Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri


Alfred Beatty, an industrialist and financier born in New York City in 1875, became one of the world’s great collectors of manuscripts, specializing particularly in manuscripts of artistic merit from the point of view of miniatures and calligraphy. The collections were housed at his home in London until 1953, when, having moved to Dublin, he built a special library and exhibition gallery for his collection of Oriental and Western printed books and manuscripts.

Among the hundreds of Greek papyri in the Beatty collection, by far the most famous are the texts. The acquisition in 1930 of this group of papyrus codices from Itfih (Aphroditopolis), ranging in date from the second to the fourth century, was justly described as the greatest event in the of the Greek Bible since Tischendorf’s discovery of the CODEX SINAITICUS a century before. Portions of several of these codices were purchased separately by the University of Michigan.

The three New Testament manuscripts comprise the Gospels and in one codex, dating from the third century (about one-seventh of the total text being preserved); nine of the Pauline epistles, dating from about 200; and the central portion of the book of Revelation, from the third century.

The Old Testament is represented by two separate fragmentary copies of Genesis (especially valuable, since that book is missing from both the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus copies); substantial portions of Numbers and Deuteronomy together in one codex, dating from the first half of the second century; and portions of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther, Daniel, and Ecclesiastes. The twelfth and last codex of the collection (dating from the fourth century) contains the closing chapters of the book of and a homily on the Passion by the second-century Christian writer of Sardis.

Apart from their textual importance (for which see Kenyon, 1975), the Beatty papyri are of great significance codicologically, indicating as they do the Christian preference for the codex form of book, as to the roll, which remained the favorite format in the Jewish synagogue as well as in pagan circles.

The papyri (along with the Michigan portions) were edited, with complete facsimiles, by Frederick G. Kenyon (1933-). The Beatty and Michigan portions of and were edited by Campbell Bonner in the series Studies and Documents, Volumes 8 and 12 (1937, 1940). The two Beatty texts of Genesis were reedited in 1977 by Albert Pietersma (American Studies in Papyrology 16), who also edited two additional (fragmentary) Beatty papyri of the Greek Psalter, dating from the fourth century (Analecta Biblica 77 [1978]).

[See also: Beatty Coptic Papyri.]


  • Kenyon, F. G. The Text of the Greek Bible. London, 1975. Pietersma, A., ed. Beatty Papyri IV and V: A New
  • Edition with Text-Critical Analysis. American Studies in Papyrology 16. Toronto, 1977.
  •  . Two Manuscripts of the Greek Psalter: In the Beatty Library, Dublin. Rome, 1978.