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A Coptic Fragment of the Gospel of John with Hermeneiai (P.CtYBR inv. 4641)*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2014

Brice C. Jones*
Department of Religion, Concordia University, Montreal H3G 1M8, Canada. email:


This article discusses briefly a category of New Testament manuscripts with ‘hermeneiai’ before offering a critical edition of P.CtYBR inv. 4641, a Coptic codex leaf containing portions of the text of John that was recently discovered by the present author in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Unidentified until now, this codex leaf represents the first known example of a hermeneia manuscript of John written solely in Coptic. As such, the Yale fragment has much significance for discussions about the ἑρμηνεία manuscripts, their origin, influences and functions.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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I thank Wally V. Cirafesi and Kevin W. Wilkinson for graciously providing copies of their forthcoming articles on the hermeneia manuscripts and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.


1 The texts are: P.Vindob. G 26214 (P55), P.Ness. ii 3 (P59), P.Berlin 11914 (P63), P.Vindob. G 36102 (P76), P.Monts. Roca 83 (P80), lost parchment from Damascus (0145), P.Berlin 3607 + 3623 (0210) and P.Berlin 21315 (0302). Two further manuscripts (P.Ness. ii 4 (P60) and P.Vindob. G 26084 (0256)) are likely ἑρμηνεία manuscripts, although the term ἑρμηνεία is not visible. Codex Bezae (GA 05) has ἑρμηνεῖαι but they occur in Mark's Gospel and lack the tripartite structure of other ἑρμηνεία manuscripts; the ἑρμηνεῖαι appear at the bottom of the page and were added by a much later scribe.

2 Published by Roca-Puig, R., ‘Papiro del evangelio de San Juan con “Hermeneia”: P.Barc. inv. 83—Jo 3,34’, Atti dell' xi Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia, Milano 2–8 Settembre 1965 (Milan: Instituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, 1966) 225–36Google Scholar. This papyrus now resides in the Montserrat Abbey in Spain.

3 A common misspelling (itacism) of ἑρμηνεία.

4 Crum, W. E., ‘Two Coptic Papyri from Antinoe’, Proceedings from the Society of Biblical Archaeology 26 (1904) 174–8Google Scholar, esp. 174–6. Paris, BnF Copte 156 was re-edited by Quecke, H., ‘Zu den Joh-Fragmenten mit “Hermeneiai”’, Orientalia 40 (1974) 407–4Google Scholar and cited as ‘K’ in Horner's, G. W. edition of the Sahidic New Testament (The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect (7 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1911–24))Google Scholar. See also van Haelst, J., Catalogue des papyrus littéraires juifs et chrétiens (Paris: Sorbonne, 1976)Google Scholar, no. 1124. On the problem of classifying non-continuous New Testament manuscripts (including ἑρμηνεία manuscripts), see Porter, S. E., ‘Textual Criticism in the Light of Diverse Textual Evidence for the Greek New Testament: An Expanded Proposal’, New Testament Manuscripts: Their Text and their World (ed. Kraus, T. J. and Nicklas, T.; TENT 2; Leiden: Brill, 2006) 305–50.Google Scholar

5 See the survey in Outtier, B., ‘Les Prosermeneia du Codex Bezae’, in Codex Bezae: Studies from the Lunel Colloquium June 1994 (ed. Parker, D. C. and Amphoux, C.-B.; NTTS 22; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 7478.Google Scholar

6 On the definition of a ‘continuous manuscript’, see Epp, E. J., ‘The Papyrus Manuscripts of the New Testament’, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (ed. Ehrman, B. D. and Holmes, M. W.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995)Google Scholar 5.

7 Metzger, B. M., ‘Greek Manuscripts of John's Gospels with “Hermeneiai”’, Text and Testimony: Essays on New Testament and Apocryphal Literature in Honour of A. F. J. Klijn (ed. Baarda, T. et al. ; Kampen: Kok, 1988) 162–9Google Scholar; Porter, S. E., ‘The Use of Hermeneia and Johannine Papyrus Manuscripts’, Akten des 23. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses, Wien 22.–28. Juli 2001 (ed. Palme, B.; Papyrologica Vindobonensia 1; Vienna: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007) 573–80Google Scholar; Cirafesi, W. V., ‘The Bilingual Character and Liturgical Function of “Hermeneiai” in Johannine Papyrus Manuscripts: A New Proposal’, NovT 56 (forthcoming)Google Scholar; Wilkinson, K. W., ‘Hermêneiai in Manuscripts of John's Gospel: An Aid to Bibliomancy’, My Lots Are in Thy Hands (ed. Luijendijk, A. M. and Klingshirn, W.; Leiden: Brill, forthcoming)Google Scholar. See also Parker, D. C., ‘Manuscripts of John's Gospel with Hermeneiai’, in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies (ed. Childers, J. W.; TaS 3.4; Piscataway: Gorgias, 2006) 4868Google Scholar. Parker shows in his study through a textual analysis of the eight manuscripts that ‘these are documents which are of use to the editor of John’ (68).

8 See Harris, J. Rendel, The Annotators of the Codex Bezae (with Some Notes on Sortes Sanctorum) (London: Clay, 1901)Google Scholar. For a discussion of Coptic fragments of sortes sanctorum lacking biblical citation, see van Lantschoot, A., ‘Une collection sahidique de “Sortes Sanctorum”’, Le Muséon 69 (1956) 3552Google Scholar; Papini, L., ‘Fragments of the Sortes Sanctorum from the Shrine of St. Colluthus’, Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt (ed. Frankfurter, D.; Leiden: Brill, 1998) 393401Google Scholar, and the literature cited there.

9 Porter, ‘The Use of Hermeneia’, 579. See also Porter, S. E., ‘What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? Reconstructing Early Christianity from Its Manuscripts’, Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture (ed. Porter, S. E. and Pitts, A. W.; TENT 9; Leiden: Brill, 2013) 4170Google Scholar, at 60–3.

10 Cirafesi, ‘Hermeneiai’. Cf. Gamble, H. Y., Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)Google Scholar 231: ‘Thus both the production of non-Greek versions of scripture and the use of bilingual manuscripts are rooted in the liturgical reading of scripture and witness the effort to make the sense of scripture accessible to all.’

11 See the list of these ‘summary notes’ in Horrell, D. G., ‘The Themes of 1 Peter: Insights from the Earliest Manuscripts (The Crosby-Schøyen Codex ms 193 and the Bodmer Miscellaneous Codex Containing P72)’, NTS 55.4 (2009) 502–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 511–12. The notes in the margin consist of the preposition περί followed by a word or phrase that describes the adjacent text. What is odd about the notes is that most of the words following περί are in the nominative and not the required genitive (e.g. περὶ εἰρήνη, περὶ ἀγαπή, περὶ ἁγνία (sic)). Considering that Coptic nouns do not decline and Greco-Coptic words always take the nominative form, we may possibly be dealing with a Coptic scribe. In further support of this, the note at 2 Pet 2.22 glosses αληθου (for αληθους) with the corresponding Coptic word . See also Wasserman, T., The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (CBNTS 43; Stockholm: Almqvist and Wilksell International, 2006) 31–2.Google Scholar

12 Bagnall, R. S. (Early Christian Books in Egypt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009))Google Scholar refers to the Coptic glossator of P.Beatty vii as ‘a member of the book-possessing population, bilingual, a fluent writer, from the Fayyum or somewhere in its vicinity, and probably something of an experimenter with language, because he is not working in an established writing system that he could have learned in school or anywhere else. And, of course, he may be assumed to be a Christian’ (67).

13 E.g. Florence, Museo Egizio inv. 7134 (P2), Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 362 + 379 + 381 + 382 + 384 (P6), P.Vindob. K 7541-7548 (P41), P.Vindob. K 8706/34 (P42), P.Oslo inv. 1661 (P62), P.Vindob. K 7244 (P96), just to name the papyri. For a complete list of Greco-Coptic manuscripts, see S. G. Richter, ‘SMR-Liste koptischer neutestamentlicher Bilinguen’, SMR-Datenbank des Projektes Novum Testamentum Graecum – Editio Critica Maior der Nordrhein-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Künste, December 2009, available online at:

14 Wilkinson, ‘Hermêneiai in Manuscripts of John's Gospel’.

15 See Treu, K., ‘P.Berol. 21315: Bibelorakeln mit griechischer und koptischer Hermeneiai’, APF 37 (1991): 5560.Google Scholar In his article, Treu published the edition of P.Berol. 21315 (GA 0302) and listed all extant examples (at the time) of ἑρμηνεία manuscripts.

16 I thank Joseph Manning of Yale University for giving me permission to publish P.CtYBR inv. 4641. Images are reproduced by permission of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

17 On 4 October 2013, I made Professor Karlheinz Schüssler aware of this fragment, and he registered it in his Biblia Coptica with the call number ‘sa 972’. Sadly, just days after our correspondence, Professor Schüssler died in a tragic car accident.

18 Turner, E. G., The Typology of the Early Codex (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977) 28–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

19 Descriptions of script follow the ‘descriptive method’ explained in Layton, B., Catalogue of Coptic Literary Manuscripts in the British Library Acquired since the Year 1906 (London: British Library, 1987)Google Scholar lxiii–lxiv.

20 There is one possible exception in l. 5 of the flesh side, where there is a minuscule trace of ink that may in fact be a supralinear stroke.

21 Published by Torallas-Tovar, S., Biblica Coptica Montserratensia (P. Monts. Roca ii) (Orientalia Montserratensia 2; Barcelona: Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat; Consejo superior de investigaciones científicas, 2007).Google Scholar

22 For images of BM Or. 6696 and BM Or. 6697, see Layton, Catalogue, Pl. 8.6 and Pl. 9.4, respectively.

23 Askeland, C., ‘The Coptic Versions of the New Testament’, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (ed. Ehrman, B. D. and Holmes, M. W.; NTTSD 42; Leiden: Brill, 2013 2) 201–29Google Scholar: ‘Earlier texts (fourth to sixth centuries) possessed a wide variety of formats, but were generally smaller and had single columns, even in parchment codices’ (210).

24 Horner, G. W., The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect Otherwise Called Sahidic and Thebaic, vol. iii (Oxford: Clarendon, 1911).Google Scholar

25 Quecke, H., Das Johannesevangelium saïdisch: Text der Handschrift PPalau Rib. Inv.-Nr. 183 mit den Varianten der Handschriften 813 und 814 der Chester Beatty Library und der Handschrift M569 (Rome and Barcelona: Papyrologica Castroctaviana, 1984).Google Scholar

26 Papini, ‘Fragments of the Sortes Sanctorum’, 398.

27 Metzger, B. M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1971) 204Google Scholar: ‘If τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ ὅτι πονηρά ἐστιν were the original reading, no good reason could be found why scribes should have deleted the ὅτι-clause. On the other hand, the addition of the clause derived from the preceding verse or from 7.7, appears to be a natural expansion which was introduced early (P66)’. This entry, for some reason, is omitted altogether in the second edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994).

28 Email correspondence, 16 October 2013.

29 It is somewhat ironic that P.CtYBR inv. 4641 can be registered as an official manuscript of the Coptic New Testament since it is non-continuous. In stark contrast, Greek manuscripts that are non-continuous (e.g. amulets, extracts) would never make the official list, even though the discipline was at one time of a different opinion in this regard.

30 Although we must remember that Greek was the primary language in ecclesiastical settings even into the seventh century. See Bagnall, R. S., Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) 251–5.Google Scholar

31 According to Bagnall, ‘it is clear that Coptic was developed, and its literature produced, predominantly in thoroughly bilingual milieus’ (Egypt in Late Antiquity, 238).

32 Cirafesi, ‘Hermeneiai’. Cf. Askeland's statement, ‘These diglot and miscellaneous manuscripts [citing the example of Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 362 + 379 + 381 + 382 + 384 = P6] are not at all homogeneous in their details, and they raise important questions about how the Greek and Coptic texts were used and how their juxtaposition affected their transmission’ (‘The Coptic Versions of the New Testament’, 220).

33 Porter, ‘The Use of Hermeneia’, 579–80.

34 Wilkinson, ‘Hermêneiai in Manuscripts of John's Gospel’.

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