In my previous post I mentioned the peculiar story of Jesus and a leper found in the non-canonical (very!) fragmentary text known as Papyrus Egerton 2.  I’ve decided to give you a fuller scoop on this intriguing and mysterious little Gospel fragment — and a full translation of its four (brief) stories.  I have taken this directly from my book The Other Gospels, co-authored and edited with my colleague Zlatko Plese.  Both the Intro and the Translation in this instance were done by me.


P.Egerton 2 (and PKöln 255)

One of the most significant publications of early Christian texts in the first part of the twentieth century was H. I. Bell and T. C. Skeat, Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and Other Christian Papyri.  The “Unknown Gospel” is preserved in Papyrus Egerton 2, which consists of four fragmentary papyrus leafs, two of which are too fragmentary to be reconstructed (one of them has simply one letter on one side).  The other two (9.2 x 11.5 cm and 9.7 x 11.8 cm) contain four narratives that have, in places, striking similarities with the Gospels of the New Testament.  But there are few verbatim agreements with their New Testament parallels, and some significant differences in content–including one narrative otherwise unknown.

Half a century after Bell and Skeat’s initial publication of the papyrus, M. Gronewald discovered a fragment among the Cologne papyri that he perceptively recognized as belonging to the same manuscript (P.Köln 255).  This new fragment (6.5 x 3.0 cm) adds portions of six lines to both recto and verso of Fragment One.

The stories contained in P.Egerton 2 are as follows:  (a) Jesus’ exhortation to his Jewish opponents to “search the Scriptures” (cf. John 5:39‑47 and 10:31‑39); (b) a foiled attempt to stone and then arrest Jesus, followed by his healing of a leper (cf., e.g., John 10:31ff; Matt 8:1‑4; Mark 1:40‑45; Luke 5:12‑16; and Luke 17:11‑14); (c) the question of whether it is right to pay tribute to the ruling authorities (cf. Matt 22:15‑22; Mark 12:13‑17; and Luke 20:20‑26); and (d) the highly fragmentary account of a miracle Jesus performed by the Jordan River, possibly to illustrate his parable about the miraculous growth of seeds.  This final story has no parallel in the canonical Gospels.

Bell and Skeat were inclined to date the manuscript to 150 CE.  This was a sensational claim, as it made P.Egerton 2 the oldest surviving Christian manuscript of any kind–older than the earliest surviving copies of the books that later became the New Testament.  But soon after its publication

C.H. Roberts edited a papyrus that is now known as P52, which contains portions of John 18:31-38 and is generally dated to the year 125 CE (+/- 25 years).  This is now generally considered the oldest surviving copy of any Christian writing.  Moreover, on the basis of his fresh examination of P.Egerton 2, Gronewald has argued that Bell and Skeat were overly generous in their dating, that the text more likely was produced around 200 CE.  Even so, P.Egerton 2 remains one of our earliest manuscripts of any piece of Christian literature.

After its first publication there was a flurry of scholarly interest in the text, with some fifty scholarly articles devoted to it within three years.  One of the leading questions was, and continues to be, the relationship of this “Unknown Gospel” to the Gospels of the New Testament.  Did its author construct his account based on the stories found in the canonical four Gospels?  If so, why are there only scattered verbatim agreements?  Was he attempting to create a Gospel Harmony?  This would explain the material agreements not only with the Synoptics, but also with John; on the other hand, the author must have doing more than creating a harmony, since the fourth story of the text has no parallel in the New Testament (or anywhere else).  Had the author read the Gospels that later became canonical and used them to construct his account from memory, without looking at them carefully?  Had the stories of the New Testament Gospels been circulating orally, and he based his narratives on these oral traditions?  Or was he writing in complete independence of the canonical Gospels?  Is it possible that his account actually antedates the canonical accounts, that it was one of the sources for, say, the Fourth Gospel?

Without page numbering on the surviving fragments of P.Egerton 2, it is impossible to know for certain which pages preceded the others, and which side, recto or verso, is to be read first.  What follows is a plausible reconstruction of the original order.  For the most part, we have followed the text as reconstructed in Lührmann, used with permission, but we have taken the sequence of the fragments from Bell-Skeat.  (NOTE: when I use an elipsis (…) it means letters/words/lines are missing at that point from the manuscript fragment; that’s always very frustrating — and in this case especially with the fourth story)


Bell, H. I. and Skeat, T. C., Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and Other Early Christian Papyri.  London: Oxford University Press, 1935.

Bell, H. I. and Skeat, T. C..  The New Gospel Fragments.  London: Oxford University Press, 1935.

Bernhard, Andrew E.  Other Early Christian Gospels: A Critical Edition of the Surviving Greek Manuscripts.  London: T&T Clark, 2006; p. 84-87.

Elliott, J. K.  The Apocryphal New Testament.  Oxford: Clarendon, 1993; pp. 37-42.

Gronewald, M. “255. Unbekanntes Evangelium oder Evangelharmonie (Fragment aus dem ‘Evangelium Egerton’),” in Kölner Papyri (P. Köln), eds. M. Gronewald et al.  Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1987. Vol 6; pp. 136-45.

Klauck, Hans-Josef.  Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction.  London: T&T Clark, 2003; pp. 23-26.

Lührmann, Dieter.  Fragmente apokryph gewordener Evangelien in griechischer und lateinischer Sprache.  Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 2000; pp. 142-53.

Schneemelcher, Wilhelm. “Fragments of Unknown Gospels,” in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher; tr. R. McL. Wilson.  Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991.  Vol. 1, pp. 96-99.





1st story (fragmentary)

             And Jesus said to the lawyers:

“Punish every wrong-doer and transgressor,

but not me. . . .

how he does what he does.”

Then he turned to the rulers of the people

and spoke this word: “Search

the Scriptures; you think that in them

you have life.  They are the ones

that testify concerning me.[1]  Do not think

that I came to accuse

you to my Father.   The one who

accuses you is Moses, in whom

you have hoped.”[2]  They replied,

“We know full well that God spoke to Moses.

But we do not know

where you have come from.”[3]  Jesus answered

them, “Now what stands accused

is your failure to believe his testimonies. For if

you had believed Moses, you would have believed

  1. For that one wrote

to your fathers.[4] . . .”

. . . to the crowd. . .

stones together so that they might stone

him.  And the rulers were trying to lay

their hands on him,

that they might arrest him and deliver him over

to the crowd.  They were unable

to arrest him because the hour

for him to be delivered over had not yet come.[5]

But the Lord himself went out through their midst

and left them.[6]


2nd story (fragmentary)

And behold, a leper approached him

and said, “Teacher Jesus, while I was traveling with some lepers

and eating with them

at the inn, I myself contracted leprosy.

If, then, you are willing,

I will be made clean.”  Then the Lord said to him,

“I am willing: be clean.”  Immediately

the leprosy left him.  Jesus said

to him, “Go, show yourself to the priests

and make an offering for your cleansing

as Moses commanded; and

sin no more….”[7]



3rd story (fragmentary)

… [they came] to him and began rigorously

testing him, saying,

“Teacher Jesus, we know that you have come from God.

For the things you do give a testimony

that is beyond all the prophets.  And so, tell

us: is it right to pay the kings the things

that relate to their rule?  Shall we pay them

or not?”[8]  But when Jesus understood their

thought, he became incensed

and said to them, “Why do you call me

teacher with your mouth, when you do not listen

to what I say?  Well did Isaiah prophecy about

you, ‘This people

honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far removed

from me. In vain do they worship me,



4th story (fragmentary)

… enclosed in a secret place . . .

placed underneath inwardly . . .

its weight beyond measure….

And when they were puzzled, as it were,

over his strange question,

Jesus walked and stood

on the bank of the Jordan

river; he reached out

his right hand, and filled it

. . . .  And he sowed it on the …

. . . And then …

… water …

… and …

before their eyes; and it brought forth fruit

. . . many . . . for

joy . . .



[1] Cf. John 5:39.

[2] Cf. John 5:45.

[3] Cf. John 9:29.

[4] Cf. John 5:46.

[5] Cf. John 7:30, 44.

[6] Cf. John 10:39; 4:30.

[7] Cf. Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 5:12-16.

[8] Cf. Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26.

[9] Isa 29:13; cf. Mark 7:6-7.

Over $2 Million Donated to Charity!

We have two goals at Ehrman Blog. One is to increase your knowledge of the New Testament and early Christianity. The other is to raise money for charity! In fact, in 2022, we raised over $360,000 for the charities below.

Become a Member Today!


2023-09-18T11:29:44-04:00September 19th, 2023|Christian Apocrypha|

Share Bart’s Post on These Platforms


  1. Bennett September 19, 2023 at 8:37 am

    So, do you believe this is a construct from original sources, perhaps going back to the same time as the 4 canonical gospels, or do you think it was derived from them?

    • BDEhrman September 21, 2023 at 8:53 pm

      It’s hard to say; I tend to think that the author had some of his own traditions but may have known some of the stories of the Gospels as well, whether from the Gospels directly or not I don’t know

  2. bdagostiupnet September 19, 2023 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Dr E, just joined for 2 reasons:
    1- can LISTEN to the content. This is Huge!!

    2-I greatly desire your comments on the recent TV portrayal of Jesus entitled “The Chosen” .
    First broadcast 24Dec2017. I have looked for hours(reading other stuff along the way) and found nothing.
    I cannot think of why or how you would, or could, ignore it . Please direct me.

    • BDEhrman September 21, 2023 at 9:01 pm

      First welcome. Second, I’m sorry to say I *have* ignored it. For no reason other than I don’t watch *anything* because I’ve got so much else on my plate. Sigh….

  3. stevenpounders September 19, 2023 at 6:08 pm

    Is the phrase “Teacher Jesus” (or the Greek phrase you translated in this way) to be found in the conical gospels? It doesn’t sound familiar to me. “Teacher” may be a translation that others have rendered “rabbi” in the canonical gospels, but even then I don’t recall it being paired with “Jesus” – “Rabbi Jesus”.

    Is this title a unique element in this gospel?

    • BDEhrman September 21, 2023 at 9:02 pm

      No, he’s not called that in the Gospels. He’s called Rabbi/teacher, and he’s called Jesus, but not the two together.

  4. ajt36 September 19, 2023 at 6:54 pm

    Guess this is as good as spot as any to ask this question since it relates to a form of “apocrypha.” I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while now and when I joined here, I searched but only found a few references to the Jefferson Bible. I recently read “The Jefferson Bible: A Biography” by Peter Manseau to gain more understanding of why Jefferson extracted Jesus’s moral teachings from the Bible, why he basically had no use for the books of the Bible outside of the Gospels, and how his version of “the Bible” relates to our constitutional concepts of due process, equality under the law, and fundamental fairness. I’ve been curious regarding your thoughts on the Jefferson Bible in general, and your thoughts on how, if at all, Jefferson’s attempt to extract Jesus’s “sublime and benevolent code of morality” is relevant to people (faithful and non-faithful alike) in the 21st century.

    Thanks for your time.


    • BDEhrman September 21, 2023 at 9:06 pm

      I’m afraid it’s not an area of expertise for me, and I haven’t read Manseau’s book and so don’t know his views. I’ve always considered it an attempt by a Deist (Jefferson was NOT a committed Christian as lots of conservative Christians have said) to take what was most valuable about Jesus teachings without the miracles (which Jefferson didn’t believe in as a deist) and without what he considered the rather grotesque twist of Jesus’ life and teachings into a religion focusing on the shedding of blood as an atonement to an angry God. I too as a non-Christian highly value Jesus’ teachings, without accepting his miracles or the later Christian theology built on his crucifixion…

      • ajt36 September 23, 2023 at 8:33 pm

        Thank you for the reply. I think the last chapter of your latest book on Revelation articulates the relevancy of Jesus’ teachings today without the need for all the gloom and doom of “the end.” I suspect Jefferson would have been on the same page with you.

        Also thank you for the NINT conference. The first day was truly excellent and I look forward to tomorrow. 😊

        • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:23 pm

          Thanks. I thought the the conference went really well. The presentatoins, I thought, were fantastic.

  5. Jojoskeptic September 19, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    Hello Bart Ehrman, of topic but I am deeply interested in the Apostolic Fathers and their relevance to the authorship of the Gospels. I’ve been thinking about why their writings, such as the accounts of Ignatius saying Polycarp met John, are not more commonly considered in discussions about the origins of the Gospels and the reliability of testimonies regarding their authorship. I’m also interested in understanding the perspective of primary skeptics, those who do not accept the accounts of the Apostolic Fathers as reliable evidence for the authorship of the Gospels. Could you kindly direct me to some authoritative sources or books that delve into this topic? Thank you.

    • BDEhrman September 21, 2023 at 9:11 pm

      It’s a good and important question. I don’t believe Ignatius talks about Polycarp in relation to John; you’re probably thinking of Irenaeus writing much later around 185 CE. It’s an important point because none of the Apostolic Fathers refers to the authors of the Gospels — not even Polycarp himself in the one letter we have from him. It’s interesting that in that letter he does appear to quote Matthew and Luke, and other books that later became the NT, but not the Gospel of John! (Let alone indicate he had any connection with John.) I need to clarify that the term “Apostolic Father” refers to a specific group of ten (or eleven, depending on how you count) authors writing (most of them) after the NT period. The only one of relevance to authorial issues of the Gospels is Papias, who mentions Gospels of by Matthew and Mark. Those references are indeed cited a lot. If you do a word search for Papias on the blog you’ll see some posts where I deal with why I don’t think Papias can be used as evidence that the two Gospels we have were weritten by Matthew and mark.

      Oh, and if you want to know more about the Apostolic Fathers, You might take a look at my translations i nthe two -volume work The Apostolic Fathers (Loeb Classical Library; Harvard University Press); I give introductions to each of them so you can see what they were all about.disabledupes{99f8967afc599c60c1bc712c64416308}disabledupes

  6. giselebendor September 21, 2023 at 5:55 pm

    “Go, show yourself to the priests

    and make an offering for your cleansing

    as Moses commanded”

    Is Jesus ambivalent about his miraculous deeds or his identity? He instructs his disciples not to tell what they had witnessed, but here in this verse above, he sends the healed leper directly to show the priests what Jesus is capable of.

    Or is there a chronology, meaning, that at first he didn’t wish to be discovered, but later, as he sensed ” his time” approaching, he changed direction in this respect?

    • BDEhrman September 22, 2023 at 6:56 pm

      This is part of Mark’s “Messianic Secret,” a motif in which (only in Mark) Jesus tries to keep his identity hushed up. Notice how he silences the demons. And the disciples on the mount of transfiguration. And check out why he explicitly tells parables in Mark 4:11-12 — precisely so people will NOT understand him, since otherwise they would repent!

      • giselebendor September 23, 2023 at 11:25 am

        Mark 4:12 is a stumbling block for me.The usual translations reporta a saying that is nonsensical and malicious.

        Could anyone believe that Jesus purposely told *,*on account* of the people’s limitations,so that they may repent and be forgiven.

        Wasn’t Jesus all about forgiving?

        I cannot argue Greek words and their possible meanings.But I believe that something very important was lost in the translation from Aramaic/Hebrew to Greek.Wouldn ‘t be the first time,as famous Septuagint examples show.

        When I’m lost or stuck in the NT,I go to the Peshitta,to see possible idiomatic links.Of course I know that the Peshitta is itself a translation.

        In one of the different Peshitta translations I read (parenthesis are mine)

        “that while seeing they may see,
        and (but?)not see;and while hearing they may hear,and (but?)not understand; lest(unless?)they should be converted,and their sins be forgiven them”

        Another Peshitta translation indeed says “Unless they return…”.

        Jesus describes the cognitive hurdles of these uneducated,unenlightened people.The purpose of his teaching is that they may return (tshuva) and be forgiven.

        Jesus was a tremendous teacher. Portraying him as cynically demeaning and discarding his own followers,condemning then to eternal
        unenlightment and guilt must be a mistranslation.

        • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:20 pm

          It’s usually considered to be modeled on Isaiah 6:9-13, which itself is mightily puzzling.

      • giselebendor September 23, 2023 at 11:43 am

        The second paragraph came out mangled. It should have read

        “Could anyone believe that Jesus purposely told parables so that the simple people remain blind, deaf and unforgiven? He told parables -*on account* of the people’s limitations,so that they may repent and be forgiven”

  7. giselebendor September 22, 2023 at 8:25 am

    Another aspect: perhaps the reason Jesus urges the former leper to reveal the miracle wrought on his behalf by Jesus himself , rather than being an indication that “his time had come” to be revealed, is a different one.

    Perhaps the necessary” offering for cleansing as Moses commanded “is the important point here.
    Perhaps the obligation stemming from ” the Law” is seen by Jesus as inescapable, tying with the famous ” not one yod of the Torah shall be changed…etc”.Thus, Jesus perceives that it is more important to follow such law than to hide his presence and miracles.

    Can such a hierarchy in Jesus’ mind be claimed?
    Or was Jesus’ simultaneously ambivalent about these issues, namely, the obligations to the Law and his eventual revelation?

    And yet, temple sacrifices are to be renounced, in Jesus’ understanding, substituted for more sincerely felt actions, for the benefit of all. Isaiah said it too, putting his own words in God’s mouth.

    So, before Paul creates his own interpretation by, amongst other measures, completely renouncing the Law – for the sake of the Gentiles, not for himself- , how are we to sort out the contradictory messages about sacrifices, and also, whether Jesus wanted to be revealed or not, or when?

    • BDEhrman September 26, 2023 at 7:24 pm

      A lot of it has to do with which Gospel we’re reading. The Gospels have different messages about these issues (always placed on Jesus lips). Is the law to be followed or not? Did he want to reveal himself or not? Depends which Gospel you read!

  8. Steefen September 24, 2023 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,
    I finally replaced my lost Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet paperback with a hardover Jesus Apoclyptic Prophet.
    I’m on page 139.

    Bart D.E.
    Jesus would punish those who opposed God.

    Question #1: Given the realities of the Ancient Roman political structure of Empire and client kingdoms and given Rome’s tolerance for foreign religions, would Rome have been put on the list for those opposing God?

    (also p. 139):
    Jesus’ ministry ended with the establishment of the Christian church, a community of apocalyptic Jews who believed in him.

    Question #2: Given the Hellenists (including Stephen, the martyr), could that sentence become: …a community of apocalyptic Jews and Hellenists…?

    Thank you,
    Steve Campbell
    Author of Historical Accuracy

    • BDEhrman September 28, 2023 at 7:47 pm

      There was no list. Jesus was coming in judgment (in this early Xn view) and anyone who did not believe in him would be destroyed.

      The Hellenists are a feature of Acts, and are a kind of second-wave of converts; I’m talking about the original followers who establish a community: so far as we know they were all apoclaypticists. We don’t know if these “Hellenists” actually existed, or if they did, whether they too were apocalypticists. (Paul would be classified as a Hellenist and he was certainly an apocalypticist)

      • Steefen September 28, 2023 at 10:36 pm

        Re: Would Rome have “made the list” of those opposing God?

        Anyone who did not believe in Jesus would be destroyed.

        Anyone who did not believe in Jesus, local to Galilee and Judea would be destroyed.
        That’s an overstatement of Jesus’ message sufficiently communicated throughout the city of Rome and the Roman Empire and an overstatement of Jesus’ role and importance in Tiberius’ Roman Empire.

        Re: Would it be correct to include the Hellenists (including Stephen, the martyr) in the establishment of the apocalyptic Christian Church?

        Stephen and the Hellenists are a feature of Acts. They are not original followers of the established community.
        We don’t know if they were apocalypticists.

        Steve C
        Stephen made reference to what Jesus told the high priest at trial.
        “You will see the Son of Man” is Jewish Apocalypticsm. Repeating that at great risk to his life leaves little or no doubt, that Stephen’s faith was also following Jesus’ Jewish Apocalypticism.

        Stephen cared enough about Jesus to have procured what Jesus said in his own defense.
        On a timeline, Stephen’s faith was active in the first wave (pre-crucifixion), not starting in the second wave (post-crucifixion) unless you’re just using the gospels are first wave and a gospel sequel as second wave.

  9. Erland November 4, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    I got the impression, which may be completely wrong, that almost all known old manuscripts with biblical or biblically related content were discovered a long time ago. I don’t think I heard of any old manuscripts of this kind which were disovered after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, although some available manuscripts may have been unknown until a later date, because nobody studied them until then.

    But am I wrong? Are there any old biblical or biblically related manucripts which were discovered in the latest decades?

    • BDEhrman November 7, 2023 at 6:01 pm

      New biblical manuscripts (of the New Tesatment) show up every year; but they are almost always fragments. Non-canonical Gospels appear as well, including the Gospel of Judas.

Leave A Comment