by Yuri Kuchinsky

[as posted to various discussion groups in Sept 2002]

Greetings, friends,

So much in New Testament history hinges on the Rylands Papyrus (P52). After all, this is supposed to be the earliest fragment of the New Testament that we possess. In every standard Introduction to NT, it is said that this tiny piece of writing, which contains only 118 legible letters, is dated "at about 125 AD".

This small fragment of John 18:31-33; 37-38 was found in Egypt, although the exact location of where it was found remains unknown. Its discovery was first announced publicly in 1935. And according to the typical view as expressed by Christian conservatives, including those in the academe,

"The Rylands Papyrus has forced the critics to place the fourth gospel back into the first century, abandoning their earlier assertion that it could not have been written then by the Apostle John."

Most people who are new to NT studies will be surprised that, a century ago, it was actually quite common to date all of our NT gospels to the 2nd century. Yes, dear friends, since WWII, there has clearly been a lot more conservatism in NT studies. So it's almost a universal view in the field nowadays that the canonical gospels are all first century products -- a view that really has no basis in reality whatsoever, outside of P52, that is.

Supposedly, the discovery of P52 had been a big triumph for the early daters of the gospels, since GJohn is generally seen as the latest gospel of the four. So if even the latest gospel had already been in circulation in Egypt by 125 CE, this means that all the gospels are very early, right?

Well, I'm saying that the whole thing is, quite simply, a fraud. Here we have an unprovenanced scrap of writing the size of a postage stamp, and this little piffle has somehow changed the state of the discipline? Yeah, right...

So, just how reliable is palaeographic dating of manuscripts (MSS) in the first place? Just how easy is it for scholars to take a look at the handwriting of an ancient document, and to establish its age on this basis? As anyone who's ever looked into this area should know, the reliability of palaeographic dating is far from secure. In fact, any honest palaeographer will only give the age of a MS with the accuracy of plus or minus 50 years, or maybe even 100 years. But this is for an actual MS, and not for a tiny scrap of writing that comes from nobody knows where. And then again, palaeographers are also very often wrong, or disagree with each other widely.

As an illustration of this, let's take a look into some real and very substantial biblical MSS, and see how they've been dated over the years. Since I've been myself studying a variety of MSS for quite some time, examples should be quite easy to come by.

So let's take as an example the Old Latin Codex Bobiensis (typically abbreviated as "k") -- a very important early MS, that has been studied extensively since the 19th century, when it was first discovered. This is apparently the oldest of all of our Old Latin MSS, and it contains most of Matthew and Mark.

So, let's see, according to Bakker,

"Palaeographers almost unanimously hold the opinion that k is a 5th or 6th century MS." (Adolphine Bakker, A STUDY OF CODEX EVANG. BOBBIENSIS, Amsterdam : N.V. Noord-Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1933, p. 7)

This was published in 1933, just about the time when Rylands was being dated in England. Please note how she puts the date of this Codex here. She doesn't say it was dated "about 525 AD", or "about 475 AD". Rather, she says "5th or 6th century".

Next, let's take a look into Aland's Synopsis, the standard reference book of all NT scholars. And what do we find there about the date of Codex Bobiensis? It says "4th or 5th" century. Hmm... It looks like the "unanimous opinion of palaeographers" has changed quite a bit since 1933, didn't it? All of a sudden, Bobiensis becomes a century older! And again, we don't get so much precision here, do we? The range of dates is stated just as loosely as before...

But let's not stop there. Now, there's a brand-new study of the Old Latin gospels by Burton that has just been published recently (Philip Burton, THE OLD LATIN GOSPELS: a study of their texts and language. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2000). And what do we find there? He says unambiguously that Bobiensis is now dated to the 4th century! So it looks like this amazing Codex is still getting older...

Thus, some Experts say Bobiensis should be dated in the 6th century, and some say it should be the 4th! It looks like we have a range as large as 300 years!

But perhaps there's something very unusual about our Codex Bobiensis? Not at all. Such imprecision is, in fact, a very common thing in palaeography.

Let's take a look at the Codex Bezae, another very important text representing Western text-type -- a nearly complete MS of the four gospels. I have an older edition of the New Testament here by Merk, and it says that Bezae should be dated in the 6th century. Aland says 5th century. And Burton says "around 400", or, in other words, as early as the late 4th century! Almost the same situation exactly as with the Bobiensis.

(When giving these two examples above, I'm not trying to imply that I, myself, disagree with this more recent re-dating of Bobiensis and Bezae to an earlier period. My examples are merely meant to show that, generally speaking, the palaeographers very often don't know what they're doing. Indeed, there are also many cases when some MSS were re-dated in the other direction, i.e. were pronounced as less old.)

So how much can we trust the palaeographers then? Well, as I say, with luck, they just might get the date within the range of +/- 100 years or so, but, then again, a couple of generations later, this might change again... That's about all that needs to be said on this subject. But this is if we are talking about the _real manuscripts_, and not some mongrel scrap of a writing without any history attached to it.


So is there any way to date our NT gospels other than with the help of palaeography? Of course there is. We simply need to look into the citations from the gospels, as found in the earliest Fathers of the Church. And based on that, there's really no attestation for our canonical GJohn earlier than Irenaeus -- late in the second century!

And the situation is very similar with the other 3 gospels. Dating the Synoptics is complicated by the fact that there's some considerable doubt about the authenticity of various epistles of the earliest Church Fathers. A lot of them, like those of Ignatius, for example, may not be authentic at all, in spite of what the "consensus view" among our NT academic hucksters might hold today.

To be sure, we do know that the gospels already existed well before Irenaeus, but they seem to have been in a very different shape, textually-speaking, compared to how we see them now. Certainly the citations from Justin (ca 150 CE) -- the earliest _undisputed_ writings by a Church Father that we possess today -- seem to attest for us a much earlier text, the text that had apparently been heavily re-edited and expanded between the time of Justin and the time of Irenaeus. And, by the way, Justin seems quite unaware of GJohn as yet... Either this gospel was simply unknown to him, or perhaps it was seen in his circles as "heretical" and out of bounds.

And neither is GJohn as yet known to Polycarp. The letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, generally thought to be from ca 135 (or even later?), never quotes from John, and never even alludes to it. And yet other NT writings are quoted abundantly in his letter. (Polycarp is generally thought to be the teacher of Irenaeus, who was a well known later proponent of GJohn.)

So where does that leave us with the Rylands Papyrus? Quite simply, this "earliest gospel fragment" looks very much like a fraud -- a blatant deception that the New Testament scholars -- these modern-day apologists for the faith -- have been perpetrating on the unwary public.

Thus, if anything, this absurd deification of P52 in today's NT studies may indicate much more about the professional honesty of these scholars -- or a lack thereof, as the case may be -- than about the real dating of our NT gospels. Yes, it sure looks like there's quite a bit of trickery that's going on in this field.

So it's for saying things like this that I've been expelled recently from TC-List. But if these dishonest scholars think that I will remain silent about such blatant abuses in NT profession, they are badly mistaken. And there's a lot more there to tell about...

Best regards,



Greetings, all,

For anybody who might be interested, I'm now providing some additional reasons to doubt the very early status of P52. This time, the info comes from some conventional NT scholarly sources, the stuff that has been published recently.

The first item here concerns a recent re-dating of P52 by Schmidt. He now dates it to ca 170 CE. (A. Schmidt, ZWEI ANMERKUNGEN ZU P.RYL.III 457, APF 35, 1989). A reference to this is also found in U. Schnelle, THE HISTORY AND THEOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1998 / SCM, London, 1998, p. 477, n. 119.

According to Schnelle, A. Schmidt "dates p52 in the period around 170 CE (+/- 25) on the basis of a comparison with P Chester Beatty X."

Also, a recent article by C. Tuckett in THE NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES, "P52 and Nomina Sacra" (October 2001) can be noted here in this discussion. In this article, Tuckett tried to find the Nomina Sacra in our MS Rylands, by doing a detailed study of line-length and word-spacing, but was unsuccessful. So he concluded that "Jesus" was written in full in the two instances where one might have expected to find Nomina Sacra in MS Rylands. But it is generally believed that there was a regular practice of abbreviating Nomina Sacra in early Christianity. So this also seems at odds with a very early dating of p52.

And so, I have now presented quite a bit of evidence that tends to cast doubt on the very special status that p52 still enjoys in today's NT studies. I'm saying that almost everything to do with this little scrap of writing is really based on wishful thinking, rather than hard evidence. This is really a fraud, that's what it is. And moreover, in general, the early dating of the canonical gospels, that our crooked NT guild is still advocating almost unanimously, is likewise a clear and obvious fraud. These are not 1c documents. These are clearly very late and corrupt texts, that tend to portray Jesus as a Gentile Jesus.

Contrary to common perception, the really primitive gospel texts are not lost. These are the ancient Old Syriac Aramaic gospels, that have mostly been ignored and covered up in recent NT scholarship. And also, the Diatessaron is very important, because it comes from the same Aramaic textual tradition. The picture of Jesus that one finds in these Semitic-based texts is very different.

Best regards,


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