Thursday, February 15, 2007

Multispectral imaging reveals new texts from Oxyrhynchus

Using multispectral imaging, scholars at BYU have uncovered new material from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection: an unidentified Christian apocryphal Gospel, a new ending to the Gospel of Mark, a different version of two verses in the book of Philemon, and a missing section in Luke 22:43-44. Here's another account from Oxford of the way multispectral imaging clarifies unclear readings and noting that the Oxyrhynchus texts will be published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, beginning with the next volume (LXIX). An article on the technical aspects is planned for Scientific American.

This project began with the excavation, in 1897-1907, of the town-site of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. The excavators, B P Grenfell and A S Hunt (both Fellows of Queen's College, Oxford), recovered more than 100,000 pieces, fragments and scraps of papyrus, mostly in Greek, dating from the Roman and early Byzantine periods; the Egypt Exploration Society, which funded the dig, deposited these in Oxford. Since then scholars have worked to catalogue, decipher and publish this material. The first volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri appeared in 1898, volume 67 in 2001; there are at least 40 more volumes to come.

The present Project Director is Professor P J Parsons (Christ Church). The papyri, some 2,000 published and mounted in glass, the rest conserved in boxes, are housed in a workroom adjacent to the Sackler Library, with their indexes, archives and photographic record. The workroom serves also as the office of the project's Researcher and Administrator, Dr Nikolaos Gonis.

The mass of unedited material represents the random waste-paper of seven centuries of Graeco-Egyptian life. About 10% is literary, i.e. the fragmentary remains of ancient books; the rest documents public and private (codes, edicts, registers, official correspondence, census-returns, tax-assessments, petitions, court-records; sales, leases, wills, bills, accounts, inventories, horoscopes, private letters).

Remember that P. Oxy. 1, 654 and 655 contain sayings attributed to Jesus and, on the basis of their similarity to parts of the Coptic text of 114 sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, thought to be fragments of a larger sayings collection.

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