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262                        The Greek Papyri
do is to note in passing that they include such famous tests as
the so-called Sayings of Jesus and the Unknown Gospel in the
British Museum, a work whose sober and narrative character as
well as its early date distinguish it alike from the theosophical
fantasies of the Gnostics (the earliest representative of which is
a leaf of the Gospel of Mary, now in Manchester) and from such
romantic hagiographies as the recently published Acta Pauliy
which provided the pious with a satisfactory substitute for the
pagan novel.
But in Christian studies the history of the Bible text occupies
a place of unique importance, and their debt to the papyri
would still be great even if no new works had been found at all.
As it is, we have witnesses to the text of the Bible from Egypt
far earlier than those from any other source; recent discoveries
enable us to follow the history of the text back to the second
century A.D. The oldest fragment of the New Testament is the
small fragment of St. John's Gospel in the Rylands Library, of
importance not merely because we can infer that the Gospel
was read in Upper Egypt in the first half of the second century,
but because the text of this fragment, small as it is, is in essence
that of our later manuscripts. But incomparably the most im-
portant event in recent Biblical scholarship has been the publica-
tion of eleven codices of the Old and New Testaments ranging
from the second to the fourth century, the majority of them
being the property of Mr. Chester Beatty. It will be some time
before the new material is thoroughly assimilated and the full
effect on textual criticism seen, but that they support the
general integrity of the text of the Bible is certain. As Dr. H. I.
Bell points out, whatever doubts may surround the historicity
and origins of the New Testament books, cit is probably true
to say broadly that no vital Christian doctrine, no basic saying
of Christ, no central incident in His life, depends on a reading
about which there is any serious textual doubt'.
The relevance of these documents, those vast masses of official,