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Papyrus Egerton 2: The Unknown Gospel

The fragmentary manuscript known as Papyrus Egerton 2 contains a noncanonical Gospel that is never referred to in any ancient source and that was, as a consequence, completely unknown until its publication in 1935.1 The fragments were discovered among a collection of papyri purchased by the British Museum. They had come from Egypt and are usually dated to around 150 ce. The “Unknown Gospel” narrated in these papyri, however, must have been older than the manuscript fragments that contain it. While some scholars have argued that the Gospel was written before the canonical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, most have concluded that it was produced somewhat later, during the first half of the second century. Since the Unknown Gospel is preserved only in fragments, it is impos­ sible to judge its original length and contents. The surviving remains pre­ serve four separate stories: (1) an account of Jesus’ controversy with Jewish leaders that is similar to the stories found in John 5:39–47 and 10:31–39; (2) a healing of a leper, reminiscent of Matt 8:1–4; Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:12– 16; and Luke 17:11–14; (3) a controversy over paying tribute to Caesar, com­ parable to Matt 22:15–22; Mark 12:13–17; and Luke 20:20–26; and (4) a fragmentary account of a miracle of Jesus on the bank of the Jordan River, possibly performed to illustrate his parable about the miraculous growth of seeds. This final story has no parallel in the canonical Gospels. Scholars continue to debate whether the author of this Gospel (a) used the four canonical Gospels as literary sources for his accounts, (b) quoted from memory stories that he knew from the canonical Gospels (changing them in the process), or (c) acquired his stories not from the canonical Gospels, but from the oral traditions of Jesus in wide circulation in the first and second centuries. 1

See Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 49–50.

Translation by Bart D. Ehrman based on the Greek text found in Egbert Schlarb and Dieter Lu¨hrmann, Fragmente apocryph gewordener Evangelien in griechischer und lateinischer Sprache (Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 2000) 147–53, but I have followed the sequence of the fragments given in H. Idris Bell and T. C. Skeat, Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and Other Early Christian Papyri (London: British Museum, 1935).


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