Codex, Roll, And Libraries In Oxyrhynchus -- By: Don C. Barker

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 57:1 (NA 2006)
Article: Codex, Roll, And Libraries In Oxyrhynchus
Author: Don C. Barker

Codex, Roll, And Libraries In Oxyrhynchus1

Don C. Barker


The fragmented discards of a library from the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in middle Egypt provide us with an excellent ‘sample’ to conduct a comparative analysis with the contemporary Christian books from the same city. Both the secular and the Christian books in general share common features except for their construction: the library books are rolls whereas the Christian books are in the codex format. What led the Christians to choose this ‘new technology’? Could it be that the driving reason was the protection of the contents against tampering?

1. Introduction

The ancient city of Oxyrhynchus is situated some 300 kilometres south of Alexandria. In the Roman period it was the administrative centre for the Oxyrhynchite Nome.2 From the large number of literary papyri finds and the iconography it appears that Oxyrhynchus in the Greco-Roman period was a thoroughly Hellenised city.3 In later antiquity it

was famous for its many churches and monasteries.4 From mainly sixth and seventh century documentary evidence it has been estimated that there could have been about forty-three churches situated in Oxyrhynchus.5 The estimates for the population of the city vary from about 12,000 to 25,000.6

Grenfell and Hunt came to the site of ancient Oxyrhynchus to search for papyri in 1897. In their excavation report of 1906 they mention that they unearthed the discards of two libraries.7 P. W. Comfort maintains that we can ascertain from the information Grenfell and Hunt provided in this excavation report and in the forewords to volumes 5– 13 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri that New Testament books were found with classical books in the discards of these two libraries. Comfort makes the claim, without going into detail as to how he arrived at his conclusion, that P15/16 (P.Oxy. 1008/1009), P28 (P.Oxy. 1596), P29 (P.Oxy. 1597), and P30 (P.Oxy. 1598), came from the first library and that P17 (P.Oxy. 1078), P<...

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