P.Ryl. 1.1: A Datable Papyrus Codex of Deuteronomy in Greek

In a previous post, I discussed the phenomenon of papyrus codices made from reused documents. Among this group is a very interesting item in the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester. In fact, it was the first piece published in the first volume of Greek papyri from the Rylands collection edited by Arthur S. Hunt in 1911, P.Ryl. 1.1 (LDAB 3169). All that remains are a couple fragments from the codex that preserve the end of Deuteronomy 2 and the beginning of Deuteronomy 3. The pasted “inner” faces of the papyrus have been exposed, and some of the original documentary writing is visible in the current framing:

PRyl 1 1 a

P.Ryl. 1.1, “Fragment A,” showing the text of Deuteronomy; image source: John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

PRyl 1 1 b

P.Ryl. 1.1, Fragment A, showing the text of Deuteronomy and the earlier document; image source: John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

The Rylands papyrus should attract our attention for a number of reasons. Because the codex was assembled from sheets made of pasted documentary rolls, it is one of the few Christian papyrus codices that is roughly datable on objective grounds. As Hunt noted already in his edition of P.Ryl. 1.1, “a terminus a quo is fortunately provided by the cursive document of the recto, where the month Phaophi in the 10th year of Diocletian, which = the 9th of Maximian, i.e. A.D. 293, is mentioned. A fourth-century date for the copy of Deuteronomy is therefore very suitable, and to that period it is most probably to be assigned; it is not likely to be later than the end of the century.” Hunt’s description of the hand is accurate but not entirely helpful (“rather large and roughly formed round uncials”). The hand looks like a mixture of forms from different “styles.” The alpha of P.Ryl. 1.1 (left) sometimes resembles the triangular form familiar from the “Biblical Majuscule” exemplified by Codex Sinaiticus (right):

alpha PRyl 1 1 and SinaiticusAt other times, however, the alpha of P.Ryl. 1.1 (left) appears more informal and almost has a cursive or chancery form, like P.Ryl. 3.457 (right):

PRyl 1 1 and PRyl 3 457These differing forms are sometimes found within a single word:

PRyl 1 1 Deuteronomy pasaiOther letters (such as kappa and mu) have an appearance more similar to that of the “Alexandrian Majuscule”:

PRyl 1 1 kappa and muP.Ryl. 1.1 is thus a good example of a datable hand with some claim to at least semi-literary quality that doesn’t easily fit into any of the customary “styles” of Greek literary writing of the Roman era.

The papyrus has other notable features. Most would regard the manuscript as a “Christian” (rather than a “Jewish”) production due to the combination of the fourth-century date, the codex format, and the presence of nomina sacra contractions (here ⲕⲥ for ⲕⲩⲣⲓⲟⲥ):

PRyl 1 1 nomen sacrum

The codex leaf was also laid out in (at least) two columns of text per page. A layout with multiple columns of text on a single page is generally a feature of more luxurious productions (such as the Chester Beatty codex of Numbers and Deuteronomy, LDAB 3091). To find such a layout in the Rylands papyrus, with its somewhat irregular writing and its construction from previously used materials, is a little surprising.

Also of interest is the fact that the documents used to make the codex have been further studied (Bagnall and Rives 2000). They appear to be official correspondence quite similar to the collection of official letters preserved on the rolls used to make the Chester Beatty tax codex. In the case of the Beatty tax codex, the official correspondence from 298 and 300 CE was reused for documents dated to 339-345 CE. It is perhaps not unreasonable to suspect that the documents used to make P.Ryl. 1.1, which are datable to 293-4 CE, may have been reused within a similar window of time. We might thus assign a tentative date of second quarter of the fourth century for the writing of the text of Deuteronomy of P.Ryl. 1.1.


Bagnall, Roger and James B. Rives, “A Prefect’s Edict Mentioning Sacrifice,” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 2 (2000), 77-86.

Hunt, Arthur S. Catalogue of the Greek Papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, Volume I. Machester: Manchester University Press, 1911.


This entry was posted in Chester Beatty Papyri, Codices, Palaeography, Rylands Papyri. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to P.Ryl. 1.1: A Datable Papyrus Codex of Deuteronomy in Greek

  1. Gregg Schwendner says:

    are both part of the cartonnage for the boards of a codex? That’s what it looks like.

    • It’s possible. Hunt didn’t say anything about the piece being removed from a cover, but that the Deuteronomy leaves were made from a process like that used on the Beatty tax codex seems beyond doubt.

  2. dschwen says:

    Interesting. I am studying the same phenomenon you point out about the allographs of alpha. Elsewhere I take it too mean the writer is trying to write formal-looking “sharp-nosed” alphas, but is not very used to it, and writes the form he is used to sometimes, in this case a third century (or prob. later—haven’t got to the fourth century docs yet) “contextual” alpha, with an oblique stroke almost horizontal.

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