First Fragments at the Chester Beatty

A great new exhibition has just opened at the Chester Beatty Library (or, as the institution now calls itself “The Chester Beatty“) in Dublin. It’s called “First Fragments: Biblical Papyrus from Roman Egypt.” It opened on 28 October and runs through 3 September 2023. It features the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, a group of manuscripts close to my heart.

There are many early Christian papyri in the Beatty collection, but the designation “Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri” generally refers to a group of eleven Greek papyrus codices in varying states of preservation that Beatty purchased mostly between 1930 and 1934:

  • I. Gospels and Acts (LDAB 2980)
  • II. Pauline letters (LDAB 3011)
  • III. Revelation (LDAB 2778)
  • IV. Genesis (LDAB 3160)
  • V. Genesis (LDAB 3109)
  • VI. Numbers and Deuteronomy (LDAB 3091)
  • VII. Isaiah (LDAB 3108)
  • VIII. Jeremiah (LDAB 3084)
  • IX + X. Ezekiel, Daniel, Susanna, and Esther (LDAB 3090)
  • XI. Ecclesiasticus (LDAB 3161)
  • XII. Letter of Enoch, Melito’s On Passover, and the Apocryphon of Ezekiel (LDAB 2608)
End of the Epistle of Enoch, beginning of Melito’s Peri pascha in BP XII f.13; image source: Chester Beatty Online Collections

It’s a fascinating collection for a number of reasons, many of which are explored in this exhibition. The displays use examples from each of the books to highlight such topics as book construction and repair, scribal practices (corrections, textual divisions, nomina sacra), and stichometry. The exhibit also uses the texts preserved on the papyri to discuss different aspects of early Christianity (the role of women, the practice of translation, and textual fluidity, among many other topics). And there is more than we usually see in such exhibitions about issues of provenance. While the exhibition focuses on the Beatty Biblical Papyri, other pieces in the collection are also featured.

A real highlight for me were the superb models of some of the codices produced by Kristine Rose-Beers, Head of Conservation at the Beatty. I’ve been experimenting with making models for a few years now, and I’m always amazed to see real professionals bring these artifacts to life. I’m desperately curious to see how her model of Codex I (the Gospels-Acts manuscript, P45) holds up with use. We’re quite certain that this codex was made up of single-sheet quires. I’ve always wondered how such a large papyrus codex could function with this kind of binding, but Kristine’s model looks sturdy:

Model of Beatty Codex I (P45)

The exhibition was put together by Jill Unkel, Curator of Western Collections at the Beatty. She also authored the catalog, which is very nicely done and has some really excellent illustrations (and it’s affordably priced at just €15). The text is clear and accessible enough for non-specialists but also with some interesting details for those more familiar with the manuscripts. It especially fun to see the Beatty’s materials put use in explaining book production:

Illustration from the exhibition catalog: Jill Unkel, First Fragments: Biblical Papyrus from Roman Egypt (The Chester Beatty, 2022), page 21.

This is the sort of topic that is much easier to understand when you have ample illustration, and the Beatty collection is such a good resource for that.

It’s an ideal time for an exhibition like this. In recent years, there have been a couple of top-notch dissertations on the New Testament codices (Peter Malik on the Revelation codex and Edgar Ebojo on the Pauline epistles codex). The original editions and facsimiles edited by Frederic Kenyon are now online, and there was a new facsimile of the New Testament books produced a couple years ago (and I’ve written a bit myself about the acquisition of the collection and the construction of the Pauline epistles codex). Sometime in 2023, a volume should be published that will contain essays based on the conference that took place in Dublin last year, The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri at Ninety. This volume will feature some incisive work on Beatty as a collector.

This is a fantastic exhibition. And it looks like there are also a lot of associated lectures and activities coming up in the next couple months. If you’re interested in early Christianity or the history of the book, it’s a must see. And if you’re not able to travel to Dublin, do check out the online 3D tour with links to the various artifacts on display (click here and scroll down).

Posted in Book binding, Chester Beatty Papyri, Codices | 5 Comments

Tyrrell and Purser’s Editions of Cicero’s Letters

I sometimes need to check the extensive notes in the old edition of Cicero’s letters by Tyrrell and Purser:

Robert Yelverton Tyrrell and Louis Claude Purser, The Correspondence of M. Tullius Cicero, Arranged According to its Chronological Order; with a Revision of the Text, a Commentary, and Introductory Essays (7 vols., Dublin: Hodges & Figgis, 1879-1933)

Robert Yelverton Tyrrell (1844-1914) and Louis Claude Purser (1854-1932); images adapted from W. B. Stanford, “Articles on Classical Subjects in Hermathena,” Hermathena 115 (1973) pp. 1-12

The volumes are not as easy to find online as they should be. Various libraries have nice sets of organized links to electronic versions, but these direct to HathiTrust, which means that several volumes are challenging or impossible to access outside the US.

Most of the volumes are on archive.org, but they are a pain to search. So, here is an organized set of links for the files. Most are on archive.org, but a couple I could only find on Google Books, meaning there may be limited access in some countries.

First Edition

Second Edition

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Manuscripts of Martial

Several years ago, I took some time to dive into the poet Martial’s references to pugillares membranei, generally understood to be parchment codices. At the time, I wanted to consult the manuscripts of Martial to check on some of the readings in the lemmata of the Apophoreta, but only a couple manuscripts were online. Now that I am returning to Martial, I see that many of the primary manuscripts are now fully digitized and freely available. I post some links below. If anyone can supply links to the missing pieces, please let me know in the comments.

Alpha Group

  • Vienna, ÖNB Cod. 277, 9th century (online at ÖNB)
  • Paris, BnF Latin 8071 9th-10th century (online at Gallica)
  • Leiden University Library, VLQ 86, 9th century (digitized but behind a paywall)
BnF Latin 8071, fol. 50v

Beta Group

  • Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. lat. fol. 612, 12th century (not yet digitized)
  • Vatican Library, Pal. 1696, 15th century (online at DigiVatLib)
  • London, British Library, Arundel MS 136, 15th century (not digitized, as far as I can tell from the catalog entry)
  • Florence, BML Plut.35.39, 15th century (online at BML Digital Repository)
BML Plut. 35.39, fol. 212r

Gamma Group

  • Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Adv. 18.3.1, 9th century (online at National Library of Scotland)
  • Leiden University Library VLO 56, 12th century (digitized but behind a paywall)
  • Paris, BnF Latin 8067, 10th century (online at Gallica)
  • Vatican Library, 3294, 10th or 11th century (online at DigiVatLib)
BnF Latin 8067, fol. 88r
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The Pagination of the Crosby-Schøyen Codex and the Problem of the Contents of P46

In an article I published earlier this year, I suggested that surviving examples of single quire codices provide evidence for thinking that the Beatty-Michigan codex of the Pauline epistles (P46) may have contained more leaves than is usually supposed. The first editor of the codex, Frederic Kenyon, attempted to calculate the original size of the quire by using the surviving page numbers. He concluded that the book originally consisted of a quire of 52 bifolia (= 104 folia = 208 pages), which would not have had sufficient space to contain the set of 14 letters typically found in later manuscripts of Paul’s letters. In the article, I pointed out that some of our better preserved single-quire codices are not completely symmetrical in regard to the numbers of inscribed pages in the two halves of the codex. This led me to the conclusion that “page numbering of single-quire codices is not necessarily an exact guide to the total number of bifolia that originally made up the quire.”

One more piece of evidence for that conclusion is a phenomenon that I neglected to mention in the article: Single-quire codices can have more than one sequence of page numbers, and the changes in sequences can be unpredictable. An example of this phenomenon is the Crosby-Schøyen codex (a.k.a. Mississippi Coptic Codex I a.k.a. the Savery Codex, a.k.a. Schøyen MS 193 a.k.a. LDAB 107771). This square-format single-quire papyrus codex was reasonably well preserved when it appeared on the antiquities market in the 1950s. It was missing its outer folia, but the blank inner margins of these leaves were left intact at the spine. These can be seen reasonably well in the image below.

The Crosby-Schøyen codex before it was taken apart, view of the quire showing the broken remains of the outer folia surviving at the spine; image source: William H. Willis, “The New Collections of Papyri at the University of Mississippi,” in Leiv Amundsen and Vegard Skånland (eds.), Proceedings of the IX International Congress of Papyrology (Oslo: Norwegian Universities Press, 1961), 381-392, plate V.

There was also a leather spine strip protecting the outside of the spine, so we can say with confidence that the codex, when complete, consisted of a stack of 35 sheets. Thirty-three of these sheets were true bifolia, and two of them were stubbed singletons, meaning that the codex consisted of 68 folia (=136 pages). These pages carry at least five separate texts: Melito’s sermon on the passover, 2 Macc. 5:27-7:41, 1 Peter, Jonah, and an unidentified text. We also find multiple sets of page numbers in the codex. An example of the different sequences can be seen in this second photo taken before the codex was disassembled. 2 Macc. 5:27-7:4 ends on a page numbered ⲝⲋ (= 66) and 1 Peter begins on the facing page numbered with a new sequence beginning with ⲁ (= 1).

The Crosby-Schøyen codex before it was taken apart, opened to the end of 2 Macc. 5:27-7:41, page numbered ⲝⲋ (= 66) and the beginning of 1 Peter, page numbered with a new sequence beginning with ⲁ (= 1); image source: William H. Willis, “The New Collections of Papyri at the University of Mississippi,” in Leiv Amundsen and Vegard Skånland (eds.), Proceedings of the IX International Congress of Papyrology (Oslo: Norwegian Universities Press, 1961), 381-392, plate V.

The first surviving page number in the codex is ⲓⲑ + ⲕ (that is, 19 + 20), but we can tell from the fragments of the damaged outer folia of the codex that this is not folio 10 of the quire, as we might expect had the pagination began with “1” on the recto of the first folio. Instead, pages 19 + 20 fall on folio 13, meaning that 3 folia (= 6 pages) preceded the beginning of this sequence of page numbering. We can summarize the schemes of page numbering in a table:

Folio in QuireTitle of TextPagination in Codex
1 recto – 3 versoContent unknown[page numbering not preserved]
4 recto – 26 rectoMelito, Peri paschapages numbered [ⲁ]-ⲙⲉ ([1]-45)
26 verso – 37 verso2 Macc. 5:27-7:41pages numbered ⲙⲋ-ⲝⲋ (46-66)
38 recto – 54 recto1 Peterpages numbered ⲁ-ⲗⲅ (1-33)
54 verso – 62 versoJonahpages numbered ⲁ-[ⲓⲍ] (1-[17])
63 recto – 68 versoUnidentified text(s)[page numbering not preserved]

So, we see three distinct series of page numbers. The first extends across two tractates, but the following two tractates each begin with a new set of page numbers starting at 1. And there are even more oddities. The numbering of the pages in 2 Macc. 5:27-7:41 contains an error in that two successive pairs of pages are numbered ⲛ-ⲛⲁ (50-51). And Jonah actually begins on the last numbered page of 1 Peter (folio 54 recto = page ⲗⲅ = 33), but then the verso of that page (the second page containing the text of Jonah) begins another new pagination sequence with the number ⲁ (= 1)!

The use of multiple sequences of page numbers in this single-quire codex provides another example of why we need to exercise some caution when we use a single sequence of page numbers to try to reconstruct the original number of folia for a damaged single-quire codex like P46.

Posted in Chester Beatty Papyri, Codices, Codicology, Crosby-Schøyen Codex, Schøyen Collection | Leave a comment

A New Article on the Date of Codex Sinaiticus

The October 2022 issue of Journal of Theological Studies will contain an article I wrote on the dating of Codex Sinaiticus. It’s out now in pre-print format, and thanks to my institution–MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society–the article is available open access.

It’s basically axiomatic that Codex Sinaiticus is one of the “great fourth century majuscules.” But how exactly do we know the date it was produced? Tischendorf assigned the codex to the fourth century in his publication of the first leaves, but early opinions of the date varied. It is sometimes supposed that it was one of the books that Constantine ordered to be produced (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4.36), perhaps around 330 CE. But others have dated the handwriting to a period some decades later, ca. 360 CE.

There are some fixed points for orientation. The Eusebian apparatus in Codex Sinaiticus is a bit irregular, as I have described in an earlier post, but it was almost certainly part of the original production of the codex, which means that the book must have been produced after the time that Eusebius developed the system (ca. 300 – 325 CE?). While the Eusebian apparatus gives us a rough terminus post quem, a small set of marginal notes may provide a terminus ante quem. Milne and Skeat believed these notes were copied by scribe D and, because of their occasional cursive characteristics, could be dated with some precision. They claimed the notes “certainly belong to the fourth century, and probably the first half of it” (Milne and Skeat, Scribes and Correctors, p. 62).

Correction insertion marked by cursive κατω and ανω in Codex Sinaiticus at quire 85, folio 7r, column 1 (Lake’s N.T. 92, Heb. 8:6); image source: codexsinaiticus.org

In this article, I point out that these so-called “cursive” notes are very minimal (a total of only five different letters) and not entirely “cursive.” And to the extent that one can use such a meager sample for the purposes of dating, datable parallels for these few “cursive” letters actually extend into the fifth century. So, if Milne and Skeat are correct that the notes are the work of scribe D, then the range of possible dates for the construction of the codex should be broadened: early fourth century to early fifth century. I also suggest that this particular range of possible dates (ca. 300 – 425 CE) makes the codex a good candidate for radiocarbon analysis. Read the paper to find out why (and it’s better to go to the pdf version; some unusual characters in a couple of the block quotes did not reproduce well in the web version).

Posted in Codex Sinaiticus, Codices, Palaeography, Radiocarbon analysis | 3 Comments

A Nice Explanation of Dendrochronology

Yesterday’s New York Times has a fantastically illustrated article on dendrochronology, the science of studying tree rings. I’ve mentioned dendrochronology in a few posts here in connection to the process of calibrating the results of radiocarbon analysis (for instance, here). The article is by Daniel Griffin (University of Minnesota) with graphics by Nathaniel Lash. The point of the article is the ongoing drought in the western United States, but the general discussion of dendrochronology is very clear, and the illustrations are wonderful. Check it out here:

Posted in Dendrochronology, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Model of P46

Over on the blog for my current research project (The Early History of the Codex), I have written a series of posts about making a model of the Beatty-Michigan Pauline epistles codex (P46).

Making models is always a useful exercise, and that was certainly true in this case. There are three posts that address different aspects of the process:

Making a Model of P46, Part 1: The Size of the Bifolia

Making a Model of P46, Part 2: Missing Stays

Making a Model of P46, Part 3: Papyrus Codices, Spine Strips, and Covers

Folded bifolia for a model of P46 showing difference in size between outer and inner leaves in the quire (outermost bifolium on top, innermost bifolium on bottom)
Posted in Book binding, Book covers, Chester Beatty Papyri, Chester Beatty Pauline Epistles, Codices, Codicology, Michigan Papyri | 2 Comments

A New Article on the Contents of P46

The latest issue of Novum Testamentum is out (64.3), and among the new articles is one by me: “The Construction and Contents of the Beatty-Michigan Pauline Epistles Codex (𝔓⁴⁶).”

A bifolium of the Beatty-Michigan codex of Paul’s letters; image source: Chester Beatty Digital Collections

Here is the abstract:


The surviving portion of the papyrus codex of the letters of Paul split between the Chester Beatty Library and the University of Michigan (𝔓⁴⁶) consists of a well preserved but damaged single quire containing parts of nine of Paul’s letters. Because the pages of the codex are numbered, scholars have believed that it is possible to reconstruct the original size of the quire, which turns out to be too small for the traditional Pauline corpus of fourteen letters. Many scholars have taken this to mean that the codex did not contain the Pastoral letters (1–2 Timothy and Titus). Jeremy Duff has argued that the copyist increased the number of letters per page in the second half of the codex and intended to add extra leaves in order to produce a codex with all of the fourteen letters found in the majority of undamaged Greek manuscripts of Paul’s letters. While Duff’s hypothesis has been critically engaged on other grounds, this article assesses Duff’s proposed ancient comparanda for the addition of extra folia to the end of a single-quire codex and revisits the problem of the contents of this codex in light of the construction techniques of better preserved single-quire codices.


This was a fun article to research and compose. I had noticed that some of what Duff had written about the Nag Hammadi codices was not quite accurate, and I set out to make corrections on these points. In the process, I revisited the corpus of single-quire papyrus codices and made several realizations that I had missed before. For one thing, we (or I, at any rate) have assumed that we can use ancient page numbers to reconstruct precisely the original size of single-quire codices that are damaged or fragmentary. This is what we usually do with P46 with the result that–so I thought–there would have been insufficient space for 2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon in the remaining leaves of P46. But in fact, some of our better preserved single-quire codices are asymmetrical when it comes to numbers of inscribed pages in the two halves of the codex. Nag Hammadi Codex II, for instance, has 70 inscribed pages in the first half of the codex and 75 inscribed pages in the second half of the codex. Blank front flyleaves and the presence of stubbed singletons account for the differences in this case, but other factors can contribute to asymmetry in the two halves of a single-quire codex. The upshot of this is the possibility that there were more missing pages at the end of P46 than we have generally thought, which opens up the possibility that the quire did originally contain all of the fourteen letters of Paul that we find in later Greek manuscripts of Paul’s letters. I did not at all expect to reach this conclusion, but I suppose that is why we do the research!

I should also note that in this article I especially benefitted from the rich collection of data on P46 in the PhD thesis of Edgar Battad Ebojo, “A Scribe and His Manuscript: An Investigation into the Scribal Habits of Papyrus 46 (P. Chester Beatty ii—P.Mich.inv. 6238)” (Ph.D. diss., University of Birmingham, 2014).

For those who have institutional access, the article can be found at the Novum Testamentum site. If you don’t have access, contact me for an offprint.

Posted in Book binding, Chester Beatty Papyri, Chester Beatty Pauline Epistles, Codices, Codicology, Michigan Papyri | 3 Comments

Blackwell’s at Oxford, 1950 by Muirhead Bone

Thanks to Stephen Goranson for sending a reference to Arthur L.P. Norrington, Blackwell’s 1879-1979: The History of a Family Firm (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), which provides identifications of several of the figures in the Muirhead Bone pastel of Blackwell’s book shop from 1950 that I wrote about in an earlier post. I had ventured an identification of the papyrologist Colin H. Roberts. Norrington identifies several of the figures with reference to a quotation by Basil Blackwell (1889-1984), a.k.a. “The Gaffer,” son of the founder of Blackwell’s, and chairman of Blackwell’s for forty-five years.

Image source: Arthur L.P. Norrington, Blackwell’s 1879-1979: The History of a Family Firm (reprint; Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), page 122.

“The Gaffer’s key to Muirhead Bone’s drawing on facing page.
On the right is the Revd. Colin Stephenson, Vicar of St. Mary Magdalen and later Chaplain of the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham. Beyond him Colin Roberts, Secretary of the Delegates, J.D. Mabbott, President of St. John’s, and the fine figure in the centre of Professor Hugh Last, Principal of Brasenose. (G. N. Clark originally posed for this position, but was dismissed by Bone as not being of sufficient height and dignity, and Last was sent for). Seated on the left is an an undergraduate … D.L. Edwards of Magdalen. Behind him is Professor Garrod, my Mods tutor, of Merton, and in the far distance Enid Starkie (in all the colors of the Rimbaud!–a witticism attributed to me but above my blood. I tackled Bowra on this head, but he denied it). At the foot of the staircase, seen in profile, is son Richard; coming down the staircase–myself.”

So, the people identified in the picture are:

John Colin Stephenson (d. 1973) [[20 June 2022: See comment by Llewelyn Morgan below]]
Colin Roberts (1909-1990)
John David Mabbott (1898-1988)
Hugh M. Last (1894-1957)
David L. Edwards (1929-2018)
Heathcote William Garrodd (1878-1960)
Enid Mary Starkie (1897-1970)
Richard Blackwell (1918-1980)
Basil Blackwell (1889-1984)

Norrington adds that Ewart ‘Edgar’ Hines “is the figure behind the serving desk.” Mentioned but not pictured are George N. Clark (1890-1979) and Maurice Bowra (1878-1971).

It is interesting that Last and Roberts are together in the image, as Last appears in the obituary for Roberts in the Proceedings of the British Academy 84 (479-483):

“In H.M. Last he had an ancient history tutor who could be extremely stimulating, and Colin had from boyhood always thought of himself as a historian rather than a pure scholar. It may well have been Last who determined Colin’s choice of career, as he was to do three years later with another young Oxford classic, Eric Turner.”

Thanks again to Stephen for the tip!

Posted in Colin H. Roberts | 7 Comments

The Inscriptions of the Jewish Catacomb at Vigna Randanini

Thanks to the amazing Silvia Prosperi at A Friend in Rome, I recently had the good fortune to be able to visit the Jewish catacomb at Vigna Randanini out on the Via Appia. It was a wonderful visit, and I especially enjoyed the chance to see the inscriptions there. These inscriptions were published a long time ago (in 1862 by Rafaelle Garruci, who also found the famous “Alexamenos” crucifixion graffito), but seeing them in person was quite exciting and revealing. While the texts are familiar from publications, the inscriptions themselves as material artifacts are something else altogether. For instance, I did not realize how much similarity exists between the scripts used to copy literary manuscripts and the writing used in these inscriptions. Here’s one example, CIJ I 166 (=JIWE 2 251):

CIJ I 166; image source: Brent Nongbri, February 2022

The details and overall impression of this script remind me very much of the “Roman Uncial” or “Rounded Majuscule” script that was used to copy, for example, the Hawara Homer papyrus.

Hawara Homer; image source: Digital Bodleian

The letter shapes and proportions are quite similar, and also the square modulus of the letters (except the inscribed nu, which is sometimes a bit narrower than the other letters):

These letters seem to me to be aiming for a similar aesthetic. I am impressed by the qualities of the small serifs or thickenings at the beginnings and ends of strokes. They are especially prominent on alpha, delta, and lambda.

When writing on papyrus with a reed pen, these types of serifs are produced with a slight movement of the flat edge of the nib either at the beginning or the end of the main part of the stroke. That is to say, this seems to me to be a case in which the epigraphic style of the stone inscriptions is imitating the style of the pen-and-ink manuscript writing.

Now, what’s especially interesting to me about this is the dating (shocking, I know). For this inscription, David Noy (Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, vol. 2) offers a date of “3rd-4th century?” which is the date he assigns to nearly all the inscriptions from this catacomb, presumably on the basis of the interpretation of the archaeological evidence of the catacomb itself. Examples of this particular style in pen-and-ink manuscripts are generally assigned to the second century, or to a period of “revival” in the fifth century.

I’ve wondered if the tendency to assign these scripts to either the second century or the fifth century might be a bit restrictive. Might the style not have persisted throughout this period? It would be interesting to learn exactly how secure the evidence is for the dating of the phases of use of the Vigna Randanini catacomb.

It was a fantastic visit, and I highly recommend A Friend in Rome!

Posted in Hawara Homer, Inscriptions, Palaeography | 2 Comments