St John Fragment
A fragment of the fourth gospel
This small fragment of St John's Gospel, measuring less than nine centimetres high, is one of the collection of Greek papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. On one side it contains parts of verses 31-33, on the other side parts of verses 37-38 of the eighteenth chapter of John's Gospel.
It was originally discovered in Egypt, and may come from the famous site of Oxyrhynchus (Behnesa), the ruined city in Upper Egypt where Grenfel and Hunt carried out some of the most startling and successful excavations in the history of archaeology; it may be remembered that among their finds of new fragments of Classical and Christian literature were the now familiar "Sayings of Jesus".
The importance of this fragment is quite out of proportion to its size, since it may with some confidence be dated in the first half of the second century A.D., and thus ranks as the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language.
It provides us with invaluable evidence of the spread of Christianity in areas distant from the land of its origin; it is particularly interesting to know that among the books read by the early Christians in Upper Egypt was St John's Gospel, commonly regarded as one of the latest of the books of the New Testament.
Like other early Christian works which have been found in Egypt, this gospel manuscript was written in the form of a codex, i.e. book, not of a roll, the common format for non-Christian literature of that time.