No Blind Dates! Reexamining the Date of the First Quire of John in Washingtonianus

Scholars generally assume that the first quire of John in Washingtonianus (032) replaced a lost or damaged quire of the fifth-century codex and itself dates to the seventh (Frederic Kenyon) or eighth (Kenneth Clark) century. However, the original editor of the manuscript, Henry Sanders, concluded from his very detailed examination that this quire predated the rest of the manuscript. He was convinced that the quire was originally a replacement quire for an earlier manuscript. The scribe of Washingtonianus chose to incorporate this preexisting replacement quire into his own copy to form the Freer Codex.

Recent discussions of Sanders’ hypothesis have consistently rejected it since 1) a key piece of evidence supporting Sanders’ view is no longer available, 2) the hypothesis seem overly complicated, and 3) some of Sanders’ arguments involved logical inconsistencies. However, these dismissals have not thoroughly examined the problems in alternative proposals or some of the compelling evidence supporting Sanders’ view. Although most recent examinations of W relied on images of the manuscript, I, like Sanders, examined the manuscript directly but with more sophisticated tools than those available to Sanders.

My research has recovered the missing key piece of evidence supporting Sanders’ view—the erased quire number which was previously observed by Sanders and Bonner independently in a (now lost) “excellent negative” of the first page of the quire. The erased quire number not only suggests that this quire originally belonged to another manuscript but also that this manuscript either began with the Gospel of John or, more probably, contained only the Gospel of John.

I have also used recently tested non-destructive measures to evaluate Sanders’ claim that the parchment of the first quire was in a more advanced state of deterioration than the rest of W. Furthermore, I have examined the scripts, slopes, chiaroscuro contrasts, and other paleographical features of the first quire and compared these to features in the rest of W and other dated or dateable manuscripts.

Scholars have increasingly argued that paleography is not an exact science and several have demonstrated that some manuscripts were probably dated too early on paleographical grounds. However, if evidence for the priority of the first quire of John in W is persuasive, this quire may join manuscripts such as P. Kellis Lit. II 97 and Codex Tchacos as examples in which paleographers have dated manuscripts a century or two too late. The paper will demonstrate the necessity of evaluating all the available evidence in dating manuscripts rather than relying merely on theories regarding the evolution of scripts.