Papyrus Oxyrhynchos 840

A fragment of an unknown gospel

Tr. Alan Humm

 The Greek text can be found here.

This is a fragment of an unknown gospel written on both sides of a single page of vellum parchment.  It's being separated from the rest of the work has led some scholars to posit that it was being used as a sort of amulet.  Von Harnack and others have suggested that it may be part of the lost "Gospel of the Hebrews" or the "Gospel of the Egyptians," largely because of where it was found (Southern Egypt).   David Ross prefers to associate it with the "Gospel of Matthias."  Ultimately, at this point we don't know enough about any of these lost gospels to arrive at a firm conclusion.  See Peter Kirby's page for a more discussion and links.

 Please notify me of any errors -- they are probably my fault. 
     -Alan Humm

Purple numbers and text represent the layout of the fragment itself (page and line numbers).  Red numbers are the chapter/verse structure assigned to this fragment in Miller, Robert, ed. (1994).  The complete gospels (San Francisco: HarperCollins) [Henceforth, CG].  Bracketed links (brown or green) are footnotes.

Ch 1

[Verso] 1 ... first, someone plans carefully before doing some evil. [1] 2 But you should not to end up suffering like them, 3 because it is not just in this life [2] that miscreants receive human retribution, but they 5 also can expect to receive punishment and repeated torment [in the next].

Ch 2

         1 Then, taking them along, he went into the inner sanctuary itself [3] and walked around in the temple. 2 And as they were going, 10 a Pharisee-High Priest [4] named Levi approached them and said to the Savior, "Who gave you permission to tromp around this sanctuary, and to look at these holy vessels without having been purified? 15 Nor have your disciples [even] washed their feet, 3 but being in a state of uncleanness you trample this temple, which is a holy and pure place. No one, without having been washed and having 20 changed clothes, [5] walks in it, or dares to look at the holy vessels."
         4 And standing nearby, the Savior, along with his disciples asked him: [Recto] "Are you clean then, since you are in the Temple?"
         5 He said to him, "I am clean. I bathed 25 in the pool of David and having gone down by one set of stairs, I came up by another, [6] 6 and put on clean white clothes. Only then did I come and gaze at these holy 30 vessels!"

         7 The Savior answering him, said, "Curse you, unseeing blind people. You wash in this standing water, [7] in which dogs and pigs [8] are bathed, night and day. 8 You are washing and 35 scrubbing your surface skin, [9] like the prostitutes and entertainers [10] who apply ointments, wash, scrub, and do their makeup to entice people, but on the inside 40 they are filled with scorpions and all kinds of evil. 9 I and my disciples, whom you call unwashed, have been washed with the water of eternal life, [11] which comes down from... 45 [¿above? ], [12]... but cursed are those....


[1] This may be the tail end of some lesson to be learned from the unrighteous, like Luke 16:7 or Thomas 98.

[2] Literally, 'animals,' which makes little sense. Corrected toliving'

[3] Greek: 'place of purification' is not a name recognizable from Jewish literature. This, and some other instances of the author's unfamiliarity with the temple practices, has led some scholars, including Phillip Sellew (CG) to conclude that "the author is not well informed" regarding the temple ritualse.

[4] I am unaware of any High Priests who were also Pharisees during Jesus lifetime. There were surely Pharisee-priests, although most priests were Sadducees. In any case, both are traditional opponents of Jesus, rolled up together into one 'foil' in this context.

[5] Although priests changed clothes, there is no supporting evidence that others did (CG, 420).

[6] Down by one set of stairs, up by another is an attempt to prevent picking up dirt that he may have brought in and left on the stairs on entering.

[7] Standing water; e.g., a cistern which is not cleansed by a constant flow of new water. Χεομαι means 'poured,' presumably here because it has been poured into the cistern. Some translators give it as 'flowing,' although that makes less sense in this context, particularly in its being contrasted to 'living water,' below (vs. 9 & note 11).

[8] Probably metaphorical 'dogs and pigs,' i.e., sinners.

[9] Like washing the hands in Mark 7.1-8.

[10] Literally, aulos-girls (an aulos is a double bodied clarinet, usually, and improperly, translated, 'flute'). Musical performers had, in the Hellenistic period, a reputation for providing 'late night entertainment' as well. Most were slaves, and had little choice in the matter.

[11] Either a reference to baptism (CG), or to a spiritual washing in the living water that flows from Jesus (John 7.38). 'Living water' is also an expression for flowing water (like a stream) which cleanses better than the standing variety in which the priest has washed.

[12] Obviously, the missing word here is 'Heaven' or 'above' or something of that nature. Since a good bit of this line is missing, it may well be a combination like, 'from the heavens above', etc.

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