On the Latest Identification of New Testament Documents -- By: David M. Estrada

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 34:2 (May 1972)
Article: On the Latest Identification of New Testament Documents
Author: David M. Estrada


On the Latest Identification of New Testament Documents

David M. Estrada

[Editor’s Note: This article was written in the latter part of March, 1972.]

In the last two weeks newspapers, periodicals, and other means of communication have announced to the world the identification of what are supposed to be the oldest documents of the New Testament thus far discovered. Although the finding was first made known in Rome, soon general attention switched to Barcelona, where Father José O’Callaghan, the Jesuit scholar who deciphered the texts, was. This happy coincidence of vicinity allowed me to establish immediate contact with this great papyrologist, professor of Greek Papyrology and Paleography at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome and at the Theological Seminary of San Cugat, Barcelona. Father O’Callaghan, in spite of his Irish name, is Spanish-Catalan by birth;1 thus our conversation was carried on in Catalan, the language of Ramon Llull.

The information for this article was taken from Biblica,2 the periodical which contains Father O’Callaghan’s first article on the findings (kindly lent to me by Father O’Callaghan himself); from a lecture he gave in Barcelona (March 17th); and from personal conversations with him.

Father O’Callaghan introduces the results of his investigations in the following terms:

Biblical science owes not a little to the discoveries of Qumran; and perhaps today it has acquired a new debt, for it seems that the famous manuscripts allow a closer approximation to the New Testament text. We refer to the Greek papyri found in cave 7, explored in 1955 and whose results were made known in 1962.3

Cave 7, which until now has received little attention, “occupies a unique position” among the Qumran caves, since in it only Greek documents have been discovered.4 In caves 2, 3, 5, and 8, for example, no Greek documents were found, while in the others the number is scarce. Of the 19 fragments found in 7Q, only two had been deciphered and identified: 7Q1 = Exodus 28:4–7, and 7Q2 = Epistle of Jeremiah 43b–44. Both papyri are written in the ornamented calligraphy which Schubart calls “Zierstil”; the writing is continuous, that is, without spaces, and C. H. Roberts dates them (and also 7Q3 and 7Q4) as being from 100 B.C.

Of the other fragments Father O’Callaghan has been able to identify nine. ...

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