"The New Gospel Fragments"
for the
Trustees of the British Museum

1. Papyrus and its Uses
2. Previous Discoveries of New Christian Fragments
3. Description of the New Fragments
4. Translation of the Fragments
5. Date and Character of the Gospel
6. The Relation between the New Gospel and the Canonical Gospels
7. Appendix: Notes on the greek text


On the first announcement that fragments of an unknown Gospel had been found in the British Museum, and also after the appearance of the volume Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and other Early Christian Papyri, inquiries were made from various quarters whether the Trustees proposed to issue a popular edition of the fragments, for the benefit of readers knowing no Greek. The present pamphlet is an attempt to satisfy this demand. An opportunity has been taken to revise, in the light of later study by the editors and of criticisms and suggestions from outside, both the text and the views expressed on it. The pamphlet is thus an entirely new work, planned on quite different lines from the volume referred to. Though it is adapted to the use of persons possessing no knowledge of Greek, it seemed advisable, since one or two new readings have been arrived at, to add in an appendix a revised edition of the Greek text.


1. Papyrus and its Uses

Papyrus was for nearly a thousand years the main writing material of the Graeco-Roman world. First manufactured in Egypt as far back as the third millennium B.C., it was prepared from the papyrus, an aquatic plant formerly plentiful in that country, though now extinct there, by cutting the sticky, fibrous pith into thin strips and placing a layer of these above another layer at right angles. The two layers were stuck together by pressure and smoothed by hammering with a mallet, and so formed a sheet of writing material on one side of which the fibres were horizontal, on the other vertical. A number of such sheets were then united to form a long roll, being so placed with reference to each other that all the horizontal fibres were on one side, all the vertical on the other. It was the former side alone (called the recto) which was primarily intended to receive writing, but it was common enough to employ the other side also (the verso), usually for a different and later text, though sometimes rolls are found on which the text is carried on from recto to verso. Papyrus was exported to Greece and there used for both literary works and business documents certainly as early as the fifth century B.C. and probably much earlier. Its use spread throughout the whole Mediterranean world, but it was naturally most general and most persistent in Egypt, the country of origin, where alone (save from special causes in a few exceptional sites) have Papyri been discovered by modern excavators. For papyrus, a strong and durable material in favourable conditions, is destroyed by damp, and only in such a dry soil as that of Egypt can it be expected to survive centuries of burial in the earth.

For Greek literature papyrus was normally used, down to the beginning of the Christian era and for some time afterwards, in roll form. The text was written on the recto, along the fibres, in columns whose lines were parallel to the length of the roll, not across the fibres, in lines parallel to the width. In the best-written manuscripts the columns were usually narrow (though of course in the case of poetry the width was determined by the length of the lines). In reading, the roll was unrolled from the right and rolled again to the left, only one column or a little more being visible as the reader held the manuscript in his hand.

During the first century of the Christian era a rival material, vellum, was coming more and more into use, at least in Italy and the West. Vellum, or parchment, which was prepared from the skins of animals, is known to have been used in some places in roll form, like papyrus; but in the Graeco-Roman world its commonest use was in that of the codex or book of modern pattern. A codex was produced by folding sheets of vellum repeatedly to form a quire or gathering of the required number of leaves; eight is a common number, but fours, sixes, tens, etc., are also found. Just as the opposite sides of a papyrus sheet are distinguished by the direction of the fibres as recto and verso, so the two sides of a leaf of vellum are known as respectively the hair-side and the flesh-side.

The codex form once established in the reading world of antiquity, it was but a step to extend it to papyrus. Papyrus codices, to judge from the fragments found in Egypt, were very rare for pagan literature till the end of the third century A.D., but for some reason this form seems from the first to have been preferred by Christians. Among manuscripts of Christian literature found in Egypt the codex form preponderates greatly even as early as the third century; and all of the few second-century Christian fragments which have been found are also from codices.

A papyrus codex could not be produced in the same way as vellum; for though the roll might be very long, its width was limited, and hence the repeated folding practised to form a vellum codex was impossible. Three methods were open to the maker of a papyrus codex, and all three were employed. The first, which may well have been the earliest to be adopted, was to take the required number of sheets, cut from a roll, lay them one above another, each with the recto upwards, and then fold the whole pile once. Thus was produced a single huge quire, which, if the sheets numbered, for example, sixty, would consist of 120 leaves or 240 pages. lt seems an exceedingly cumbrous and inconvenient format, particularly as the inner margin was often very narrow, but it was quite common, especially in the earlier period. In a book so formed the order of the pages of each leaf in the first half would be verso, recto ,of each leaf in the second half recto, verso. The second method was to fold each sheet separately, thus forming a succession of quires, each con-sisting of two leaves or four pages. As in the other system, the leaves were folded with the recto inwards, so that in each quire of two leaves the order of pages was verso, recto, recto, verso, and at every opening verso faced verso, or recto recto. Whether both these methods were used from the beginning of the papyrus codex it is impossible to say, but the second was certainly employed very early, and one example is known from the first half of the third century. The third method was to form 'quires' similar in final appearance to those of the vellum codex though differently produced, by placing, one above another, the required number of sheets of papyrus, still usually with the recto upwards, and then folding. If six sheets were used, this would give a quire of twelve leaves or twenty-four pages.


2. Previous Discoveries of New Christian Fragments

Occasional discoveries of Greek and other Papyri were made in Egypt throughout the nineteenth century, but only from the decade 1870 - 80 did the finds of Greek Papyri become sufficiently numerous and continuous to attract general attention to this new source of information on ancient life and literature. These finds were the result of digging for sebakh, the fine soil which covers so many ancient sites in Egypt, and which is extensively used by the peasants as a fertilizer. In the rubbish heaps of the province of the Fayum thousands of Papyri, literary or documentary, and in various languages, most often very fragmentary, were discovered in the decade referred to and were disposed of to European buyers. In the following decade Sir Flinders Petrie, in the course of his excavations, found numerous Papyri, many of which were discovered in cemeteries, sheets of papyrus having been stuck together as cartonnage to form mummy cases; but it was not till the winter of 1895-6 that scientific excavations undertaken purely or primarily for the discovery of Greek Papyri were begun by the late Professors Grenfell and Hunt, with Dr. Hogarth, for the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Society). Before the end of the nineteenth century the science of papyrology had already become fully established as a recognized branch of ancient studies.

Among the many thousands of Greek and Latin Papyri discovered every class of written matter is represented, documents of all kinds, pagan, Biblical, and Christian literature, and magical and astrological texts. The first notable find in the sphere of Christian literature consisted of some late vellum fragments, discovered in 1886-7 at Akhmim, which included a portion of the apocryphal Gospel attributed to the Apostle St. Peter. The existence of this work was recorded by ancient writers, but till the discovery of the Akhmim fragments little was known of its nature, except that it was alleged to show traces of the Docetic heresy, according to which Christ's human nature, and consequently His sufferings, were not real but an appearance or illusion only. The portion found in Egypt relates to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and subsequent appearances of Christ. It shows that the work was written in rather vulgar and colloquial Greek, that the writer had some fondness for the marvellous, that he almost certainly used all three Synoptic Gospels and probably that of St. John, and that, if not definitely a Docetist, he had at least pronounced Docetic tendencies. The narrative is put into the mouth of St. Peter, whom there is an evident intention to exalt, with a corresponding tendency to minimize the part played by the women in the incidents attending the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

A still more important find was made by Grenfell and Hunt in their first season's excavation in 1897 at Behneseh, the ancient Oxyrhynchus, when a leaf of a papyrus codex, written in the first half of the third century and containing a collection of Sayings of Jesus, the so-called Logia, was discovered. This fragment (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus) was supplemented in 1903 by a second, also of the third century, but this time from a roll, on the verso of which, after the recto had been used to receive an official register, was written a collection of Sayings (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 654, now British Museum Papyrus 1531 verso). These two fragments have been the subject of long controversy, even yet not ended. The nature of the work or works from which they come, the question whether the two fragments formed part of the same work or of two different ones, the authority to be attached to them, the correct restoration of some of the more imperfect Sayings - on these points very conflicting opinions have been expressed. On the whole it seems likely that at least Oxyrhynchus 1, which consists purely of Sayings, each preceded by the words 'Jesus saith', is really from a collection of Logia, not a Gospel. Oxyrhynchus 654 has a heading which seems to describe the work as a collection of Sayings addressed to Thomas and some other disciple, so that it is natural to regard it as identical with, or at least of the same character as, that represented by Oxyrhynchus 1; but some scholars question this, and it must be conceded that one at least of the sayings is introduced by a question on the part of the disciples, such as precede certain of Christ's utterances in the canonical Gospels. The sayings contained in the two fragments indude both known sayings and others not elsewhere recorded; the former usually in a shape rather different from that found in the New Testament, perhaps suggesting an independent tradition.

Various other valuable Christian Papyri have been found from time to time, at Behneseh or elsewhere. The most interesting of those which come from lost works are Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 655, a fragment of an unknown Gospel which, on internal grounds, it is tempting to identify with the Gospel according to the Egyptians, a work referred to and quoted by some of the early Fathers, and a vellum leaf (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840) containing a record of a conversation between Jesus and a chief priest in the Temple, evidently part of a Gospel which there are strong grounds for regarding as purely apocryphal. None of them, however, can vie in importance with the Sayings of Jesus.


3. Description of the New Fragments

At least equal in importance to the Oxyrhynchus Sayings are, however, the fragments of a Greek papyrus codex acquired by the British Museum last summer, which must certainly be ranked among the most interesting Christian papyri as yet discovered. These, which have been numbered Egerton Papyrus 2, consist of two imperfect leaves, measuring respectively 11.5 x 9.2 cm and 11.8 x 9.7 cm and one small scrap, that is to say, apart from the scrap, of four pages, all of which are imperfect at one side and at the foot, while two of them are imperfect also at the top; but they are sufficiently well preserved to permit of certain or approximately certain restoration in the case of many lines. The hand is a good but somewhat informal and irregular one of the type known as bookhand, which was used for the writing of literary works, but it has enough resemblance to the contemporary 'cursive' or running hand, used for business purposes, to allow of some help being obtained from dated documents towards the fixing of the date. The result of a careful examination and comparison of the fragments with other papyri is the conclusion that the manuscript was written not very far from the middle of the second century, with perhaps some preference for a date slightly before over one after A.D. 150. If the upward and downward limits of date be fixed at respectively 130 and 165 we shall probably not be far wrong as to the period within which the manuscript is most likely to have been written. There is no external evidence as to the order of the two leaves in the volume, but the episode on fragment I recto, if correctly identified with an incident recorded by the Synoptists, should precede that which occurs in fragment 2 recto, if the latter is indeed the Question of the Herodians. At the top of fragment 2 recto is a trace of a letter which was no doubt the number of the page, leaf, or quire, probably the first, but too little remains for identification, and it is not possible to say whether numbers occurred on the other pages. In fragment I verso almost certainly preceded recto, which, if the manuscript was a single-quire codex, argues for a position in the first half of the volume, one to which the episode of the leper is well suited; and conversely, on this hypothesis, if fragment 2 comes from the second half, as the episode of the 'tempting' of Jesus suggests, recto may be taken to have preceded verso. But it is of course not certain that the volume formed a single quire; it may equally well have consisted of two-leaf quires, a method which, as already said, was certainly of early origin; and the appearance of the papyrus, in which the right margin of the verso might well be the outer rather than the inner margin, is perhaps some evidence for the order verso, recto in both fragments.

The orthography of the manuscript is good. The scribe used neither accents nor breathings, but he punctuated both by a so-called 'high point', like the colon used in printing modern Greek, and by leaving a small space between letters. Otherwise the text is written, as in all Greek manuscripts of the period, continuously, without division of words. Abbreviation is confined to the so-called 'sacred names' (words like 'God', 'Jesus', 'Lord', 'Father', etc.) and to a line over the last vowel of a word to represent the letter n.



4. Translation of the Fragments

In the following translation (in which the small scrap is neglected for the moment, being separately discussed later) the fragments are arranged in the order mentioned above as being suggested, on the single-quire hypothesis, by the contents, I verso, I recto, 2 recto, 2 verso; but it must be understood that this arrangement is extremely uncertain and is adopted only for convenience, though, as already said, the order verso, recto for fragment I can be regarded as assured. Words which are wholly lost in the Greek and are conjecturally restored are enclosed in square brackets, with a question-mark wherever there is serious doubt as to the correctness of the restoration. There are, however, many words in the Greek which are partially but not wholly preserved. In such cases an attempt has been made to represent more exactly the state of the manuscript by bracketing a part of the word; but it must of course be understood that this can give no more than a very rough idea of the original. The four episodes which the fragments contain are distinguished by numbers, and for convenience of reference the text is divided into verses of much the same length as in the canonical Gospels, but the line numeration of the earlier edition is ignored. In the margin are given references to the passages in the canonical Gospels which offer parallels to the text of the papyrus. Some notes on particular points, to which attention is called by numbers in the text, are added at the end.

[Only the sentences discussed in the notes are repeated here, because we provide our own translation. ---W.Willker]



[Fragm. I verso]

[?F]or i[f?] ... doeth, how doth he (?) do [it]?

The supplements here adopted are highly conjectural. Various suggestions have been made for the restoration and interpretation of the sentence left incomplete, but none of them seems satisfactory. It is not unlikely that this sentence began 'For if. . .' (see the Greek text), but a convincing reading and restoration of what follows still remains to be made. Instead of 'how does he do (or make) it?' it is equally possible to read 'how do I (or am I to) do (or make) it?' The preceding word may be 'maketh laws'.


[Fragm.I recto]

? [d]rag (?) [him away?] [and] c[arrying] stones [might] together st[one h]im.

Here again the restorations are very far from certain; for the text adopted see the Greek text. The one uncertain letter which remains of the word 'carrying' is a less hazardous basis for the reading than might be thought, since the portion remaining is of such a kind as to allow a choice between two letters only, and the letter b points strongly to bastasantes, 'carrying'; but even granting this word several alternative restorations of the passage can be imagined.


And the [rule]rs laid their ha[nds] on him [th]at they might take him and [hand him]

This reading has been objected to on the ground that the position of 'the rulers' in the sentence is a little strange. The objection does not seem fatal; but it may be remarked that for oi [archontes] ('the rulers') it is equally possible to read or[gisthentes] ('being wroth'). This would give the sense 'And being wroth they laid their hands on him'. In any case, the rulers appear to be the subject, expressed or understood, of the sentence.

The rendering 'sought to lay hands on him' previously given was an error; the verb is in the aorist and denotes completed action.



And behold, there com[eth to him] a leper and saith, Master Jesus, [jour]neying with le[pers] and eating with [them] in the inn I myself also [became a] le[per].

It has been suggested that these words really go with 'Master Jesus', the sense being 'Master Jesus, thou who journeyest with lepers, etc., I myself also became a leper'; but this seems improbable.



Is it lawful [?to rend]er unto kings those things which pertain unto their rule? [Shall we] r[ender (?) unto th] em, or n[ot] ?

This seems the likeliest restoration in view of the parallel in Mk. 12:14, but it is by no means certain. For one thing, there is no blank space after 'rule', as we should expect if that is the end of a sentence. It is conceivable that only one question is asked, and something like 'Is it lawful [? to rend]er unto kings, (being) un[circumcis]ed', etc., or 'Is it lawful for kings to [?hand ov]er to men who are un[circumcis]ed those things which pertain unto their rule?' is not beyond the bounds of possibility. If the second of these variants were adopted the incident could not be the question of the Herodians. But the text adopted above seems much the likeliest.



And it ... be[fore them and] sent forth fruit [. . .] man[y (?) . . for j[oy(?) . . .

Many suggestions have been made for the restoration of this interesting passage, but none is really satisfactory. It seems reasonably certain that it relates a miracle and probable that this miracle was of an exemplary kind, intended to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. Reference may be made to the miracle of the fig-tree (Mt. 21:18-22; Mk. 11:12-14, 20-24) and to the saying in John 12:24. A case of miraculous germination (water sprinkled on seed or seed cast on the river) is suggested by what remains, but the indications are not sufficient for any certainty.



Though too imperfect for any continuous sense to be extracted from it, this scrap is of some interest both for its possible relation to fragment I and for one line the true reading of which has been recognized since the publication of the earlier volume. The piece of papyrus, which measures 6 x 2.3 cm, comes from the upper corner of a leaf; each side contains a portion of the top margin and of the first six lines, the ends of lines being preserved on the verso, the beginnings (though in each case the first letter is imperfect) on the recto. Now of fragment 2 the upper portion is preserved; and though a strip is lost from one side of the leaf sufficient remains to make it quite certain that the scrap cannot be fitted in here. Fragment I, on the other hand, is imperfect at the top, and the general appearance of the papyrus at least suggests the possibility that the scrap may come from the lost upper part and should be placed in such a position as to stand above the preserved left side of the recto and the preserved right side of the verso. Unfortunately, since the scrap is certainly not continuous with fragment I, it is impossible to test the theory by fitting the two together; and the fact that some prominent fibres which are visible in the upper part of the fragment cannot be traced in the scrap and a derangement of the fibres in the latter does not appear, at least in a corresponding position, in the former makes against the proposed connexion. In papyrus of not very high quality like this such irregularities are not uncommon, so that the negative evidence is not conclusive; but the most that can be said is that the juxtaposition, though not favoured by a comparison of fibres, is not quite impossible if the internal evidence makes it probable. As a matter of fact some support for it can be found in this evidence.

Of the text on the verso very little can be restored. Line 1 is quite uncertain; line 2 may possibly contain 'whoso]ever'; line 3 ends 'of him'; line 4 has the end of a participle, which might perhaps be 'sitt]ing', though there are other possibilities; in line 5 'knowing' (masc. sing.) is certain; and in line 6 nothing definite can be read. These indications are scanty enough, but such as they are they are not unsuitable to the suggested position. 'Whoso]ever', if correct, suggests part of a saying, such as we get in fragment I verso, and 'knowing' might well refer to a knowledge by Jesus of the hostile intentions of his interlocutors.

On the recto side, however, more definite evidence can be found, and it gives real, though far from conclusive, support to the suggested position. Line 1 was almost certainly part of the sentence (which must have begun on the previous page) 'I and my (or the) Father] are one' (John 10:30) St. John has 'the Father', but 'my' is suggested for the papyrus because in fragment 1 verso it has 'my' against the 'the' of St. John. Line 2 seems to begin 'I remain', though the letters in question (meno) might be the termination of the dative of a passive participle; in line 3 we find, almost certainly, 'S]tones to' (cf. John 10:31); in line 4, beyond a doubt, is part of 'that they might k]ill [him'; and in line 5 is 'saith'. Some such sense as 'I and my Father are one. Hereafter I remain no more among you. They carried stones to the place that they might kill him; but Jesus saith unto them' (or 'I and my Father are one, and he abideth in me, as I abide with him', etc.) is conceivable, though the suggestion of any definite reading must be regarded with considerable scepticism. The words read do, however, suit very well the context suggested by what remains of fragment I. On the verso, we may suppose, Jesus continued the discourse which begins with 'Now is your unbelief accused', emphasizing His claim of a divine mission. This is continued in the first two lines of the recto; and the Jews, driven to fury, make on Him the attack.

Whatever may be thought of these suggestions, the fragment, small as it is, has value for the Johannine parallel recognized on the recto.


5. Date and Character of the Gospel

In seeking to determine the date of the Gospel here revealed to us it is important (a precaution forgotten by some who have discussed it) to distinguish between the date of the codex from which our fragments come and the date of the work itself. The papyrus can provide only a lower limit of date; that is to say, the work cannot have been composed after the time at which the codex was written, but, so far as the evidence of the fragments is concerned, any point between then and the formation of the first Christian community is conceivable. Similarly, though the fragments were found in Egypt, the Gospel itself may have been composed in any part of the Graeco-Roman world where there was a Christian community using Greek as its medium of communication. Since it is in the highest degree improbable that the codex was the author's autograph or was derived immediately from it, we must allow some reasonable period between the date of composition and that of our manuscript. If the work was composed in Egypt, a supposition for which there is no evidence save the irrelevant fact that the papyrus was discovered there, its place of origin is not likely to have been anywhere but Alexandria, the only city in Egypt in which a Christian community of any size can be imagined to have existed at this period; and several years may well have elapsed before it found its way to the upper country, where the fragments were no doubt discovered. It is, however, more probable that it was composed outside Egypt, and in that case the interval must be extended. All things considered, it is hazardous to allow for an interval of less than thirty years.

If such a period be assumed as the minimum interval which is likely to have elapsed between the composition of the Gospel and the writing of this manuscript, and if the latter be dated, as palaeographical considerations suggest, about the period A.D. 140 - 160, we are thrown back, for the Gospel itself, to not later than about A.D. 110 - 130. This is precisely the conclusion which the internal evidence of the text itself would seem to suggest. In proportion as the four Gospels attained recognized canonical rank, so did the impulse to write any other Gospel, save with some special purpose, disappear; and the various apocryphal Gospels known to us as having been written in the second century or later almost all of them betray their purpose very plainly.' That purpose might be the propagation of a particular doctrine (usually heretical), the satisfaction of a popular craving for marvels or for picturesque details about the life (especially the childhood or Passion) of Jesus or His post-Resurrection appearances, the desire to magnify a particular disciple, or finally (in the so-called Apocalypses) the wish to throw more light on the future life. Not one of these purposes can be discerned in the new Gospel. There is no flavour of heresy or of any wish to emphasize some particular doctrine, there are no important additions to our knowledge of Christ's life and teaching, no disciple is so much as mentioned, and the episodes recorded relate to the period of Christ's ministry, not to His childhood, Passion, or post-Resurrection life. It is of course possible that if more had survived these statements would require modification, but arguing on the only basis we have, that of the surviving fragments, we can only say that they suggest a Gospel similar in general character to the canonical four and therefore presumably written at a time before the latter had attained such an admittedly exceptional position that the composition of a fifth Gospel would have seemed unnecessary. The early diffusion of the Gospels is a subject beset with difficulties, but it is at least fairly clear that they had acquired something like canonical rank well before the middle of the second century.

The tone of the new Gospel is, furthermore, matter-of-fact and free from exaggeration. The uncertain episode fragment 2 verso is no real exception to this statement, however it be understood. The miracle does not seem to be more marvellous than that of the withering of the barren fig-tree recorded by Matthew and Mark. A comparison of this episode with the narrative of the Resurrection in the 'Gospel of Peter', a work which most scholars agree in dating within the period A.D. 120-50, will show how sober, in comparison, is its tone. The whole impression produced is that of a comparatively early work. On the other hand, even apart from any arguments drawn from a comparison of the text with the canonical Gospels, it does not read like a primitive work. Twice certainly, and possibly a third time in an imperfect passage, Jesus is referred to in narrative as 'the Lord'. He is never so referred to in narrative in the best manuscripts of Mark or Matthew; but St. Luke has many examples of the usage and St. John five. Three times, on the other hand, in the fragments we find the name Jesus in narrative. In the Gospel of Peter the name Jesus is never so used, being always replaced by 'the Lord'; and in the apocryphal Gospel contained in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840 we find it similarly replaced by 'the Saviour'. There was in fact a tendency in several of the Apocryphal Gospels to suppress everything which recalled Christ's human personality. There is no trace of such a tendency in the new Gospel; and if the evidence of this (admittedly rather trivial) point is to be considered, some such dates as A.D. 80 and 120 suggest themselves as the extreme limits for the period within which the work is likely to have been composed. The remark of the 'tempters', 'we know that thou art come from God' (compare John 3:2, 'we know that thou art a teacher come from God'), which is perilously near to an acknowledgement of Christ's Messiahship, is of course hypocritical; but it seems to point, like the appropriation to Christ Himself in the quotation from Isaiah cited in a different context by Matthew and Mark, to a date comparatively late in the formation of the tradition.

The total result of these criteria, apart from any detailed consideration of the parallels between the fragments and the canonical Gospels, is to suggest the dates A.D. 80 - 90 and A.D. 120 as, roughly, the upward and downward limits of the period within which we might expect a Gospel of this character to be composed.

The foregoing argument depends in part on the assumption that the work from which the fragments come is a true Gospel. That assumption perhaps requires some justification. It is obvious that it was not a collection of Sayings, like the Oxyrhynchus Logia; for one episode at least, the second, is obviously related simply as a miracle, not as the context of a Saying. Nor does it appear to be a collection of extracts. Four episodes are contained in the fragments, but only in one case is the transition from one to another preserved; and here it is made in precisely the same way as similar transitions in the Gospels, suggesting a continuous narrative and in no way a series of extracts. Again, it does not look like a harmony of the Gospels, though some critics incline to take it for such. We know that harmonies, natural enough in view of the fact that the Church found itself in possession of four separate accounts of the life and teaching of Christ, sometimes mutually contradictory, were compiled in the second century, and one such, the Diatessaron of Tatian, has survived, though not in the original Greek (a fragment of what seems pretty certainly the Greek original was found recently at Dura-Europus in Mesopotamia). This, however, in its relation to the Gospels, differs most markedly from the new Gospel. Some alterations and adjustments were of course requisite if four different accounts were to be fitted together; but in the main Tatian's method was to dovetail extracts from the canonical Gospels into one another with a minimum of change in the wording, so as to give as complete and consistent a representation as possible of the total material. Utterly different is the character of the new Gospel.

Of the four sections into which it falls one, IV, fragment 2 verso, is without parallel in the canonical Gospels, one, I, though it contains striking verbal parallels with John, cannot be equated with any incident recorded there or in any other Gospel, and two, though probably to be identified with incidents related by the Synoptists, are told with important differences of both phrasing and substance. It is no doubt arguable that Tatian, who seems to have written about the middle of the second century, when the canon of the four Gospels had become so authoritative that extensive alteration of their texts would not have been tolerated, kept much more closely to his sources than an early predecessor is likely to have done; but this is a pure hypothesis unsupported by evidence. If we are to regard the work as a harmony we must suppose either that the 'harmonizer' handled his Gospel material with remarkable freedom and felt himself at liberty to invent new episodes, perhaps on the hint of canonical sayings (for example, IV might be suggested by John 12:24. One attempt at reconstruction has been made on the hypothesis that it is a practical illustration of the saying in Mt. 3:9, and another would connect it with Lk. 17:5-6. But since, as has already been said, none of these suggested reconstructions can be satisfactorily reconciled with the visible remains, they cannot be used as a base for further conjectures), or that he was using for his harmony not merely the Gospels we know but others which have disappeared. In either case it is misleading to speak of it as a harmony of the Gospels, like the Diatessaron; it is surely less objectionable to take it frankly as an additional Gospel, even though, after weighing all the evidence, we come to the conclusion that it is dependent on the canonical four and has no authority of its own.

The result of these general considerations is to suggest that the work partially restored to us in the new fragments is a non-canonical Gospel composed some time in the early second or possibly in the late first century. Any closer determination of its character must rest on a comparison of its text with parallels in the canonical Gospels.

A positive conclusion on the subject calls for a knowledge of New Testament criticism which cannot be claimed by the original editors of the fragments; and all that will be attempted here is to set forth, as objectively as possible, the various points which suggest themselves for consideration by those who would arrive at an answer to the very puzzling questions raised by the fragments.


6. The Relation between the New Gospel and the Canonical Gospels

Various views of this relation, and consequently of the nature and authority of the recently discovered work, are conceivable and have indeed been expressed, but they can all be grouped under three main types, which may be stated as follows:

  1. The Gospel is a comparatively late work (i.e. not earlier than about A.D. 130, though necessarily not later than about A.D. 150) and wholly dependent, for any authority it possesses, on the four canonical Gospels, which the writer used as his sole authority of substance, embroidering and expanding the material found there to suit his special purpose.
  2. It is not so much secondary to the four Gospels as concurrent with them; that is to say, it dates from a time when, even if they already existed, they had not yet come to be regarded as standing in a special category, and the author, though he may have known one or more of them, was drawing in the main on independent sources or (in one case) on a source also used by St. John.
  3. It is a primitive work, as early as the earliest of the Gospels. The parallels between it and St. John are to be explained by borrowing on the part of the latter, those between it and the Synoptists as the result of dependence on common sources.

The third view may probably be ruled out without further discussion. Quite apart from the arguments to be derived from a detailed study of the parallels, the considerations already urged make it difficult to regard the work as really primitive. The choice between the other two or some modification of them must depend on a close comparison between the text of the fragments and that of the canonical Gospels.

Even a casual reading of the translation given above will show that the four sections which occur in the extant fragments fall into three different categories. Section IV is an episode unrecorded by any of the Evangelists; and, though the words 'for j[oy' may just conceivably provide a partial coincidence with John 16:20, 'your sorrow shall be turned into joy', even verbal points of contact with the Gospels are almost wholly wanting. Section I is full of verbal parallels with John, but the incident recorded cannot be identified with any episode contained in either John or the Synoptic Gospels. Sections II (certainly) and III (probably) are incidents related by the Synoptists, but they are here told with marked differences of both substance and wording, and such verbal parallels with the Gospels as occur are as a rule not sufficiently close to furnish demonstrative proof of direct borrowing on either side.

Section IV does not call for long discussion. It is certainly the major difficulty in the way of the view which would take the new Gospel as either a mere harmony of the other four or a Gospel based solely upon them. Reconstructions can be imagined which would make it possible to regard the passage as an expansion or imaginative interpretation of some text in the canonical Gospels; but no such reconstruction has yet been suggested which can be accepted as a whole, and even if one were found possible that would not in itself prove the correctness of the view that the passage is wholly derived from the writer's imagination working on Gospel material.

Section III offers a more complicated problem. It is, to begin with, not beyond doubt that the episode recorded is the question of the Herodians which the Synoptists relate among the events of Passion Week. If the second of the suggestions in the note is correct, all idea of relating it to the Synoptic narrative must be dropped. St. Mark states (3:6) that after the healing of the man with the withered hand 'the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him'. This was during the Galilaean ministry, and it is possible that III really contains a record of the activities of the Herodians on this occasion. Since the verso of fragment 2 contains a passage relating a miracle on the bank of the Jordan, it is impossible to suppose that the episode related on the recto was told in the same context as in the Synoptic Gospels. If the verso preceded the recto, as suggested above, there was certainly not room between the two episodes for any account of the entry into Jerusalem and the other events which in the Synoptic Gospels precede the question of the Herodians. If, on the other hand, the recto came first, then either the question was asked somewhere else than in Jerusalem or Jesus is represented as afterwards leaving the city and going down to the Jordan. Thus, however we place this fragment, the setting of section III is obviously quite different from that of the incident as told by the Synoptists; and this fact must be recognized as an argument against the interpretation adopted in the translation.

On the whole, however, it is safer to regard the supplements there given as correct, at least in substance, and the incident as identical with that related by the Synoptists, though here told in a different context. A comparison between the present version and that of the canonical Gospels will show the superiority of the latter alike intrinsically and in its dramatic appropriateness. The question is there specific and definite, concerning a matter which was of urgent concern to pious Jews; and as told by St. Mark, for example, it fits into the whole context with remarkable dramatic effect (see the excellent remarks of G. Dix in his review of the volume in Laudate, 13 (1935), 102-7). In the new fragment the question is altogether vaguer, and the episode, as already said, seems to stand alone, without the setting which in the Synoptic Gospels gives it such critical importance. But a recognition of this fact does not in itself prove, as some have tended to argue, that the narrative is copied from the Gospels. It might indeed be construed in an exactly contrary sense. To suppose that the writer derived the incident from some other source, oral or written, in which it was transmitted in a muddled form and out of its true context, and that he was therefore compelled to fit it arbitrarily at some convenient point into his narrative seems easier than to imagine him sitting with a copy of Mark or one of the other Gospels before him and deliberately so changing the material as to sacrifice the point of the story and destroy its dramatic effect. This argument does not answer the (possible) view that the author wrote only from a vague memory of the Synoptic Gospels. But his memory must have been very vague to account for such discrepancies.

Before, however, we decide in favour of the hypothesis that we have here a tradition independent of the canonical Gospels, two points must be taken into consideration. The problem of the tribute-money, a burning question to Jews of the time of Christ, had lost its interest for Christians living after the fall of Jerusalem. There was, on the other hand, a problem which did very intimately concern them, that of the attitude to be adopted by believers to the (pagan) secular authority. It is conceivable that a Gospel-writer writing after about A.D. 80 - 90 might feel impelled to give a different turn to the incident in order to 'bring it up to date'. This hypothesis will not explain the other alterations which, on this theory, he introduces into the passage, some of which seem quite purposeless, but it will at least, for those who on general grounds prefer to regard the new Gospel as purely derivative, provide a comprehensible motive for the main variation.

Secondly, an argument adduced by Father Dix in favour of the theory of derivation has considerable weight. It concerns the quotation from Isaiah which the writer of the new Gospel introduces at this point, whereas Matthew and Mark (it is not found in Luke) give it a different setting. They quote it as follows: 'This people honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.' In the new Gospel it seems to read (but mutilation makes the details not quite certain): 'This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me', etc. This, if correctly restored, is in one respect rather nearer to the Septuagint version than that found in the two Synoptists, but it still diverges from it. The Septuagint reads: 'This people draweth nigh me with their mouth, and with their lips do they honour me, but their heart is far from me; and in vain do they worship me, teaching the precepts of men and their doctrines.' In the new Gospel; as in the Synoptists, the quotation is abbreviated, the words 'draweth nigh me with their mouth' being omitted; and it is argued that this coincidence cannot be accidental but that the writer of the new Gospel must have taken his quotation from Matthew or Mark. The argument is certainly weighty, but it is not conclusive. To begin with, though the same words are omitted, the wording of the new Gospel does not agree exactly with that of Matthew and Mark (the differences are more apparent in the Greek text than a translation can show). If the writer was quoting the Synoptists from memory it is strange that he should have got as close as he does to their text, while putting the quotation into a quite different context; if he copied from a manuscript of Matthew or Mark, though he may have had some unexplained reason for varying the context, one does not see why he did not quote verbally. Moreover, we know that collections of Old Testament parallels to and anticipations of sayings and incidents in the Gospels (the so-called 'Testimonies') were current among the Christians; it is quite possible that the Synoptists and our writer may have derived this quotation independently from some such source.

How far the reason suggested for the difference in the form of the question can be regarded as a satisfactory explanation of the marked divergence of section III from the Synoptic versions, and how much weight must be assigned to the evidence of the O.T. quotation are questions which the reader may be left to answer. The problem of section II is somewhat less complicated. There can be no doubt that the miracle is the same as that recorded by the three Synoptists. It is here told in a compressed form. Luke tells us that the incident occurred 'in one of the cities'; all three speak of the leper as making obeisance to Jesus (Mt. 'worshipped him'; Mk. 'beseeching him, and kneeling down to him'; Lk. 'he fell on his face, and besought him'); all state that Jesus 'stretched forth his hand, and touched him', Mark recording further that He was 'moved with compassion'; some early authorities have instead 'being wroth', and there are strong reasons for thinking that this may be the more authoritative reading. And all three include an injunction to the leper to 'tell no man'. All these details are omitted by the writer of the new Gospel; yet he inserts a statement by the leper ('journeying with lepers and eating with them in the inn I myself also became a leper') for which there is no authority elsewhere, and he further changes the form of the leper's appeal ('if thou wilt, I am made clean' instead of 'if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean'). For these variations (the case is different with regard to the omissions, which could be accounted for by the desire to compress the narrative of the Synoptists, as Matthew and Luke abbreviated Mark) there is no apparent reason whatever. 'I am made clean' is more vivid than 'thou canst make me clean', but the writer does not elsewhere seem to be aiming at special vividness; and the addition of the leper's statement is quite gratuitous if the Synoptists were the sole source. The change to 'I am made clean' might at need be accounted for by the hypothesis that the writer was trusting to his memory, but no lapse of memory can explain the insertion of the detail about infection. The suggestion has been made that a parallel may be found in the vivid details found in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840, which Grenfell and Hunt justly describe as 'details invented for the sake of rhetorical effect'; but there is no real analogy, for the narrative there contained is entirely uncanonical and probably fictitious. It is one thing to embellish a fiction with striking details intended to give an air of verisimilitude, but quite another to import a gratuitous invention into an existing narrative. There is more relevance in the comparison with a fragment of the apocryphal Gospel according to the Hebrews, where the man with the withered hand is made to appeal to Jesus in the words, 'I was a mason seeking a livelihood with my hands. I pray thee, Jesus, to restore me mine health, that I may not beg meanly for my food.' Here, however, the detail, however fictitious it may be, has an obvious point as providing a justification of the request; in the new Gospel the statement of the leper seems pointless. A difficulty has been felt by several critics owing to the Jewish regulations for the segregation of lepers: how came it that a healthy man could consort with lepers, who in Jewish law were unclean, and thereby contract the disease? And how came lepers to be in an inn? Do not these anomalies prove ignorance of conditions in Palestine, thus betraying the hand of a forger?

This is an argument which deserves consideration; but the difficulty is not disposed of by simply postulating an invention. The question of leprosy abounds with difficulties. It seems clear that the disease referred to under this name in the Bible is not the modern leprosy; and neither malady appears to be highly contagious. As a matter of fact the Jewish quarantine regulations were religious rather than medical; the leper was unclean in a ritual sense, and his disease was regarded as a visitation for some sin. The Jews, however, were not the only people who took this religious view of leprosy; the Persians at least are known to have done so; and moreover it does not appear, from the New Testament, that in the time of Christ the regulations were enforced with very great stringency. Though, according to Levit. 13:46, the leper must 'dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be', the Synoptists in their account of the present miracle represent the leper as approaching Jesus near enough for the latter to touch him; St. Luke even places the incident 'in one of the cities' (where, by the law, the leper had no right to be), and St. Mark's narrative at least suggests that he was actually in a house. Jesus 'sent him out' (exebalen); the 1eper 'went out' (exelthon). Moreover, at Bethany, Jesus ate 'in the house of Simon the leper' (Mt. 26:6; Mk. 14:3); and though it has been supposed that Simon was a leper whom Jesus had healed there is nothing in the context to suggest this. Finally, places seem to have been reserved for lepers in the synagogues. On the whole then it does not seem impossible to suppose that this detail may be authentic; at least one may say that it is an insecure basis on which to rest the case that the passage is a clumsy rehandling of the Synoptic narrative.

To sum up: a comparison of sections II and III with the Synoptic Gospels shows that we have in them two incidents of which one certainly and both probably may be identified with events recorded in the latter; that these are, however, related with differences, alike of wording and of substance, some of which are of such a kind and so apparently purposeless if regarded as pure inventions as to indicate that the writer may have been following, solely or partially, traditions independent of those which lie behind the Synoptic narrative; but that there are other features which tend to suggest a use of one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. If, in the light of these observations and of what has been said concerning section IV, we ask whether the first or the second of the three views mentioned at the beginning of this section is to be preferred, a positive answer is very difficult. It may be that a combination of the two will eventually be accepted: that the author of the new Gospel knew the Synoptic Gospels or one of them, but that he used them, if at all, from memory only and combined with them matter from some other source or sources.

Section I provides an even more puzzling problem. Some of the verbal parallels with St. John here found are so close that they can hardly be explained except on the supposition of literary contact; that is to say, we must suppose (1) that the writer used John, (2) that the author of John used this Gospel, or (3) that both writers were drawing, in different ways, on material found in some other source or sources. Any one of these views is faced by grave difficulties. Why should St. John have picked out certain sentences of the new Gospel and fitted them, with small verbal changes, into a longer discourse or into a quite different? Above all, how came he to select from this Gospel only the non-Synoptic material which it contained? The verbally less close parallels are less difficult but still puzzling. On the other hand it is impossible to discover any reason why the author of the new Gospel should have arbitrarily picked isolated sentences out of various passages of St. John and pieced them together into a mosaic which or responds with no particular incident in any of the Gospels, and which nevertheless serves no discernible purpose, doctrinal or otherwise. The choice seems indeed to lie between insoluble difficulties.

There is, further, the problem of date. John is regarded by all modern scholars as the latest of the four Gospels, and some would put it as late as A.D. 120 - 130. If that date be accepted, it becomes at least very difficult to suppose that the writer of the new Gospel was dependent on it. Such a use of John as this hypothesis involves presupposes a close acquaintance with that Gospel, which must therefore have acquired a recognized position in the Church; and the period available is not long. Of course, the new fragments may be used as evidence for putting back the date of St. John; but even so no explanation suggests itself for such a use of the older Gospel as we must suppose. It may perhaps be preferable to conclude either that John and the new Gospel were alike drawing on some earlier source or that the latter was using a form of John earlier than that which we know and widely differing from it.


7. Appendix: Notes on the greek text


line 4:

The reading e[i g]ar is very uncertain, but seems possible and suits the context well, since pwv poiei must be the principal clause and a dependent clause is therefore required before it. At the end of this line there may be two letters, not one merely as indicated in the editio princeps.


line 25:

Further study of the traces makes it impossible to retain the reading o]clw previously adopted. The second visible letter is almost certainly k, not l and the first looks more like l than c, which in any case is impossible if k is read. The reading e]lkw suggests itself and the lacuna between w and b just suits sin, but e]lkw[sin] is of course quite uncertain. Cf. e.g. John 12:32 (John is the only Evangelist who uses the word) and P. Oxy. 654, 10. Here a reference to an attempt to drag Jesus away is possible. The reading adopted necessitates some changes in the supplements in l. 26. tav of the editio princeps was in any case unsatisfactory, as liqov in this sense should be masculine.


line 26:

In the editio princeps it was stated that in could be read at the end instead of li. Under a microscope in becomes very unlikely and li much the more probable reading.



For oi it is equally possible to read or. Hence or[gisqen]tev is a not unlikely alternative reading.



par[adw]sw[si]n, which is almost certainly correct, was suggested by Dr. Jernstedt of Leningrad.


line 32:

t of thv is just possibly a correction from u.



eipe: so in Mt. according to Sinaiticus BC, etc.


line 55:

On the point after hmein see the note in the editio princeps. An examination with a microscope makes it more difficult than ever to believe in a. Hence the view that it is a high point is strengthened.


line 57:

o[u] could be read almost as easily as m[h]


line 69:

gin]etai is not unlikely at the beginning; but ...]atai can be read equally well.


line 71:

Since the publication of the editio princeps it has been noticed that there is a spot of ink after eperwthma, which, when examined through the microscope, seems clearly to be a high point. This, if correct, makes autou impossible in 1. 72. tote is therefore read as a conceivable substitute.


line 75:

Palaeographically there is nothing to choose between [ege]misen and [eko]misen.


line 78:

e . [ . . ] . n: ec[e]en might be read here if the e's were rather large; but if either it or en[hk]en (suggested in the editio princeps) is adopted, the point after udwr must be regarded as an error or an accident.


line 80:

The x described in the editio princeps as doubtful, seems under a microscope to be certain.


line 89:

(egw kai o pathr mou] on the preceding page.