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The Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel

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Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 110-160 A.D.

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Information on the Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel

S. Kent Brown comments on the text of Oxyrhynchus 840 (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 5, p. 1000):

Found in December 1905, this partial text consists of a small vellum leaf (8.8 x 7.4 cm) written on both sides in a tiny, rather regular hand. The writing is dated by its discoverers to the 4th century, and the copyist exhibits an inclination for using red ink in specific instances such as the first letters of sentences, dots of punctuation and - twice - accent marks.

In his introduction in The Complete Gospels, Philip Sellew notes that this fragment was likely a talisman text: "The book itself likely served as an amulet for some ancient Egyptian Christian before this single page became detached. A few other books of similar size have been found from late antiquity that are thought to have been intended for some such magical use."

Brown summarises the contents (op. cit., p. 1000):

The opening seven lines of the text introduce the reader to the end of an address by Jesus - consistently referred to as "the Savior" - in which he warns his hearers against the sort of overconfidence which leads to punishment both in this life and in the next. He then leads his disciples into the temple, apparently going within the "court of Israel," where they meet a Pharisaic high priest, possibly named Levi. The priest reproaches them for entering without properly purifying themselves and for not changing into white clothing, hence desecrating the sacred precinct. In response, Jesus inquires about the state of cleanness of the priest, who in turn affirms that he has performed the necessary purificatory rites. Against this Jesus delivers a sharp criticism, which recalls Jesus' harsh condemnation of the "tradition of the elders" in Matt 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23, contrasting the shallow character of external purity with the deeper inward cleansing in which he and his disiples had been immersed from above at 'the waters of life' (line 43).

F. F. Bruce writes (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 160):

Readers of the canonical Gospels are familiar with Jesus's repeated insistence that in the religious sphere it is inward purification, not external washing, that is important (cf. Mark 7.1-23); and that is the point of this extract. It may be regarded, more particularly, as an expansion of Matthew 23.25 f. into the form of a narrative. The circumstantiality of the references to the temple and its installation might convey an impression of verisimilitude to readers who knew little or nothing about them, but they betray the imagination of a period later than the destruction of the temple and have little in common with what we know of the temple and its ordinances as they actually were. The 'place of purification' cannot be identified, and laymen like Jesus and his disciples had no opportunity of looking at the 'holy vessels' (by which the furniture in the sanctuary itself is probably meant). Most grotesque of all is the suggestion that 'pigs' wallowed in the water in which the temple staff or visitors washed, whereas their presence would not be tolerated in any Jewish community. The reference to 'harlots and flute-girls' has been thought to point to the Gospel accroding to the Hebrews as the source of the extract, since they are mentioned together in the version of the parable of the talents ascribed to that Gospel. But this is a very slender argument.

Brown states of the importance of the gospel fragment (op. cit., p. 1000):

The absence of connections in this piece to special interests within the early Christian community as well as the presence of both numerous Semitisms and an informed view on Temple matters lead naturally to a high estimate of this text as a virtual companion piece to the Synoptic Gospel accounts. Further, it is likely that the original document was composed at least by the early 2d century, since it shares none of the uncontrolled fantasies about Jesus and the disciples that 2d and 3d century apocryphal accounts typically exhibit.

Sellew notes that the Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel is "similar to the New Testament gospels in its style and tone," particularly similar to Matthew 15 and Mark 7, which record disputes over purity issues. The document is different from the canonical gospels in the consistent use of the term "Savior" to identify Jesus, which is found only once in Luke and once in John. The document should be dated roughly to the first half of the second century.

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Kirby, Peter. "The Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel." Early Christian Writings. <>.