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
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.
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
[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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