Re: papyrus find in the Western Desert in Egypt

From: Carl William Conrad (
Date: Mon Feb 02 1998 - 08:33:08 EST

On Mon, 2 Feb 1998, Brian E. Wilson wrote:

> Tom Simms wrote:
> Heard a news item this hour on Papyrus find in the Western Desert
> circa 4th C CE. Any more details?
> >The following "Ceefax" bulletin is on our UK national TV news service -
> >
> >Canadian archaeologists have unearthed some 2,000 papyrus scrolls that
> >date to the era when ancient Rome AND ANCIENT GREECE ruled Egypt.
> >
> >These scrolls, unearthed in Egypt's western Desert, are in good shape
> >and date to the 4th century or earlier. Some are religious documents;
> >others are marriage or business contracts.
> >
> >One archaeologist said it was the most important find in decades of
> >papyri belonging to the Roman and Greek periods.
> As I understand it, the ancient Greeks ruled Egypt before the ancient
> Romans. Also, codices, rather than scrolls, were in use by the 4th
> century CE. It seems to me, therefore, that "4th century or earlier"
> means 4th century BEFORE CE or earlier - over 2,300 years ago.
> It would be fascinating if old copies of parts of the LXX, or even the
> whole of it, are part of this find. We can but hope.

I think that sort of speculation is a bit immature before we know more
about what has been found. While the codex was certainly in use by the 4th
century CE, my understanding is that there are plenty of papyri from that
late a date still from other places, such as Oxyrhyncus, where papyri have
been found. Moreover, I doubt if the find would be described as dating
from "Roman and Greek periods" INCLUSIVELY unless there were at least some
documents among what's been found that do in fact date from a Roman
period. I think it's a bit early to be celebrating the find of 3rd c.
B.C.E. papyri at this site. Wonderful if that turns out to be the case,
but there's reason, I'd think, to be cautious.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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