Oxyrhynchus Papyri Using Multispectral Imaging: Can it help us with Saying 30 in the Gospel of Thomas?

It looks like our knowledge of the canonical and non-canonical gospels may benefit from the research that is being conducted by professors Roger Macfarlane, Stephen Bay and Thomas Wayment of Brigham Young University. Stephen Carlson posted a link to a newpaper article describing this exciting research. Multispectral imaging is a new technology developed to see through dirt and stains on papyri in order to reveal the writing beneath. They are now working on reading the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, at least the pieces housed at Oxford. Some of the pieces include an unknown gospel fragment, another "new" ending to Mark, a different recension of two verses in Philemon, and a missing portion of Luke 22:43-44.

Should they ever decide to use their technology to reexamine P. Oxy. 1, I would be particularly interested in what it might tell us about P. Oxy. 1.23-30, the lines that make up saying 30.1-2 of the Gospel of Thomas. My own physical examination of the manuscript under natural and ultraviolet light revealed a very eroded line (24) that was very difficult to manage. The standard critical reading by Harold Attridge is "e[isi]n atheoi" (they are godless). But my examination makes this reconstruction doubtful, if not impossible. The theta is clear. In the letter space left of the theta are traces of ink in a distinct pattern. Visible traces move from the top left corner diagonally to the lower right corner. There is a dot of ink in the lower left corner and what appears to be a trace in the upper right corner. When the ink traces are connected, the only letters they could be according to the hand of the scribe are chi or nun. To the left of this letter, in the center of the letter space, is a strong vertical stroke that fills almost half the vertical space. This letter must be either tau or iota. The letter space to the left of this letter is extremely eroded and fragile, but the space is indicative of two letters, not three as Attridge's reconstruction has it.

What reconstruction does this leave? Only one, and one consistent with the Coptic manuscript: "e[is]in theoi" (they are gods). This suggests that the P.Oxy. Greek fragments read, "Where there are three, they are gods." Like the Coptic, it is nonsense. Even the Coptic scribe was confused by it, since he tries to make some sense by interpreting "three" as a specific reference to the "gods." So he adds "gods" after "three."

How can we explain the weird Greek? It appears to me to be a mistranslation of a Semitic plural form of "Elohim," since it is a name for God in Judaism, at the same time as the plural form of El, "gods." This saying is one of those that signals to me that Greek was not the original language of the Gospel of Thomas, but Aramaic and/or Syriac, its eastern dialectical sister. The original saying 30 can be reconstructed: "Jesus said, Where there are three people, God (=Elohim) is there. And where there is one alone, I say that I am with him." Such a reconstruction has full parallels in the Jewish literature (see Mekilta Bahodesh 11; Pirke Aboth 3.2, 6-7; b. Berkakoth 6a).

I don't know if multispectral imaging would help us deal with the erosed ink on P.Oxy. 1.24, but I am curious to find out.