Father Ludovico Antonio Muratori – the most famous Italian historian of his era – discovered the Muratorian fragment in the Ambrosian Library of Milan and published it in 1740.
The Muratorian Fragment itself can be traced back to the 7th century, a Latin manuscript from the library of the Bobbio Abbey, a monastery of Saint Columbanus. However, the Latin manuscript is actually a translation from the Greek original dated to 170 A.D., making it the earliest known copy of a New Testament canon.
Containing 85 lines, the beginning of the fragment is missing, and it ends abruptly. As the fragment is degraded and written in a poor quality barbarous Latin, translation of it proved difficult. However, the fragment is traditionally dated to 170 A.D. as it mentions the pontificate of Pius I (140-155 A.D.) as recent.
“But Hermas wrote The Shepherd “most recently in our time”, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome.”
The unidentified author of the fragment lists the four Gospels, all Acts of the Apostles, and all Pauline epistles save for the Letter to the Hebrews. The author says the now-lost Epistles to the Laodiceans and Alexadrians by Paul were actually “forged in Paul’s name to further the heresy of Marcion.”
The author also accepts the Epistle of Jude, but makes no mention of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, nor Hebrews. Curiously, the author accepts both the Apocalypse of John (Revelation) and the non-canon Apocalypse of Peter, but makes note that “some of us will not allow the latter to be read in church.”
Below is a comparison of the canon in the fragment versus today’s canon:
|Book||Muratorian Canon||Catholic Canon|
|Gospel of Matthew||Probably||Yes|
|Gospel of Mark||Probably||Yes|
|Gospel of Luke||Yes||Yes|
|Gospel of John||Yes||Yes|
|Acts of the Apostles||Yes||Yes|
|Apocalypse of John||Yes||Yes|
|Apocalypse of Peter||Yes||No|
|Wisdom of Solomon||Yes||Yes|