The study of ancient documents written on papyri (plural of papyrus). Papyrus (Greek ὁ or ἡ, πάπυρος ἡ βíβλος; Latin papyrus; as writing material also Greek ὁ χάρτης, Latin charta ) was the name given to a certain plant (Cyperus papyrus, Latin) and to a writing material made from it in antiquity. The papyrus plant, which was cultivated especially in the delta of the Nile, was put to various practical uses, e.g., for the making of rafts and boats in Egypt.
Writing Material. The most important use of papyrus, however, was in the manufacture of a writing material that was employed by the Egyptians from the 3d millennium b.c., by the Greeks from the 6th century b.c., and by the Romans from the 3d century b.c. until well into the Middle Ages, when it was supplanted by paper. (Although the word "paper" is derived from the word "papyrus", paper is made by an entirely different process.) On the ancient use of papyrus, see Herodotus, Hist. 2.92; Theophrastes, Hist. plant. 4.8, 3; Pliny, Hist. nat. 13.11 (68)–12 (83); S. N. Lewis, L'Industrie du papyrus dans l'Égypte Greco-Romaine (Paris 1934). According to Pliny (ibid. 13.12), for the making of the writing material the pith of papyrus stalks was sliced into thin strips (called σχíζαι in Greek and scissurae or philyrae in Latin), a number of the strips were laid vertically side by side, over these a number of strips were laid horizontally side by side, and the two layers were pressed together, dried out, and rubbed smooth, to form oblong leaves. The finished leaves were called σελíδες in Greek and plagulae in Latin. Several such leaves (20 of them according to Pliny, ibid. ) were then pasted side by side (hence the word κóλλημα, literally "a glueing," came to mean page or column) in such a way that the sides of the leaves with the horizontal fibers were all kept on the same (upper or recto) side of the long sheet. Sheets were made in different lengths and heights. A finished sheet was rolled around a narrow cylinder (scapus ) with the recto on the inside, and so it was offered for sale. The sheet itself was often called a scapus ("roll" of papyrus). The long sheet either served as a scroll (volumen ) on which lengthy documents, especially literary works, were written, or the individual pages were cut from it for the writing of short documents, letters, etc. Writing was put ordinarily only on the recto with its horizontal fibers, seldom on the back or verso with its vertical fibers. A papyrus written on the verso was called an ὀπισθóγραφον.
The earliest instrument used for writing on papyrus was a sedge stalk cut off at an angle at one end or frayed at the end into a sort of small brush. After the 3d century b.c. a thin reed (κάλαμος, calamus ) sharpened to a point and split at one end was used as a pen. The ordinary ink used for writing was black (μέλαν, atramentum ), made from soot; but other colors, such as brown (sepia) and crimson (ἔγκαυστον, encaustum ) were employed. Pictorial additions were in cinnabar (vermillion) or other colors.
In pharaonic times the Egyptian manufacture of papyrus was a monopoly of the individual temples and their priests; in Ptolemaic times it was a state monopoly. In the Byzantine and Arabic periods the first leaf (πρωτóκολλον, whence the word "protocol") of a papyrus roll was impressed with a government stamp stating where and when the roll was made. According to its quality there were various kinds of papyrus, from the fine charta hieratica or regia (Augusta, Livia ) down to ordinary wrapping material (charta emporetica ); see Pliny, Hist. nat. 13.74–79; Isidorus, Orig. 6.9. Writing was done on other material also, such as potsherds (see ostracon), wax tablets, and parchment. In the early imperial period literary texts began, apparently in Christian circles, to be written on separate leaves that were bound in a codex (modern book form). Parchment was more suitable for this purpose and soon was the only material used for codices. Smaller documents, however, continued to be written on papyrus for many centuries, e.g., in the papal chancery until the 11th century.
Papyrus Manuscripts, Papyri. Outside of Egypt, where the climate was kind to them, ancient and medieval papyrus MSS have almost entirely fallen victims to the destructive forces of time. Only by accident have a few Latin papyrus codices or fragments of them and some papyrus documents been preserved in European libraries and archives. Thus in papyrus there are a codex of Josephus's Jewish Antiquities in Milan; a codex of some of St. Hilary's works in Vienna; individual leaves of a codex containing some sermons and letters of St. Augustine in Paris, Geneva, and Leningrad; a codex containing extracts from St. Isidore's Synonyma and a homily of St. Eucherius in St. Gall, Switzerland; and a codex containing some of the writings of St. Avitus of Vienne in Paris. Some of the other preserved papyrus documents are a few dozen papal bulls in French, Italian, German, and Spanish archives, in addition to some 800 mostly Greek scrolls containing philosophical works recovered in 1572 from the ruins of the city of Herculaneum that was covered with lava from Mt. Vesuvius in a.d. 79. A few papyrus documents have been found also at dura-europos on the Euphrates, at Nessana in the Negeb of Palestine, and at some other places (see Preisendanz, Papyrusfunde 18–66; Handbuch 166–170).
Papyri from Egypt. Large masses of papyrus MSS written in ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and especially Greek have been found only in the sand-covered graves, ruins, and rubbish piles of the ancient settlements of the native land of the papyrus plant, rain-poor Egypt. As early as the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th the learned world became aware of Egyptian papyri through accidental finds. But it was only in 1877 that the interests of scholars was fully aroused by the discovery of an immense amount of papyrus MSS at El Faiyûm (site of the ancient city of Arsinoë), and impetus was thereby given to organized excavations by European and American scholars, especially in the ruins of the Faiyûm regions (at Arsinoë, Soknopaiu Nēsos, Theadelphia, Tebtynis, and Philadelphia) and in Heracleopolis Magna, Oxyrhynchus, Hermopolis Magna, El iba, Thebes (no-amon), Panopolis, Syene, Elephantine, and other places. (For the location of these places on a map, see egypt.)
Some of the papyri that were discovered in these excavations have been kept in Egyptian museums (in Alexandria and Cairo). But most of the papyri entered public or private collections in Europe or America, especially in England (London, Oxford, and Manchester), Ireland (Dublin), France (Paris, Lille, and Strasbourg), Italy (Milan, Turin, Florence, and Naples), Germany (Berlin, Munich, Heidelberg, Giessen, Marburg, Jena, and Würzburg), Holland (Leiden), Norway, Denmark, Russia (Tiflis), Switzerland (Basel, Geneva, and Zurich), and the United States (Ann Arbor, Chicago, Princeton, New York, Berkeley, and other cities). In these collections the papyri, which were usually found in a damaged and soiled condition, have been restored, preserved, and scientifically studied by specialists in papyrology, a discipline that has been developed for this purpose. By the 1960s about 7,000 papyri had been published, and the number of those still unedited in the collections and still hidden in the sands of Egypt is no doubt several times that amount.
Contents. The papyri have thrown lasting light on all branches of the study of antiquity: not only Egyptology and Arabic studies, but especially classic philology and the history of Greek and Roman law, economics, sociology, and religion. Classical philology has been enriched by the discovery of many literary papyri, mostly from the 1st to the 3d century, containing fragmentary or even complete classical works that previously had either been preserved in much more recent parchment MSS or been considered entirely lost, e.g., Aristotle's 'Αθηναíων Πολιτεία (Constitution of Athens ), Sophocles's 'Ιχνευταí (The Investigators ), Herondas's Mimes, Bacchylides's Choral Odes, and Menander's Δύσκολοσ (The Discontented Man ), and other comedies. Not only classical studies, however, but other disciplines also have been greatly benefited by the many thousands of papyrus MSS that have been discovered, such as official edicts and decrees, business documents, financial accounts, invoices, receipts, last wills, contracts (for sales, rents, loans, hiring, teaching, and marriage), and letters. Such papyri give a faithful and impressive picture of all public and private life in Egypt until the Arabic period.
The study of the script and language of these records has made it possible to obtain for the first time an accurate knowledge of the development both of Greek handwriting from the 4th century b.c. to the 10th Christian century and of the colloquial Greek language (Κοινή) throughout the same period, so that the biblical greek language, which previously had been a rather isolated phenomenon, can now be assigned its rightful place in this development.
Biblical and Christian Papyri. The papyri are of immense importance for all branches of theological studies, but especially for biblical studies, since many of the papyri contain fragments of OT and NT books (such as some in the Chester Beatty Papyri, the Freer Collection, the Bodmer Collection, and others) that go back, at least in part (e.g., P52 of the Fourth Gospel from a.d. 125), to the 2d century. They are therefore much older than the oldest parchment MSS and consequently of inestimable value for biblical textual criticism. At least fragments of every book of the NT except 1 and 2 Timothy and 2 and 3 John are preserved in the papyri.
Of scarcely less value are the Greek and Coptic papyri that contain liturgical or patristic texts, e.g., those of the 1941 find at Tura of writings of Origen and Didymus, the menologies (liturgical calendars), the libelli (documents certifying that the persons named in them have offered sacrifice to the gods) from the Decian persecution (middle of the 3d century), certain Gnostic apocrypha (as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth found at Nag' Hammâdi) and other heretical writings, and last but not least, numerous incantation and other magical texts. All these religious texts, together with the secular documents, bring to life for modern man the world in which the gospel was first preached and offer him a vivid picture of Egypt's early Christian life, of its flourishing monasticism, of the turbulence of its religious quarrels and schisms, and even of the continuance, in the Christian era, of its ancient pagan superstitions, concepts, and customs.
Bibliography: Manuals and introductions. l. mitteis andu. wilcken, Grundzüge und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde, 4v. (Leipzig-Berlin 1912). w. schubart, Einführung in die Papyruskunde (Berlin 1918). a. calderini, Papyri: Guida allo studio della papirologia antica Greca e Romana (Milan 1944). w. peremans and v. vergote, Papyrologisch Handboek (Louvain 1942). f. g. kenyon, Books and Readers in Ancient Greece and Rome (2d ed. Oxford 1951). k. preisendanz, Papyrusfunde und Papyrusforschung (Leipzig 1933); "Papyruskunde," Handbuch der Bibliothekswissenschaft, ed. g. leyh, v. 1 (2d ed. Wiesbaden 1952) 163–248, extensive history of the discoveries and collections, with bibliog. of the whole pertinent literature. a. bataille, Les Papyrus (Paris 1955), with extensive bibliog. also for the language and script and a list of the religionsgeschichtlich papyrus literature, 58–66. h. hunger et al., eds., Geschichte der Textüberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur, v. 1 (Zurich 1961) 29–50, 72–113, 168–170. h. metzger, Wege und Probleme der Papyrus-forschung, v. 2 Die frühchristliche Welt im Lichte der Papyri (Schweizer Beiträge zur Allgemeinen Geschichte 10; 1952) 199–208. c. h. roberts, Greek Literary Hands, 350 b.c.– a.d. 400 (Oxford 1956). Encyclopedia articles. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 13.1:1370–1520, with extensive bibliog. and many illustrations. e. levesque and f. prat, Dictionnaire de la Bible, ed. f. vigouroux, 5 v. (Paris 1895–1912) 4:2079–94. b. botte, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928–) 6:1109–20. Encyclopaedia biblica, ed. t. k. cheyne and j. s. black, 4 v. (London 1899–1903) 5:3556–63. h. gerstinger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 8:63–65. a. de issmann, Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie, ed. j. j. herzog and a. hauck, 24 v. (3d ed. Leipzig 1896–1913) 14:667–675. k. treu, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:91–93. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 1704–13. Publications of papyri. These are listed in most of the works mentioned above under Manuals and introductions, esp. those of Preisendanz and Bataille; current pubs. are given in the periodicals mentioned below under Periodicals, with current reports and bibliogs.; among the more recent pubs. are the following: j. o. tjaeder, Die nichtliterarischen lateinischen Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit (Lund 1955) 445–700. r. cavenaile, ed., Corpus papyrorum latinorum (Vienna 1956–). v. a. tcherikover et al., eds., Corpus papyrorum Judaicorum, 3 v. (Cambridge, Mass. 1957–64). Selections and special eds. e. j. goodspeed and e. c. colwell, A Greek Papyrus Reader (Chicago 1935). a. s. hunt et al., Select Papyri, 3 v. (New York 1932–50). w. schubart, Ein Jahrtausend am Nil: Briefe aus dem Altertum verdeutscht und erklärt (2d ed. Berlin 1923). j. g. winter, Life and Letters in the Papyri (Ann Arbor 1933). h. thierfelder, Unbekannte antike Welt: Eine Darstellung nach Papyrusurkunden (Gütersloh 1963). a. deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, tr. l. r. m. strachan (rev. ed. New York 1927). g. ghedini, Lettere cristiane dai papiri greci del III e IV secolo (Milan 1923). c. del grande, ed., Liturgiae, preces, hymni christianorum e papyris collecti (Naples 1938). r. knipfing, "The Libelli of the Decian Persecution," Harvard Theological Review 16 (1923) 345–390. a. bludau, "Dieägyptischen Libelli und die Christenverfolgungen des Kaiser Decius," Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte (Freiburg 1887–) 27 (1913), suppl. k. preisendanz, et al., eds., Papyri graecae magicae, 2 v. (Leipzig 1928–31). Periodicals, with current reports and bibliog. Aegyptus: Revista italiana di egittologia e papirologia (Milan 1920–). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete (Leipzig 1900–). Chronique d'Égypte (Brussels 1925–). Études de papyrologie (Cairo 1932–). Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (London 1914–). Journal of Juristic Papyrology (New York 1946–). Mizraim: Journal of Papyrology (Philadelphia 1933–). Revue des études grecques (Paris 1888–). Recherches de papyrologie: Travaux de l'Institut de papyrologie de Paris (Paris 1961–). Studia papyrologica: Revista española de papirologia (Barcelona 1962–). Lists of published papyri. r. a. pack, The Greek and Latin Literary Texts from Greco-Roman Egypt (2d ed. Ann Arbor 1965). Biblical papyri. a. rahlfs, Verzeichnis der griechischen Handschriften des AT (Berlin 1914). m. m. parvis and a. p. wikgren, eds., NT Manuscript Studies (Chicago 1950). g. maldfeld and b. m. metzger, "Detailed List of the Greek Papyri of the NT," Journal of Biblical Literature 68 (1949) 359–370. g. maldfeld, "Die griechischen Handschriften des NT auf Papyrus," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 42 (1949) 228–253; 43 (1950–51) 260–261. f. g. kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 5th ed. rev. a. w. adams (New York 1958) 113–119, 185–190. w. c. van unnik, Evangelien aus dem Nilsand (Frankfurt 1960). o. paret, Die Bibel: Ihre Überlieferung in Druck und Schrift (Stuttgart 1949) 50–52.