On Papyrus 104, Scribal Assimilation, and Matthew 21:44

A few months ago I posted some reflections on work I was doing on one of the earliest extant papyrus fragments of the NT (P.Oxy. 4404, or 𝕻104 in NT parlance). This endeavor eventually turned into an article dealing with whether this particular fragment supports the possibility that Matthew 21:44, which occurs at the end of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, is original to Matthew or was “interpolated”by a scribe at some relatively early date from the same verse in Luke 20:18 (a process called scribal “assimilation”). The article also involves quantitative analysis I conducted in other “assimilations”/”interpolations” elsewhere in the Synoptic gospels as well as some discussion of the various arguments for or against the theory with respect to this verse.

The article has just been published in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism (vol. 21) and can be conveniently downloaded here.


Modern critical editions enclose Matt 21:44 in brackets due to lingering questions about whether the major witnesses have preserved an early scribal assimilation to Luke 20:18, as it is not present in many Western witnesses. Due to the challenge posed by papyrus discoveries to such “Western noninterpolations” in recent decades, many scholars now tend to favor the authenticity of this verse in Matthew and reject the assimilation hypothesis along with most other shorter Western readings. This particular text, however, has rarely been studied thoroughly, and recent treatments have not fully dealt with the implications of the second-century fragment 𝕻104 (P.Oxy. XLIV 4404), which appears to lack the verse. This article presents a comprehensive study of the text’s external and internal evidence and argues that it is best explained as an early scribal assimilation by (1) providing a detailed transcription of the papyrus that corrects errors in prior versions, (2) presenting new quantitative data on assimilation tendencies among major witnesses, and (3) responding to the internal arguments for the longer reading.

I greatly enjoyed working on this project and appreciate the thoughtful feedback I received on it from Prof. Klyne Snodgrass (to whom it is dedicated, and with whom I engage a great deal in the article—he recently retired, and he is an all-around nice guy and great scholar). I am also thankful to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri at Oxford team for allowing me access to the fragment itself.

And I enjoyed looking at the frustratingly low-res photo of the fragment (the only one available) with Dr. Peter Head on the massive hi-res computer screen at the Tyndale House. Unfortunately, unlike the fake technology we see on Mission Impossible, 24, etc., there is no such thing as “zoom in and refine image”—so the massive HD monitor was useless for the sad 1000 x 800 image. Fortunately…using the microscope on the real thing did help.

And perhaps best of all, some quotes from the article proved very helpful, some might even say inspirational, on the interwebs. So that makes it all worthwhile.



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