I’ve been meaning to post for quite some time on a fascinating video from the 2021 Birmingham Colloquium on New Testament Textual Criticism. Elijah Hixson presented on P50, a papyrus bifolium containing Acts 8:26-32 and 10:26-31 kept at Yale’s Beinecke Library (P.CtYBR inv. 1543, LDAB 2861). It was bought in Paris from Maurice Nahman in 1933. It’s generally assigned to the fourth century, but Hixson argued this piece might be a modern fake. I think he’s right.
I don’t want to give away too many of the details. Hixson builds a cautious cumulative case for forgery that is definitely worth watching, either in the original Birmingham presentation here or a more recent version here.
I just want to dwell on one issue that came up in the video that has been of interest to me for a while. In both videos, Elijah comments upon the presence of the symbol ; used to mark questions on two occasions in P50, the end of Acts 8:31 and the end of Acts 10:21.
As Elijah notes, this seems out of place in a fourth century manuscript. In fact, as far as I know, this would be unique among papyrus manuscripts of the fourth century, as the “semicolon”-style question mark does not occur regularly in Greek manuscripts until much later. This seems to me to be, by itself, a strong indication of that P50 is a modern forgery.
But I have wondered for a while: When, exactly, do we start seeing the ; symbol as question mark in Greek manuscripts? The textbooks have not been especially helpful. The clearest statement I have seen is Edward Maunde Thompson writing in 1912 (An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography):
“The mark of interrogation also first appears about the eighth or ninth century” (p. 60).
Frustratingly, Thompson does not provide any examples. The earliest instance I know of is a manuscript of Genesis in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Bodleian Library MS. Auct. T. inf. 2). This is a parchment manuscript copied partially in majuscules and partially in minuscules. Some authorities assign it to the 9th century, others to the 10th century.
The “semicolon”-style question mark regularly appears at the end of interrogative sentences, for instance in Genesis 3:11:
The phrase ἀδαμ ποῦ εἶ is already marked as a question by the circumflex accent over the diphthong in ποῦ (“Adam, where are you?”), but the copyist has also added the ; symbol. As I noted, this is the earliest piece I have been able to find with the ; question mark. But there must be some earlier examples that Thompson had in mind. Does anyone know of any?