P.Bodmer II as Possible Evidence for the Circulation of John without Chapter 21

P66 Plate 145 Descreened

In the most recent issue of the journal Early Christianity (vol. 9, 2018), I have an article that bears on one of the classic “problems” of New Testament interpretation. I’ve given some background on the issues in previous posts here and here. So finally, here is the abstract of the article:

“As part of the efforts of the Bodmer Lab to digitize and catalog the ancient papyrus and parchment items at the Fondation Martin Bodmer, I have recently had occasion to thoroughly re-examine the published data about the construction of P.Bodm. 2 (LDAB 2777), the well known papyrus codex containing the Gospel according to John in Greek.2 In the course of this reassessment, some previously overlooked features of the codex came to light. To summarize as concisely as possible: I found that one fragmentary page of P.Bodm. 2 (page 149, a codicological recto) appears to have an unusually small amount of text and an unusually large lower margin. This page also happens to contain the conclusion to chapter 20 of John’s Gospel. Chapter 21 begins at the top of the next page (page 150, a codicological verso), which contains a more normal amount of text and has a more normal lower margin. It has for some time been recognized that the copyist of P.Bodm. 2 made an initial copy of an exemplar and then adjusted and corrected the copied text against a different exemplar with different textual affinities. This paper raises the possibility that the first exemplar of P.Bodm. 2 lacked chapter 21. If this hypothesis is correct, P.Bodm. 2 would provide the first piece of material evidence for the circulation of a copy of the Gospel according to John that ended after chapter 20.”

As I note in the abstract, what set me down the road to writing this article was the realization that the page containing the end of John 20 had significantly fewer letters than other pages in this part of the codex. And then there was the interesting coincidence of the page break between chapters 20 and 21, which is not a normal practice in this codex.

PB 2 page 149 text

P.Bodmer II, page 149, edition of Martin and Barns


PB 2 page 150 text

P.Bodmer II, page 150, edition of Martin and Barns

I then also noticed that page 149 with the end of John 20 also had an unusually large lower margin relative to other pages in this section of the codex:

Justified Comparison of Pages 113 and 149 in PBodmer 2

P.Bodmer II, Comparison of lower margins of page 113 and page 149, which ends with the conclusion of John 20:31

The argument of the article is based on a lot of technical data (measurements of margins of pages, average number of letters per page, etc.). To see all the data that actually makes up the argument, you’ll have to refer to the article, which contains a few appendices and a fairly detailed discussion of the quire structure of the codex.

The idea that one of the exemplars used by the copyist ended after chapter 20 is admittedly speculative, but the large space between the last line of text on page 149 and the bottom of the page really does seem to require some kind of explanation.

UPDATE 10 December 2018: See the better suggested explanation by Ryan Kaufman.


This entry was posted in Codices, New Testament, P.Bodmer II, Textual criticism. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to P.Bodmer II as Possible Evidence for the Circulation of John without Chapter 21

  1. Tommy Wasserman says:

    Thank you Brent! I remember asking you about numbers of letters and spaces towards the end of the codex at an SBL presentation, and you said you would look into it. So, that actually confirmed your other findings then.

  2. Pingback: Nongbri on John 21 in P66 | Larry Hurtado's Blog

  3. a reader says:

    The scribe didn’t want to begin the next part, John 21, for only a line or two then need continue
    on the next sheet. Logically and aesthetically better presented on a new sheet, right?

    • Thanks. Yes, that makes sense, but the copyist didn’t do that in other places where it would have been even easier. In the article, I put it this way (p. 352, note 21): “Aside from chapter 1, no chapter besides 21 begins at the top of a page.If the copyist had wanted to begin chapters at the tops of pages as a rule, it would have been quite easy to do so, for instance, at page 52, by shifting one line of text, or at page 74, by fitting an extra four letters in on page 73, or at page 143, by shifting just over one line of text. The copyist thus does not seem to have had a special preference for beginning chapters at the tops of pages.”

  4. JeroenM says:

    If your theory is correct, then I would expect that the type of corrections in chapter 21 would be different. Since for chapter 21 there was no second copy to compare the text to.

    • Thanks for the comment, JeroenM. Yes, you’re right. I note in the article that what is really interesting about the remains of chapter 21 in P.Bodmer 2 is that we actually don’t find any corrections. Although the remains are quite scrappy, given the high number of corrections elsewhere in the text, we should actually expect to see a couple corrections in chapter 21 if, like the first 20 chapters, it was copied and checked against a second exemplar.

  5. Pingback: Ryan Kaufman on the Ending of John 20 in P.Bodmer 2 | Variant Readings

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