PAPYRUS (pa-pī'rŭs, Gr. papyros). A plantlike reed or rush that grows in swamps and along rivers or lakes, often to the height of twelve feet (almost four m.) with beautiful flowers at the top. The stalk is triangular in shape, something like a giant celery stalk. In ancient times it was found mainly along the Nile in Egypt but was also known in Palestine. For commercial use the stalk was cut into sections about one foot (one-third m.) long, and these pieces were then sliced lengthwise into thin strips, which were shaped and squared and laid edge to edge to form a larger piece. Other strips were laid horizontally over these strips and both were pressed together, dried in the sun, scraped, and rubbed until there emerged a smooth yellowish sheet much like our heavy wrapping paper, only thicker and heavier. The juice of the pith served as the glue, but sometimes other paste was added.
Papyrus, however, becomes brittle with age and easily decays, especially when damp. This is why the autographs of the NT writings have perished. They may also have been literally read to pieces and during persecution were deliberately destroyed. But thousands of ancient papyri have been found in the dry sands of Egypt and elsewhere. Our libraries contain large collections of both biblical and secular papyri—Bible texts, legal documents, marriage contracts, letters, etc. Many of the NT papyri antedate all other codices. Examples are the Rylands Papyrus, the famous, and the more recent Bodmer Papyrus of the . They have added much to our knowledge of the Greek language and the text of the NT.——LMP
PAPYRUS. The cyperus papyrus is a sedge, which still grows plentifully in the Sudan. In ancient times, as abundant evidence shows, it grew throughout all the Nile valley, the Delta, and, according to Pliny (Nat. Hist. XIII. 68-83), in Syria also. Pliny, in the passage cited, describes the plant and its manifold uses. It grows, he wrote,
in the swamps of Egypt or else in the sluggish waters of the Nile where they have overflowed and lie stagnant in pools not more than about three feet in depth; it has a sloping root as thick as a man’s arm, and tapers gracefully up with triangular sides to a length of not more than about fifteen feet, ending in a head like a thyrsus; it has no seed, and is of no use except that the flowers are made into wreaths for statues of the gods. The roots are employed by the natives for timber, and not only to serve as firewood but also for making various utensils and vessels; indeed the papyrus itself is plaited to make boats, and the inner bark is woven into sailcloth and matting, and also cloth, as well as blankets and ropes. It is also used as chewing gum, both in the raw state and when boiled, though only the juice is swallowed.
It is a graceful plant, and may be seen in pictures of Egyp. goddesses, held in the hand as a symbol of divinity. The clustered buds gave the architect a decorative motif.
The papyrus, as Pliny said, had manifold uses. Bound in long bundles it provided handy rafts or canoes for bird hunting in the fens of the Delta. Above all, its tough stems gave mankind its first writing material which transformed lit.
Pliny describes the process. He writes:
The process of making paper from papyrus is to split it with a knife into very thin strips made as broad as possible the best quality being in the center of the plant and so on in the order of its splitting up. The first quality used to be called “hieratic paper” and was in early times devoted solely to books connected with religion, but in a spirit of flattery it was given the name of Augustus just as the second best was called “Livia paper” after his consort, and thus the name “hieratic” came down to the third class. The next quality had been given the name of “amphitheatre paper,” from the place of its manufacture. This paper was taken over by the clever workshop of Fannius at Rome, and its texture was made finer by a careful process of insertion, so that it was changed from common paper into one of first-class quality, and received the name of the maker; but the paper of this kind that did not have this additional treatment remained in its own class as amphitheatre paper. Next to this is the Saitic paper named from the town where it is produced in the greatest abundance, being made from shavings of inferior quality, and the Taeneotic, from a neighbouring place, made from material still nearer the outside skin, in the case of which we reach a variety that is sold by mere weight and not for its quality. As for what is called “emporitic” paper, it is no good for writing but serves to provide covers for documents and wrappers for merchandise, and consequently takes its name from the Greek word for a merchant. After this comes the actual papyrus, and its outermost layer, which resembles a rush and is of no use even for making ropes, except those used in water.
Paper of all kinds is “woven” on a board moistened with water from the Nile, muddy liquid supplying the effect of glue. First an upright layer is smeared on to the table, using the full length of papyrus available after the trimmings have been cut off at both ends, and afterwards cross strips complete the latticework. The next step is to press it in presses, and the sheets are dried in the sun and then joined together, the next strip used always diminishing in quality down to the worst of all. There are never more than twenty sheets to a roll.
Smoothed by pumice and hammered hard, the papyrus provided a writing material that was almost indestructible if kept dry. It never rains S of Cairo. On these two facts the whole science of papyrology rests.
C. K. Barrett, TheBackground: Selected Documents (n.d.), 22-27.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(Cyperus papyrus; bublos, biblos, whence biblion, a roll, ta biblia, "the Books" = the Bible):
1. Papyrus Paper
2. Egyptian Papyri
3. Aramaic Papyri
4. Greek Papyri
5. Their Discovery.
6. Classical Papyri
7. Septuagint Papyri
9. Theological Papyri
10. Documentary Papyri
11. Contribution to New Testament Study
12. Chief Collections
13. Coptic, Arabic and Other Papyri
A marsh or water plant, abundant in Egypt in ancient times, serving many purposes in antiquity. The papyrus tuft was the emblem of the Northern Kingdom in Egypt. Like the lotus, it suggested one of the favorite capitals of Egyptian architecture. Ropes, sandals, and mats were made from its fibers (see Odyssey xxi.391; Herod. ii.37, 69), and bundles of the long, light stalks were bound together into light boats (
1. Papyrus Paper:
Most importantly, from it was made the tough and inexpensive paper which was used from very ancient times in Egypt and which became the common writing-material of the ancient world. The white cellular pith of the long triangular papyrus stalk was stripped of its bark or rind and sliced into thin strips. Two layers of these strips were laid at right angles to each other, pasted together (Pliny says with the aid of Nile water), dried and smoothed. The sheets thus formed were pasted one to another to form a roll of any length desired. The process and the product are described by Pliny the EIder (NH,.xiii.11-13).
2. Egyptian Papyri:
Egyptian papyrus rolls are in existence dating from the 27th century BC, and no doubt the manufacture of papyrus had been practiced for centuries before.rolls were sometimes of great length and were often beautifully decorated with colored vignettes (Book of the Dead). Egyptian documents of great historical value have been preserved on these fragile rolls. The Papyrus Ebers of the 16th century BC sums up the medical lore of the Egyptians of the time of Amenhotep I. The Papyrus Harris, 133 ft. long, in 117 columns, dates from the middle of the 12th century BC and records the benefactions and achievements of Ramses III. For the XIXth, XXth and XXIst dynasties, indeed, papyri are relatively numerous, and their contribution important for Egyptian history, life and religion. By the year 1000 BC, papyrus had doubtless come to be used for writing far beyond the limits of Egypt. The Wenamon Papyrus (11th century) relates that 500 rolls of papyrus were among the gifts sent from the Delta to the Prince of Biblus, but except in the rarest instances papyri have escaped destruction only in Upper Egypt, where climatic conditions especially favored their preservation.
3. Aramaic Papyri:
In very recent years (1898, 1904, 1907) several Aramaic papyri have been found on the Island of Elephantine, just below the First Cataract, dating from 494 to 400 BC. They show that between 470 and 408 BC a flourishing colony of Jews existed there, doing business under Persian sway, and worshipping their god Yahu, not in a synagogue, but in a temple, in which they offered meal offerings, incense and burnt offerings. In 408, the Egyptians had destroyed their temple at Yeb, and the Jews appealed for redress to the Persian governor. It is well known that some Jews had taken refuge in Egypt in 586 BC, taking the prophet Jeremiah with them, and with some such band of refugees the Yeb colony may have originated, although it may have been much older (compare
4. Greek Papyri:
With Alexander’s conquest of Egypt (332 BC), and the subsequent Ptolemaic dynasty, Greeks came more than ever before into Egypt, and from Greek centers like Alexandria and Arsinoe in the Faytum the Greek language began to spread. Through the Ptolemaic (323-30 BC), Roman (30 BC-292/93 AD), and Byzantine periods (292/93-640 AD), that is, from the death of Alexander to the Arab conquest, Greek was much used in Upper and Lower Egypt, and Greek papyri from these times are now abundant. The 300 Aphrodito Greek and Coptic papyri published by Bell and Crum (1910) date from 698-722 AD, and show how Greek persisted in the Arab period.
5. Their Discovery:
The first important discovery of Greek papyri made in modern times was among the ruins of Herculaneum, near Naples, where in 1752 in the ruins of the house of a philosopher which had been destroyed and buried by volcanic ashes from Vesuvius (79 AD) a whole library of papyrus rolls was found, quite charred by the heat. With the utmost pains many of these have been unrolled and deciphered, and the first part of them was published in 1793. They consist almost wholly of works of Epicurean philosophy. In 1778 the first discovery of Greek papyri in Egypt was made. In that year some Arabs found 40 or 50 papyrus rolls in an earthen pot, probably in the Faytum, where Philadelphus settled his Greek veterans. One was purchased by a dealer and found its way into the hands of Cardinal Stefano Borgia; the others were destroyed as of no worth. The Borgia Papyrus was published 10 years later. It was a document of little value, recording the forced labor of certain peasants upon the Nile embankment of a given year.
In 1820 another body of papyri was found by natives, buried, it was said, in an earthen pot, on the site of the Serapeum at Memphis, just above Cairo. These came for the most part from the 2nd century BC. They fell into various hands, and are now in the museums of London, Paris, Leyden, Rome and Dresden. With them the stream of papyri began to flow steadily into the British and Continental museums. In 1821 an Englishman, Mr. W.J. Bankes, bought an Elephantine roll of the xxivth book of the Iliad, the first Greek literary papyrus to be derived from Egypt. The efforts of Mr. Harris and others in 1847-1850 brought to England considerable parts of lost orations of Hyperides, new papyri of the 17th book of the Iliad, and parts of Iliad ii, iii, ix. In 1855 Mariette purchased a fragment of Alcman for the Louvre, and in 1856 Mr. Stobart obtained the funeral oration of Hyperides.
The present period of papyrus recovery dates from 1877, when an immense mass of Greek and other papyri, for the most part documentary, not literary, was found in the Fayum, on the site of the ancient Arsinoe. The bulk of this collection passed into the hands of Archduke Rainer at Vienna, minor portions of it being secured by the museums of Paris, London, Oxford and Berlin. These belong largely to the Byzantine period. Another great find was made in 1892 in the Faytum; most of these went to Berlin some few to the British Museum, Vienna and Geneva. These were mostly of the Roman period.
It will be seen that most of these discoveries were the work of natives, digging about indiscriminately in the hope of finding antiquities to sell to tourists or dealers. By this time, however, the Egypt Exploration Fund had begun its operations in Egypt, and Professor Flinders Petrie was at work there. Digging among Ptolemaic tombs at Gurob in 1889-90, Professor Petrie found many mummies, or mummy-casings, adorned with breast-pieces and sandals made of papyri pasted together. The separation of these was naturally a tedious and delicate task, and the papyri when extricated were often badly damaged or mutilated; but the Petrie papyri, as they were called, were hailed by scholars as the most important found up to that time, for they came for the most part from the 3rd century BC. Startling acquisitions were made about this time by representatives of the British Museum and the Louvre. The British Museum secured papyri of the lost work of Aristotle on the Constitution of Athens, the lost Mimes of Herodas, a fragment of an oration of Hyperides, and extensive literary papyri of works already extant; while the Louvre secured the larger part of the Oration against Athenogenes, the masterpiece of Hyperides. In 1894 Bernard P. Grenfell, of Oxford, appeared in Egypt, working with Professor Petrie in his excavations, and securing papyri with Mr. Hogarth for England. In that year Pettie and Grenfell obtained from native dealers papyrus rolls, one more than 40 ft. in length, preserving revenue laws of Ptolemy Philadelphus, dated in 259-258 BC. These were published in 1896 by Mr. Grenfell, the first of many important works in this field from his pen.
With Arthur S. Hunt, of Oxford, Mr. Grenfell excavated in 1896-1897, at Behnesa, the Roman Oxyrhynchus, and unearthed the greatest mass of Greek papyri of the Roman period thus far found. In 9 large quarto volumes, aggregating 3,000 pages, only a beginning has been made of publishing these Oxyrhynchus texts, which number thousands and are in many cases of great importance. The story of papyrus digging in Egypt since the great find of 1896-1897 is largely the record of the work of Grenfell and Hunt. At Tebtunis, in the Faytum; in 1900, they found a great mass of Ptolemaic papyri, comparable in importance with their great discovery at Oxyrhynchus. One of the most productive sources of papyri at Tebtunis was the crocodile cemetery, in which many mummies of the sacred crocodiles were found rolled in papyrus. Important Ptolemaic texts were found in 1902 at Hibeh, and a later visit to Oxyrhynchus in 1903 produced results almost as astonishing and quite as valuable as those of the first excavations there. The work of Rubensohn at Abusir in 1908 has exceptional interest, as it developed the first considerable body of Alexandrian papyri that has been found. The soil and climate of Alexandria are destructive to papyri, and only to the fact that these had in ancient times been carried off into the interior as rubbish is their preservation due. Hogarth, Jouguet, Wilcken and other Continental scholars have excavated in Egypt for papyri with varying degrees of success. The papyri are found in graves a few feet below the surface, in house ruins over which sand has drifted, or occasionally in earthen pots buried in the ground. Despite government efforts to stop indiscriminate native digging, papyri in considerable quantities have continued to find their way into the hands of native dealers, and thence into English, Continental, and even American collections.
6. Classical Papyri:
Thus far upward of 650 literary papyri, great and small, of works other than Biblical have been published. The fact that about one-third of these are Homeric attests the great popularity enjoyed by the Homeric poems in Greek-Roman times. These are now so abundant and extensive as to make an important contribution to the Homeric text. Rather less than one-third preserve works of other ancient writers which were already known to us through later copies, medieval or modern. Among these are works of Plato, Demosthenes, Isocrates, Thucydides, Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschines, Herodotus and others. Rather more than one-third preserve works, or fragments of works, which have been either quite unknown or, oftener, regarded as lost. Such are portions of Alcman and Sappho, fragments of the comedies of Menander and the iambi of Callimachus, Mimes of Herodas, poems of Bacchylides, parts of the lost Antiope and Hypsipyle of Euripides, Aristotle On the Constitution of Athens, the Persac of Timotheus (in a papyrus of the 4th century BC, probably the oldest Greek book in the world), and six orations, one of them complete, of Hyperides. In 1906 Grenfell and Hunt discovered at Oxyrhynchus the unique papyrus of the lost Paeans of Pindar, in 380 fragments, besides the Hellenica of Theopompus (or Cratippus?), whose works were believed to have perished.
7. Septuagint Papyri:
Of the Greek(Septuagint) more than 20 papyri have been discovered. Perhaps the most important of these is the Berlin Genesis (3rd or 4th century) (1) in a cursive hand, purchased at Akhmim in 1906. Other papyri preserving parts of Ge among the Amherst
(2), British Museum
(3), and Oxyrhynehus
(4), papyri date from the 3rd or 4th century. A Bodleian papyrus leaf
(5) (7th or 8th century) preserves
(6) (7th century) contains
(7) (5th or 6th century) has
(8), of thirty leaves, contains
(9) (3rd century) preserves
(10) contains Ps 40:26-41:4. Oxyrhynchus papyrus 845
(11) (4th or 5th century) contains parts of Psalms 68; 70. Another Amherst papyrus
(12) (7th century) shows parts of Psalms 108; 118; 135; 138-140. There is also a papyrus at Leipzig
(13) which contains part of the Psalms. Of the Prophets the chief papyrus is the Heidelberg codex
(14) (7th century), which contains
(15) (6th century) contains Am 2. A gainer papyrus
(16) (3rd century) preserves
(17) (3rd century) shows
(18) (4th century);
(19) (6th or 7th century);
(20) (5th or 6th century). Recent Oxyrhynchus volumes supply parts of Ex 21; 22; 40
(21; 22) (3rd century, O.P. 1074, 1075); and of
(23) (3rd century, O.P. 1166), and
(24) (4th century, O.P. 1167). The great antiquity of some of these documents gives especial interest to their readings.
8. New Testament Papyri:
Twenty-three papyri containing parts of the Greek New Testament have thus far been published, nearly half of them coming from Oxyrhynchus (O.P. 2, 208, 209, 402, 657, 1008, 1009, 1078, 1079, 1170, 1171). The pieces range in date from the 3rd to the 6th century. Their locations, dates and contents are:
1. Philadelphia, Pa. 3rd or 4th century
2. Florence. 5th or 6th century
3. Vienna. 6th century
4. Paris. 4th century
5. London. 3rd or 4th century
6. Strassburg. ? century
7. Kiew. ? century
8. Berlin. 4th century
9. Cambridge, Mass. 4th or 5th century 1
10. Cambridge, Mass. 4th century
11. Petersburg. 5th century
13. London. 4th century
14. Sinai. 5th century
15. Oxford. 4th century
16. Manchester (Rylands). 6th or 7th century
17. Manchester (Rylands). 3rd century
18. Oxford. 4th century
19. Oxford. 3rd or 4th century
20. Oxford. 5th century
21. Oxford. 3rd century
22. Florence. 7th century
23. Florence. ? century
Berlin Pap. 13,269 (7th century) is a liturgical paraphrase of
Further details as to numbers 1-14 may be found in Gregory, Textkritik, 1084-92, and for numbers 1-23 in Kenyon, Handbook to Text. Crit. 2, or Milligan, New Testament Documents, 249-54.
9. Theological Papyri:
Among other theological papyri, the Logia). Other Oxyrhynchus pieces preserve parts of the (chapters 12-14; 4th or 5th century; O.P. 403); the (? in its later form, if at all; 3rd century; O.P. 655); the Ac of John (4th century; O.P. 850, compare 851); the (3rd or 4th century; O.P. 404); Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., iii.9 (3rd century; O.P. 405). Other small fragments of the Shepherd and Ignatius are among the Amherst and Berlin papyri. Early Christian hymns, prayers and letters of interest have also been found.(O.P. 1,654), dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, are probably the most widely known (see
10. Documentary Papyri:
We have spoken thus far only of literary papyri, classical and theological. The overwhelming jority of the papyri found have of course been documentary--private letters, accounts, wills, receipts, contracts, leases, deeds, complaints, petitions, notices, invitations, etc. The value of these contemporary and original documents for the illumination of ancient life can hardly be overestimated. The life of Upper Egypt in Ptolemaic and Roman times is now probably better known to us than that of any other period of history down to recent times. Many papyrus collections have no literary papyri at all, but are rich in documents. Each year brings more of these to light and new volumes of them into print. All this vast and growing body of material contributes to our knowledge of Ptolemaic and imperial times, often in the most intimate ways. Among the most important of these documentary papyri from Ptolemaic times are the revenue laws of Ptolemy Philadelphus (259 BC) and the decrees of Ptolemy Euergetes II, 47 in number (118 BC, 140-139 BC). Very recently (1910) a Hamburg papyrus has supplied the Constitutio Antoniniana, by which Roman citizenship was conferred upon the peregrini of the empire. The private documents in ways even more important illustrate the life of the common people under Ptolemaic and Roman rule.
11. Contribution to New Testament Study:
It is not necessary to point out the value of all this for Biblical and especially New Testament study. The papyri have already made a valuable contribution to textual materials of both Old Testament and New Testament. For other early Christian literature their testimony has been of surprising interest (the Oxyrhynchus Logia and Gospel fragments). The discovery of a series of uncial manuscripts running through six centuries back of the Codex Vaticanus bridges the gap between what were our earliest uncials and the hand of the inscriptions, and puts us in a better position than ever before to fix the dates of uncial manuscripts. Minuscule or cursire hands, too, so common in New Testament manuscripts of the 10th and later centuries, appear in a new light when it is seen that such writing was not a late invention arising out of the uncial, but had existed side by side with it from at least the 4th century BC, as the ordinary, as distinguished from the literary, or book, hand. See Writing. The lexical contribution of these documentary papyri, too, is already considerable, and is likely to be very great. Like the New Testament writings, they reflect the common as distinguished from the literary language of the times, and words which had appeared exceptional or unknown in Greek literature are now shown to have been in common use. The problems of New Testament syntax are similarly illuminated. Specific historical notices sometimes light up dark points in the New Testament, as in a British Museum decree of Gaius Vibius Maximus, prefect of Egypt (104 AD), ordering all who are out of their districts to return to their own homes in view of the approaching census (compare
12. Chief Collections:
The principal collections of Greek papyri with their editors are Schow, Herculaneurn Papyri; Peyron, Turin Papyri; Leemans, Leyden Papyri; Wessely, Rainer and Paris Papyri; Kenyon and Bell, British Museum Papyri; Mahaffy and Smyly, Pettie Papyri; Grenfell and Hunt, Oxyrhynchus, Amherst and Hibeh Papyri (with Hogarth), Faytum Papyri, and (with Smyly and Goodspeed) Tebtunis Papyri; Hunt, Rylands Papyri; Nicole, Geneva Papyri; Krebs, Wilcken, Viereck, Schubart and others, Berlin Papyri; Meyer, Hamburg and Giessen Papyri; Deissmann, Heidelberg Papyri; Vitelli and Comparetti, Florence Papyri; Mitteis, Leipzig Papyri; Preisigke, Strassburg Papyri; Reinach, Paris Papyri; Jouguet and Lesquier, Lille Papyri; Rubensohn, Elephantine Papyri; Maspero, Cairo Papyri; Goodspeed, Cairo and Chicago Papyri. The Munich papyri have been described by Wilcken. Milligan’s Greek Papyri, Kenyon’s Paleography of Greek Papyri, and Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient East are useful introductions to the general subject. Mayser has prepared a Grammatik der Ptolemaischen Papyri.
13. Coptic, Arabic, and Other Papyri:
Coptic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Demotic papyri are numerous; even Latin papyri are found. The Coptic have already made important contributions to early Christian literature. A considerable Coptic fragment of the Ac of Paul, and a Coptic (Akhmimic) codex of 1 Clement, almost complete, have recently been published by Carl Schmidt. Another much mutilated papyrus of 1 Clement, with James, complete, is at Strassburg. A Coptic text of Proverbs has been brought to Berlin from the same source which supplied the Clement codex (the White Convent, near Akhmim); indeed, Biblical papyri in Coptic are fairly numerous, and patristic literature is being rapidly enriched by such discoveries of Coptic papyri, e.g. the Deuteronomy, Jonah; Ac papyrus, 1912 (compare the Sahidic New Testament, Oxford, 1911).
Arabic papyri first began to appear from Egypt in 1825, when three Arabic pieces were brought to Paris and published by Silvestre de Sacy. Two others, from the 7th century, were published by him in 1827. It was not until the great papyrus finds of 1877-1878, however, that any considerable number of Arabic papyri found their way into Europe. The chief collections thus far formed are at Vienna (Rainer Collection), Berlin and Cairo. Becker has published the Schott-Reinhardt Arabic papyri at Heidelberg, and Karabacek has worked upon those at Vienna. They belong of course to the period after the Arabic conquest, 640 AD.
Edgar J. Goodspeed