The Limits and Difficulties of Palaeographical Dating of Literary Manuscripts

Larry Hurtado's Blog

This afternoon (15 January) our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins hosted a very informative presentation by Dr. Brent Nongbri on how we go about attempting to date undated literary manuscripts, especially Greek papyri.  The thrust of his presentation was that palaeographical dating of Greek papyri cannot yield a sound date much more precise than roughly a century.  So, e.g., we might say that a given manuscript is probably third century CE.

He reflects the sort of cautious approach that was classically characterized by the great Eric Turner.  And Nongbri has now published several articles in which he shows the ramifications of this cautious approach with reference to several widely-cited NT papyri.  There is his critical analysis of some incautious datings of the Rylands John fragment (P52):   “The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel,” Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 1 (2005): 23-48…

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