Stuff Early Christians Read: P. Oxy. 406, “Theological Fragment”

Sometimes these fragments of papyrus can be really, really cool. Other times, you think they should be cool, but they end up being frustratingly difficult. What do I mean? I mean that we have scads of witnesses to the text of the Bible (Greek OT and Greek NT, especially). And we have scads of other papyri that we know must be Christian for one reason or another.

But on these Christian papyri, we can only realiably reconstruct those areas that have some correspondance with the Biblical text. That is, we can isolate and reconstruct citations of scripture, but we can’t really fill in the blanks between the scripture citations unless the material is something already so well known that the missing pieces are obvious.


P. Oxy. 406, verso

P. Oxy. 406, a “Theological Fragment,” (TM: 62336) is one of these semi-reconstructable yet frustrating pieces of papyri. I’ve come to think that labels like “Theological Fragment” are the equivalent of “We don’t really know what it is, but there’s a quotation of scripture we can reconstruct, so it must be theological.” There are also nomina sacra, and it probably comes from a codex, so we can be fairly sure it is Christian.

P. Oxy. 406 is from the third century (200–299). A decent chunk can be reconstructed, but that is only because it cites from (I’d guess) Mt 13:15, which itself is a citation of Is 6:10. The same exact text occurs in Ac 28:27.

But the rest of it can’t really be reconstructed, and it’s frustrating because the little we can decipher makes me want to know more about what was on this papyrus and what its context was.

Here’s the transcription (from Grenfell & Hunt, supplemented by Wessely). Verso is first, then recto.

  1. (ἐ)παχύν[θ]η γὰρ [ἡ καρδία τοῦ]*
  2. λαοῦ τούτου κ[αὶ τοῖς ὠσὶν]*
  3. βαρέως ἤκου[σαν καὶ τούς]*
  4. ὀφθαλμοὺς α[ὐτῶν ἐκάμ-]*
  5. μυσαν μήπ[οτε ἴδωσιν τοῖς]*
  6. ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐ[τῶν καὶ τοῖς ὠ-]*
  7. σὶν ἀκούσωσι[ν καὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ]*
  8. συνῶσιν καὶ ἐ[πιστρέψωσιν]*
  9. κα[ὶ] ϊ[ά]σομαι α[ὐτούς …]*
  10. τ̣[…]εχ[.] . [.]οιε̣[…]*
  11. […]ει̣[…]ον[…]*
  12. […]σι[…]*
  1. […]φησῑ(ν)
  2. […]..οσ…κω*
  3. […].α̣*
  4. […]συ.[.]..[.]σανυ*
  5. […].ἄλλοθεν λαλῶ
  6. […] αὐτῶν γάρ
  7. […] .. ρ […]*
  8. […]ω̣που υϊος θ(εο)υ
  9. […]ος εστ(αυ)ρ(ωμε)νος Χ(ριστο)ς*
  10. […]σ̣[…]ρο*

Here’s a translation:

  1. (ha)s become [d]ull for [the heart of the]*
  2. people this a[nd with their ears]*
  3. with difficulty they h[ear and the]*
  4. eyes of t[hem they ha-]*
  5. ve shut tha[t not they would see with the]*
  6. eyes of t[hem and with their e-]*
  7. ars hea[r and with the heart]*
  8. understand and t[urn]*
  9. an[d] I w[i]ll heal t[hem …]*
  10. *
  11. *
  12. *
  1. […]he sai(d)
  2. *
  3. *
  4. *
  5. […].in another place I say
  6. […] of them for
  7. *
  8. […].̣… son of G(o)d
  9. […].. one hav(in)g (been crucif)ied C(hris)t*
  10. *

With the translation you can see there are places that are quotations or elaborations on something, but there isn’t enough text to reconstruct anything. There seems to be something attributed to someone else, (“he said …”) with some sort of possible refutation or other interaction, (“but in another place I say”). What was going on, and how did Mt 13:15/Acts 28:27, from Is 6:10 relate to it? And then that crazy nomina sacra, εστ(αυ)ρ(ωμε)νος Χ(ριστο)ς, which (according to Wayment & Blumell, p. 294) does have some similar 2nd/3rd century witnesses.

While is isn’t certain, what we can probably take from this text is the citation of scripture (from the NT, which cites a similar form from the LXX) and also some interaction possibly between disagreeing parties who use scripture in their argumentation. So even at this date (third century), people are appealing to scripture as authoritative while they dispute what it means.


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