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Greek Manuscripts

Date range: 3rd century BC–19th century AD

Medium: Manuscript

Number of items: 31 ostraca, 54 codices and some 2,000 papyri.

The codices, ranging from the 10th to the 19th century, are mostly biblical and devotional volumes, including some notable early Evangelia (10th–13th centuries).

The core of the papyrus collection (3rd century BC to 7th century AD) was formed by Ludovic, 26th Earl of Crawford, who purchased a considerable quantity of fragments during his visit to Egypt in 1898–9; he later commissioned Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt to buy papyri on his behalf. Following Enriqueta Rylands’s purchase of the Crawford collection in 1901, Grenfell and Hunt performed a similar service for her and the John Rylands Library, while James Rendel Harris acquired several batches of papyri in Egypt during and after the First World War.

The collection consists of classical, biblical, liturgical and medical texts, and important documentary papyri, such as business papers, public records, files of local government offices, taxation documents and financial memoranda, including the noted Theophanes Archive. Undoubtedly the most famous papyrus is the fragment of St John’s Gospel, probably the earliest extant piece of the New Testament (possibly from the first half of the 2nd century AD), but there are a number of other significant and early Christian pieces, including fragments of the Old and New Testaments (such as the earliest manuscript of Titus), apocryphal works, amulets, prayers and certificates of pagan sacrifice. Papyri from Hermopolis (1st to 7th centuries AD) comprise conveyances, receipts, and official and private legal documents.

In addition to the 800 published papyrus fragments, there are approximately 1,200 unpublished additional pieces.

Further information:

  • Arthur S. Hunt [and others], Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library Manchester, 4 vols (Manchester, 1911–52).
  • B. R. Rees, Papyri from Hermopolis and Other Documents of the Byzantine Period, Graeco-Roman Memoirs No. 42 (London: Egypt Expoloration Society, 1964).
  • Alan K. Bowman and J. D. Thomas, ‘Some additional Greek papyri in the John Rylands University Library’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 61 (1978–79), pp. 290–313.
  • See Greek Papyri for links to these and other catalogues.


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