University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

ARCHIVE: Ancient Biblical Manuscript on Display

April 15, 2011
Christian Studies students view P39 manuscript. Photo by Brittany Montgomery
Christian Studies students view P39 manuscript. Photo by Brittany Montgomery

Belton, Texas –The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor will have a one-day display of an ancient biblical manuscript for general public viewing from noon to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, in the foyer of the W.W. Walton Chapel on campus.  The exhibit is titled “The Desert Speaks: The P39 Manuscript,” and will be offered in conjunction with the 72nd annual Easter Pageant being held the same day.

The Easter Pageant performances, which take place in front of Walton Chapel, will be held at 12:30, 3:00, and 5:30 p.m.    Anyone attending the Easter Pageant will have the convenience of viewing “The Desert Speaks” either prior to or after the performance.

The exhibit will feature an original papyrus leaf with Greek text written on both sides, which was discovered in the ruins of the Egyptian village of Oxyrhynchus in 1897.  Known as P39 (Papyrus 39) to biblical scholars, the manuscript is on loan to the university through the Green Collection, based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The collection was established in 2009 by the Green family, founders of Hobby Lobby International, Inc., and has quickly become one of the largest collections of ancient Biblical texts in the world.

University of Mary Hardin-Baylor was one of the first colleges chosen to be part of the Green Scholars Initiative, through which students are allowed to study and do research on rare Bible manuscripts. Dr. Renate Hood, associate professor of Christian studies, serves as the local scholar/mentor for the UMHB students.

Though the P39 manuscript is normally not allowed to be shown to the general public, the university has been granted permission to put the small treasure on display on this one day in conjunction with the annual Easter Pageant. 

P39 is one of the oldest existing New Testament fragments in the world.  The Greek text of the manuscript has been identified as a portion of John 8:14-22 in which Jesus is teaching in the Temple.   Part of the work being done at UMHB is to reevaluate the dating, which is estimated to be early third century to late second century A.D.

“There are thousands of Bible manuscripts to be found in places around the world, but most of them are from more recent centuries.  There are only a handful of manuscripts which are this old.  If our dating of this manuscript is accurate, it was written by a generation of scribes whose grandparents could have been alive during Christ’s lifetime,” Dr. Hood said.

According to Hood, the Green Scholars Initiative began less than a year ago, and her team of Christian Studies students has had a rare opportunity to be involved in the study.

“The vision is to involve undergraduate students and to include smaller schools which normally do not get these opportunities,” said Hood.

Also on display that day will be a replica of the Codex Sinaiticus, a book compiled from more than 400 large leaves of parchment with Greek text dated to the fourth century A.D. Together the set of parchments record Greek translations of nearly half of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, all of the New Testament, and two early Christian texts. The replica, recently purchased for the UMHB library, combines images of manuscripts which are housed in multiple locations around the world and gives students of the Bible a rare glimpse of what a Greek translation of the New Testament would have looked like in that era.

For more information on “The Desert Speaks: The P39 Manuscript” exhibition, contact the College of Christian Studies at 254-295-5075.