The Oldest New Testament
In 1920, Bernard Greenfell acquired some papyri in Egypt. Among them were some small fragments. Many libraries around the world that concern thelselves with ancient writings have large collections of these small shards of papyrus. This 2.5 by 3.5 inch papyrus shatd rested in the collection of the Johm Rylands Library at Manchester, England until 1934 when a Fellow of St. John's College at Oxford, C. H. Roberts, began sorting through them. Roberts picked up the fragment and immediately recognized the few Greek lines on the recto (front) and verso (back) as being parts of the Gospel of John 18:31-33 and 37-38 respectively. He must have been very excited since he immediately published "An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library," Manchester, 1935 which appeared in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library xx, 1936, pp 45-55.
The Paleography (study of ancient writing styles) dated the fragment to the time of Hadrian (117 - 138 CE) within 20 years of the composition of the Greek "First Edition" of the Gospel by its author. The Gospel was written in Ephesus by the "Elder John" recorded by the early church historians to be the last living disciple of Jesus. I am of the opinion that this John was one of the "seventy" and not Jesus' young cousin and disciple John but may have been a disciple, after the crucifixion, of the son of Zebedee. I am also of the opinion that the "Elder John" constructed the first form of the Gospel of John around his translation of an original Aramaic narrative by John the disciple and that original narrative was a very early composition, perhaps even pre-dating Mark! I think this original narrative, which did not contain the highly theological and Christological aspects of the Canonical John, remains imbedded in the present Fourth Gospel. I have been working on restoring the original Aramaic narrative, "proto-John," if you will, and plan to post the results on this site when completed.
It is unfortunate that P52 is but a small fragment and not useful as a witness to the form of the Fourth Gospel in it's "First Edition." If it were a complete gospel it could tell us much about the later redactions and interpolations to the canonical John. It is significant, however, in that it is a witness that the Gospel of John existed in the very early second century. Its discovery in Egypt, so far from the site of its original composition (Ephesus or Antioch) may also be evidence that the Gospel had been around for quite a while, certainly enough time to have been disseminated among Christians in other parts of the Roman World.
Recto: It is not lawful for us to put to death
No one; that the w ord of Jesus might be fulfilled;
Which he spoke signifying by what death
He was about to die. Entered therefore into the
Praetorium again Pilate and called
Jesus and said to him, "Are you the King of
Verso: For this I have been born, and for this I have been born into
The world that I may bear witness to the truth.
Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.
Says to him Pilate, "what is truth?"
And this having said again, he went out
To the J ews and says to them;
I not any fault find in him.
Reproductions of P52 on papyrus, framed to show both sides. $50.00