From Papyri to King James:
The Transmission of the English Bible

The vast majority of the earliest Biblical and related manuscripts were written in ink on papyrus, which is a writing surface made from strips of a water plant found in the Nile region of Egypt. Many papyri from ancient times in Egypt have survived in excellent condition because of the dry climate. The University of Michigan has the largest collection of papyrus manuscripts in the Western Hemisphere. All pieces in Cases 1 and 2 are written in Greek, except for Michigan Manuscript 167, which is written in Sahidic Coptic.

Case 1

P. Mich. Inv. 263, Libellus, A.D. 250

A certificate in Greek issued during the Decian persecution to a woman and her daughter from the village of Theadelphia in Egypt. It testifies that they had obeyed the imperial edict to participate in pagan sacrifices as proof of their loyalty to the government. Since faithful Christians would not sacrifice to pagan gods, the edict served as a means for identifying Christians and making them liable for punishment or imprisonment. Decius, emperor from A.D. 249 to 251, conducted vigorous persecutions of Christians in an effort to revive the Roman state religion. The official who signed this wrote his name boldly: Hermas.

Case 2

P. Mich. Inv. 6238, Epistles of Paul, circa A.D. 200

A leaf from a papyrus codex in Greek of the Letters of Saint Paul, dating from about A.D. 200. The codex, generally referred to as P46. is thought originally to have contained 104 leaves. There are now 86 leaves extant:L 30 are at the University of Michigan and 56 are in he Chester Beatty Collection in Dublin, Ireland. The discovery of this codex in 1931 provided a text at least a century older than the Vatican and Sinaitic codices, the oldest authorities on which the text had previously rested. Displayed are the opening paragraphs of the Epistle to the Hebrews, preceded by the last line of the Letter to the Romans.

Next: Cases 3 & 4

From Papyri to King James:
Review | Introduction | Cases 1-2 | Cases 3-4 | Cases 5-7

copyright 2004 The Regents of the University of Michigan
U-M Papyrus Collection | Special Collections Library