What are the “papyri”? Papyrus (plural, papyri) is a writing material made from reed-like plant and is more or less like paper. While this material is may not seem as durable as vellum or a potsherd, there are papyri documents which date back to the second millennium BC. While the material could potentially be found in any location, the climate of Egypt is ideal for preserving papyri so a large percentage of these documents are Egyptian in origin. The papyri may contain biblical books or other classical literature, but likely as not a collection of papyri will contain receipts, legal documents, government memos, perhaps even personal letters. Papyri documents often give a reader access to the “normal life” of ancient people since we are reading their mail or legal documents. There are two problems with this material, however. First, most of the papyri are fragmentary, missing letters, words and even whole lines. This makes reconstructing the text extremely difficult. Second, the content of the fragment is often difficult because the content is obscure. I am not sure a future scholar could examine the receipts in my wallet and make much sense of my life. (Perhaps they might think I worship a goddess named Starbucks since I have so many texts with her name.)
What is the Duke Papyri Collection? The Duke Papyri collection consists of about 256 volumes of published papyri fragments, ostraca, inscriptions, and other Greek texts. Many of these Logos books are actually multi-volume series published over many years. (Here is a master list of papyri, inscription and ostraca with full publication dates.) Not everything on this index page is included in the Logos package. For example, P.Worp, (Sixty-Five Papyrological Texts Presented to Klaas A. Worp on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday) is not included, possibly because of the recent publication date (Leiden, 2008).
Not all the documents in a particular volume are included, sometimes because they are not in Greek, other times (I assume) because of copyright issues. For example, the volume entitled Papyri Greek and Egyptian Edited by Various Hands in Honour of Eric Gardner Turner on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. P.J. Parsons, J.R. Rea and others (Egypt Exploration Society, Graeco-Roman Memoirs 68; London 1981), (P.Turner) should have 55 items, but in the Logos collection numbers 1-15 are missing, as is number 55 (which was in Coptic). According to the Duke site, document 15 was in Demotic, but it may be that documents 1-15 were in Demotic and not included for that reason. Without looking at a physical copy of the book, I am not sure. Omitting non-Greek papyri is the norm for the collection, likely because that data was simply not collected in to the Perseus project in the first place.
Even with the omissions, Logos provides an impressive collection of texts. In the next installment, I will discuss some of the more important items in the collection and how Logos can be used to navigate this massive amount of data. Later, I will briefly discuss the value of this material for NT exegesis.