How was the Fragment discovered?
The John Rylands Library has been an international centre for Biblical studies since it opened in 1900. Some of its most significant and ancient items are small fragments of papyrus from Egypt containing lines from the first copies of the Christian scriptures. These papyri help us to understand how the Bible was copied, used and transmitted.
The St John Fragment was identified by the papyrologist Colin H. Roberts in 1935 while he was preparing the third volume of the Catalogue of Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library. Recognising the importance of the manuscript, he immediately published a description and transcription of the fragment.
The Fragment was part of a selection of papyri purchased on behalf of the John Rylands Library by Bernard P. Grenfell during a trip to Egypt in 1920. Grenfell, along with his friend and colleague Arthur S. Hunt, had been excavating papyri in Egypt since the early 1890s for the Egypt Exploration Society and other institutions. They also acquired papyri for Lord Crawford and later for Enriqueta Rylands and the John Rylands Library.
The bulk of the Rylands papyri are administrative documents and everyday writings in a variety of languages which record the lives of people living in Egypt from the fourteenth century BC to the early Middle Ages. However, there are a number of important literary, scientific and religious texts. The collection of Greek papyri, for instance, also contains some fragments of Deuteronomy which are the earliest found writing of the Greek Old Testament. Papyri from Egypt have given access to early Christian writings beyond the Old and New Testament. Many of these had been lost for centuries, being outside the Christian canon and often condemned by the official Church as apocryphal and heretical. One of the most famous examples is the Gospel of Mary, the Library holds one of only two surviving Greek fragments.