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Lorne R.


Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840

Die grundlegenden Streitfragen um P.Oxy. 840 betreffen seine Historizität und die
Art der Debatte zwischen Levi und dem Erlöser. Das Gros der Wissenschaftler hat die-
ses Fragment im Rahmen des Judentums des ersten Jahrhunderts n. Chr. und im Kon-
text des herodianischen Tempels gelesen, und diese Leseweise wirkt sich auch auf
die Auslegung und die Datierung der Schrift aus. Dieser Artikel untersucht die Ähn-
lichkeiten zwischen P.Oxy. 840 und israelitischen (jüdischen und samaritanischen)
Synagogen und den Praktiken der römisch-byzantinischen Zeit. Es soll gezeigt wer-
den, dass dieses Fragment wahrscheinlich eine Debatte über die Wirksamkeit jüdi-
scher Waschungen und der christlichen Taufe zur Reinigung von Sünden aufzeigt,
die zeitgleich im Judentum und im Christentum stattgefunden hat. Daraus wird ge-
schlossen, dass das Papyrus im Zeitraum vom zweiten bis zum vierten Jahrhundert
verfasst worden sein könnte.
Keywords: Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840, temple, synagogue, baptism, miqveh

I. Introduction

A parchment fragment discovered by B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt was cat-
alogued as Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 (P.Oxy. 840) and published in
1908.1 They dated the manuscript to the fourth or fifth century CE and
suggested that the work was originally composed between 150–200 CE.2
In 2005, M.J. Kruger reevaluated this manuscript and dated it between
300–350 CE, with a proposed date of composition around 125–150 CE.3
The gospel recorded on this fragment contains the conclusion of a
statement about present and future judgment (ll.1–7), followed by a

1 B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume 5 (London 1908), 1–
10 ; iid. , Fragment of an Uncanonical Gospel from Oxyrhynchus (Oxford 1908).
2 Grenfell and Hunt, Oxyrhynchus (see n. 1), 1, 4 ; iid. , Fragment (see n. 1), 12.
3 M.J. Kruger, The Gospel of the Savior (Leiden 2005), 62, 244–245. Kruger has pro-
duced other publications on this fragment (“Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840”, in The
Non-Canonical Gospels [ed. by P. Foster ; London 2008] 157–170 ; “Papyrus Oxy-
rhynchus 840”, in Gospel Fragments [ed. by T.J. Kraus, M.J. Kruger and T. Nicklas ;
Oxford 2009] 123–215), but his initial monograph remains the most significant.

Early Christianity 5 (2014), 1–20 DOI 10.1628/186870314X14054089315949

ISSN 1868-7032 © 2014 Mohr Siebeck
2 Lorne R. Zelyck

conflict episode between the Savior (along with his disciples) and a
Pharisaic high-priest named Levi (ll.8–45). The Savior leads his disci-
ples into the ‘place of purification’ ("cmeut¶qiom) and is walking in the
‘temple’ (Reqºm) when he is chastised by Levi for entering this space to
view the ‘holy vessels’ (ûcia sje¼g). The Savior is accused of not ‘bath-
ing’ (ko¼y) and changing his garments, while the disciples have not
‘washed’ (bapt¸fy) their feet. The Savior questions Levi’s purity, to
which Levi declares that he has indeed ‘bathed’ (ko¼y) in the ‘pool
of David’ (k¸lm, toO D(aue·)d) where he went down one staircase
and up another, put on white garments, and then came to view the
‘holy vessels’. The Savior responds with a ‘Woe’ statement against
Levi’s blindness, since he has ‘bathed’ (ko¼y) in ‘running waters’
(to?r weol´moir v. [d]a. si.(m)), in which dogs and pigs lie and prostitutes
and flute-girls use to beautify themselves, while the Savior and his dis-
ciples have been ‘dipped’ (b²pty) in ‘living waters (vdasi f_[sim])
[from heaven] which come from the [Father above]’. The episode
breaks off with the beginning of another ‘Woe’ statement.
The primary issues surrounding this work are its historical veracity
and the nature of the debate between Levi and the Savior, which affects
the interpretation and proposed date of composition for P.Oxy. 840.
This article will explore the similarities between P.Oxy. 840 and Isra-
elite (Jewish and Samaritan) synagogues and practices in the Roman-
Byzantine period, argue that this fragment likely depicts a contempo-
raneous Jewish/Christian debate about the efficacy of Jewish ablutions
and Christian baptism to purify, and conclude that it may have been
composed anywhere between the second and fourth century CE.

II. The Historical Veracity of P.Oxy. 840

Scholars have been divided over the historical veracity of the details men-
tioned in this work.4 The unhistorical features noted by Grenfell – Hunt

4 Scholars who have generally questioned the historical veracity of P.Oxy. 840 in-
clude : J. Dräseke, “Zum neuen Evangelienbruchstück von Oxyrhynchos”, ZWT
50 (1908) 485–489, here 488 ; E.J. Goodspeed, “The New Gospel Fragment from
Oxyrhynchus”, BW 31 (1908) 142–146, here 145 ; Grenfell and Hunt, Oxyrhynchus
(see n. 1), 3 ; iid. , Fragment (see n. 1), 12 ; A. Jülicher, “Ein neues Jesuswort ?”, Chris-
tliche Welt 8 (1908) 201–204, here 203 ; E. Schürer, “Review of B.P. Grenfell and A.S.
Hunt, Fragment of an Uncanonical Gospel from Oxyrhynchus (Oxford 1908)”, TLZ
33 (1908) 170–172, here 172 ; D. Smith, Unwritten Sayings of Our Lord (London
1913), 139 ; A. Sulzbach, “Zum Oxyrhynchus-Fragment”, ZNW 9 (1908) 175 f,
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 3

include: (1) the improbability of a Pharisaic ‘high priest’ named Levi; (2)
the location of the ‘place of purification’ and its proximity to the ‘holy ves-
sels’; (3) the identification of the ‘pool of David’ with its double-staircase;
and (4) the need to perform ablutions and change garments before enter-
ing the temple.5 Kruger has provided the most thorough examination of
this work and forcefully argues that it accurately represents “the structure
and practices of Herod’s temple, the typical Jewish attitude toward cere-
monial cleanliness, and the role of bathing pools (miqva’ot) during the
time of Jesus”6. Most scholars have evaluated the historical veracity of
this work within the framework of first-century CE Judaism and the con-
text of the Herodian temple, but the similarities with Israelite synagogues
and practices from the Roman-Byzantine period are often overlooked.

1. The Literary Context of P.Oxy. 840

The vast majority of scholars have assumed that the ‘temple’ (Reqºm) in ll.9,
23 and ‘this sacred place’ (toOto t¹ Req¹m t[ºpom]) in l.17 are unequivocal

here 175 ; H.B. Swete, Two New Gospel Fragments (Cambridge 1908) 7 f ; T. Zahn,
“Neue Bruchstücke nichtkanonischer Evangelien”, NKZ 19 (1908) 371–386, here
376–380 ; A. v. Harnack, “Ein neues Evangelienbruchstück”, in Aus Wissenschaft
und Leben, Band II (Giessen 1911) 239–250, here 246–249 ; F. Bovon, “Fragment
Oxyrhynchus 840, Fragment of a Lost Gospel, Witness of an Early Christian Contro-
versy over Purity”, JBL 119 (2000) 705–728, here 706 f.
Those scholars who have attempted to defend its historical veracity to some de-
gree include : L. Blau, “Das neue Evangelienfragment von Oxyrhynchos buch- und
zaubergeschichtlich betrachtet nebst sonstigen Bemerkungen”, ZNW 9 (1908) 204–
215, here 213 ; A. Büchler, “The New ‘Fragment of an Uncanonical Gospel’”, JQR 20
(1908) 330–346, here 331; W.W. Davies, “A Fragment of another Gospel”, Methodist
Review 90 (1908) 815–818, here 817 f ; M.-J. Lagrange, “Nouveau fragment non can-
onique relatif a l’Évangile”, RB 5 (1908) 538–553, here 551; H. Lietzmann, “Das ne-
ugefundene Evangelienfragment und seine Vorgänger”, Beilage zur allgemeinen
Zeitung 31 (1908) 662–672, here 668–671; E. Preuschen, “Das neue Evangelienfrag-
ment von Oxyrhynchos”, ZNW 9 (1908) 1–11, here 5–9 ; A. Marmorstein, “Einige
Bemerkungen zum Evangelienfragment in Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. V, n. 840,
1907“, ZNW 15 (1914) 336–338, here 338 ; E. Riggenbach, “Das Wort Jesu im Ges-
präch mit dem pharisäischen Hohenpriester nach dem Oxyrhynchus Fragment V
Nr. 840”, ZNW 25 (1926) 140–144, here 142 ; R. Dunkerley, “The Oxyrhynchus Gos-
pel Fragments”, HTR 23 (1930) 19–37, here 30 ; J. Jeremias, Unknown Sayings of Jesus
(trans. R.H. Fuller ; London 1958) 46 f ; D.R. Schwartz, “Viewing the Holy Utensils
(P. Ox. V, 840)”, NTS 32 (1986) 153–159 ; Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 94–
5 Grenfell and Hunt, Fragment (see n. 1), 12.
6 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 95, 244.
4 Lorne R. Zelyck

references to the Herodian temple.7 However, during the first century CE,
before and after the destruction of the temple, the same terminology was
used to describe Jewish synagogues. For example, Josephus reiterates Aga-
tharchides’ statement that the Jews of Jerusalem gather together every
seven days to pray in ‘the temples’ (to?r Reqo?r) (Jos., C. Ap. 1.209), and
Philo indicates that the Essenes gather on the seventh day for the reading
and explanation of the Torah in ‘the sacred places (Reqo»r . . . tºpour)
which are called synagogues’ (Philo, Prob. 81).8 The sanctity of the syna-
gogue began to increase in the second century CE until its marked pro-
nouncement in rabbinic sources of the fourth century CE.9 An inscription
from the late second or early third century CE identifies a synagogue as a
‘holy place’ (t` "c¸\ tºp\)10 – a title repeated in synagogue inscriptions
throughout Palestine in the third and fourth centuries CE11 – and even ‘the
most holy [place]’ in Gaza and Gerasa.12 It is unnecessary to assume that
the antecedent of the ‘temple’ (Reqºm) is the Herodian temple – it could be a
synagogue in the first through fourth century CE.13

7 The notable exceptions are D. Smith and F.C. Burkitt who suggest that the location
is an Egyptian temple (Smith, Unwritten Sayings [see n. 4], 138 f ; F.C. Burkitt, The
Earliest Sources for the Life of Jesus [London 1922] 21 f), and F. Bovon who notes
similarities with ancient Christian basilicas (Bovon, “Fragment Oxyrhynchus
840” [see n. 4], 719).
8 The synagogue is also referred to as a Reqºm in : Jos. , Ant. 13.66, 14.374 ; B.J. 1.277,
4.408, 7.144 ; Philo, Deus 8 ; Spec. Leg. 3.171; 3 Macc 2.28. See A. Runesson et al.
(eds.), The Ancient Synagogue from its Origins to 200 C.E. : A Source Book, Ancient
Judaism and Early Christianity (AJEC 72 ; Leiden 2008).
9 Runesson et al. suggest the increase of the synagogue’s sanctity is co-terminus with
rabbinic interest in the synagogue (Runesson, Ancient Synagogue [see n. 8], 108 f ).
10 “No. 187”, in Runesson, Ancient Synagogue (see n. 8), 240–242.
11 References to a ‘holy place’ appear in the synagogues at Hammat Tiberias (twice),
Na‘aran (four times), Kefar Hananiah, Ashkelon, and Gaza. See L.I. Levine, “‘Com-
mon Judaism’: The Contribution of the Ancient Synagogue”, in Common Judaism :
Second Temple Judaism in Context. Essays in Honour of E.P. Sanders (ed. by W.O.
McCready and A. Reinhartz ; Minneapolis 2008) 27–46, here 31.
12 Levine, “Common Judaism” (see n. 11), 31. By the end of the Byzantine period, the
synagogue is identified as a ‘little Temple’ (b. Meg. 29a). See J. Yahalom, “The Sep-
phoris Synagogue Mosaic and its Story”, in From Dura to Sepphoris : Studies in Jew-
ish Art and Society in Late Antiquity (ed. by L.I. Levine and Z. Weiss ; Journal of
Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 40 ; Portsmouth, RI 2000) 83–91,
here 85 ; L.I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue : The First Thousand Years (2 nd ed. ;
New Haven, CT 2005) 240 ; S. Fine, “Between Liturgy and Social History : Priestly
Power in Late Antique Palestinian Synagogues ?”, JJS 56 (2005) 1–9, here 6.
13 Kruger has suggested that the context of this episode within the Herodian temple is
similar to Jesus’confrontation with Jewish leaders in the canonical gospels (Kruger,
Gospel of the Savior [see n. 3], 156). However, Jesus is never confronted in the tem-
ple for disregarding halakah regulations ; conflicts within the temple center on his
identity and authority (Matt 21:12–17//Mark 11:15–18//Luke 19 :45 f//John 2 :14–
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 5

Other extra-canonical works also depict conflicts between Jesus’

disciples and their opponents in the temple, as well as the synagogue.
In Ap. John II, 1.4–17, John goes up to the temple and is questioned by
the Pharisee Arimanius about his master.14 While the mention of a
named Pharisee is similar to P.Oxy. 840, a greater contextual parallel
is noted in Acts Pil. 12.1 where Nicodemus seeks out the Jews and
they question him, ‘How is it that you have come into the synagogue ?’
(s» p_r eQs/kher eQr tµm sumacyc¶m), which is similar to Levi’s ques-
tion about the entrance of the Savior and his disciples into the ‘temple’

2. The Identification of the Pharisaic High-Priest, Levi

The first challenge to the historical veracity of P.Oxy. 840 is that there was
never a high-priest named Levi between 200 BCE and 70 CE,15 and most
high-priests were Sadducees, not Pharisees. Therefore, some scholars
have understood Levi to be a representative figure either of Judaism16
or mainstream Christianity.17 Kruger sidesteps the name ‘Levi’ (presum-
ably because the reading Keu[e·r] is partially reconstructed) and contends
that it is historically plausible for there to be Pharisaical high-priest, al-
though explicit evidence for such a figure is lacking.18 While this is possi-

25 ; Matt 21:23–27//Mark 11:27–33//Luke 20 :1–8 ; Mark 12 :35–40 ; John 7:14–44,

8 :12 ff). These same issues arise in his conflicts in the synagogue (Matt 13 :54–58//
Mark 6 :1–6 ; Mark 1:21–28//Luke 4 :31–37), but he is also confronted in the syna-
gogue for disregarding Sabbath regulations (Matt 12 :9–14//Mark 3 :1–6//Luke
6 :6–11; Luke 13 :10–17), which is closer to the debate depicted in P.Oxy. 840.
14 The Savior and Peter are also threatened in the temple by the priests, people, and
scribes (Apoc. Pet. 71.4–9 ; 73.1–4), and James is abused in the temple by the priests
(2 Apoc. Jas. 61.1–62.7), but they are not questioned about their presence in the
temple, as in P.Oxy. 840 and Acts Pil.
15 For a list of high-priests during this period, see J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of
Jesus : An Investigation into the Economic and Social Conditions during the New Tes-
tament Period (3 rd ed. ; trans. C.H. Cave and F.H. Cave ; London 1969) 377 f.
16 A. Stewart-Sykes, “Bathed in Living Waters : Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 and Chris-
tian Baptism Reconsidered”, ZNW 100 (2009) 278–286, here 281.
17 Bovon, “Fragment Oxyrhynchus 840” (see n. 4), 721; D. Tripp, “Meanings of the
Foot-Washing : John 13 and Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840”, ExpTim 103 (1992)
237–239, here 238.
18 Kruger’s argument is that : (1) some priests were Pharisees ; (2) Pharisees and high-
priests are frequently juxtaposed in Josephus and the NT ; and most importantly,
(3) Haninah (m. Abot. 3 :2 ; m. Pesah. 1:6), ‘captain of the priests/temple’, was a
high-priest and Pharisee (although the latter claim is questionable since the sources
do not claim he was a Pharisee), and his role included the enforcement of temple
ordinances (Kruger, Gospel of the Savior [see n. 3], 96–100). The role of the ‘ruler of
6 Lorne R. Zelyck

ble, it is more likely that the three-fold specification of the interlocutor

(Pharisaic, high-priest, named Levi) is used to portray him as a represent-
ative figure of Jewish temple leadership, although this too may be ques-
The Theodotus inscription provides first-century CE evidence for a
priestly family being responsible for synagogue leadership :
Theodotus, son of Vettenus, priest (Reqe»r) and ruler of the synagogue (!qwisum²cycor),
son of a ruler of the synagogue, grandson of a ruler of the synagogue, built the synagogue
for the reading of the law and the teaching of the commandments, and also the guest
chamber and the upper rooms and the ritual pools of water for accommodating
those needing them from abroad, which his fathers, the elders and Simonides founded.19

M. Hengel has suggested that Theodotus was a Pharisee since the emphasis
on worship, instruction, and ritual bathing in association with the syna-
gogue comprises the “Pharisaic programme” of educating the people in
the law,20 but these details are not unique to the Pharisees. There is also
no indication that Theodotus ever functioned as a high-priest, which un-
dermines a direct correlation between the stature of Levi in the ‘temple’
with a similar figure in the synagogue, although the possibility of a
high-priestly family functioning as synagogue rulers after the destruction
of the Herodian temple cannot be entirely discounted.21
In 1909, M. Gaster compiled a list of Samaritan high-priests.22 Of
particular relevance to this study, is that the 80 th high-priest is

the synagogue’ (!qwisum²cycor) is debatable, but in Luke 13 :10–17, he confronts

Jesus for healing on the Sabbath which indicates his authority to enforce halakhic
regulations, similar to Levi in our fragment. Also in Jos. , Vita 294, the %qwym de-
termines which people enter the synagogue.
19 “No. 26”, in Runesson, Ancient Synagogue (see n. 8), 52–54.
20 M. Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul : Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity
(trans. J. Bowden ; London 1983) 18.
21 After the destruction of the temple, the priestly family of Jedaiah settled in Sepph-
oris, in which there were apparently eighteen synagogues (See Z. Weiss, “Sepphor-
is”, in NEAEHL 4.1324–1328, here 1324 ; J.T. , Kil. 9 :4, 32b). For a discussion of the
influence of priests and Pharisees in the synagogue see Levine, Ancient Synagogue
(see n. 12), 524–529 ; Fine, “Liturgy” (see n. 12), 9 ; S.J.D. Cohen, From the Macca-
bees to the Mishnah (2 nd ed. ; Louisville 2006) 224 ; Runesson, Ancient Synagogue
(see n. 8), 113.
22 M. Gaster, “The Chain of Samaritan High Priests”, JRAS (1909) 393–420. See also
E.N. Adler and M. Seligsohn, “Une Nouvelle Chronique Samaritaine”, REJ 44/45
(1902) 70–98, here 82. Although many of the Samaritan chronicles which describe
events during the Second Revolt were written between the eleventh and fourteenth
centuries CE, M. Mor contends they are still valuable sources (M. Mor, “The Samar-
itans and the Bar-Kokhbah Revolt”, in The Samaritans [ed. by A.D. Crown ; Tüb-
ingen 1989] 19–31, here 25).
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 7

named Levi, and he reigned for 25 years.23 The additional information

states, ‘In his days came King Adrianus [Hadrian], and he showed great
mercy and did favours to the Samaritans and destroyed the sanctuary
(vD'q.mi) of the Jews’24. Even if there were lay Samaritan movements
that leaned in the direction of Pharisaism,25 it is difficult to conceive
that the author of P.Oxy. 840 would knowingly call a Samaritan
high-priest a Vaqisa?or.
The evidence of priestly leadership in a Jewish synagogue may un-
dermine the conclusion that the function of the high-priest in
P.Oxy. 840 was limited to the Herodian temple, and the existence of
a Samaritan high-priest named Levi may also cause us to question
whether Levi in P.Oxy. 840 was only a representative of Judaism. Rath-
er, it is possible that the author used the Pharisaic high-priest Levi as a
representative figure of Israelite (Jewish and/or Samaritan) synagogue

3. The Place of Purification

The identification of the ‘place of purification’ ("cmeut¶qiom) is notorious-
ly difficult since it only occurs three times in ancient literature (Porphyr.,
Abst. 4.6; Gregor. Nazianz., Carm.; Or. Bas. 4.111), and once

23 T. Ilan ranks ‘Levi’ as the seventeenth most popular name (29 occurrences) in Pal-
estine between 330 BCE–200 CE (T. Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity,
Part 1: Palestine 300 BCE–200 CE [TSAJ 91; Tübingen 2002] 56). While it is diffi-
cult to determine the popularity of this name amongst the Samaritans, Gaster’s
chain indicates there were two Samaritan high-priests named Levi during this
same epoch (number 65 and 80), and reconstructed inscriptions bearing the
name ‘sons of Levi’ and ‘Levi’ were found at Mt. Gerizim (Y. Magen et al. ,
Mount Gerizim Excavations Vol. 1 [trans. E. Levin and M. Guggenheimer ; Judea
and Samaria Publications 2 ; Jerusalem 2004] 89, 154).
24 Gaster, “Chain” (see n. 22), 408, 414. There is chronological confusion with the dat-
ing of Hadrian, and also Levi, in the Samaritan Chronicles. However, the common
detail is that during the reign of Hadrian, Levi held the office of high-priest for 25
years. See B. Hall, “From John Hyrcanus to Baba Rabbah”, in The Samaritans (ed. by
A.D. Crown ; Tübingen 1989) 32–54, here 50 f.
25 S.J. Isser concludes that some Samaritan sects “leaned in the direction of Pharisa-
ism, not only in their acceptance of resurrection, but in some of their legal inter-
pretations as well”, including the purification of glass and metal vessels (S.J. Isser,
The Dositheans : A Samaritan Sect in Late Antiquity [Leiden 1976] 160 f). Although
he is speculative in his conclusions regarding a missing-link between the Pharisees
and Samaritan sects, he suggests that the Dositheans assimilated Pharisaic practices
in the first century CE, “in contradistinction to the Sadducee-like ‘orthodox’ Samar-
itans” (Ibid. , 163).
8 Lorne R. Zelyck

in the ninth century CE (Photius, Lex.).26 The clearest correlation between

"cmeut¶qiom and a physical temple is Porphyry’s reiteration of Chaere-
mon’s description of the Egyptian priests in their temple, when during
their period of service, they ‘divided among themselves the rooms of pu-
rification ("cmeut¶qia) and fasting which were inaccessible to those who
were not pure and which were set apart for the religious services’27. Based
on this evidence, Kruger claims that the "cmeut¶qiom is a place where one
must already be clean in order to enter,28 but P.W. van der Horst suggests it
is place where cathartic rituals are performed.29 This minimal evidence
suggests that the "cmeut¶qiom was the location where religious devotion,
including cathartic ritual, was expressed.
Based on its first occurrence in l.8, it appears that one must first
enter through the "cmeut¶qiom to arrive in the ‘temple’. In its second
occurrence, it is difficult to distinguish this location from the ‘sacred
place’ itself, since the parallel between ll.12–13 (pat[e?m] toOto t¹
"cmeut¶qiom) and l.17 (1p²tgsar toOto t¹ Req¹m t[ºpom]) suggests
they are virtually synonymous. Kruger concludes that the "cmeut¶qiom
most likely refers to the Court of the Israelites or the Court of the Priests
within the Herodian temple’30, yet F. Bovon is more accurate that the
relationship between the "cmeut¶qiom and ‘temple’ is comparable to
a “building and its precinct, not a building and an inner room”31. It ap-
pears that in P.Oxy. 840, the "cmeut¶qiom and ‘temple/sacred place’ are
synonymous, although the "cmeut¶qiom should be viewed as the en-
trance, presumably where perfunctory lustrations were expected to
be performed in the spirit of religious devotion, since Levi’s chastise-
ment of the Savior and his disciples for neglecting the necessary ablu-
tions occurs immediately after their entrance into this space.
Bovon notes the similitude between the "cmeut¶qiom and a water
basin located in the atrium of an ancient Christian basilica,32 but
these buildings were not constructed before the fourth century CE.33

26 See discussion in Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 107–111; Bovon, “Fragment
Oxyrhynchus 840” (see n. 4), 718.
27 Translation from P.W. van der Horst, Chaeremon, Egyptian Priest and Stoic Philos-
opher : The Fragments Collected and Translated with Explanatory Notes (Leiden
1984) PAGE ?.
28 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 108.
29 van der Horst, Chaeremon (see n. 27), 57.
30 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 114 f.
31 Bovon, “Fragment Oxyrhynchus 840” (see n. 4), 718.
32 Bovon, “Fragment Oxyrhynchus 840” (see n. 4), 719.
33 See Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 110.
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 9

While the precise relationship between architectural developments in

synagogues and basilicas is unclear, there is first-century CE archaeo-
logical evidence of water basins being located in the atrium of syna-
gogues. Next to the synagogue discovered at Masada was a miqveh
and a pool for washing hands and feet.34 L. Levine states :
“Water installations seem to be the element most commonly found in the synagogue
atrium. They stood outside the main hall of the synagogue, yet were clearly related to
the ritual conducted inside. The most frequently encountered of such installations
was the basin. […] [The basin] was used for the washing of hands and feet and was placed
in the middle of the courtyard (atrium), just outside the main entrance to the synagogue,
or in the hall, or narthex, leading from the street into the synagogue sanctuary.”35

The presence of these water installations at synagogues is likely due to the

need for purification, including the custom of washing one’s feet before
prayer (see t. Ber. 14.2; y. Meg. 14.1),36 as well, “washing symbolizes the
need to act in awe and holiness while in the synagogue, as was once the
practice when entering the precincts of the Jerusalem Temple”37. The lo-
cation of a water installation for purification in the atrium of a synagogue
before entrance into the synagogue proper is similar to the location and
function of the "cmeut¶qiom in P.Oxy. 840 before entrance into the ‘tem-
ple’ proper.

4. The Holy Vessels

Another critique against the historicity of this work is that the ‘holy vessels’
(ûcia sje¼g) are visible to Levi, as well as the Savior and the disciples, when
they were normally not visible from the Court of the Israelites, and laity
were prevented from entering the sanctuary. D.R. Schwartz and Kruger
have argued that viewing the ‘holy vessels’ inside the sanctuary – the gold-
en altar of incense, seven-branched candelabrum, the golden table of the
showbread, and their associated items38 – was permitted during certain
festivals due to the influence of Pharisees who pressed for a “periodic ‘de-
mocratization’ of the temple cult”39. Yet this conclusion produces the

34 Y. Yadin, Masada : Herod’s Fortress and the Zealot’s Last Stand (New York 1966) 164.
35 Levine, Ancient Synagogue (see n. 12), 331. He notes that these installations are
found at Gaza and ‘En Gedi as well as Dura Europos, Ostia, Asia Minor (Sardis,
Philadelphia in Lydia, Priene), Delos, and Gerasa.
36 Levine, Ancient Synagogue (see n. 12), 331.
37 Levine, Ancient Synagogue (see n. 12), 333.
38 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 101; Schwartz, “Holy Utensils” (see n. 4), 156.
39 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 113. This event is alluded to in Jos. ,
Ant. 3.128 ; b. Yoma. 54a ; b. Hag. 26b ; b. Pesah. 57a.
10 Lorne R. Zelyck

greatest difficulty for their interpretation of P.Oxy. 840 – if viewing the

‘holy vessels’ is in fact permitted at this particular moment in time, and
purity regulations have been temporarily removed under the auspices
of the Pharisees, why does Levi critique the Savior and his disciples for
viewing them? Perhaps the author wanted to reveal the insensitivity of
Levi who is still enforcing purity regulations when they had been relaxed,
or perhaps the event is better situated in a different context – the syna-
If the events of P.Oxy. 840 are situated in a synagogue, it must not be
assumed that the ‘holy vessels’ in view are the actual objects from the
Herodian temple (although Josephus does claim that some sacred ar-
tifacts from the temple were deposited in the synagogue in Antioch
[B.J. 7.44–45]). Multiple synagogues in the Byzantine era contain de-
pictions of the ‘holy vessels’. R. Talgam notes :
“From the 4th c. onward, the mosaic floors in the synagogues depict sacred themes and
definitive Jewish symbols, primarily the sacred objects connected with the service in the
Tabernacle, the Temple and the synagogue: the seven-branched candelabrum (meno-
rah), the façade of the Temple/Holy Ark, the ram’s horn (shofar), the incense shovel
and the four species.”40

In an examination of the floor mosaics, panels, and frescoes in two Jewish

synagogues (Dura Europos – third century CE ; Hammat Tiberias – fourth
century CE) and two Samaritan synagogues (El-Khirbe – fourth century CE ;
Khirbet Samara – fourth century CE), D. Amit noted this peculiar feature:
each contained “pictures of an ark within a temple-like structure, with the
curtain in front pulled aside to reveal the ark in detail”41. Amit suggests
that this feature in the Jewish synagogues may reflect the popular partic-
ipation in the Temple service on festivals, whereby the Pharisees removed

40 R. Talgam, “Similarities and Differences between Synagogue and Church Mosaics

in Palestine during the Byzantine and Umayyad Periods”, in From Dura to Sepph-
oris : Studies in Jewish Art and Society in Late Antiquity (ed. by L.I. Levine and Z.
Weiss ; Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 40 ; Portsmouth, RI
2000) 93–110, here 94. She also notes that the sacred utensils and façade depicted
in the excavated synagogues at Hammat Tiberias, Na’aran, Bet Alpha, synagogue A
at Bet Shean, Susiya, and Sepphoris, emphasize a correlation between worship in
the synagogue and the Temple that would be rebuilt (Ibid. , 108).
41 D. Amit, “‘The Curtain would be Removed for Them’ (Yoma 54a): Ancient Syna-
Depictions”, in From Dura to Sepphoris (see n. 40), 231–234, here 233. Y. Magen
suggests that the parochet (curtain that covers the door of the Holy Ark) wound
around a column is a common feature in Samaritan synagogues (Y. Magen, The
Samaritans and the Good Samaritan [trans. E. Levin ; Judea and Samaria Publica-
tions 7; Jerusalem 2008] 135 ; for photographs see 127, 167).
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 11

socio-religious restrictions between sacred and profane and permitted

people to experience proximity to the holy. He also notes that the meaning
within a Samaritan synagogue may reflect their reading of Exod 34:23;
23:17: “In the verse ‘Three times a year all your males shall appear before
the Lord [Adon] God, the God of Israel,’ […] the Samaritan version reads
‘the ark of [aron] God’ instead of ‘the Lord God.’”42 Amit concludes that
“the command to appear before the Lord was changed to a command to
see the ark, in accordance with the idea that viewing the holy vessels is like
seeing God”43.
The synagogue context may better explain Levi’s reaction. If the ep-
isode occurred on the Sabbath in an Israelite synagogue where purity
regulations were not relaxed, and the Savior and his disciples defiantly
bypassed the "cmeut¶qiom without performing some form of ritual ab-
lution, only to proceed into the synagogue to view depictions of the
‘holy vessels’ (including the holy ark)44 – which is akin to experiencing
the holy or seeing God – then Levi’s outrage is understandable.

5. The Pool of David

One critique initially posed against the historicity of P.Oxy. 840 is the de-
scription of the ‘pool of David’, yet Kruger is surely correct that the ‘pool of
David’ should be identified as a miqveh.45 As of 1990, R. Reich discovered
approximately 300 such stepped pools in Israel, while an additional 550
miqva’ot have since been discovered.46 Reich also discovered multiple miq-

42 Amit, “Curtain” (see n. 41), 233.

43 Amit, “Curtain” (see n. 41), 233 f.
44 The conflation of the ‘holy vessels’ with the Ark of the Covenant is not entirely
problematic. In Num 31:6, Moses sent Phinehas to war with ‘the holy vessels’
(t± sje¼g t± ûcia), which is interpreted as the Ark in the tannaitic midrash,
since Num 10 :35 states, ‘Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, “Arise, O
LORD, let your enemies be scattered, and your foes flee before you”’ (See Schwartz,
“Holy Utensils” [see n. 4], 155). It is noteworthy that a third or fourth century CE
inscription of this passage is located at a Samaritan synagogue (See R. Pummer, “Sa-
maritan Synagogues and Jewish Synagogues : Similarities and Differences”, in Jews,
Christians, and Polytheists in the Ancient Synagogue : Cultural Interaction during
the Greco-Roman Period [ed. by S. Fine ; London 1999] 118–160, here 119 f ).
45 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 116–123. See also Stewart-Sykes, “Living Wa-
ters” (see n. 16), 279. Bovon has argued that the description of two sets of stairs is
“very similar to the structure of an early Christian baptistery” (Bovon, “Fragment
Oxyrhynchus 840” [see n. 4], 717), but double-stepped fonts do not appear until the
fourth century CE.
46 D. Amit and T. Adler, “The Observance of Ritual Purity after 70 C.E. : A Reevalu-
ation of the Evidence in Light of Recent Archaeological Discoveries”, in “Follow the
12 Lorne R. Zelyck

va’ot with divided stairs in Jerusalem and the surrounding area which may
have been built and first used during the first century CE.47 Currently, there
is no archaeological evidence for a double-stepped miqveh on the Temple
Mount, nor a miqveh identified as ‘the pool of David’48.
There is also archaeological evidence of miqva’ot outside syna-
gogues in the Second Temple period, likely used for purification before
entrance – the synagogues at Gamala, Masada, and Herodium each
have a water installation that served as a miqveh.49 The Theodotus in-
scription (noted above) also indicates that this synagogue had water in-
stallations, and two miqva’ot have been discovered several meters from
the cistern where the inscription was found. Of particular interest is
that one of these is the largest of its kind in Jerusalem. Reich notes,
“The staircase of this installation was originally divided by a low par-
tition which created two parallel lanes. (This style suggests that this in-
stallation constitutes a particular type of miqwaot – those with a double
entrance […]).”50 Unfortunately, it is impossible to know the precise
relationship between the Theodotus inscription and the immediate
miqva’ot, but it may indicate the association of a double-stepped mi-
qveh with a first-century CE synagogue in Jerusalem. The proximity
of miqva’ot to synagogues, similar to the presence of water basins in
the atrium of synagogues, suggests that they were in fact used for ritual
lustration before entrance into the synagogue.51

Wise”: Studies in Jewish History and Culture in Honor of Lee I. Levine (ed. by Z.
Weiss et al. ; Winona Lake, IN 2010) 121–143, here 126.
47 R. Reich, “Four Notes on Jerusalem”, IEJ 37 (1987) 158–167, here 161.
48 Although not having a double-staircase, Reich has also suggested that two instal-
lations on the Temple Mount were miqva’ot used by worshippers (R. Reich, “Two
Possible Miqwā’ōt on the Temple Mount”, IEJ 39 [1989] 63–65).
49 R. Reich, “The Synagogue and the Miqweh in Eretz-Israel in the Second-Temple,
Mishnaic, and Talmudic Periods”, in Ancient Synagogues : Historical Analysis
and Archaeological Discovery (ed. by D. Urman and P.V.M. Flesher ; Studia Post-
Biblica 47; Leiden 1995) 289–297, here 290. See also S. Haber, “Common Judaism,
Common Synagogue ? Purity, Holiness, and Sacred Space at the Turn of the Com-
mon Era”, in Common Judaism : Second Temple Judaism in Context. Essays in Hon-
our of E.P. Sanders (ed. by W.O. McCready and A. Reinhartz ; Minneapolis 2008)
63–77, here 66.
50 Reich, “Synagogue and Miqweh” (see n. 49), 292.
51 Even if one contends that these miqva’ot were purely functional and pragmatic in-
stead of mandatory, their sheer number suggests that there was still an interest in
ritual-purity among the Jews after 70 CE. However, Reich claims that the situation
drastically changed in the Mishnaic and Talmudic period. While each of the syn-
agogues dated to the Second Temple period had a miqveh, most synagogues from
the Mishnaic and Talmudic period did not have miqva’ot associated with them
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 13

The presence of a miqveh at Khirbet Samara and H . orbat Migdal near

the Samaritan synagogues also affirms the Samaritan’s strict observ-
ance of purity regulations during the Roman-Byzantine period.52
Even if there is minimal evidence for miqva’ot being associated with
Jewish synagogues after 70 CE, Pummer claims the Samaritans “contin-
ued to build miqva’ot by synagogues much longer than did the Jews”,
and they “continued to observe the biblical injunctions about ritual pu-
rity in the Byzantine period”53. Although the literary evidence is admit-
tedly late, Kitab al-Tarikh (The Annals of Abu’l Fath) indicates that
Baba Rabbah (third century CE)54 built a miqveh and synagogue beside
Mt. Gerizim :
On the periphery of the Holy Mountain Baba Rabba built a water pool for purification at
prayer times, that is, before the rising of the sun, and its setting. And he erected a prayer
house for the people to pray in, opposite the Holy Mountain; and these still existed up to
the time the Franks ruled (Kitab 41).55

While miqva’ot may have been associated with Samaritan synagogues in

the third century CE, it is doubtful that the author of P.Oxy. 840 would
have knowingly enlisted ‘David’ as an eponym for a Samaritan miqveh.
However, the possibility that a double-stepped miqveh was associated

(with the exception of Sasa, and possibly Chorizan), so Reich concludes that there is
no apparent linkage between these institutions in this period (Reich, “Synagogue
and Miqweh” [see n. 49], 297). He attributes this to a radical decline in the extent
and nature of ritual-purity practices after 70 CE, but this claim has been recently
challenged by Amit and Adler who have unearthed ritual baths from the
Roman-Byzantine period at around thirty locations, and at Ma‘on and perhaps Sus-
iya and Ein Gedi, miqwa’ot are found in proximity and contextual relation to Byz-
antine era-synagogues (Amit and Adler, “Ritual Purity” [see n. 46], 124–139).
52 Y. Magen, “The Ritual Baths (Miqva’ot) at Qedumim and the Observance of Ritual
Purity among the Samaritans”, in Early Christianity in Context : Monuments and
Documents (ed. by F. Mann and E. Alliata ; SBF Collectio Maior 38 ; Jerusalem
1993) 181–192, here 183 ; Y. Magen, “Samaritan Synagogues”, in Early Christianity
in Context (see above), 193–230, here 211. Magen also notes that six miqwa’ot, sim-
ilar to those at Qedumim, were located in the settlement near the synagogue at El-
Khirbe, although he does not explicitly relate them to the synagogue (Magen, Good
Samaritan [see n. 41], 127).
53 Pummer, “Samaritan Synagogues and Jewish Synagogues” (see n. 44), 141.
54 The precise dating of Baba Rabbah’s career is uncertain, although B. Hall and A.D.
Crown suggest he was active in the first half of the third century CE (Hall, “John
Hyrcanus” [see n. 24], 53 ; A.D. Crown, “The Byzantine and Moslem Period”, in
The Samaritans [ed. by A.D. Crown ; Tübingen 1989] 55–81, here 56).
55 Translation from P. Stenhouse (trans.), The Kitab al-Tarikh of Abu’l-Fath (Studies
in Judaica 1; Sydney 1985) 182 f. For a similar account, see Chron. II.8.4, 6–7 in J.M.
Cohen, A Samaritan Chronicle : A Source-critical Analysis of the Life and Times of
the Great Samaritan Reformer, Baba Rabbah (Leiden 1981) 71.
14 Lorne R. Zelyck

with a Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem in the first-century CE may suggest

that the author was depicting the ablutions performed before entering
synagogues, and not necessarily the Herodian temple.

6. Imposed Restrictions on Entering the ‘Temple’

A final critique against the historicity of P.Oxy. 840 is that the Savior and
the disciples are required to: (1) perform ritual ablutions before entrance
into the temple – immersion and foot washing; and (2) dress in white gar-

Ritual Ablutions A perplexing detail in P.Oxy. 840 is that the Savior is con-
fronted for not ‘bathing’ (ko¼y), while the disciples are criticized for not
‘washing’ (bapt¸fy) their feet. Just as there is little evidence of the latter
requirement for laity in the Herodian temple,56 there is minimal literary
evidence for foot-washing prior to entry into the synagogue. Levine pro-
vides a quotation from a halakhic work from the end of the Byzantine pe-
And thus said the sages: ‘One must not enter the Temple Mount with his staff and shoes.
And if, owing to our sins, the Temple Mount is no longer available to us, a lesser sanc-
tuary is and we must behave in [it] in a spirit of holiness and fear, as it is written: “You
must fear My sanctuary” [Lev. 19:30]. Therefore, our ancestors have determined that in
all synagogue courtyards there should be basins of fresh water for sanctifying [i. e., wash-
ing] hands and feet.’57

It is impossible to determine the antiquity of the ‘ancestors’, but the pres-

ence of water basins in synagogue atriums (noted above) indicates that
they were already in use in the first century CE at Masada. There may
also be archeological evidence for the washing of feet before entrance
into a Samaritan synagogue. At the H . uzn Ya‘qūb synagogue near Neapo-
lis/Nablus (fourth century CE), Magen states:
“The atrium, especially large, is typical of Samaritan synagogues. In the middle of the
atrium is a square pool, with pinkish plaster, each side measuring 4.25 m and approx-
imately 40 cm deep; an octagonal inner structure is bordered by a channel covered in
stone slabs at its upper edge. At the center of each side there is a hole for drainage. The

56 Kruger references m. Ber. 9.5 ; Jos. , B.J. 4.150 ; Philo, QE 1.2, general biblical re-
strictions on wearing shoes in holy places (Exod 3 :5 ; Josh 5 :15 ; Acts 7:33), and
John 13 :10 (Kruger, Gospel of the Savior [see n. 3], 140).
57 Levine, Ancient Synagogue (see n. 12), 240.
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 15

pool was probably used to purify worshipers before they entered the synagogue by im-
mersion or foot-washing.”58

Perhaps the shallowness of the pool would favor the conclusion that it was
used for foot-washing.
Although Kruger acknowledges that any explanation of why the
Savior and his disciples are presented with two different washing re-
quirements is problematic, he concludes that the Savior did wash his
feet before entering the temple while the disciples absconded, and
this detail may be explained by the “influence of John 13 :10”59. The
similarities between the disciples’ foot-washing in John 13 :10 and
this fragment are quite superficial.60 Also, the two requirements may
be better explained within the context of the synagogue. A person re-
sponsible for reading the Torah may have been required to immerse in
a miqveh, while observant worshippers may have been required to wash
their feet before entering. Although direct evidence for this is lacking,
S. Haber contends that “only those who had direct contact with the
Torah scrolls would have been required to perform ritual ablutions
in connection with synagogue rituals”, possibly including the use of
a miqveh.61 Luke explicitly states that Jesus did read the Torah in the
synagogue (Luke 4 :16–20 ; he also teaches in the synagogue in Matt
13 :54–58//Mark 6 :1–6, Mark 1:20 f, Luke 6 :6, John 6 :59), and if it is
assumed that the author envisaged this as the Savior’s role in
P.Oxy. 840, then the two different washing requirements are under-

Dressing in White Garments If there was a general expansion of purity

laws and priestly requirements to the laity, and the practices of the Essenes
are assumed to be representative of common Judaism (which is surely
doubtful), then, according to Kruger, it is possible that lay worshippers
may have changed into white garments before entering the Herodian tem-

58 Magen, Good Samaritan (see n. 41), 127. The synagogue at H

. orbat Migdal (fourth
or fifth century CE) also has a miqveh and large cistern in the atrium (Ibid. , 167 f ).
Unfortunately, Magen does not clearly describe the circular pit (cistern ? ) at Khir-
bet Samara, approximately 3 meters in diameter and shallow, on the north side of
the atrium (Ibid. , 146 [fig. 49], 149 [fig. 53]). Perhaps this is another example of a
basin used for foot-washing.
59 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 181, 140–142.
60 For the possible influence of the Fourth Gospel on P.Oxy. 840, see L.R. Zelyck, John
among the Other Gospels : The Reception of the Fourth Gospel in the Extra-Canonical
Gospels (WUNT II/347; Tübingen 2013) 70–79.
61 Haber, “Common Judaism” (see n. 50), 69.
16 Lorne R. Zelyck

ple.62 There is no evidence of this practice in Jewish synagogues, and min-

imal literary evidence for its occurrence in Samaritan synagogues. Chron.
II 16.17 states:
In the evening King Baba Rabbah arrived at the Synagogue, dressed in linen garments.
When, at sunset, it grew dark, the righteous King Baba Rabbah took off the linen gar-
ments (dbh ydgb) which were the dress for the holy Sabbath, and slipped out of the Syn-
agogue without anyone knowing that he had left.63

Since the white/linen garments ‘were the dress for the holy Sabbath’, this
may suggest that this attire was common to all worshippers in the Samar-
itan synagogue. It is difficult to determine the antiquity of this practice,
and its corollary in Jewish synagogues, although it is possible that the au-
thor’s depiction of Levi putting on ‘white, clean garments’ after bathing in
the Pool of David reflects this practice.

7. Excursus: P.Oxy. 840 and Samaria

The historical details and practices evidenced in P.Oxy. 840 have been
compared with Israelite practices in their synagogues from the Roman-
Byzantine period. While the archeological and historical comparison
with the Samaritans is questionable, there are interesting intertextual par-
allels between P.Oxy. 840, 1 Kings, and the Fourth Gospel.
1 Kings 22 :38 describes how after Ahab’s death, his chariot was
washed in the ‘pool of Samaria’ (tµm jq¶mgm Salaqe¸ar), where
‘sows and dogs’ (aR ver ja· oR j¼mer) licked up his blood, and ‘prostitutes
bathed’ (aR pºqmai 1ko¼samto) in his blood. Perhaps P.Oxy. 840 is
drawing a comparison between the water of the ‘pool of David’
(k¸lm, toO D[aue·]d), which is similar to water used by ‘dogs and
pigs’ (j¼mer ja· wo?qoi) in which ‘prostitutes and flute-girls anoint
and wash’ (aR pºqmai ja· aR aqkgtq¸der luq¸[f]ou[sim j]a· ko¼ousim),
with the filthy water of the ‘pool of Samaria’. The Savior also mentions
‘living waters’ (vdasi f_[sim]) in ll.43–44, similar to his conversation
with the Samaritan woman in John 4 :10 f, and her kinsmen proclaim
Jesus ‘Savior of the world’ (John 4 :42) – ‘Savior’ being the title used
for Jesus in this fragment and multiple other extra-canonical works
from the second and third century CE.

62 See Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 134–140.

63 Cohen, Samaritan Chronicle (see n. 55), 154.
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 17

III. The Interpretation of the Debate between Levi and the


There does not appear to be a scholarly consensus regarding the nature of

the debate that is envisaged in this fragment. P. Shellberg has argued that it
represents an intra-Jewish debate regarding the type of water and/or ne-
cessity of miqva’ot,64 while it reveals an intra-Christian debate for D. Tripp
(about water baptism and spiritual baptism)65 and F. Bovon (about ritual,
ethical, and spiritual purity).66 Other scholars suggest that P.Oxy. 840 re-
veals a Christian polemic against a priestly overemphasis on external pu-
rity,67 or a Jewish/Christian debate about levitical cleansing and Christian
baptism,68 while Kruger has concluded that the entire work depicts a con-
flict between Jewish-Christians (that have been expelled from the syna-
gogue!) and Rabbinic Judaism regarding purity regulations at meals.69
Since Levi’s ‘bathing’ (ko¼y) in the pool of David (ll. 23–24) is contrasted
with the Savior’s and disciples’ ‘dipping’ (b²pty) in living waters from
heaven (ll. 43–44), it is likely that this work reflects a contemporaneous
Jewish/Christian debate about the efficacy of Jewish ablutions and Chris-
tian baptism to purify.
Firstly, P.Oxy. 840 contrasts ‘running waters’ (to?r weol´moir
v. [d]a. si.(m)) (ll.32–33), which may refer to the type of water used in Jew-
ish miqva’ot,70 with ‘living waters’ (vdasi f_[sim]) (ll.43–44), which
may refer to the type of water used in Christian baptism. 71 ‘Living
water’ (vdati f_mti) is the most suitable type of water for baptism
(Did. 7.1), and Justin presents a similar contrast to that depicted in
P.Oxy. 840 – Christian baptism in the water of life (t¹ vdyq t/r
fy/r) is able to cleanse (jahaq¸sai), while Jewish ablutions are only
able to wash (vaidq¼mei) (Dial. 14.4–8).72

64 P. Shellberg, “A Johannine Reading of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840”, in Jewish and

Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon (ed. by C.A. Evans and H.D. Zacharias ;
Library of Second Temple Studies 70 ; London 2009) 176–190, here 186.
65 Tripp, “Foot-Washing” (see n. 17), 238.
66 Bovon, “Fragment Oxyrhynchus 840” (see n. 4), 721.
67 Schwartz, “Holy Utensils” (see n. 4), 157.
68 A. Stewart-Sykes, “Living Waters” (see n. 16), 286.
69 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 218, 222, 229.
70 M. Miqw. 1–10 ; see Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 120–122.
71 The ‘running waters’ and ‘living waters’ both refer to moving water, but the point
here is that the author of P.Oxy. 840 appears to contrast the type of water used by
Levi and that used by the Savior.
72 See also Dial. 19.5–9, 29.5–6 ; Didascalia Apostolorum 6.21.6–8.
18 Lorne R. Zelyck

Secondly, b²pty probably refers to Christian baptism in l.43, and it

is contrasted with the Jewish washing (bapt¸fy) enforced by Levi (ll.15,
42).73 This is somewhat odd since bapt¸fy often refers to Christian
baptism in the early church, but it was occasionally used to describe
Jewish ablutions. For example, Trypho acknowledges that the Jews
can no longer offer sacrifices in the temple, but they are able ‘to
keep the Sabbath, be circumcised, observe the months, and be washed
(bapt¸feshai) after touching anything forbidden by Moses or after sex-
ual intercourse’ (Justin, Dial. 46.14). Similar to P.Oxy. 840, Pseudo-
Cyprian uses intinguo (likely equivalent to b²pty)74 for Christian bap-
tism and baptizo for Jewish washing in his description of the role re-
versal experienced by Jews and Gentiles : ‘Those learn who one time
taught ; they keep commandments who once commanded ; are dipped
(intinguntur) who used to wash (baptizabant), and are circumcised
who used to circumcise’ (Adv. Jud. 81).75
Thirdly, the Savior’s solidarity with his disciples, in that they have all
been ‘dipped in living waters [from heaven] which come from [the Fa-
ther above]’, suggests a baptismal interpretation. Multiple early Chris-
tian authors indicate that Jesus’ baptism purified the waters, his bap-
tism became the exemplar for later Christian baptisms,76 and baptism
in the ‘water(s) of life’ is contrasted with Jewish ablutions (Justin,
Dial. 14.1–2 ; Tert. , Adv. Jud. 13.15).

IV. Conclusion

A comparison between P.Oxy. 840 and Israelite synagogues and practices

from the Roman-Byzantine period is admittedly speculative due to the la-
cunose nature of this fragment and the scarcity of archeological and liter-
ary evidence for synagogue rituals during this epoch. However, there is
enough evidence to question the claim that this work was composed in

73 E. Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church : History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First
Five Centuries (Cambridge 2009) 269–271.
74 See Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, 7.2.20. It is possible that intinguo may also be a trans-
lation of bapt¸fy, but since bapt¸fy is transliterated by Pseudo-Cyprian in the follow-
ing line, this is doubtful.
75 See Ferguson, Baptism (see n. 73), 271. For other patristic usages of b²pty as a ref-
erence to baptism, see G.W.H. Lampe (ed.), A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Reprint ; Ox-
ford 2010) 288b.
76 Clement, Paed. 1.6 ; Tert. , Adv. Jud. 8.14 ; Bapt. 4.1. See Ferguson, Baptism (see n.
73), 113–123.
Recontextualizing Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840 19

the first half of the second century CE because it depicts an “intimate aware-
ness of pre-70 temple practices”77; it could also depict a superficial knowl-
edge of Israelite synagogues and practices from the first through fourth
century CE.78 Jewish synagogues are already identified as ‘temples’ in the
first century CE ; a Samaritan high-priest named Levi may have reigned
in the latter half of the second century CE ; there is archaeological evidence
for water installations and miqva’ot adjacent to Jewish and Samaritan syn-
agogues from the first through fourth century CE ; Jews and Samaritans
may have worn white garments in the synagogue during the third century
CE ; two Jewish and two Samaritan synagogues from the third and fourth
centuries CE contain depictions of the holy vessels with a curtain pulled
back to reveal the holy ark within a temple. The extra-canonical work
that appears to have the greatest contextual similarity to Levi’s questioning
of the Savior and his disciples for their entrance into the ‘temple’ is Acts
Pil. 12.1 where Nicodemus is questioned about his entrance into the ‘syn-
Furthermore, it is doubtful that the primary conflict depicted in this
fragment is between internal and external purity (as in the table fellow-
ship conflicts in Paul and the Synoptics).79 Rather, the contrast between
earthly ‘running waters’ and divine ‘living waters’, bapt¸fy and b²pty,
and the Savior’s solidarity with the disciples, suggests a conflict be-
tween Jewish ablutions and Christian baptism.
Taking these conclusions together, P.Oxy. 840 may reflect a later,
vitriolic debate between the efficacy of Israelite ablutions performed
in the synagogue and Christian baptisms performed in the church.
This is already insinuated in Justin, but it becomes more apparent in
the later adversus Judaeos writings of Tertullian and John Chrysostom.
Similar to Justin in Dial. 14, Tertullian applies Jer 2 :13 to the Jews, but
he indicates that these ablutions are performed in the synagogue : ‘Un-
doubtedly, by not receiving Christ, the “fount of water of life,” they

77 Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 244 f.

78 The conflation of Jewish and Samaritan synagogue practices may not be entirely sur-
prising, since they do not appear to be significantly different either in architecture or
function during the third and fourth century CE, with the exception that Samaritan syn-
agogues do not contain depictions of living beings and the lulav and ethrog is absent in
Samaritan art, including floor mosaics in synagogues. See R. Jacoby, “The Four Species
in Jewish and SamaritanTradition”, in From Dura to Sepphoris (see n. ##) 225–230, here
229; Pummer, “Samaritan Synagogues and Jewish Synagogues” (see n. 44), 147f.
79 Contra Kruger, Gospel of the Savior (see n. 3), 223–229. The NT passages (Matt
23 :25–27; Mark 7:1–23 ; Luke 11:37–39 ; Rom 14 :20–23 ; Gal 2 :1–11; 5 :1; Col
2 :13–17) are marshaled to suggest an early dating of P.Oxy. 840.
20 Lorne R. Zelyck

have begun to have “worn-out tanks,” that is, synagogues (synagogas)

for the use of the “dispersion of the Gentiles,” in which the Holy Spirit
no longer lingers, as for the time past he would tarry in the temple be-
fore the advent of Christ, who is the true temple of God’ (Adv.
Jud. 13.15).80 Chrysostom also severely chastises members of his con-
gregation for seeking healing in the synagogue, since they considered it
a ‘holy place (b tºpor ûcior)’ (Adv. Jud. 1.6.), while he considered it no
better than a brothel ‘where harlots and flute-girls (t_m pºqmar ³wºm-
tym ja· aqkgtq¸dar) ply their trades’ (Adv. Jud. 7.1.2 ; 1.3.1). 81
It is extremely difficult to be precise about the date of composition
for this fragment, but the similarities with Israelite synagogues in the
first through fourth century CE, and the parallels with later Jewish/
Christian debates, indicates that it may have been composed anywhere
between the second and fourth century CE.82

Lorne R. Zelyck
University of Alberta

80 This conflict continued into the early fifth century CE, when Maximus of Turin
called the synagogue ‘polluted’, and a site filled with ‘vile and brackish water …
that does not wash away sins by its baptism’ (Sermo. 20.5 ; 28.3). See L.V. Rutgers,
“The Synagogue as Foe in Early Christian Literature”, in “Follow the Wise” (see n.
##) 449–468, here 458.
81 Eusebius also mentions ‘prostitutes and flute-girls’ (poqm_m ja· aqkgtq¸dym) to-
gether in reference to a gospel of ‘Hebrew letters’ (Theoph. 4.22). Kruger has at-
tempted to show that these two terms were frequently combined, even in the
third century BCE (Kruger, Gospel of the Savior [see n. 3], 218 f). However, the par-
allels are imprecise. The references noted by Kruger use these terms to describe the
same woman (Athenaeus, Deipn. 13.587, 14.615), or simply use different terminol-
ogy (Athenaeus, Deipn. 13.570 ; Aeschines, Tim. 1.42). They are not joined as in
P.Oxy. 840, Eusebius, and Chrysostom, to describe two types of questionable
women, which would argue against an early dating for of P.Oxy. 840.
82 Stewart-Sykes also suggests the dispute “about levitical cleansing might take place
anywhere between the turn of the second century to the middle of the fourth” (Ste-
wart-Sykes, “Living Waters” [see n. 16], 283).

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