The Coptic Material from Oxyrhynchus

Several people have asked me why there are no Coptic pieces on the list of recently emerged papyri of dubious origins. I put that list online in the hopes of identifying more material that may have been stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society. Having seen plenty of Greek papyri from Oxyrhynchus, we all have a pretty good sense of what that material tends to look like. But the profile of Coptic materials known with certainty to have come from the Oxyrhynchus trash heaps is something of a mystery. Very few of them have been published. This post will summarize what has been published.

The symposium volume celebrating the 100th anniversary of Grenfell and Hunt’s first season at Oxyrhynchus (published 2007) included a short essay by Sarah Clackson (“Coptic Oxyrhynchus”), in which she stated the following: “Using the collection’s index-card catalogue, I found that there are at least 400 individual Coptic texts, literary and non-literary, deriving from the site.” Clackson’s 9-page chapter gives a general overview of this material, but her untimely death in 2003 prevented the “P.Oxy.Copt.” series that she had envisioned from becoming a reality. Among her papers at the Griffith Institute at Oxford are her notes on the Coptic material from Oxyrhynchus that she had surveyed. Some of her observations have been summarized by Roger Bagnall in his 2011 book, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, pp. 84-85.

To the best of my knowledge, after Clackson passed away the main person overseeing the Coptic material from Oxyrhynchus was Dirk Obbink. The study of the Coptic material at Oxyrhynchus was renewed in 2013. At the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature that year, Alexander Kocar and Geoffrey Smith gave a paper entitled “The Status of the Coptic Manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus.” If I recall correctly, new arrangements for publication were announced, but I think those plans have since been delayed. Here is the abstract from that talk:

“In this presentation, we will focus on the current status of the Coptic materials from the Oxyrhynchus collection. We will provide an overview of the Coptic texts in the collection, briefly introduce some newly discovered manuscripts, and discuss prospects for future research.”

They will no doubt be much more knowledgable than me about the overall picture of Coptic material from Oxyrhynchus, but I will post what little I do know about the published items here, so that there is at least some baseline for comparison to the Coptic manuscripts of dubious origin that I will list in a separate post.

As far as I know, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri series has published only a small number of fragments containing Coptic writing. These include the following:

P.Oxy. 6.987; image source: Houghton Library, Harvard University

P.Oxy. 6.987: Parchment fragment with the name Apa Victor written with decorations. Assigned to the 5th or 6th century. LDAB 35314.

P.Oxy. 65.4469; image source: Oxyrhynchus Papyri Online

P.Oxy. 65.4469: A strip of papyrus containing a portion of a letter from Abgar to Jesus in Greek with a few lines of Coptic making a personal plea for healing. Assigned to the fifth century. LDAB 58906. 62 6B.78/F(1-3)b

P.Oxy. 84.5414: A portion of Book 2 of the Iliad with paraphrase and Coptic translation (no image available to me). Oxford, Sackler Library, Papyrology Rooms: 65 6B 39/C(2-3)b (LDAB 68057).

Additional Coptic peces published outside The Oxyrhynchus Papyri series but with a secure connection to the Oxyrhynchus would include at least the following items:

Oxyrhynchus inventory number 4 1B.74/K(a); image source: Enchoria 11 (1982), Tafel 1 and 2.

Oxyrhynchus inventory number 4 1B.74/K(a), a martyrdom account copied on a sheet of papyrus. Assigned with hesitation to the 4th century. LDAB 108135.

Oxyrhynchus inventory number 39 5B.125/a, a magical amulet on paper assigned to the 11th century by Anthony Alcock, Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 19 (1982), 97-103.

Oxyrhynchus inventory number 3 1B/88 B(1); image source: Orientalia 62 (1993), Tab. III
Oxyrhynchus inventory number 3 1B/88 B(2); image source: Orientalia 62 (1993), Tab. IV

Two personal letters to a woman known as Gableria/Gablelia, P.Oxy. inv. 3 1B/88B (1 and 2), assigned on the basis of palaeography to the 7th century. Published by Anthony Alcock, “Two Coptic Letters from Oxyrhynchus,” Orientalia 62 (1993), 83-88.

A parchment fragment of Romans, which was published by Crum (Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 13, 1927, pp. 19-26) without a photographic plate, with the following description:

“I will conclude with the fragment of Romans referred to on p. 21 above. It was found by Messrs. Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus, in the early years of their work there and is written on vellum, in “fine, early uncials”–such is all that my copy, made at the time, has to tell. Professor Hunt kindly assents to my printing it.”

The piece is LDAB 107980.

Another published piece to which I lack access that is certainly from the Oxyrhynchus trash heaps is said to be a sample of Old Coptic on papyrus assigned to the second(!) century (Oxford, Sackler Library, Papyrology Rooms: 25 3B.58 M(a), LDAB 704187)

Other materials that have a potential but less certain connection to the dumps at Oxyrhynchus include the following pieces:

Fragmentary parchment leaves of a miniature codex containing a church calendar published by Crum in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 37 (1938), 23-32 (no photographic plate). Crum’s explanation for assigning the pieces to Oxyrhynchus runs as follows:

“A number of small fragments of Coptic papyri (about 40 in all) were entrusted to me, I think in 1918, by B. P. Grenfell, for eventual publication in one of the Egypt Exploration Society’s volumes, but they were never so used; indeed scarcely any would be worth publication. Nothing upon the sheets between which they lie indicates their provenance–nothing at least, which anyone now alive is able to interpret. The month of excavation is recorded upon each sheet, but no year, and there is usually an indication of the period to which, judging by the Greek found with it, the fragment might be assigned: ‘with 4th-6th cent(ury) pap(yri)’, or ‘with 5th-6th cent.’

With the papyri lay the parchment fragments here published: A a half-leaf, B a tolerably complete leaf, the former measuring 7.5 x 5 cm., the latter 10 x 8 cm. There is no proof that they were contiguous leaves. The format of the volume whence they came classes them beside a few other minute Coptic codices, such as BM. 936, 941, 943, 947, Ryl. 7. None of these is from the White Monastery. Among the sites excavated by Grenfell and Hunt only Oxyrhynchus, I think, yielded manuscripts of such a relatively late date, so that these fragments probably came thence.”

The item is LDAB 113877.

Greek-Coptic Glossary of Hosea and Amos; image source: British Museum

A set of papyrus fragments containing a land register on the front and a Greek-Coptic glossary on the reverse purchased by the British Museum in 1924 (LDAB 3141). The glossary was assigned to the late third century by Bell and Thompson (although Hunt would have allowed a date in the fourth century). The Oxyrhynchite provenance is established as probable by an analysis of the document on the front of the papyrus; see Amin Benaissa in Chronique d’Égypte 91 (2016), 175-179.

One other published piece that might be attributed to the trash heaps at Oxyrhynchus (on very slim grounds) is a Coptic manuscript at Cambridge, a fragment of a parchment leaf containing Genesis in Sahidic (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, MS Hoskyns 541):

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, MS Hoskyns 541; ZPE 173 (2010), p. 64

According to a note with the fragment, it was said to have been “bought 5/10/16 [in] Assiut,” but the provenance given is “El Bahnasa” (= Oxyrhynchus).

I have probably missed a few pieces, but I don’t think I have overlooked too many that can be securely connected to the Oxyrhynchus trash heaps (I leave aside the more substantially preserved codices in the “Oxyrhynchite” dialect of Coptic, which are a separate class of materials for my purposes here). In any event, these pieces give us at least a glimpse of what the “Coptic Oxyrhynchus” corpus might look like.

[[Update 3 December 2019: Thanks to Christian Askeland for pointing out that there are a few Coptic papyri from the excavations of Flinders Petrie at Oxyrhynchus at the Petrie Museum in London. I post one below:

The data given at the museum website is sketchy but useful:

“UC71045   Papyrus fragment, bearing Coptic writing on both sides, from Conservation Number 9 of treatment by Renee Waltham, 2001, after removal from corrugated card folder. Item no.9 formerly in newspaper Oxford University Gazette dated March 15 1922, presumably from the BSAE [British School or Archaeology in Egypt] excavation at Oxyrhynchus the previous year.”

So, it does seem reasonably certain that this and a couple other Coptic pieces in the online catalog of the Petrie Museum came from Oxyrhynchus. As Askeland noted, biblical fragments from Oxyrhynchus do not show up in the online catalog.]]

This entry was posted in Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Coptic Material from Oxyrhynchus

  1. Christian Askeland says:

    The Petrie Museum at UCL has several EES Coptic pieces from Oxyrhynchus including Sahidic and Middle Egyptian Bible. I don’t think that they are listed in the online catalog.

  2. Pingback: Recently Emerged Coptic Manuscripts of Dubious Origins: A Working List | Variant Readings

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