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What is the significance of this fragment?

The Fragment of the Gospel of John is one of The John Rylands Library's most famous artefacts. This small scrap of papyrus only measures 8.9 x 6.0 cm, but provides a wealth of information.

The Fragment is widely regarded as the earliest portion of any New Testament writing ever found. It provides us with invaluable evidence on the spread of Christianity in the provinces of the Roman Empire in the first centuries of our era. The first editor dated the Fragment to the first half of the second century (between 100-150 AD). The date was estimated palaeographically, by comparing the handwriting with other manuscripts. However, palaeography is not an exact science - none of the comparable Biblical manuscripts are dated and most papyri bearing a secure date are administrative documents. Recent research points to a date nearer to 200 AD, but there is as yet no convincing evidence that any earlier fragments from the New Testament survive. Carbon-dating is a destructive method and has not been used on the Fragment.

The majority of papyri which survive from this date are in the form of book-rolls, written in a series of columns on one side of the papyrus sheet. This fragment has writing from the same work on both sides, so would have been part of a codex (a book with turning pages).The codex form was taken up by early Christian writers and quickly became the usual format for Christian texts. In a codex where we know the size of the margin and roughly what text is missing between two sides of a page, we can infer the approximate size of the original manuscript. In this case, the pages probably would have been about 210x200mm, with eighteen lines on each page. If the manuscript contained only the Gospel of John, it would have been about 130 pages long.

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