January

St John Fragment

Object: St John Fragment

Language: Ancient Greek

Materials: ink on papyrus

Dimensions: 89mm(h) 60mm(w)

Place: Egypt

Date of Creation: 2nd century [early]

The University of Manchester Library, UK

EMu user since 2012

St John FragmentThe famous St John Fragment, held at The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library, is probably the oldest piece of the New Testament known to survive. On the front it contains parts of verses 31-33, on the reverse parts of verses 37-38 of the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John.

The fragment of papyrus written in Greek was acquired in Egypt by the papyrologist Bernard Grenfell, who sold it to the John Rylands Library in 1920. Its significance was not recognised until the 1930s, when Colin Roberts, who was cataloguing the Library’s Greek Papyri, transcribed the text and dated the document by comparing the handwriting to that found on dated papyri.

The majority of papyri from this date are scrolls, which are only written on one side. The writing on both sides of this fragment identifies it as part of a codex (a book with turning pages). The codex form was taken up by Christianity as early as the second century AD, quickly becoming the usual format for Christian texts. The book would probably have only contained the Gospel of John and would have been about 130 pages long.

The front of the fragment contains the beginning of seven lines of John 18:31-33 (the words at the line-ends in square brackets are missing):

… the Jews, “To us [it is lawful to kill] no-one” so that the word [of Jesus might be fulfilled which] he said signifying [by what sort of death he was about] to die. He entered [again into the] Praetorium Pilate [and called Jesus] and said [to him “are you king of the] Jews?” …

St John Fragment (Reverse)The reverse of the fragment (shown at right) contains the end of seven lines of John 18:37-38:

[King am I. I for this] reason have been born [(and for this reason*) I have come into] the world so that I shall testify [to the truth. Everyone being] of the truth [hears my voice]. Says to him [Pilate, “what is truth?”] and this [saying again he went out to] the Jews [and says to them, “I] nothing …