Carsten Thiede is regarded by a few analysts of Biblical texts as revolutionary, but to most he is deemed hasty at best--at worst a crackpot. His attempts at redating one manuscript (p64) to the First Century have been completely ignored. Still, his re-identification of a fragment found in the 7th cave at Qumran with a portion of the gospel according to Mark may very well stand. If José O'Callaghan's identification of the fragment (now championed by Thiede) proves accurate, that fragment is most likely the oldest existing manuscript containing any portion of the New Testament, for the Qumran caves were closed c. 68 CE when the Romans invaded the area.
The manuscript fragment is written on in an early Greek script type on papyrus. It contains few characters on each side (see the article by clicking here), but its identification with Mark would be powerful. Still, most scholars dispute that identification, leaving another manuscript as the oldest known.
All of the oldest extant NT manuscripts were written in Greek uncial (capital letter) style on papyrus. About 100 of these have been identified, although a few of them were later found to be portions of the same manuscripts. All of these papyri date to the eighth century or earlier, with most of them predating the sixth century. Noteworthy also is the fact that all of them were discovered in this century. Indeed, our best knowledge about the early NT text has been gained within the past 150 years.
What follows is a list of certain papyri, their contents, and approximate date. The reader may assume that various holes (called lacunae) exist throughout portions of the manuscripts, since it is natural for such holes to develop.
|p46||most of Paul's letters and Hebrews||once dated c. 200|
redated by Young Kyu Kim to c. 85
|p52||fragment of John||c. 110-125|
|p66||most of John||c. 125-175|
or 3rd century
|p45||four gospels and Acts||usu. III|
but some date it II
|p32||most of Titus||usu. III|
but some date it II
|p75||most of Luke and John||c. 175-225|
|p13||part of Hebrews||c. 200|
|p72||1 Pet, 2 Pet, Jude||III|
|p47||fragment of Revelation||III|
While the papyri are generally early, most of them are fragmentary. The earliest nearly complete NT manuscripts are from c. 325-350, and most of them are later. These are written on parchment and are generally referred to simply as Uncials in order to distinguish them from the later manuscripts that were written using lower case letters. The Uncials date from c. 200 to the 11th century (XI).
|Numbering||Name (where relevant)||Contents||Approximate Date|
|Aleph 01||Codex Sinaiticus||Entire NT, in nearly standard order|
followed by the Letter of Barnabas
and the Shepherd of Hermas (incomplete)
|B 02||Codex Vaticanus||Most of NT, with Pauline letters|
following general letters
breaks off at Heb 9:14
|A 03||Codex Alexandrinus||Entire NT, with missing sections|
adds 1 Clement and 2 Clement
|D 05||Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis||Four gospels and most of Acts||V - VI|
|D 06||Codex Claromontinus||Paul's letters, minus
|W 032||Codex Washingtoneus/Freerianus||four gospels|
added section of Mark 16,
called the Freer Logion
The above lists contain the earliest and most highly regarded New Testament manuscripts that are currently known to exist. They contain styles of variation that will be discussed later. All in all, over 6000 Greek NT manuscripts exist in various styles. Click here to proceed to next week's discussion of New Testament Apocrypha.