The most important of the papyrus fragments of apocryphal gospels because of its early date, its extent, and the character of the text; acquired by the British Library in 1934. It consists of two leaves of a papyrus codex together with a small fragment. Both leaves are incomplete, but in many lines, the number of missing letters is small enough for the text to be restored with confidence. It is written in a literary hand but with marked documentary features; the judgment of the original editors that it is not later than about A.D. 150 has found general acceptance. Its place of origin is unknown.
The work in question is neither a collection of logia nor a harmony of the canonical Gospels; the differences are quite as striking as the resemblances. It appears to have been a straightforward account of the life and teaching of Jesus with no theological reconsiderations and no relation to any known apocryphal gospel. Of the four incidents described, the first relates a confrontation between Jesus and the lawyers, and contains some striking verbal resemblances to the Gospel of John, although the setting of the incident is synoptic in tone.
The second and third incidents contain an account of the healing of a leper and a debate on the payment of taxes, recalling passages in the synoptic Gospels with both additions and omissions. The fourth incident apparently describes a miracle on the banks of the Jordan that symbolizes the Resurrection and has no parallel elsewhere. The writer probably drew on both written and unwritten traditions. If, as is likely, his sources included the synoptic Gospels, he must have been recalling them from memory. It is possible, however, that both they and Papyrus Egerton may draw on a common source or sources.
A scrutiny of the language in the first incident suggests that either John was using the Egerton Gospel and adapting it for his own purposes or both were relying on a common source. One or two details indicate that the author had no close knowledge of the Palestinian background and was writing for a Hellenistic audience.
- Bell, H. I., and T. C. Skeat, eds. Fragments of an Unknown Gospel. London, 1935.
- ___. The New Gospel Fragments. London, 1935.
- Jeremias, J.; E. Hennecke; and W. Schneemelcher, eds. New Testament Apocrypha, trans. R. McL. Wilson, Vol. 1, pp. 94-97. London, 1963. Contains bibliography.