Friday, October 02, 2009

NT Pod 15: The Gospel of Thomas: First Glimpse: Programme Notes

Bernard Pyne Grenfell Arthur Surridge HungI released the latest NT Pod yesterday, Episode 15 on The Gospel of Thomas: The First Glimpse. That term "the first glimpse" refers in particular to the story of Bernard Pyne Grenfell (1869-1926) and Arthur Surridge Hunt (1871-1934) who glimpsed fragments of what later turned out to be the Gospel of Thomas in their excavations at Oxyrhynchus in 1897 (which unearthed P.Oxy 1) and 1903 (which unearthed P.Oxy 654 and 655). This posts adds a few additional programme notes.

This is the first of a series of NT Pod episodes I am planning on the Gospel of Thomas (though not back to back; I'll be interspersing with other episodes) and I wanted to begin the story here, in 1897, with the discovery of P.Oxy 1. This is not where people usually begin the story of its modern discovery. It is standard to begin with Mohammad Ali's discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945, to which Grenfell and Hunt's discoveries are appended as a kind of afterthought. It's easy to see why -- the Mohammad Ali story is exotic, romantic, dramatic, and brilliantly told by James Robinson. But I find myself having a little more in common with a couple of Oxford trained academics who went searching for ancient texts than I do with a murderous Egyptian who stumbled upon them, and it's the right place to begin the story.

There are, I think, several consequences of beginning the story in the wrong place. One of them is that it can lead to a marginalization of this early Greek evidence including the striking verbatim correspondence, in Greek, between P.Oxy 1.1-4 and Matt. 7.3-5 // Luke 6.41-2. Grenfell and Hunt were quick to notice it, and here is an excerpt from Bernard Grenfell's story of the discovery, during the first week of excavations in January 1897,
Later in the week Mr Hunt, in sorting the papyri found on the second day, noticed on a crumpled uncial fragment written on both sides the Greek word ΚΑΡΦΟΣ ("mote"), which at once suggested to him the verse in the Gospels concerning the mote and the beam. A further examination showed that the passage in the papyrus really was the conclusion of the verse, "Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye;" but that the rest of the papyrus differed considerably from the Gospels, and was, in fact a leaf of a book containing a collection of sayings of Christ, some of which, apparently, were new. More than that could not be determined until we came back to England. (From Bernard P. Grenfell, M.A., "The Oldest Record of Christ's Life", McClure's Magazine Oct. 1897; Vol. IX, No. 6, 1022-30).
One of the delightful elements of studying Grenfell and Hunt's discoveries is the way that they so quickly have an idea what it is that they have found, and you get a feel for the excitement of the discovery. Their publication of their findings was often remarkably speedy, as with P.Oxy 1 here, the same year, 1897, that they discovered it.

Thanks to, you can download and read Grenfell and Hunt's works on the P.Oxy fragments of Thomas in pretty high quality scans. The first listed below is the 1897 book about P.Oxy. 1; the second is the 1904 book about P.Oxy. 654 and 655:

Logia Iesou: Sayings of Our Lord from an early Greek papyrus discovered and edited, with translation and commentary, by Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, Published in 1897, for the Egypt Exploration Fund by H. Frowde (London).

New sayings of Jesus and fragment of a lost gospel from Oxyrhynchus, ed. Bernard P. Grenfell, Lucy Wharton Drexel, Arthur S. Hunt. Published in 1904, for the Egypt exploration fund by Oxford university press, American branch, H. Frowde (New York, London).


Frank McCoy said...

Th 26.2b as rendered in p. pxy 1.1-4 appears to favor the theory that Matthew used Th and Mk as sources and that Luke used Th, Mk and Mt as sources over both the 2ST (at least when using the IQP version of Q 6:42b) and the Farrer Theory

Th 26.2b and Lk 6:42b—12 words in common word order (kai tote diablepheis…to karphos to en tw opthamw to adelphou sou)
Th 26.2b and Mt 7:5b—9 words in common word order (Kai tote diablepseis ekbalein to karphos tou adelphou sou)
Th 26.2b and Q 6:42b—9 words in common word order (Kai tote diablepseis ekbalein to karphos …tou adelphou sou)
Mt 7:5b and Q 6:42b—9 words in common word order (Kai tote diablepseis ekbalein to karphos…tou adelphou sou)
Lk 6:42b and Q 6:42b—8 words in common word order (Kai tote diablepseis…to karphos…tou adelphou sou)
Lk 6:42b and Mt 7:5b—8 words in common word order (Kai tote diablepseis…to karphos…tou adelphou sou)
This favors (Th 26.2b --> Mt 7:5b) + (Mt 7:5b and/or Th 26.2 --> Lk 6:42b) (9 + range of 8 to 12) over (Q 6:42b --> Lk 6:42b) + (Q6:42b --> Mt 7:5b) (8 + 9). It also favors Mt 7:5b and/or Th 26.2 --> Lk 6:42b (range of 8 to 12) over Mt 7:5b --> Lk 6:42b (8)

abernhar said...

I am much heartened to see someone telling the story of the real beginning of the modern study of the Gospel of Thomas. (Perhaps, I too have my reasons for feeling a great kinship with Grenfell & Hunt. :-) I've never really understood why the discovery of the Greek fragments is so seldom told . . . Grenfell and Hunt's find was spectacular: they found the single largest collection of ancient Greek papyri in history, uncovering many of our earliest New Testament manuscripts, the three fragments of Thomas, fragments of other unknown Gospels, and long-lost classical texts, not to mention loads of documentary papyri (e.g., personal letters) that shed so much light on the daily lives of "ordinary" people in antiquity.

To supplement your links, Mark, I would add that my Gospel of Thomas Resource Center ( provides links to scans not only of _Logia Iesou_ and _New Sayings_ (both my own and those provided by Google books), but also hi-res scans of the McClure's article you quote and the manuscripts themselves. And for those interested in P.Oxy. 654 (Prologue, Sayings 1-7), the British Library has made a wonderful, zoomable image available online.

Keep up the great work, and thanks for calling attention to Grenfell and Hunt and Oxyrhynchus in the context of Thomasine studies!

abernhar said...

I have no idea why comments by me (Andrew Bernhard) are now being attributed to abernhar... but I suspect that's a problem on my end.