In contrast to previous studies, this article argues that the use of ἑρµηνεῖαι in a group of Johannine papyrus manuscripts is fundamentally characterized by their occurrence in bilingual manuscripts or manuscripts influenced by a bilingual social setting (Greek-Coptic or Greek-Latin). Rather than seeing them as some sort of biblical commentary or oracular statements used for divination, it is suggested that, in light of their bilingual character, the Johannine ἑρµηνεῖαι functioned as liturgical tools to facilitate early Christian worship services needing to accommodate the use of two languages within a particular community.
This view is represented by B.M. Metzger“Greek Manuscripts of John’s Gospel with ‘Hermeneiai’,” in Text and Testimony: Essays on New Testament and Apocryphal Literature in Honour of A.F.J. Klijn (ed. T. Baarda et al.; Kampen: J.H. Kok1988) 162–169. D.C. Parker simply assumes this position although admittedly his article is not directly concerned with the statements themselves but rather with the value of the documents containing them as witnesses to the text of John’s Gospel. See D.C. Parker “Manuscripts of John’s Gospel with Hermeneiai” in his Manuscripts Texts Theology: Collected Papers 1977–2007 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 2009) 121–138.
S.E. Porter“The Use of Hermeneia and Johannine Papyrus Manuscripts,” in Akten des 23. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses. Wien 22–28. Juli 2001 (ed. Bernhard Palme; Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften2007) 573–580(579).
Crum“Two Coptic Papyri”174–178. At the start Crum makes reference to a leaf of John’s Gospel in Greek that had been discovered in a German-led search in the Qubbah (Kubbet) at Damascus i.e. the same leaf edited by von Soden in 1902.
See Roca-Puig“Papiro del Evangelio de San Juan con ‘Hermeneia’: P.Barc. inv. 83—Jo 3, 34,” in Atti dell’ XI Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia Milano 2–8 Settembre 1965 (Milano: Instituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere1966) 225–236where he says on p. 229: “La extensión de la perícope a juzgar por los ejemplos de que disponemos es limitada; sistemáticamente se reserva a pie de página el espacio suficiente para un comentario;” and on p. 231: “Sin forzar las deducciones sobre este aspecto común podríamos preguntarnos si el cuarto Evangelio a causa de las dificultades que encerraba su interpretación no fue muy pronto objeto de comentarios especiales.”
See for example J.R. HarrisCodex Bezae: A Study of the So-Called Western Text of the New Testament (Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature 2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1891) 7–11; J.R. Harris The Annotators of the Codex Bezae (with Some Notes on Sortes Sanctorum) (London: C.J. Clay and Sons 1901) 70–71. Stegmüller says “ἑρµηνία heisst nicht ‘Übersetzung’ wie Harris meint sondern ‘Auslegung’ ‘Orakel’ wie aus zahlreichen profanen und christlichen Orakelbüchern hervorgeht” (“Zu den Bibelorakeln im Codex Bezae” Bib 34 (1953) 13–22 (14 n. 3). Here Stegmüller correctly points out that Harris although he himself understood the ἑρµηνεῖαι as oracular statements saw some translational element being reflected in their use.
Metzger“Greek Manuscripts”162–169. Several points in this article are recounted and in some ways updated in his The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission Corruption and Restoration (3rd ed.; New York: Oxford 1992) 266–267. For example whereas in “Greek Manuscripts” he considers five Johannine manuscripts with ἑρµηνεῖαι in The Text of the New Testament he considers eight.
S.E. Porter“Textual Criticism in the Light of Diverse Textual Evidence for the Greek New Testament: An Expanded Proposal,” in New Testament Manuscripts and Their World (ed. Thomas J. Kraus and Tobias Nicklas; TENT 2; Leiden: Brill2006) 322–325; Porter “The Use of Hermeneia and Johannine Papyrus Manuscripts” 573–580 (2007); S.E. Porter “What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? Reconstructing Early Christianity from Its Manuscripts” in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament. Vol. 1 of Early Christianity in Its Hellenistic Context (ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts; TENT 9; Leiden: Brill 2013) 60–63. S.E. Porter and W.J. Porter have produced new editions of P.Vindob. G 26214 (P55) and P.Vindob. G 36102 (P76) in New Testament Greek Papyri and Parchments: New Editions: Texts (MPER N.S. XXIX; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 2008) 18–25. Plates of the manuscripts are given in Porter and Porter New Testament Greek Papyri and Parchments: Plates (MPER N.S. XXX; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 2008) nos. 5 and 6.
See Guglielmo Cavallo“Greek and Latin Writing in the Papyri,” in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology(ed. Roger S. Bagnall; Oxford: Oxford University Press) 131. The perspective advocated in the present article regarding the relation between the use of Alexandrian majuscule for Greek texts and the influence of a Greek-Coptic bilingual setting has been largely shaped by Jean-Luc Fournet’s insightful article “The Multilingual Environment of Late Antique Egypt: Greek Latin Coptic and Persian Documentation” in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology 418–452 (esp. 430–445). On the bilingual (Greek-Coptic) setting of Roman Egypt and its impact on Greek grammar see Francis Gignac “Grammatical Developments in Roman Egypt Significant for the New Testament” in The Language of the New Testament: Contexts History and Development(ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts; Linguistic Biblical Studies 6; Leiden: Brill2013) 401–420.
Griffith“From Aramaic to Arabic”22. Further it is worth noting that D. Colt says Nessana is in the southwest region of Palestine “one hundred miles southwest of Jerusalem on the main road to Egypt and but a short distance from the Egyptian province of Sinai” (D. Colt Forward to Excavations at Nessana v). In light of this it is quite possible that Coptic-speaking monks from Egypt stayed in or passed directly through Nessana on their way to the Judean desert perhaps carrying with them copies of biblical and liturgical texts.