In December 1905 an archaeological dig at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt uncovered a
small fragment of a non-canonical story of Jesus which recorded a conversation
between Jesus and his disciples and a confrontation with a Pharisaic chief priest in
the temple. The initial discovery of this fragment, designated P.Oxy. 840, sparked a
debate concerning the date of the fragment, the origins of the story contained
therein, and the historicity of its references to first-century Judaism. After nearly
100 years, the fragment has received no substantial scholarly investment, leaving
many of these questions unresolved, and leaving many other important issues
unexplored. Thus, this study will offer the first full-scale evaluation of this text—
from palaeographical, historical, and exegetical perspectives—in hopes of
discovering its rightful place in the scope of early gospel traditions.
Chapter one examines the codicology and palaeography of P.Oxy. 840, with
special attention to its date, punctuation, scribal features, and possible function
within early Christian communities. It is determined that P.Oxy. 840 is best
understood as a miniature codex, not an amulet, and is plausibly dated 300-350 A.D.
Chapter two offers a new reconstruction of the Greek text, along with a new
English translation. In addition, there is a running commentary on the Greek text
explaining key reconstructive choices, exegetical decisions, and interpretive
Chapter three provides a thorough re-examination of the historical problems
that have plagued P.Oxy. 840 since its initial discovery. Such problems include the
combination of Pharisee and chief priest, the viewing of the holy vessels in the
tabernacle, bathing in a pool filled with dogs and pigs, and changing into white
garments before entering the temple. Upon closer examination—particularly in light
of new archaeological discoveries in the last century—it seems that P.Oxy. 840 has
substantial and accurate knowledge of first-century temple practices.
Chapter four explores the relationship between P.Oxy. 840 and the canonical
gospels. Prior scholarship has only scratched the surface of this issue, with various
suggestions here and there amounting to no more than a few paragraphs. A detailed
textual comparison shows the author ofP.Oxy. 840 demonstrates awareness of (and
is influenced by) five canonical passages: Luke 11:37-52; Matt 23:1-39; John 7:1-
52; John 13:10; and Mark 7:1-23.
hn 13:10; and Mark 7:1-23.
Chapter five attempts to reconstruct the probable community and religious
milieu that would have given rise to P.Oxy. 840. The theological interests and
polemical thrust of our fragment suggest that it arose from within Jewish-Christian
circles engaged in dispute over ritual purity practices. One possibility is that P.Oxy.
840 arose from within the Jewish-Christian sect called the Nazarenes. Such a
scenario would plausibly place the production of P.Oxy. 840 in Syria between 125
and 150 A.D.