I didn’t know much about the earliest sources for the New Testament, and so I went to find out. Here are a quick ten:

1. Rylands Library Papyrus I: P52 (117-138AD)

This is the earliest fragment from the New Testament. It is named P52, and dates back to 117-138 AD. It contains parts of John 18:31-33 and John 18:37-38 on the back, which talk about Jesus trial.

2. A few verses of Philemon: P87 (125 AD)

P87 is dated by at around 125AD. It contains Philemon 13-15 (of Paul saying that he is sending back the former slave Onesimus as a brother) as well as the epilogue (v24-25).

Papyrus 87, recto

3. Oxyrhynchus papyrus 2683: P77 (150 AD)

This papyrus is named P77 and contains Matthew 23:30-39.

4. Chester Beatty Papyrus I: P45 (150 AD)

This manuscript, known as P45, contains sections of all four gospels and also Acts. including Matthew 20-21 and 25-26; Mark 4-9 and 11-12; Luke 6-7 and 9-14; John 4-5 and 10-11; and Acts 4-17.

You might be wondering why a papyrus is named ‘Chester Beatty’. Apparently these were purchased from a dealer in Egypt by Chester Beatty in the 1930’s. There’s three of these papyri: P45, P46 (below) and P47 (containing Revelations 9-17) .

5. Chester Beatty Papyrus II: P46 (150 AD)

This manuscript, P46, contains most Paul’s letters: the majority of Romans; Hebrews; 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians; and two chapters of 1 Thessalonians. Although usually dated around 150-200 AD, it is written in a handwriting which has only ever been found in first century manuscripts, and so some people (eg. Young Kyu Kim) suggest it could be much earlier.

A folio from P46 containing 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9


6. The Magdalen papyrus: P4/P64/P67 (175 AD)

These papyri apparently go together, and contain portions of Matthew and Luke. Their name, ‘Magdalen’ is from an Oxford college that they originally lived, even though they were discovered in Luxor, Egypt. Apparently P4 was found stuffed in the binding of a codex of Philo.

7. Bodmer Papyrus II: P66 (175 AD)

P66 contains a nearly complete gospel of John. It is the oldest of the Bodmer papyri, a set of 22 papyri which were discovered in Egypt in 1952. Buying New Testament papyri seems a good way to become famous, because they are named after Martin Bodmer who originally purchased them.



8. Bodmer XIV and XV: P75 (200 AD)

This early third century manuscript contains almost all of Luke, and also of John. You can find almost 100 images of it online.

9. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2: P1 (200 AD)

P1, fittingly contains Matthew 1. This is one of many parchments which have been found in the rubbish dumps of Oxyrhychus, Egypt. Their discovery began in 1898, uncovering not only early Christian text, but all sorts of ancient literature. Now there are over 50 New Testament manuscripts from this site.

10. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 4446: P104 (125-150 AD)

And last but not least, P104, was another Oxyrhynchus piece of rubbish, which is now one of the more valuable pieces of rubbish in the world, because contains part of Jesus parable in Matthew 21.

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Massacre at Najran

December 15, 2009

In the year 523, Christianity was not only expanding West into Europe, but also East to Rome’s nemesis Persia and eventually even to China. This was before the rise of Islam. In Arabia Christianity reached present day Yemen, where the Jewish convert and king Dhu Nuwas ruled.

Many of the people living in the town of Najran had become Monophysite Christians around the year 500. Conflict between the Jewish and Christian groups started and quickly intensified: Extortionate taxation was imposed by the Jewish authorities, Christians responded by burning synagogues and Jews burnt churches. The Christian minority even appealed to Christian Aksumite empire for help, who ruled just across the strait in Ethiopia. Despite their successful appeal to their African neighbours the Christians of Najran suffered a series of bloody atrocities.

When Dhu Nuwas invaded the Najran, he demanded the people abandon Christianity. They refused. It is said that the resulting massacre lasted for days. Pits were dug, filled with flammable material, and Christians were thrown into the flames.

The Book of Himyarites reports that one Najran man met the conquering army on the road. When they asked him “Are you a Christian?”, he replied “Yes”. For this offence they cut off his right hand, before asking him again, “Are you a Christian?” Again he replied “Yes” and so they cut off his left hand. “Now, are you still a Christian?” they asked. He replied “Yes, in life and death I am a Christian”. They cut off his feet and left him to die, still a Christian.

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