Updates to P129 and P131

There’s been a lot of discussion and speculation in the past few months about two new 2nd/3rd century papyrus fragments, first mentioned by Brent Nongbri as papyri being displayed by Scott Carroll in 2018. We were contacted earlier this year by Andrew Stimer, a private collector in California, who wanted to obtain G-A numbers for two papyrus fragments that he acquired in 2015. The fragments are of 1 Corinthians and Romans. Stimer provided us with unpublished scholar’s reports, which he received in 2016 and 2017: the report for 1 Corinthians was done by Dirk Obbink (who dates the fragment to mid-2nd cent.) and the report on Romans was done by Jeffery Fish (who dates the fragment to the first half of the 3rd cent.).


Through Nongbri’s blog, the INTF was already alerted to the possibility that the papyri in Stimer’s possession were parts of other papyri already registered in the Liste, P129 (1 Cor) and P131 (Romans), which are currently at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB). These numbers, P129 and P131, were assigned to the papyri at MOTB in 2015 so they could include this information in a planned publication with Brill, although this has not been published.


Over the past few months, we’ve been working to (a) verify the authenticity of Stimer's fragments and (b) decide whether they belong to P129 and P131. The MOTB kindly provided us with images of P129 and P131 so we could make comparisons. We shared images of Stimer's two fragments with Michael Holmes, and scholars at the Museum of the Bible Scholar’s Initiative were of the opinion that the fragments did indeed belong together. The pieces were analyzed by a number of INTF staff but we still had some lingering questions. We requested expert advice from papyrologist Panagiota Sarischouli at the University of Thessaloniki so we could get an external opinion.


A few weeks ago, Sarischouli graciously provided us with an extensive report confirming the authenticity of the fragments. She noted, “I can say that I have no reason to believe that Stimer’s fragments are fakes; if they are forgeries, they are masterly done!!!” Sarischouli stated, "There can be little doubt that the two fragments (Stimer’s 1 Cor. + P129) belong to the same codex page. Although there are some slight differences between the two handwritings, the hand is identical." She also agreed with the dates proposed by Obbink and Fish. We are very grateful to her for providing such extensive information about these fragments.


We have now assigned Stimer’s 1 Corinthians fragment to the already registered P129, and have assigned his Romans fragment to the already registered P131 fragment. We can now update the contents of these papyri:


Stimer's portion of P129 is: 1 Cor 7:32-37; 9:10-16

MOTB's portion of P129 is: 1 Cor 8:10-9:3, 27-10:6

Stimer's portion of P131 is: Rom 9:21-23; 10:3-4

MOTB's portion of P131 is: Rom 9:18-21, 33-10:2


With regard to provenance, Stimer provided us with the following report for his pieces:

I acquired both of the manuscripts in the summer of 2015 from Mr. M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. He bought them the previous year, in April 2014, via a private treaty sale executed by Christie’s London. The fragments were part of a collection of texts that had been in the Pruitt family since the 1950s. Dr. Rodman Pruitt was an industrialist and inventor in southern Indiana who was known as a collector of manuscripts, books and artifacts of various kinds. He acquired his papyri from Harold Maker, a well-known dealer in manuscripts who was based in Irvington, New Jersey. I am told that the Trismegistos database lists numerous published papyri originally sold by Harold Maker. [Coincidentally, I have another manuscript in my collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.] I contacted Christie’s London to confirm that they had indeed conducted the private treaty sale of manuscripts that had passed by descent through the Pruitt family. I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt, though he was of course restricted in the amount of information he was at liberty to provide to me. The sale included various papyri, in Coptic, Greek and Syriac. I was satisfied that the information I had been given at the time of the acquisition was correct.


We recently learned, however, that the two fragments belonging to the MOTB previously belonged to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), see here and were sold without their permission. While many questions still remain regarding Stimer’s papyri, it seems highly probable that his pieces were also once part of the EES collection and were sold without their permission (see here). We have notified Stimer of this and updated the Liste entries in the NT.VMR (P129 and P131) to reflect this. We hope to upload images of Stimer’s papyri and the MOTB papyri on the NT.VMR for public viewing after the issue of provenance has been resolved.


In light of this problematic provenance and so many open questions, we have debated whether to register these two papyri. We are aware that the designation of a G-A number may have the unfortunate side effect of inflating the value of a manuscript on the antiquities market. However, our primary focus when deciding whether to include a new manuscript in the Kurzgefasste Liste has been verifying its authenticity and collecting key data so these manuscripts can be made known to the wider scholarly community. Our hope is that registering these manuscripts in the Liste, where all information is made publically available on the NT.VMR, will enable any unprovenanced manuscripts to be located (or re-located) as effectively as possible.


Update: 21 Oct. 2019 from EES, Stimer to return 5 missing manuscripts: https://www.ees.ac.uk/news/missing-papyri-two-updates


Update: 5 May 2020: The portions of these manuscripts held by MOTB and Stimer have now been returned and are located in Sackler Library.

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