Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011) 149-162
Grenfell and Hunt on the Dates of Early
Setting the Record Straight
Brent Nongbri Macquarie University
Since the middle of the twentieth century, there has been a tendency
among scholars to marginalize the palaeographical opinions of
Grenfell and Hunt. Their alleged belief that the codex format was
a post-third century development is said to have induced them to
date fragments of Chrstian codices much later than they would have
on strictly palaeographical grounds. I argue that this is a serious
misrepresentation of their views and practices.
Between the two of them, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt edited
thousands of papyri from Oxyrhynchus and elsewhere in Egypt. It is therefore
somewhat curious that the dates they assigned to some of the papyri they edited are dismissed by certain scholars.1 Roger Bagnall has recently noted this
1 Hunt was especially well-known for his palaeographical acumen. Edgar Lobel,
himself no mean palaeographer, described Hunt thus: "You had to get up early in the
morning to catch Hunt out on a palaeographical question." The quotation is reported
in Eric G. Turner, "The Graeco-Roman Branch of the Egypt Exploration Society" in
Excavatingin Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society 1882-1982, ed. T.G.H. James (London
1983) 161-178, reprinted in Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, ed. A. Bowman et al.
(London 2007) 17-27, quotation from p. 23. That is not to say that Hunt was infallible.
Turner elsewhere relates the story of POxy. 17.2105, an "edict of a prefect read by Hunt
as Petronius Honoratus, prefect in A.D. 148. In 1967 Dr. John Rea reread this name as
that of Maevius Honoratianus, prefect in A.D. 231-36, i.e., almost ninety years later!
The hand can in fact be easily paralleled from documents of the middle of the third
century.... This example is especially instructive since it is the error of an outstanding
palaeographer" (The Typology of the Early Codex [Philadelphia 1977] 3). Grenfell's
strengths are generally regarded as lying outside the specific area of palaeography.
In one of the obituaries he wrote for Grenfell, Hunt said this about his collaborator: