Rare Early Christian Manuscript Set to Fetch Millions at Auction

Featured & Cover Rare Early Christian Manuscript Set to Fetch Millions at Auction

One of the earliest surviving manuscripts, anticipated to fetch over $2.6 million at auction later this year, is generating substantial interest. The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, written in Coptic on papyrus in Egypt, stands as the earliest Christian liturgical book, according to Christie’s, the international auction house hosting the sale in London on June 11.

Attributed to a solitary scribe, the codex comprises 52 leaves, or 104 pages, meticulously crafted over four decades at a monastery in upper Egypt. Carbon dating places its origins between the 3rd and 4th centuries. Notable for its historical significance, it includes the first epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah, serving as an early testament to the spread of Christianity.

Protected behind plexiglass and housed in two lockable wooden boxes, the codex is valued by Christie’s between $2.6 million and $3.8 million. Part of the Bodmer Papyri, discovered in the 1950s and encompassing biblical, Christian, and pagan literary texts, it was initially acquired by the University of Mississippi, later passing through various hands in the 1980s before being acquired by Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen in 1988. As such, it holds the distinction of being the oldest known book in private ownership.

Eugenio Donadoni, senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Christie’s in London, emphasized the broad appeal of the codex, stating, “The Crosby-Schøyen is one of the earliest witnesses to a development in cultural and textual transmission and in the history of the book that would not be rivalled in significance until Gutenberg’s printing press and the 20th-century revolution in electronic publishing and communication.” Donadoni further highlighted its role in early Christian practices, noting, “It contains the two earliest complete texts of two books of the Bible, 1 Peter and Jonah, both used in those Easter services.”

The remarkable preservation of the codex owes much to the favorable climactic conditions in Egypt, where it was unearthed. It is featured among a collection of “manuscript masterpieces” from The Schøyen Collection, described by Christie’s as “one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of manuscripts ever assembled.” This collection spans 1,300 years of cultural history and includes significant works such as the Holkham Hebrew Bible and the Geraardsbergen Bible, alongside Greek literature, humanist masterpieces, and historically significant texts from various regions.

Currently on display at Christie’s New York until April 9, the Crosby-Schøyen Codex stands as a tangible link to early Christianity and the evolution of the written word, inviting both scholarly and private interest alike.

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