Early Christian Non-NT Manuscripts

P._Oxy._1

P. Oxy. 1, 150–250 AD

I’ve had a printed copy of Clarysse and Orsini’s short article Christian Manuscripts from Egypt to the Times of Constantine printed and sitting on my desk for awhile. It is chock full of papyrological and epigraphal detail. Ultimately, it is about estimating dates for papyri. They include a short catalogue of “earliest Christian manuscripts” consisting of 27 manuscripts dated in the second to early third century (so, 100–250). The interesting thing that got me thinking is that there are some NT manuscripts (six, seven if you count P. Dura 10 as a diatessaron and thus NT, but I’m not convinced it’s a diatessaron). That leaves 20 manuscripts (over 2/3!) that are not NT, but still early and still Christian.

Of the remaining 20 manuscripts, 11 are Old Testament (and four of those are Psalms!) and nine are simply “other Christian literature.” Of those nine, four are witnesses to the Shepherd of Hermas (extremely popular in the early church), three are theological texts of some sort, and two are apocryphal gospels (P. Oxy. 1, Gospel of Thomas; and P. Egerton 2 + P. Köln 255).

Working through all of this stuff reminded me, once again, that early Christians produced a wide array of literature. So I started with Clarysse and Orsini’s list and broke it into three types of literature: LXX Texts, Extracanonical Texts, and Other Christian Literary Texts. Then I supplemented the LXX Texts list with material from Rahlf’s list (via the Logos Bible Software LXX Manuscript Explorer). I supplemented the other categories with data from Blumell & Wayment’s Christian Oxyrhynchus (which is a fantastic volume!). My small catalogue has 24 LXX Texts (1–350 AD),  28 Extracanonical Texts (150–399 AD), and 26 Other Christian Literary Texts (100–499 AD). Again, this catalog is not exhaustive and centers mainly around texts with Egyptian provenance from the fourth century and before. Dates are all from entries in trismegistos.org.

Over the next while, I plan to write about some of the more interesting of the Extracanonical and Christian Literary texts. There are some gems.

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