A parchment fragment of Agrippa Castor “Against Basilides”?

A correspondent writes to tell me that there is a 5th century parchment item in the Bodleian Library in Oxford – a fragment from Egypt, of course – listed in the catalogue here, which the cataloguer attributes to Agrippa Castor:

Shelfmark:  MS. Gr. th. g. 3 (P)
Summary Catalogue no:  31812
Summary of contents: Theological controversy with B (? part of Agrippa Castor’s lost refutation of Basileides).
Language: Greek
Origin: Egyptian
Date: 5th century (?)
Material: parchment

This is very interesting, and I could wish that the parchment was online.

Agrippa Castor wrote around 135 AD against the 24 books of the gnostic Basilides.  Unfortunately all his work is lost, and we know about him only from Eusebius (HE IV, c.7), Jerome (De Viris Illustribus c. 21), and Theodoret (Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium I, c.4, PG 349C).  The Eusebius is as follows:

5. But as there were at that time a great many members of the Church who were fighting for the truth and defending apostolic and ecclesiastical doctrine with uncommon eloquence, so there were some also that furnished posterity through their writings with means of defense against the heresies to which we have referred.

6. Of these there has come down to us a most powerful refutation of Basilides by Agrippa Castor, one of the most renowned writers of that day, which shows the terrible imposture of the man.

7. While exposing his mysteries he says that Basilides wrote twenty-four books upon the Gospel, and that he invented prophets for himself named Barcabbas and Barcoph, and others that had no existence, and that he gave them barbarous names in order to amaze those who marvel at such things; that he taught also that the eating of meat offered to idols and the unguarded renunciation of the faith in times of persecution were matters of indifference; and that he enjoined upon his followers, like Pythagoras, a silence of five years.

8. Other similar things the above-mentioned writer has recorded concerning Basilides, and has ably exposed the error of his heresy.

Jerome writes as follows:

Agrippa surnamed Castor, a man of great learning, wrote a strong refutation of the twenty-four volumes which Basilides the heretic had written against the Gospel, disclosing all his mysteries and enumerating the prophets Barcabbas and Barchob and all the other barbarous names which terrify the hearers, and his most high God Abraxas. whose name was supposed to contain the year according to the reckoning of the Greeks. Basilides died at Alexandria in the reign of Hadrian, and from him the Gnostic sects arose. In this tempestuous time also, Cochebas leader of the Jewish faction put Christians to death with various tortures.

Theodoret writes:

And Basilides also had prophets, Barcabas and Barcoph and some others equally barbarian. And he formed other most abominable myths from these which I have not included because of the damage to those who will happen upon them.

And Isidore, the son of Basilides, with a certain addition, strengthened the mythology of [his] father. And Agrippa, surnamed Castor, Irenaeus, Clement’s Stromata and Origen struggled against these, while contending for the truth.[1]

Catalogues of fragments are not a reliable guide to the contents.  No doubt the fragment utters some anti-gnostic sentiments, perhaps mentions Basilides; and it would be most interesting to see it!

  1. [1] Glenn Melvin Cope, An analysis of the heresiological method of Theodoret of Cyrus in the “Haereticarum fabularum compendium”, thesis, Catholic University of America, 1990; p.92.

A couple of pictures of the start and end of Melito’s “De pascha” (On Easter)

Until 1940 Melito of Sardis was an obscure figure of the 2nd century AD, known mainly from Eusebius, who mentioned that he wrote a work on Easter.  In that year there appeared an edition and translation of On Easter (De Pascha).  It was based on a 4th c. papyrus codex which had come from Egypt.[1] This had been broken up, and portions of the almost complete text were in Dublin at the Chester Beatty library[2] while the remainder were at the University of Michigan.  A more complete text was published in 1960 from Bodmer Papyrus XII (start of the 4th c.),[3]  and a modern edition appeared in 1979.[4]

Coptologist Alin Suciu recently published pictures of manuscript pages on his facebook page, showing the start and end of the work.  I thought that many people might perhaps like to see them.

First the start of the work (following the end of Enoch), from the Chester Beatty codex.  Click on the image for a larger picture.

melito_de_pascha_start

There is a large ENWX, then a line, and then MELITWN (Of Melito).  The title, however, is missing.

The Chester Beatty-Michigan manuscript is defective at the end, so we don’t know how the final portion of it looked.   But in the Bodmer manuscript, both the start and end of the work are present, and the name and title are shown in both places as Μελίτωνος Περὶ Πασχα.  I am told that in fact there is a title page with this on, before the first actual page of text.[5]

melito_de_pascha_end

The work ends with MELITWNOS PERI PASXA.  This is followed by two lines which Alin translates for us:

After the subscription of the work, the scribe added a “colophon” (actually a scribal note): “Peace to the one who wrote, to the one who reads, and to those who love the Lord with sincerity of heart.”

An otherwise lost work found in damaged papyrus codices… Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!

UPDATE: My thanks to the correspondent who pointed out my mistake in supposing these images were from a single manuscript; and also that the Chester Beatty portions of the ms. are online here.

  1. [1] Campbell Bonner, The Homily on the Passion by Melito Bishop of Sardis with some fragments of the Apocryphal Ezekiel, London, 1940.
  2. [2] Shelfmark CBL BP XII, images online at the CSNTM site here, but viewable only through a dreadful “viewer” application.
  3. [3] M. Testuz, Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cologny-Geneve, 1960.
  4. [4] Edition and translation by Stuart Hall, Melito of Sardis: On Pascha and fragments, Oxford, 1979.  For the Bodmer papyri, see James M. Robinson, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri: From the First Monastery’s Library in Upper Egypt to Geneva and Dublin, 2014.  Preview here.
  5. [5] My thanks to the correspondent who drew my attention to my mistakes and supplied this information.

P. Petaus 30: A letter describing a travelling book dealer

A tweet today from Sarah Bond drew my attention to an interesting papyrus:

2nd c letter of touring bookseller hawking small membranae (parchment codices)

P.Petaus 30, recto. 2nd c. AD.
P.Petaus 30, recto. 2nd c. AD.
Verso
Verso (Click on the image for full size)

Details of the papyrus may be found here, with full-size photographs of recto and verso.  It was first published in 1969.

The papyrus was written around 150 AD by a scribe named Petaus, who lived in the village of Ptolemais Hormou, modern El-Lahun.  It is currently held in Cologne, where the inventory number is P.376.

The author who dictated the letter to the scribe was named Julius Placidus.  The letter was addressed to his father, Herclanus.  It concerned the purchase of books from a dealer who came to him.

The text is transcribed here (and rather better than I can manage in WordPress):

Recto:

Ἰούλιος Πλάκ[ι]δος Ἡρκλανῶι τῶι
πατρὶ χαίρειν.
Δεῖος γενόμενος παρʼ ἡμε[ῖ]ν ἐπέδει-
ξεν μὲν ἡμεῖν(*) τὰς μεμβρά-
νας ἕ̣ξ̣ .  ἐκεῖθεν μὲν οὐδὲν ἐξελε-
ξάμεθα, ἄλλα δὲ ὀ̣κτὼ ἀντεβά-
λ[ο]μεν, εἰς ἃ ἔδωκα ἐπὶ λόγου (δραχμὰς) ρ.
προνοήσεις μέντοι ̣ ̣ω[ ̣]τα.
τα̣[ ̣] ̣ ̣[ ̣] ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣α ἡμεῖν γενέσθαι.
[ἐρ]ρῶσθ[αί] σε εὔχ̣ο̣μαι.

Verso:

…̣ ̣[ ̣] ̣[ -ca.?- ] π̣α̣ρ̣[ὰ]

Ἰουλ(ίου) Πλακί[δ](ου) ̣ ̣ ̣ο̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ν̣ο̣ς̣

Translation:

“Julius Placidus to his father Herclanus, greeting. Dius came to us and showed us six parchment codices (tas membranas hex). We selected none of those, but we collated (antebalomen) eight, for which I paid on account 100 drachmas. You will be on the lookout in any case. . . I hope you are well. . .by Julius Placidus.”[1]

The papyrus is interesting as demonstrating the activities of a bookseller, travelling to his customer.  He had six “parchments”, but Julius Placidus didn’t buy them.  The other eight items, which they “collated”, or “compared” (with copies they already had?) were presumably books on papyrus, the normal material.

The “parchments” are translated above as “parchment codices”, which they probably were.  The first codices were made of wood, in the form of tablets inset with wax, and they were used for exercises or notes.  The wax could be erased easily.  Folded leaves of parchment were the next alternative to these wax tablets, as parchment can also be erased by scraping with a knife.  These notebooks may have been used for the autograph of at least some of the gospels, since early copies of these works are usually in codex form.  But they were mainly used by tradesmen, and literary works were usually on the traditional roll.  The poet Martial extols the value of the parchment codex, ca. 100 AD, in his early work, but as he grew more famous, those encomiums vanish and his books are for sale in roll format.  The eight books of unspecified material were perhaps papyrus rolls.

It is very nice to see the book trade in operation.  It is even nicer that we can get good quality images of the papyrus on the web, with transcription and translation.  We are fortunate people!

  1. [1] From Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church, 1995, p.53.

Discovered: A 5-6th century fragment of Methodius’ “Symposium”!

Methodius of Olympus.  5-6th century papyrus fragment of the Symposium.
Methodius of Olympus. 5-6th century papyrus fragment of the Symposium.

I learn from Brice C. Jones that a marvellous discovery has been made: a papyrus leaf, or the remains of one, containing a portion of the Symposium of the Ante-Nicene writer Methodius of Olympus (d. 311 AD, as a martyr):

New Discovery: The Earliest Manuscript of Methodius of Olympus and an Unattested Saying about the Nile

… The only complete work of Methodius that we possess is his Symposium or Banquet—a treatise in praise of voluntary virginity.

Until quite recently, the earliest manuscript of this text was an eleventh century codex known as Patmiacus Graecus 202, which is housed in the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos.

But a remarkable discovery has recently been made in the Montserrat Abbey in Spain.

Sofia Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, who have been working on the manuscript collection in the Montserrat Abbey for many years, have just published a fragment of Methodius’ Symposium that they date on palaeographical grounds to the fifth-sixth century—about 450 years earlier than the Patmos codex mentioned above. (On another recent, important discovery by Tovar and Worp, see here.)

Published as P.Monts. Roca 4.57, this fragment is the first attestation of a work of Methodius from Egypt. It is a narrow strip of parchment, with thirty partial lines preserved on the hair side (see image of fragment at right).

The text on this side of the fragment comes from Oratio 8:16.72-73, 3:14.35-40, 8.60-61, and 9.18-19 (in that order).

The flesh side contains thirty-five partial lines of text unrelated to the Methodian text. This is an unidentified Christian text with “Gnomic” sentiments, as the authors explain.

In addition to the wonderful fact that we now have a significantly earlier manuscript witness of Methodius’ text, there is also another remarkable feature in the new manuscript: a previously unattested saying about the Nile. In lines 5-8, the manuscript reads:

“The rise of the Nile is life and joy for the families”
ἡ ἀνάβα̣σ̣ε̣ι̣[ς] τοῦ Νείλου̣ ζω̣ή̣ ἐστι κ̣[αὶ] χαρὰ ἑστία[ις]

As the authors note, this saying does not occur in Methodius. And indeed, it does not fit the immediate context. Where it comes from is a mystery, but the saying is nonetheless very interesting.

Marvellous!  And thank you, Brice, for making this known to the world!  Brice adds that the publication is:

Sofía Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, ed., with the collaboration of Alberto Nodar and María Victoria Spottorno, “Greek Papyri from Montserrat” (P.Monts. Roca IV) (Barcelona: 2014), no. 57.

What this find also reminds me, is that Methodius is one of the very few ante-Nicene authors whose works have not been translated into English.  This is because they survive only in Old Slavic versions.  I paid some attention to these, in previous posts, and even acquired some texts; but I must hurry up and try to get some translations made!

A first century fragment of Mark’s gospel? Some thoughts by an outsider

An article in Live Science two days ago:

Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel

A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published. …

This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy.

Some sensible words of caution are here; and here at ETC, where it is suggested that the article at Live Science may be entirely derived from some public presentations.  There has also been some curious snarking from one or two papyrologists, who are not involved in the discovery, presumably out of sour grapes.

Is this a genuine discovery?  Who knows?  But I have some concerns about all this, even based on the story as we have it.

Mark’s gospel was completed ca. 70 AD, in Alexandria, according to the ancient literary sources, and to me there seems no pressing reason to suppose that they are wrong.  So it is possible, in principle, that a piece of an early copy could be found in waste papyrus in Egypt.  There’s no real reason why not.

But … surely it is somewhat improbable that one of the few copies of this text in existence at that date should happen to turn up in the limited amount of mummy cartonnage that has so far been dismantled?  Isn’t it?  Consider the vast output of papyrus made every year in ancient Egypt, of which a certain proportion ended up as waste papyrus.  What, statistically, are the chances of a 1st century copy of Mark being in that proportion?  They must be slim.

We’re told that portions of Homer have turned up, and this is not a surprise.  Likewise that documentary texts are found: this too does not surprise.  But something that must always have been a very rare item?

Of course probability is just that; a calculation based on averages.  All the same, it’s troubling.

In general, when a discovery is made which bears on matters of current interest or controversy (rather than something which was controversial in antiquity), it is wise to consider the possibility of forgery.   In the renaissance people forged stone monuments supposedly from well-known figures of classical antiquity, in order to make money.  Forgeries of papyri are not at all unknown.

There is a fingerprint for forgery, noted by Stephen C. Carlson.  By its very nature, a forgery must be of something which is exciting to people in the period in which it is “discovered”.   That’s where the money is.  Nobody is going to forge something that nobody is interested in.  But it is often the case that this modern excitement is over something that would not have been exciting in antiquity.  It is this dichotomy that marks out a forgery.

So any “discovery” that is of current interest, that fits squarely into a matter of current agitation, or fits the political or religious views of the discoverer particularly well, must be scrutinised with rational but exceptional caution.  Otherwise we will all be hoodwinked by those enterprising gentlemen in Turkey and Palestine whose attempts at forgery regularly attract interest from specialists.

A discovery of a first century fragment of a gospel fits that profile squarely.  A first century gospel could not have been of special interest in antiquity, when they were composed, but it would be very interesting today!

It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to do things right; to establish the provenance of the item, to look for signs of forgery, to get a range of experts involved, and, above all, to shed as much light as possible on the item.

When P52 was identified in the 1930s, the discoverer, Colin Roberts, proceeded with extreme care.  He did not publish, nor did he announce his find, until it had been examined by all the leading paleographers of the day, and a consensus reached.  The wisdom of his approach is evident: his result has not been seriously questioned in 80 years, even though it contradicted the established wisdom of biblical studies at the time, and reinforced the fondest wishes of Christians.

By contrast the way in which this supposed first century fragment is being made known raises in me the worst suspicions.

The papyrus trade is a secretive one, partly because of the foolishness of the Egyptian government in declaring all finds the property of state officials, and partly because of the stupidity of western activists, who harass those involved in the black market that has inevitably arisen.  It is, therefore, entirely understandable that nothing should be announced until everything is ready.  And if that silence is used, as Colin Roberts did, to determine the facts and build consensus, then well and good.  That’s one way to publish.

The alternative is better.  It is to shine a bright light on everything.  Publish the fragments now, without any very firm attributions, as soon as possible, with the provenance, and crowd-source an examination of every element of it.  The truth will out, and a consensus will come into being rather rapidly, as it did for the forgery known as the “gospel of Jesus’ wife”.

Either approach is acceptable.  But we seem to have neither.  Instead we have the worst of both worlds.

On the one hand we have a drip-drip of non-academic reportage, excitedly making all sorts of claims, possibly based on no more than a video by somebody who may (or may not) be involved in the project at all.  This feeds the fever of speculation; which, of course, increases the price that may be asked for publication, and generally increases the commercial value of the property.  It seems to benefit nobody in any other way that I can see.

On the other hand, we have an entire silence on all the matters that would allow professionals to form a judgement.

It is reminiscent of some of the hype around the Coptic Gospel of Judas.  That was a genuine text, and this mixture of whispers and real information is what we tended to get.  I suppose, in fairness, that this may be how Americans do things, for all I know.

But it is also reminiscent of how forgers operate: people whose sole aim is to boost the value of their merchandise and make a quick buck while the going is good.  For all I know, there is some Turkish forger at work, using some clever Swiss lawyer (or whatever) to control the whole process via “confidentiality agreements”, and manipulating the scholars at the far end who seek merely to recover knowledge.

If the discovery is genuine, then it is wonderful.  Any recovery of lost texts from antiquity is a joy, and any very early witness to any important text is to be treasured.

But is it genuine?  We cannot say.  But the manner in which it is becoming known to the public does nothing to give me confidence.

So I think we need to hold our horses, and await proper publication.  To me, all this is too good to be true.  But let’s hope not.

Oxyrhynchus Papyri online … or maybe only in the US?

Via AWOL:

Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volumes 1-15 online

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 1 (1898)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 2 (1899)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 3 (1903)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 4 (1904)[Alternative version]
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 5 (1908)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 6 (1908)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 7 (1910)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 8 (1911)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 9 (1912)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 10 (1914)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 11 (1915)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 12 (1916)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 13 (1919)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 14 (1920)
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume 15 (1922)

This is really valuable except … from outside the US, I can’t access vols. 1-5.  Can anyone in the US confirm that these are indeed online in PDF form?

Annoyingly, it looks as if Google Books have now blocked anonymizing proxies and Tor as means to by-pass the block on non-US people.  Probably there is now some other way that is presently unknown to me.  But really … why does anyone benefit from such childish dog-in-the-manger antics?

Boxes of papyri in Berlin “unopened” since they left Egypt a century ago

I’m reading William Brashear’s 1991 publication of P. Berol. 21196, identified as a Mithraic “catechism”.  It probably comes from excavations at Ashmunein (Hermopolis), undertaken by O. Rubensohn in 1906.  He asks, in the preface, if any more fragments of the papyrus are extant, and was unable to find any.  But then he states that there might still be some:

The Berlin collection still contains numerous boxes of papyri fromHermupolis, unopened since the day they arrived from Egypt almost a century ago.

Sometimes I despair of papyrologists.  How could this be allowed to happen?  Isn’t this shameful?

I can imagine someone about to whine about lack of funds.  Papyrology is chronically underfunded, it is true.  But then papyrologists so often seem to set out to annoy groups who might be tempted to fund their work.

An example of this, is the loud complaints that the Green Collection recruited amateur labour – “Christian apologists”, no less! the fiends! – to do manual work, cleaning and recovering papyri.  I’m afraid I shook my head at this, even as I read it.

Papyrology exists, as a discipline, because of Christians and the bible.  It exists because, among the very first finds of Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus, were fragments of “sayings of Jesus”, which we now know to be part of the Gospel of Thomas.  Because of the mass interest in these finds, a major newspaper funded their next season and created the vast collection of papyri still being published, in a too leisurely way, even today.

This is the group in our society who have a real, persistent, determined reason to be interested, and who also have the money to fund more work than any of us can imagine.  This is the group who could fund dozens of chairs of papyrology, if they were treated with even ordinary courtesy.  They have motive, and they have tons of money.

But do we work with them?  On the contrary!  Every discovery of papyrus – like the “gospel of Jesus’ wife” – is given an anti-Christian spin.  The media networks do this, because they think annoying people will create a sensation, get ratings, and so advertising.  But the people who like those programs spend no money on papyrology.

May I invite my readers to imagine what sort of money even a single mega-church could spend, if it was convinced that among the sands of Egypt were texts that would illuminate, or confirm, or illustrate,  – whatever – the bible?

It’s easy enough to sneer at enthusiastic amateurs talking about washing papyri with palmolive. There’s been plenty of that.  It’s easy to jeer at famous apologist Josh McDowell and his promotion of the work.

And yet … it’s shameful too.  I welcome getting the public involved.  I welcome enthusiasm, the wide diffusion of involvement, in a guided way. Archaeologists have managed this with aplomb for decades.  They’ve even managed to get random metal-detectorists working with them, rather than against them.  The result is that archaeology has a large constituency among the public willing to lobby for them.  Times are hard, but they are well-placed.

So, are archaeologists, as a breed, simply more intelligent than papyrologists?  Really? For what kind of short-sighted idiot rushes to insult, to obstruct, to sneer, at the involvement of the public?

Most people reading this will not be Christian believers.  And I say to you: Do you put your love of antiquity first?  Your desire for learning, your wish to preserve and transmit these papyri first?  Or some religious dislike of Christians first?  Which is more important to you?

Papyrology is unable to do its job.  Papyrology is not doing its job, as Brashear makes clear.  Papyrology is paid to make this stuff available.

What we need is a plan to address the huge backlog of papyri, and to get it all published, and to find more.  That must involve using volunteers and amateur patrons.

Worrying questions about the supposed new NT papyri from mummy cartonnage

In my last post, I noted that Peter Head pointed out that we have a forger active among us, who knows how to play to the predispositions of scholars.

I have just seen a very sound post by Roberta Mazza, discussing the supposed discovery of a bunch of interesting papyri from mummy cartonnage – papyrus reused to stuff the packing of mummies, and make up the coffins etc in the late period.  No doubt cartonnage contains much of interest.

But Dr Mazza is absolutely right in pointing out that we have NO previous examples of New Testament papyri from mummy cartonage; and noting the rather confused reportage coming out of the Green collection.

These are very sound questions.   Failure to see that the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” was too good to be true is what undid Karen King and Harvard.

A first century fragment of the New Testament?  Exciting if true.  But … too good to be true?  Quite possibly.  Particularly when we note that the recipient of the material is predisposed to believe that the material is genuine; just as the hapless Karen King was.

At the moment all we have is various bits of excited and not-too-knowledgeable comment from amateurs involved in helping in menial capacities.  I think the Green collection are absolutely right to be open-access with their finds; indeed it is essential to bring all available talent to bear.

We have an enemy of learning active in the world at the moment, remember.  Only a fool would neglect every precaution.  Particularly when a find might be too good to be true.

How to scam a scholar – the ps.Gospel of Jesus’ Wife affair

I expect many of us have watched the story of a papyrus fragment purporting to reveal that Jesus had a wife.  Coptologist Christian Askeland discovered clear proof of forgery, thanks to a bit of carelessness by the forger, and the story is now history.

Peter Head has an article here which is so useful that I will file it on my hard disk: Pseudo-Gospel of Jesus Wife as Case Study.

He asks the sensible question: now that we have evidence of a forgery which passed the science lab tests, what can we learn for next time?

The article is full of good points, but the first paragraph makes an unusual, and very interesting point (I have over-paragraphed it):

It is possible for a forger to get hold of papyri, mix ink according to ancient conventions, compose a semi-plausible pastiche of a text, and mislead scholars, academic institutions, the media, and the public. Exactly what he (or she) hoped to gain from it is not clear, but if it was simply mischief, then he has probably far exceeded his wildest dreams.

Given this possibility it is important that if someone approaches you with an unpublished text which meshes in with your own academic interests, then critical skepticism rather than credulity should control your responses. Nothing is innocent until proven guilty in this scenario.

Also the forger will target a scholar who he thinks is persuadable, not a manuscript expert, and who has wider credibility to make the discovery known (remember that in this case Prof King at first didn’t respond to the invitation, but the forger didn’t go to some other scholar, he waited a year and then went back to reel in Prof King).

In patristics, fortunately, there is no money to be made.  If someone turned up with “fragments” of Marcion’s Antitheses or a lost work by Justin Martyr, it is unlikely that it would atttract attention.

But one point is clear: we have a capable and determined forger out there, who is aware of what tests are likely to be applied, and how to fool them.

What can we tell about the forger?

  • He has some knowledge of Coptic, probably to undergraduate level, but is not an expert.
  • He has had a western education.
  • He has access to textbooks on Coptic (not too easy to obtain).
  • He has access to ancient papyri.
  • He has some sort of lab training.
  • He might be a Muslim – the forgery would be convenient to Muslim polemicists.
  • He is probably not a Copt – the forgery is a bit anti-Christian.

The motive was probably money; to create a sensation and then monetize it, as they say in the computer games industry.    I infer, therefore, that this is not a rich man.

This text acquired quite a following.  It nearly worked.  So I think we must expect more attempts at forgery.

In this light, I do hope Harvard involve the police.  This was an audacious fraud, and if it had succeeded would have garnered the author some real money, in sales,and with film rights, etc.  It would be very useful to have the author behind bars where he can do no more harm.

UPDATE: All of which makes the questions that Roberta Mazza is asking about the supposed NT papyri from mummy cartonage very pertinent.

The Bankes 2nd c. Homer papyrus roll now online at the British Library

I wonder how many of us have ever heard of the “Bankes papyrus”?  Certainly not I, before today.  Yet it is a fascinating item.

A tweet from Sarah Biggs alerted me that:

The Bankes Homer is now online & blog post to come! (Papyrus 114, Greek, 2nd century).

P.Lond.lit.28, British Library papyrus 114, is a 2nd century Greek roll, containing the last 16 columns of Iliad 24.

The website browser is a bit “wobbly”, but displays a single image of the whole unrolled item (which is probably the right thing to do).  I’m not sure whether a PDF of such an image is even technically possible, which is what one would otherwise want to have.

There are two images; one in a frame and one without.  The framed image is clearly just for reference, as it isn’t very zoomable.  It isn’t clear whether the verso is blank.

At the end is the colophon which consists only of “Ἰλίαδος Ω”, as is common in the papyri.[1]  If you zoom and pan, you eventually see something like this:

bankes_papyrus_bl114_colophon

But of course you must look for yourself.  The digitisation is really remarkable, and the quality of the result is extraordinary.  You can probably see more, than you could if you were holding the item itself.

I learn from the page on the BL website – which is really very good, with very nice references for us to look up on Google books! – that William Bankes purchased the roll at Elephantine in 1821.  The discovery was made by a certain Giovanni Finati, acting for him, and is told as follows:[2]

… we all took our departure together for Assouan. And it was during our stay there of a few days that, on the opposite island of Elephantine, (which I have always remarked to be, after Thebes, the place where the greatest harvest of curious antiquities is brought for sale by the natives,) a roll of papyrus in the Greek character + was put into my hands, for which I bargained and fixed the price in the first place, and then took it to Monsieur Linant[3] for the money, stipulating at the time that it was to be bought on Mr. Bankes’s account.

This roll proved to be that manuscript of Homer * which is considered so precious, but which it grieved me afterwards, and ever will, to have seen sold for more than its weight in gold + to that gentleman whom I considered the owner of it, and who would certainly have had it at my hands, without any further demand.

+ In my own journey, I bought a scrap of Greek upon papyrus in a very fine clear character, which seems to be the fragment of a letter or edict. I have a great number of tiles also written in a cursive Greek character, and highly curious upon that account, which purport to be receipts of pay by the Roman soldiery at Assouan during several reigns, from Tiberius to Commodius—one of these I found myself at Elephantine; and I have an amphora, also, that has served the same purposes as a modern slate to some tradesman’s family in Roman times, with his house or shop accounts registered upon it in ink from day to day.

* It contains the last book of the Iliad, most beautifully written, in uncial letters, and the lines numbered in the margin: what is very surprising, it has had accents added to it afterwards.

+ The author, though the first who had the handling of this papyrus, seems here to have formed a very undue estimate of its weight, for the sum which I paid for it amounted to no less than 25,000 piastres (about 500l.), that being stated as the offer that had been made for it from another quarter.

It is wonderful to have this item online!  How many of us would ever have been able to see it otherwise?  I doubt many of us could have managed to induce the keeper to let us see it, as recently as 10 years ago.

For this is what an ancient book looked like.  This is a real roll, complete with the end of the book.  Not a fragment of one; but 16 columns of it.

Look, and admire, and wonder!

  1. [1] As discussed in F. Schironi, Τὸ Μέγα Βιβλίον: Book-ends, End-titles, and Coronides in Papyri with Hexametric Poetry, American Studies in Papyrology 48), Durham (NC) 2010, no. 25 (pp. 134-35).
  2. [2] W. J. Bankes, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati, Native of Ferrara, 2 vols, London 1830, vol. 2, pp. 357-58. Online here.
  3. [3] Retained to search for antiquities by Bankes.