Monday, September 18, 2023

Oxyrhynchus and composition of the gospels #POxy5575

Every so often there is a bit of excitement in New Testament studies.

The past couple of weeks have seen excitement over a papyrus called P.Oxy.5575 (or, on social media, #POxy5575).

A good initial article to read is Candida Moss's "Scholars Publish Early Papyrus with Early Sayings of Jesus" in The Daily Beast.

Scholarly follow up could be here, here, here, here and here.

Moss sums up the matter in this paragraph:

"The significance of the fragment lies in its date and contents. In conjunction with distinguished papyrologist and paleographer Ben Henry, the editors—Jeffrey Fish, Daniel Wallace, and Michael Holmes—date the fragment to the second century CE. This is important because, as Dr. Fish told me, 

“Only a few gospel papyri can be securely dated to the second or beginning of the third century.” 

This is the earliest period from which we have Christian manuscripts. 

“What is so significant about this papyrus,” continued Fish, “is that it contains sayings of Jesus which correspond partly to canonical gospels (Matthew and Luke) and partly to sayings we know only from the Gospel of Thomas. It is as early or earlier than any of our papyri of the Gospel of Thomas [our earliest non-canonical Gospel],” including other fragments of the Gospel of Thomas found at Oxyrhynchus."

Why get excited?

Generally NT scholars get excited over any early find of any pieces of scriptural writing but there is a bit more going on here.

A papyrus focused on sayings of Jesus raises the question whether this papyrus has any links to the hypothetical Q (the document many suppose undergirds the passages common to Luke and Matthew but not found in Mark). Q is mostly sayings of Jesus, so is the Gospel of Thomas. Clearly people were interested in the sayings of Jesus (e.g. Matthew and Luke add many more sayings to Mark's Gospel, whatever the written or oral sources of those sayings).

Q and Thomas imply a fairly exclusive interest in recording sayings of Jesus. This papyrus is focused on sayings - though it is a fragment and perhaps in its original form it had other material such a miracle stories. Is this papyrus simply a continuing interest in sayings, using well established and circulating gospels?

Is it in a direct tradition with a written Q and demonstrates development by adding a Thomas saying into its Q source?

Lots to think about!


Anonymous said...

Some sources were sandwiches, others soups.

What is a saying? Some read a whole "wisdom Jesus" christology in the hypothesis that sayings from the Lord unlike anything in the OT were collected before stories about him were investigated and recorded.


Peter Carrell said...

Following up the food analogy, BW, some recipes are handed on orally and never written down, some are handed on orally and then a generation arises which worries about getting the details wrong (was that a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar, Grandma, or the other way around? let me write down the correct amount once and for all).

One may then read too much into recipes … They ate so much cake and biscuits. That must have been their diet. (Er, one doesn’t write down recipes for eating fruit and vegetables and for spit roasting lamb and pigs …).

Anonymous said...

"recipes are handed on"

George Washington's slave Hercules cooked for him from the recipes collected down several centuries by Mrs. Washington's Custis family. This is to say that a man not far removed from West Africa was cooking foods known to the aboriginal tribes of Virginia with recipes first recorded by the Normans.

So even today, when tomatoes are approaching their last glory in August, they might flavor an aspic served on the same table with peanut soup. Conceptually, the gelatin is a medieval invention from the Continent, the tomatoes were cultivated by the Indians, the soup is from Ghana, and the combination was an innovation in Virginia.

But without its technique, a recipe is only a suggestion. Englishmen of Washington's generation were aware that although their traditional recipes combined ingredients much as the French had always done, the latter had better technique and got more magnificent results.

So Washington emancipated Hercules and sent him to Paris-- why not rather Lyons, the true capital of cuisine?-- to study cooking. Having learned from the culinary paradosis there, Hercules opened the first serious American restaurant in Philadelphia.

Anonymous said...

"One may then read too much into recipes"

Indeed, one can imagine a parallel universe, one that we are blessed by the Creator not to inhabit. In it, the general and the cook instead regarded the Custis canon as a collection, not of documents for cooking, but of rubrics for fire sacrifices. Yes, the sacrifices do result in food, which is delicious and even nourishing, but the point of them is to do, as stupidly as possible, that which the ancestors have prescribed to be done forever.

So that the sacrifices can be done with without reflection even in new worlds, it is important to replicate the standard garden of their old one in any place that one might inhabit. Since gardening is ancillary to the sacrifices, it follows that the rules for planting in April and harvesting through the summer to October must be no less strictly followed for the sacrifice to be valid, both in Paris and in Christchurch.

Harvests are variable, of course. But in that world empty larders are not a problem, maybe an opportunity. If one has nothing to sacrifice, then one does not sacrifice. Not sacrificing when one cannot do so by the book is a very commendable avoidance of intelligence.

Insisting on doing fire sacrifices-- even to the point of using plants and animals and firewoods never mentioned in the recipes-- because one wants to feed people is reckless, maybe dangerous. Since the different offerings will have to be handled differently, the sacrificial action will lack elegance. Performing a sacrifice, not for its true lack of purpose, but for the sake of its byproducts corrupts the aesthetic motivation for performing even ordinary sacrifices. Indeed, it forfeits all the merit effortlessly accrued when doing without thinking has a cost.

Whatever the harvest, it is satisfactory provided that the rubrics for the fire sacrifice can be followed with due precision. However, should that not be the case, then the conservation of obligation requires that the rubrics be reinterpreted with better exegesis, not with observation and experimentation that could corrupt exacting compliance with understanding.

If experimentation were either needed or allowed in that world, then its ancestors would have prescribed rubrics for doing the experiment proper to each anomaly that could arise. But since the general and the cook will not have found in their canon any mention of anomalies, they will know that, in their parallel universe, these cannot occur.

+ Peter's readers must wonder, how can they possibly know this? It's simple: in their universe, the book is not in or about the world; rather the world is constrained by and in a sense about the book. Rather than the descent from heaven of the incarnate Word or the New Jerusalem, they imagine all things soaked up into certain eternal words. Cooking cannot be organic chemistry because it is philology.

Our universe differs. You and I and Washington and Hercules all know the heirloom Custis cookbook as an object that is precious but still in the world that we all in our several generations know. The book is about the world. Because both have the same Author, we can know the former by looking at the latter.

Moreover, he asks of us a "reasonable worship." In his sight, insistence on doing stupidly what can be done consciously is pathology. Intelligence is not only not a threat to gardening and cooking but an aid to doing them well as his image-bearers.