University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Gospel of Saint Matthew [Object of the Day #99]

November 2, 2012

Front side.  Note the “A” at the top for page 1
Front side. Note the “A” at the top for page 1

This papyrus fragment was discovered by Grenfell and Hunt (of the Egyptian Exploration Society) at the site of Oxyrhynchus in 1897 at the beginning of several seasons of excavations that took place at the site from 1896-1907.

The name Oxyrhynchus (meaning “bent-nose”) comes from a type of fish that was sacred to the ancient Egyptians.  The town of Oxyrhynchus is 300 km south of Alexandria, or 160 km south-west of Cairo.

Oxyrhynchus became an important center during the Greco-Roman Period. In later antiquity it was famous for its many churches and monasteries. Today the village of el-Behnesa occupies part of the ancient site.

Working largely in ancient trash dumps, Grenfell and Hunt discovered a treasure-trove of written material – over 40,000 fragments written in Greek, Latin, Demotic, Coptic, Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic.  This material dates mostly to the period of 250 BC to AD 700.

A number of important documentary and classical literary texts were found here. These early excavations also discovered a wide range of early Christian literature. The excavators chose to work at the site because of its reputation as an important Christian site, with a number of churches and thousands of monks in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The first season of work at the site unearthed this fragment, the beginning of the gospel of St. Matthew, which at the time of its discovery was the oldest text of the New Testament ever discovered, dating to the third century AD. For those who study New Testament Greek, E2746 is known as P1.

This fragment is not the only New Testament text found at the site.  Excavators there subsequently uncovered another 27 New Testament papyri fragments.

Back side.  You may be able to see the “B” at the top for page 2
Back side. You may be able to see the “B” at the top for page 2

The Penn fragment contains Matthew 1:1-9, 12 and 13, 14-20, which give the genealogy of Jesus.   It is written on both sides of the papyrus.  The pages are numbered at the top with a Greek letter α (page 1) and β (page 2) indicating that the papyrus’ original format was that of a codex (or book), rather than a scroll.  The text is written in Greek uncial writing, with all of the letters in capitals, with no spaces in between words.  The name of Jesus Christ is abbreviated IY XY with a superscript line above the letters.

The Sackler Library at Oxford houses most of the Oxyrhynchus papyri. The Penn Museum received this fragment as well as over 50 other Oxyrhynchus papyri from these excavations.

Penn Museum Object #E2746

See this and other objects like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database

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