Elijah Hixson has drawn attention this morning to a new volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri series that is set to appear. Elijah focuses on a potentially interesting new copy of the Gospel According to Mark, but I must admit that the item that really caught my eye in the description of the new volume was this one:
“There is also a glimpse of the anonymous copyists to whom we owe our texts, practising the various graphic styles from which their customers could choose.”
I wonder if this is another piece similar to P.Oxy. 31.2604, an example of a copyist writing the same hexameter line in different styles of writing that we generally associate with different periods of time:
ⲃⲱⲙⲟⲛ ⲟ ⲅ’ⲏⲯⲉ ⲑⲉⲟⲓⲥ ⲍⲁⲙⲉⲛⲏⲥ ⲇⲉ ⲡⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲕⲉⲭⲩⲧⲟ ⲫⲗⲟⲝ
“He fired an altar to the gods, and a powerful flame of fire poured out.”
As the editor of the piece notes, the hexameter line is a Greek equivalent of the English phrase “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” a sentence that contains all the letters in the alphabet. So this hexameter line is ideal for a display of writing skills.
In the first two lines, the hexameter is written in different sizes of a “chancery” hand that is generally associated with the third century CE, while the final line is written in larger majuscule capitals usually associated with the first or early second century CE. So much of palaeographic dating is based on the assumption that graphic difference is always indicative of temporal difference. Examples like this that demonstrate that such an assumption isn’t always safe. I will be curious to see the new Oxyrhynchus exercise.
And while I’m on the topic of the problematic nature of palaeographic dating, I’ll also point out that Christian Askeland has just uploaded an important new chapter on the dating of Coptic literary manuscripts. It is available at his academia.edu site here.