Digitally Reuniting Fragments of an Ancient Gospels Manuscript

Guest post by Stratton L. Ladewig

In November, New Testament Papyri đť”“45, đť”“46, đť”“47: Facsimiles (NTP) will be released—a collaboration between Hendrickson and CSNTM. This publication is the culmination of a project started in 2013 when CSNTM digitized the collection at the Chester Beatty (formerly known as the Chester Beatty Library). The following year, the portion of P46 that is housed at the University of Michigan was digitized. There will be two facsimile volumes: one with papyrus images against a black background and the other with a white background. We are excited about the developments in these manuscripts’ presentation. Four advancements in P45’s textual history are presented in NTP and are highlighted here: (1) digital reunification of the multiple fragments with their larger papyrus leaves, (2) the in-print release of a new plate containing twelve fragments, (3) the identification of a previously unknown leaf, and (4) a fuller presentation of folio 8.

The development of technology facilitated the opportunity to reassemble the fragmentary pieces of P45’s papyrus. Almost every leaf of the manuscript could rightfully be considered a fragment. Of its 30 known leaves, most are “mutilated”—to quote Frederic G. Kenyon (General Introduction, p. 6). However, several smaller pieces have been discovered since the manuscript was initially placed in glass, and it is these fragments that are addressed here. These smaller fragments are found in separate plates of glass from the larger portions to which they belong. In NTP, these later discoveries are reunited digitally and presented as they once were. The result is that a fuller testimony is recorded. At times, letters were split in half, each being found on separate portions of the papyrus in multiple plates of glass. It is stunning to see these fragments united in a full color, high resolution reproduction.

(Image caption: Left: a portion of P45 folio 16, Middle:
a portion of fragment #4; Right: a portion of fragment #5)

The second advancement in the presentation of P45 is the release of twelve fragments that are in print for the first time. These fragments are located in a single plate at the Chester Beatty. This release supplements the knowledge base of this witness to the NT. The contents of six of the fragments have been identified. As such, in the facsimiles, these are placed with their respective leaves—as mentioned above—giving a more complete record of the manuscript’s contents. On occasion, two fragments were found to belong to the same leaf. It is thrilling to realize that research on P45, as vast as the literature has been in the past 86 years, still has room for discovery.

Third, two of the fragments, which were identified by T. C. Skeat and B. C. McGing in 1991, belong to the same P45 leaf. These two are currently found in the same plate, but they are mixed with other fragments from a manuscript of Numbers and Deuteronomy, not P45. Nevertheless, because they originally came from a single papyrus leaf, they were arranged as such in the facsimiles. Their alignment relative to one another is tentative, but the text contained on them makes it clear that they form a new leaf that comes between folio 15 and folio 16. Although this is not a new discovery, the placement of these fragments together gives the reader a glimpse of the text that has not been available for hundreds of years.

Finally, the fragments of folio 8 were assembled into a composite P45 leaf. This leaf is composed of five fragments with a complex history. The fragments were inconsistently presented in Kenyon’s initial publication of the manuscript. At first, none of the five fragments were known to belong to P45, leaving some additional fragments of this leaf to be discovered after his transcription volume was typeset. However, not all the fragments made it into his facsimile volume or his transcription volume. NTP unites the portions of folio 8 into a composite presentation.

NTP highlights the work of the Center in capturing images of P45, P46, and P47. Yet, the presentation in the facsimiles brings four advancements in P45’s textual history. Together, they bring together rich images and reunification of fragments to give the reader a greater understanding of this manuscript’s witness to the wording of the NT.