Re: New Date on P64 Manuscript

Michael Holmes (
Wed, 8 May 1996 10:02:16 -0500 (CDT)

At 11:33 PM 5/7/96 EDT, Wes C. Williams asked of both the b-greek and nt-mss
>Papyrologist expert Thiede recently decribed the P64 fragments as " a Christian
>codex fragment of the first century, perhaps (though not necessarily) predating
>AD 70." Of course, this is news since it it would be persuasive (albeit not
>conclusive) evidence to skeptics that at least one gospel writer was an
>eyewitness of Jesus.
>Where does one go to view a copy of the manuscript itself? And its
>Is there an internet site? How can I obtain further information?

Stephen Carlson and Nichael Cramer have already made helpful replies via the
b-greek list. Perhaps the following will supplement their comments.

Nichael mentioned the book by Graham Stanton; it is _Gospel Truth? New Light
on Jesus & the Gospels_ (Trinity Press International, 1995). The back of the
dust jacket presents excellent color photographs of the three fragments of
P64, with English translations.

Thiede's article first appeared in ZPE 105 (1995) 13-20, reprinted in
Tyndale Bulletin 46 (1995) 29-42 and in Thiede, _Rekindling the Word: In
Search of Gospel Truth_ (Trinity Press International/Gracewing/Dwyer, 1995)
20-32. Stanton's book is a reasoned and careful response to this last item
of Thiede's, a collection of essays on a range of subjects, including his
claims of NT MSS at Qumran.

Stanton's book (p. 195, notes 10-15) lists several reactions or forthcoming
responses to Thiede's original ZPE article, which received wide publicity
due to attention given it by the Times of London around Christmas, 1994. A
brief but devastating overview is offered by David C. Parker in Expository
Times 107 (1995) 40-43, esp. 42-43.

One of the examples Thiede appeals to is the Minor Prophets scroll from
Nahal Hever (=_DJD_ 8); a useful photo of this is also in E. Tov, _Textual
Criticism of the Hebrew Bible_ (Fortress, 1992), plate 21/page 401, which
may be more accessible to some of us than the DJD volume. Compare Tov's
photo with the photos of P64 on the dust jacket of Stanton's book and draw
your own conclusions as to the alleged similarity of the two documents.

BTW, the claims actually made by Thiede in his article are considerably more
modest than the claims trumpeted on the dust jacket of Rekindling the Word.
I suspect that the same is true for the announced and widely advertised--as
in the NY Times Review of Books around Easter--volume (which I have not yet
seen) by Thiede and M. d'Ancona, _Eyewitness to Jesus: Amazing New
Manuscript Evidence_ (Doubleday, 1996); Thiede, or someone associated with
him, has a knack for publicity, which apparently is less restrained (or, if
one would prefer, more enthusiastic) than what he says in his articles.

Finally, in view of the widespread publicity that Thiede is getting, esp.
for claims regarding early date and eyewitnesses, etc., perhaps it would not
be out of line to return to Wes's comment that:

>Of course, this is news since it it would be persuasive (albeit not
conclusive) >evidence to skeptics that at least one gospel writer was an
eyewitness of Jesus.

This point is dealt with nicely by both Stanton (at some length) and Parker
(p. 41). In general, that a document was written very close in time to the
events it claims to describe does *not* provide evidence that it was written
by an eyewitness. (At most it opens up the possibility of such, but does
not, in and of itself, offer any evidence regarding the question of whether
the writer was an eyewitness. That many articles were written about the
Kennedy assassination within hours of the event does not offer "persuasive
evidence" that the writers were eyewitnesses of the event.) I mention this
primarily because of Thiede's tendency to draw "historical" conclusions that
greatly overstep the limits of his "data" (leaving aside for the moment the
question of the value of his "data"). E.g., in _Rekindling the Word_ (pp.
xi-xii), he claims, regarding John 5:2-3, that "Since the author ... makes
it unmistakably clear that the pool still existed ... at the time of
writing, it follows logically and conclusively that this text was written
before AD 70." It proves no such thing; see, e.g. (a deliberately chosen
example of one who definitely is *not* a "sceptic," and who definitely is a
scholar and historian), D. A. Carson (_The Gospel according to John_
[Eerdmans, 1991] 241). This kind of faulty historical reasoning and logic
runs throughout Thiede's book, and is the basis for some of the more
egregious claims that are receiving wide publicity.

Mike Holmes
Bethel College, St. Paul, MN