Hurtado on P45

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New essay on NT Papyrus “P45”
by larryhurtado

Today’s post brought the published version of my essay, “P45 as an Early Christian Artefact: What it Reflects about Early Christianity,” which has just appeared in the Norwegian journal, Teologisk Tidsskrift 4(2016), 291-307. I presented the essay originally as part of a symposium held in August this year, celebrating the 65th birthday of Professor Reidar Hvalvik, a senior NT scholar in the Norwegian School of Theology (which I posted on earlier here).

I discuss P45 (commonly dated to the mid-third century) as our earliest clear manuscript witness to the “fourfold Gospel” that subsequently became part of the familiar NT. But P45 also provides our earliest substantial portion of the text of Acts of the Apostles. It is interesting that Acts is included with the four Gospels in one codex, an unusual combination. In ancient manuscripts, Acts is more often linked with the “General Epistles.”

P45 also reflects the early Christian preference for the codex, a preference exercised particularly (it seems) with respect to writings treated as scripture. Accommodating the large body of text represented in the four Gospels and Acts in one codex (originally 56 papyrus sheets folded to form 112 leaves) required some forethought. Christians appear to have been in the vanguard of experimentation with the codex as a bookform for such large bodies of text. P45 has a larger number of lines per page than most other early NT manuscripts, and a large number of letters per line. But it also has generous interline spacing, clearly written letters, and occasional use of punctuation to mark sense-units. So, the book was prepared to facilitate usage by readers.

As typical of early Christian manuscripts, P45 exhibits the early Christian scribal practice known nowadays as the “nomina sacra,” the writing of certain words in a unique abbreviated form with a horizontal stroke placed above the form. As well, P45 also has another early Christian copyist device referred to as the “staurogram,” involving an abbreviated form of the Greek words for “cross/crucify,” the letters tau and rho combined to form what looks like a pictographic representation of the crucified Jesus.

Of course, P45 is most often consulted and cited as a witness to the early text of the writings it contains. There are no indications of major deletions or insertions, or any pattern of variants that suggests any theological programme. Instead, we have a fairly good level of textual stability reflected in P45, with a good deal of “microlevel fluidity” (e.g., small variants in word-order, verb tense, etc.) but “macrolevel stability.”

This issue of the journal also contains a survey of Hvalvik’s varied contributions to scholarship in NT, other early Christian writings, the visual arts, and Jewish studies. As well, there are the other symposium contributions, some in English and others in Norwegian.

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