Archive for October 2014

Egerton2, John and Alexandrian Christianity: Observations   2 comments



So, our Advanced Greek seminar at King’s College London, convened by Prof. Joan E. Taylor, has concluded its study of papyrus Egerton2 and we are heading off to Oxy.840 . It was an exceptional opportunity for me to closely investigate the manuscript itself with the seminar members which helped to assess the differing reconstructions of the text. I wish I could have a chance to check it in the British Library, which is less than 20 minutes walk from our campus, but the high resolution copy offered on their website was perfect. Although you will need to find large photos of the  Papyrus Köln 255 fragments discovered later somewhere else.

If you are interested in a survey of the main contribution to Egerton2 and my view on its relationship to the four canonical gospels follow this footnote > [1]. Otherwise, here’s the section of my observations:

Egerton2, Johannine Christianity and Egypt

Despite this variety of views, there is a consensus that Egerton2 and GJohn are strikingly close. This is not in terms of vocabulary but in parallels and even in a few theological hints (like the idea of testimony, and Jesus being from God). I am inclined to put Egerton2 and GJohn in the same zone of influence, but where is that zone?

Through our study of the text several observations did not attract enough attention from earlier studies of the text. These observations meet in pointing towards Alexandria as the best candidate to be the milieu of Egerton2. However, these observations are not equally strong and therefore my conclusion is not more than a suggestion open to further study. These observations are the following:

1- An Alexandrian reading of John 9:29

The first observation is, for me, the most interesting one. There is a strong parallel between fragment 1 verso lines 15-17 and John 9:29:

Egerton2 reads:

“We know that God spoke ἐλ[άλησεν]  to Moses, but as for you, we do not know where you come from.”


The last couple of letters appear to be ἐλ



John 9:29 reads: Ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν ὅτι Μωσῇ has spoken λελάληκεν ὁ θεός· τοῦτον δὲ οὐκ οἴδαμεν πόθεν ἐστίν.

The difference in the tense  of the verb “to speak” is obvious. However, one early reading of John  has the 3rd singular indicative aorist of Egerton (ἐλάλησεν), that is, the Alexandrian reading.

Interestingly, this reading was not mentioned in Nestle-Aland’s footnote of the verse. However, this reading is found in Egerton and a 10th century Georgian codex of the four Gospels, which is too late to affect this discussion.  Otherwise, the Alexandrian reading of the rest of the verse agrees with the other readings of John, which means that Egerton was not dependent on John’s final Alexandrian reading yet at the same time it is the only manuscript that shares with it this common verb.

2- Suspension form of the nomen sacrum of Jesus

One of the most interesting features in early Egyptian manuscripts is the frequent use of the abbreviation of the holy names (nomina sacra). However, most distinctive is the early form of the abbreviation, which is technically known as suspension. The suspension of the name Jesus to be IĦ was not only known in Alexandria but it also bore a theological meaning based on the number that the letters signify. This interpretation could be found in the letter of Barnabas (IX.8) as early as late first/early second century:

“7 Learn fully then, children of love, concerning all things, for Abraham, who first circumcised, did so looking forward in the spirit to Jesus, and had received the doctrines of three letters. 8 For it says, “And Abraham circumcised from his household eighteen men and three hundred.” What then was the knowledge that was given to him? Notice that he first mentions the eighteen, and after a pause the three hundred. The eighteen is I (=ten) and H (=8) — you have Jesus — and because the cross was destined to have grace in the T he says “and three hundred.” So he indicates Jesus in the two letters and the cross in the other.”[2]

Later, this reading was picked up by Clement of Alexandria,[3] and later still through the allegorical school. But the suspended form seems to be better established in second century Alexandria than anywhere else at this early stage.

Egerton2 doesn’t only share with them the same century and place (for the discovered manuscript) but also the suspended form of the nomen sacrum of Jesus.

3- The river where Jesus performed a miracle

This observation might not be as strong as the the earlier two but it is worth mentioning. Fragment 2 verso preserves this miracle: ” Jesus, as he walked, stood still on the edge of the river Jordan, and stretching forth his right hand he . . . and sprinkled/sowed κατέσπειρ[εν][4] it upon the . . . And then . . . water … and before  sent forth fruit . . .”

This unique miracle, which is not known anywhere else, tells us that Jesus probably enacted the parable of the sower. It seems to me that the sowing here corresponds to his words/ teachings that were opposed by “the rulers” in the earlier scenes. In any case the scene shows us Jesus scattering seeds on the water (?), and the seeds brought fruit after they were scattered on the river! Jon Daniels suggested something very interesting: for the scene to be plausible, this river should be able to accommodate seeds that could grow. The River Jordan certainly does not fit the bill, while this perfectly matches with the shallow lower Egyptian river branches that we call ترعة in which the seeds could be sown and bring forth  plants. Of course this suggestion is conjectural but it is certainly not illegitimate.

4- The fact that the Gospel was discovered in Egypt and known nowhere else!


Each observation cannot stand as an argument or evidence on its own, but the power of the cumulative argument is by no means weak. Therefore, while it is hazardous to attribute Egerton2 to an Egyptian milieu at this stage, I would like to invite the reader to discuss or even correct my observations, and if they are interesting enough we should think of an early Johannine Christian in Alexandria.

This begs the final question in this post (and thanks for your patience):

The debates around the origins of the Gospel of John always included the question of its striking similarity with several themes in Philo of Alexandria[5] and the Epistle of Barnabas.[6] That Gospel was very dear to Alexandria at the earliest known stage (early second century) before anywhere else. If another text that certainly belongs to the same zone of influence can be identified as an Egyptian one, could this help us to read John (in a certain stage of composition) as an early Alexandrian work?

Suggested readings:

Bell, I and Skeat, T.C. 1935. Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and other Early Christian Papyri. Oxford: OUP

Dodd, C., 1935. a New Gospel: an elaboration of the lectures delivered in the John Rylands Library on the 13th of November, 1935

Mayeda, G. 1946. Das Leben-Jesu-Fragment Papyrus Egerton 2 und seine Stellung in der urchristlichen Literaturgeschichte, Bern : P. Haupt

Koester, H., Ancient Gospels, London: SCM Press

[1] Of course we were dealing with the unsettled question of that unknown Gospel’s relationship with the canonical ones. All the opinions have been offered in scholarship already. The publication of Bell and Skeat’s analysis opened the door for the increasing interest in the text since the manuscript was dated as early as the middle of the second century while the question of its knowledge of the canonical Gospels was open. Charles Dodd followed it with a thorough study which also showed how it is difficult to prove the author’s knowledge of the Gospel of John while peculiar Lukan language can be detected.

The first thorough study of that question was Goro Mayeda’s dissertation[1] under Bultmann in 1946 which concluded that Egerton2 is unlikely to be dependent on the Synoptics or John which can be seen in its unique miracle stories and the primitive character of the materials it has in common with the canonical Gospels. A considerable number of scholars were against this conclusion, and the most famous case is Joachim Jeremias. Another example is Jon Daniels’ unpublished dissertation at Claremont University (1990) that offered a thorough study of the text. Daniels’ conclusion was a strong boost to the view that Egerton2 cannot be dependent on the Gospels.

Helmut Koester championed this view and elaborated further on it to show that Egerton2 accessed the same Johannine traditions but in a primitive form that was later redacted and interpolated in the Gospel of John that we know now. Between the contrasting views of Jeremias and Koester there is a huge spectrum of views introduced by many scholars. Modern treatment of the question, unfortunately, suffers theological investments as well as presumptions that I refuse. The idea of comparing two texts without dealing with their stratification and compositional history (as much as possible) is a chronic problem that I keep finding in similar cases like the recent attempts to prove the GThomas’ reliance on the canonical Gospels in the forms we know today without digging into their structure, harmonisation and development.

Here’s my opinion briefly: we give up on the presumption that the “canonical” Gospels have always been in the shape we know.  If we admit the freedom in transmitting the teachings of Jesus in different forms found in the Gospels and the Apostolic Fathers and if we take redaction criticism seriously (not just picking different words between the parallel texts) it will be easier for us to see how Egerton2 probably preserves traditions in a primitive form common with their developed forms, particularly in the Gospel of John. Koester’s tables succinctly show us how the Johannine parallels are more developed towards his theological aims. (Ancient Gospels p.208-12). The peculiar Lucan words cannot be a conclusive evidence on Egerton’s knowledge of the Gospel in the form we know, taking into consideration how these words are found in the text. The fact that peculiar words here and there exist could prove the opposite as well, which is how Egerton drew his traditions from a common pool in which the synoptic traditions coexisted along with the primitive traditions used later by John. All the scenarios are open, but to maintain that Egerton’s forms of the narrative are based on John or the Synoptic is a way less economic solution.


[2] Bar. IX:8

[3] Stomata VI:11

[4] Charles Dodd thinks that Jesus simply sprinkled water if we do not take the term literally.

[5] The best and most recent study that recapitulates these observations is Peder Borgen’s The Gospel of John: More Light from Philo, Paul and Archaeology

[6] this is part of my research

Posted October 25, 2014 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

Charlesworth (ed.) “Jesus and Temple” pt.2   2 comments



Charlesworth’s (ed.) Jesus and Temple: Review (2)

Previously, I surveyed the first half of James Charlesworth’s (ed.) recently published book Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archaeological Explorations. Today I would like to continue my survey through the second part of the book.

It is not said that the book is divided into two halves but the reader can see the difference between them easily. While the first half focuses on the OT and ends with Aviam’s interesting essay on the recent archaeological findings in the Capernaum synagogue in Galilee, the second half focuses on Christianity with foAur brilliant essays. The first two are written by Charlesworth and they explore Jesus’ and his followers’ attitudes toward the Temple respectively.

He starts his first chapter by surveying major opinions on the topic, including Walter Bauer’s opinion, which represents the German scholarship of his age perfectly. In his “Jesus der Galiläer” Bauer emphasised the Galilian more than the Judaean influence on Jesus. Jesus’ views were drawn from the prophetic tradition, with no interest in the law or cult … the Temple is not a place of worship but a “battleground.” Then Charlesworth moves to John D. Crossan who also views Jesus as the Temple’s “functional enemy.” He then moves to E. P. Sanders’ view that Jesus expected or even threatened the destruction of the Temple by the coming of the impending eschaton. Finally he mentions Nicholas Perrin’s view, expressed in his 2011 publication Jesus  the Temple, that Jesus belongs to a tradition of counter-Temple attitude expressed in several movements, including the Odes of Solomon, Qumran and John the Baptist who is inherited by Jesus.

Charlesworth rejects these views considering that they do not do justice to the Jewish reality of Jesus. In the case of Perrin in particular, he refuses Perrin’s attempt to put all these counter-temple traditions on a single trajectory, and I agree with Charlesworth on this point.

In his rejection of these earlier views, Charlesworth endeavoured to show how Jesus was attached to the Temple throughout his life. This appears, according to him, in the “possible” historical nucleus in the stories about Jesus’ visit to the Temple in his youth (Luke 2), which he suggests possibly reflects a tradition about his Bar mitzvah, his several visits to Jerusalem according to John and having the Temple as the centre for his teachings during his ministry in Judaea:[1]

and in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet. 38 Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.” (Lk 21:37-8)

” So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church[h] daily those who were being saved. ” (Acts 2:45)

Charlesworth also refuses to interpret Jesus’ Temple cleansing as an act against the Temple. Actually it was an act of zeal for the purity of the House of God. I agree with him about this point. I find it to be over interpreted when put in an anti-Temple mentality. However, presuming that the materials about Jesus’ actions in the Temple (teaching, debating and acting) report Jesus’ acts accurately, are they enough for us to determine his attitude? Certainly not and here Charlesworth’s approach starts to face some difficulties.

It is Jesus’ eschatological view of his situation that changes his perspective from the others. His criticism of the corruption of the priests, which Charlesworth approves, cannot be seen as a purely moral issue. It has its eschatological background in which teachings like the Lord’s prayer and his sermon on the Mount that include matters like loving your enemy or giving up on debts make sense. It is this eschatological domain in which Jesus “hijacked” Temple roles like forgiving sins, healing or teaching on purification.[2] Charlesworth does not touch upon that contextual problem. This is the functional opposition of the Temple. The question that should be asked first: in which domain was Jesus operating? Realised eschatology or normal life?

Charlesworth focuses on the materials in which the Temple is directly mentioned. Even this cannot reflect a single positive view of the Temple. For example he considers the parable of the wicked tenants[3] to be imposing a problem with open scenarios… the scenario that he introduced, with seeming approval, is that Jesus might have changed his attitude after the negative reaction he received in the Temple which followed his heroic entrance to Jerusalem.

To support his hypothesis about Jesus’ pro-Temple attitude, he endeavoured to show that  the first Christian generations held a positive view of the Temple as well. He carefully picked up the views that support his thesis in each text in the NT such as Catchpole’s view (Vis-à-vis Kloppenborg’s) on Q et al. Radical views against the Temple such as Stephen’s were toned down to target the corruption or rejection of the Messiah. Paul’s rhetoric about the Temple-as-community were seen to co-exist with the positive view of the Temple of Jerusalem.

In the two essays professor Charlesworth attempted to solve the difficult problem of identifying the attitude of Jesus towards the Temple by reconciling the several traditions about him and his followers in order to give one impression that Jesus was in favour of the Temple of Jerusalem. But is there a unified attitude coming from Jesus? and can we really consider that the views of the Hellenists and the Hebrews, and other diaspora texts, are reconcilable?

My thesis is on this topic and one of the challenges that I find when I  read these studies is when the author moves on in his study without defining what it is meant by a “positive” or “negative” attitude towards the Temple and from which perspective it is so.

While Charlesworth’s emphasis on Jesus’ strong Jewish interest in the Temple is justifiable, harmonising all the traditions in order to provide a single view is certainly impossible. He rejects Perrin’s method of putting all the alleged counter-temple movements on one trajectory while he tries to do the same on a wider scale.

The book provides a challenging and thorough collection of essays and I think it is a very important contribution to one of the most difficult questions regarding Jesus and the most important symbol for Judaism.

Its collection of essays give fresh insights from different disciplines and I think it is a must-read for students and researchers of the NT.

[1] Cf. Mt 21:23; 26:55; Mk 12:35, 19:47; Jn 7:14 et al.

[2] Mk 2:3 par.

[3] Mk 21:1f.//Mt 21:33//Lk 20:9// Th.65

Posted October 11, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews

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