Nash Papyrus

This single-leaf papyrus containing the entire Decalogue (part from Exod. 20:2-17, part from Deut. 5:6- 21) and the Jewish confessional statement known as the Shema' (Deut. 6:4,5) was published by Stanley A. Cook in 1903. An early report on the find which was purchased by W.L. Nash from an Egyptian dealer was given in Revue biblique 1 (n.s.) 1904, pp. 242-50, which contains also an untouched photocopy of the manuscript. A convenient summary of the evidence, including a translation into English, is given by R.H. Charles, The Decalogue (1923).

From its extant form it is clear that it did not come from a roll of the Pentateuch, but was written on a separate sheet and used probably for liturgical or teaching purposes. The ancestor of the leaf is clearly a synagogue scroll from which it was copied. It is therefore a valuable witness to the ancient text of Scripture and was hailed in the day of its publication as “the oldest Hebrew biblical papyrus,” a description which has now been antiquated by the discovery of the Qumran manuscripts.

Arguments which maintain that it reflects a knowledge of the Deuteronomic Decalogue (in Codex Vaticanus) and that its origin is to be placed, on epigraphical grounds, in the second half of the second century b.c. (c.165-137) are offered by W.F. Albright. R.H. Charles and F.C. Burkitt incline to a first-century a.d. dating, while S.A. Cook argued for a second-century a.d. date.

NASH PAPYRUS năsh pə pī’ rəs. The Nash Papyrus is an early fragment of the Heb. OT and contains Exodus 20:2-17 (or Deut 5:6-21) and the Shema (6:4, 5). It is somewhat damaged and apparently is not a fragment of a Bible scroll but rather the fragment of a collection of texts for liturgical, or educational purposes.

The papyrus was dated in the 2nd or 1st cent. a.d. by those who first examined it, but others would date it earlier, possibly in the pre-Christian era. Albright, on the basis of palaeographical indications, dated it from the Maccabean period (165-137 b.c.), and Kahle dated it before the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70. Before the discovery of the DSS, the Nash Papyrus was the oldest Heb. MS of the OT text. It was purchased from a native by W. L. Nash and first published in 1903 by S. A. Cooke. It consists of a single sheet, not from a scroll, of unknown origin.

The sixth and seventh commandments appear in reverse order, and the Shema is introduced by a phrase not in the traditional MT but found in the LXX.


W. F. Albright, “A Biblical Fragment from the Maccabean Age: The Nash Papyrus,” JBL, 56 (1937), 145-176; W. F. Albright, “On the Date of the Scrolls from ’Ain Feshka and the Nash Papyrus,” BASOR, 115 (1949), 10-19.