The Oxyrhynchus Codex of Philo of Alexandria

POxy 82 5291 v Philo codex small

P.Oxy. 82.5291, a fragment of a leaf of a papyrus codex containing works of Philo of Alexandria; image source: POxy: Oxyrhynchus Online

It might not look like much at first glance, but one of the scraps published in the 2016 volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (volume 82) belongs to a quite fascinating codex. I’m talking about P.Oxy. 82.5291, a small corner of a papyrus leaf with the remains of four lines of writing on each side. This fragment is part of the so-called Oxyrhynchus Philo codex. This book contained several of the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria. Philo wrote in the first half of the first century CE, and according to most palaeographers, this codex was probably copied in the third century CE. So, it provides a reasonably early witness to the text of Philo’s works. The codex (LDAB 3540) has a kind of complicated history. Parts of the codex have been published elsewhere:

P.Oxy. 9.1173
P.Oxy. 11.1356
P.Oxy. 18.2158
PSI 11.1207
P.Haun. 1.8

Like most of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, the remains of the Philo codex are pretty scrappy, but we can actually tell a lot from some of the fragments. PSI 11.1207, for instance, preserves the top part of two conjoined leaves (a bifolium). It preserves several interesting features:

PSI 11 1207 Nongbri smallThe red box shows the title of one of the texts in the book, “On the posterity of Cain, the man wise in his own conceit, and how he became an exile.” Th title occurs here at the beginning of the text. Outlined in green is one of the page numbers, 289. And outlined in blue is an example of a nomen sacrum, a characteristically Christian form of shortening certain words (in this case, ⲑⲉⲟⲩ, “of god,” to ⲑⲩ). One of the slightly odd things about this codex is that the use of these nomina sacra contractions is not consistent. That is to say there are words we would commonly find contracted in Christian manuscripts (such as ⲁⲛⲑⲣⲱⲡⲟⲥ and ⲡⲁⲧⲏⲣ) that are not contracted in this codex. This feature has sometimes lied to the classification of the codex as “Jewish.” but seeing as the word ⲩⲓⲟⲥ (“son”) is contracted to ⲩⲥ, this doesn’t seem like a compelling line of reasoning to me.

The best discussion of the codex as a whole is a characteristically careful and thorough treatment by James Royse published in 1980. Because some conjoint folia survive as well as some page numbers, a tentative reconstruction of the overall structure of the codex is possible. The highest surviving page number is 291, but there were probably at least 374  pages in the codex. According to Royse, three copyists were involved in producing the following works in the codex:

|   Scribe A     Pages 1-50     De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini
|   Scribe B     Pages 51-91   Legum allegoriae I
|                       Pages 92-130 Legum allegoriae II
|                       Pages 133-144  De Pietate
|                       Pages 145-211  De ebrietate I
|                       Pages 212-280  De ebrietate II
|   Scribe C     Pages 281-326  De posteritate Caini
|                       Pages 327-373  Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat

The pages were square-ish in shape and not especially large (about 15 cm wide and 17.5 cm high), but the codex would have been quite thick. Well-preserved parchment codices with around this number of pages are about 4 cm thick, so the Oxyrhynchus Philo would have been a substantial little codex.

Update 14 May 2018: Some observations on the archaeological context of the Oxyrhynchus Philo codex.


Royse, James R. “The Oxyrhynchus Papyrus of Philo.” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 17 (1980), 155-165.

This entry was posted in Codices, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Oxyrhynchus Philo. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Oxyrhynchus Codex of Philo of Alexandria

  1. Dan Batovici says:

    I posted a link to this on facebook and someone noticed in a comment that you have 5921 in the caption to the first photo, instead of 5291, as in the text.

    Thanks for drawing attention to this codex!

  2. Pingback: Excavating the Oxyrhynchus Philo Codex | Variant Readings

  3. For what it’s worth, Maren Niehoff’s “Philo of Alexandria: an Intellectual biograrphy” (2018) just arrived here. I haven’t read much (so far, learned and ambitious) yet. Appendix I boldly (?) divides many of Philo’s works into two batches; before and after his mission to Rome, during and after which, she claims, his philosophy changed. Five of the pOxy titles (above) are from her posited early period (ca. 10-35) with De Pietate not listed.

  4. a) There has been debate whether De Pietate was a separate work or part of De Virtutibus. I don’t know. If separate, perhaps it was early, like the other five works in this codex? Or that may be too weakly circumstantial.
    b) Niehoff’s Philo biography (p. 86) argues that Every Good Man is Free 88 on Essenes pays an indirect compliment to the Romans by remarking that Essene philosophy was “free from the pedantry of Greek wordiness.” I propose that section 88-91 goes on to parallel Essene views of some rulers in Palestine Syria, namely in descriptive references to two kinds of Hasmonean rulers. I think Philo described the violent ones, like Jannaeus, the Qumran “Lion of Wrath,” influenced by Sadducees, and the second sort as deceitful flatterers, Pharisees as seen by Essenes as “seekers of smooth things.”

  5. Pingback: Paris Philo Codex (sort of?) Online | Variant Readings

  6. Pingback: More Digital Images of Papyri at the Bodleian Online | Variant Readings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s