society, 2009), 11-17.

This puts the item on a par with the fragmentary testimony-text from the fourth century held in the John Rylands Library (P.Rylands 3.460) and identified by C. H. Roberts in 1936 (another fragment of which is in Oslo University, P.Oslo 2.11).   These fragments comprising no. 299 in the van Haelst list, and 958 in the Rahlfs list of OT witnesses.  For a more recent study of the Rylands fragments, see Alessandro Falcetta, “A Testimony Collection in Manchester: Papyrus Rylands Greek 460,” BJRL 83 (2002): 3-19

In addition to giving us early copies of the biblical texts cited, these items are also valuable artefacts of early Christian use of the OT, providing hints of their interpretative moves, and certainly reflecting the efforts of Christians to articulate and support their beliefs with reference to the OT.

Along with similar texts from Qumran, these items also have caused some scholars to revisit favorably the “testimony hypothesis” put forth by J. Rendel Harris in the early 20th century.  For a recent study, see Martin Christian Albl,  “And Scripture Cannot Be Broken”: The Form and Function of the Early Christian Testimonia Collections, NovTSup, 96 (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

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