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One of the world’s oldest known books from Egypt sells for $2.6 million at Christie’s auction

One of the oldest books in the world is expected to sell for more than $2.6 million when it goes up for auction later this year.

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, a Coptic papyrus manuscript written in Egypt, is the oldest Christian liturgical book in existence, according to Christie’s, the auction house that will be selling the manuscript in London on June 11, the CNN Arabic website reported.

The manuscript, which consists of 104 pages, is said to have been written by a single scribe over a period of 40 years in a monastery in Upper Egypt.

Carbon dating indicates that the book dates back to sometime between the mid-3rd and mid-4th centuries, according to CNN, and is one of the earliest witnesses to the spread of Christianity as it contains the First Epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah.

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex is currently owned by Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen, who has amassed a number of early papyrus and parchment manuscripts.

The manuscript is expected to attract a great deal of interest from collectors and institutions around the world.

The pages are placed behind wire mesh and stored in two lockable wooden boxes. Christie’s has estimated the sale price at between $2.6 million and $3.8 million.

The manuscript is part of the Bodmer Papyri, discovered in the 1950s and include biblical texts, Christian writings, and literary and pagan texts.

It was eventually acquired by the University of Mississippi, where it remained until 1981. It was traded several times in the 1980s before being purchased by Schøyen in 1988.

As such, the manuscript is considered the oldest known book in private hands.

Christie’s senior specialist in books and manuscripts in London, Eugenio Donadoni, told CNN that it would “enjoy broad interest from both institutions and individuals.”


A witness to early Christianity’s rise

Donadoni emphasized that the Crosby-Schoyen Codex is one of the earliest witnesses to the evolution of cultural and textual transmission. It represents a transitional phase from the use of papyrus scrolls to bound books, reflecting a significant change in the way knowledge was preserved and transmitted.

Donadoni continued, “It is one of the earliest examples of a book in the form we still recognize today, and as the oldest book in private hands, it is unlikely that anything like this will be offered at auction again.”

He added that it is of great importance as “Witness to the early spread of Christianity around the Mediterranean: the first monks in Upper Egypt lived in the oldest Christian monastery, and used this book to celebrate the oldest Easter celebrations, only a few hundred years ago,” after Christ and only about a hundred years or so after the last gospel was written.

The codex contains the two oldest complete texts of biblical books – 1 Peter and Jonah – both of which are used in Easter services.

The well-preserved condition of the manuscript is largely due to the “favorable climatic conditions” in Egypt where it was discovered, according to details in the catalog published by Christie’s.

The manuscript is listed as part of a wider collection of “manuscript masterpieces” within the Schøyen Collection, which Christie’s describes as “one of the largest and most comprehensive manuscript collections ever assembled.

The Christie’s website states, “The importance of the material in this collection transcends that of a private collection, or even a national public collection. The sale spans 1300 years of cultural history, and includes manuscripts of world heritage status such as the Crosby-Schoyen Codex, the Holkham Bible, and the Gerardsbergen Bible, but also Greek literature, humanistica, a book owned by a saint, early English law, a Scottish historical record of major historical importance, and the earliest known bookbinding.”

The manuscript remained on display at Christie’s New York until April 9th.

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