p64 & p67  

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These three small fragments of the gospel of Matthew are the earliest ms. evidence of a synoptic gospel. Discovered at Luxor, Egypt in 1901, p64 was donated to Magdalene College, Oxford where it lay unexamined for half a century. P67 wound up in Barcelona. In 1953 they were published by Colin Roberts, who dated them to the late 2nd c. CE on the basis of handwriting analysis. The fragments are tiny, less the 1"x 2" each, containing only a few words from a few lines.

  • P64 contains part of Matt 26:7- 8 with 31 on the back [from the stories of Jesus' anointing at Bethany & Peter's denial];

  • P67 is two fragments. The first has a bit of Matt 3:9 with 15 on the back [John the Baptist & Jesus]; the second has more of Matt 5:20- 22 & 25-28 [the antitheses in the sermon on the mount].

The source of these fragments can be identified because they present passages contained only in the gospel of Matthew & not in the other synoptics. They can be dated because they provide good examples of a scribe gradually shifting from square letters to the rounded uncial book script. This development in handwriting took place in Egypt about 200 CE.

In 1994, however, Carston Thiede stunned the world by announcing that the ms. represented by these fragments could have been composed as early as the late 1st c. CE. Thiede reached this conclusion by comparing these fragments with 5 Greek mss. that had to be composed before 75 CE (from the Dead Sea scrolls & Mt. Vesuvius in Italy). Journalists reported this as evidence that the gospel of Matthew could have been written by an eye-witness.

Experts in Greek paleography (ancient handwriting), however, rejected Theide's conclusions on 3 grounds:

  • His comparisons were not thorough; he stressed the similarity of the Matthew fragments to the 1st c. mss. but ignored their differences.

  • He failed to demonstrate that Roberts was wrong. He did not compare these fragments to 2nd & 3rd c. mss. & simply ignored the bulk of paleographical evidence used to date the emergence of uncial script.

  • Other research shows that these Matthew fragments came from the same codex as P4 (now at Paris), which contains a portion of Luke. This makes Thiede's 1st c. dating practically impossible, since the multi-text codex was not developed much before 200 CE.

P64/67 does not help date the composition of the gospel of Matthew. But its importance remains as the earliest copy of a synoptic gospel & (perhaps) as an example of the practice of publishing different gospels in the same book.

[For details see G. Stanton, Gospel Truth: New Light of Jesus & the Gospels (Valley Forge PA: Trinity Press International,1995), pp. 11-19].

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last revised 29 December 2005

 

 

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