Rare ancient ‘book’ with earliest known full copies of two books from Bible hits auction block with eye-popping price tag

News & Politics

One of the oldest known books in existence is set to hit the auction block.

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex — a collection of early Christian writings that famed papyrologist William Willis dated to the 3rd century AD using carbon dating — will be auctioned off on Tuesday.

‘These pages are in a better state of legibility than the Dead Sea Scrolls.’

Christie’s, a London-based auction house, is handling the transaction.

The ancient artifact is specifically “unique,” according to Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s senior specialist in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

“This is the oldest known book in private hands and at the same time one of the oldest books in existence,” Donadoni explained. “There is evidence that codices existed earlier, but none has survived. That makes this a unique object in the history of Christianity and of information technology.”

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex was discovered in a jar buried in the sands of Egypt in 1952, not far from the famed Nag Hammadi library.

Considering its age, the codex — the ancient predecessor of the book — is remarkably well preserved, thanks to Egypt’s desert climate. Scholars believe an Egyptian monk is responsible for writing the manuscripts.

Written in Sahidic Coptic — a form of ancient Egyptian — the Crosby-Schøyen Codex contains what scholars believe are the earliest known complete copies of the New Testament letter known as 1 Peter and the Hebrew Bible book known as Jonah.

It also contains a section from the book 2 Maccabees, a homily from Melito of Sardis, a 2nd-century bishop, titled, “Concerning the Passover,” and an unidentified Easter homily.

The significance of the Crosby-Schøyen Codex, especially for New Testament studies, cannot be overstated.

Some scholars, for example, believe the copy of the Greek text that the writer of the Crosby-Schøyen Codex used for his Coptic translation is older than Papyrus 72, the oldest extant Greek manuscript containing 1 Peter.

With no known autographs (or original manuscript copies) of any New Testament book in existence, the Crosby-Schøyen Codex provides an important link in the chain of the manuscript history of 1 Peter.

Just as significant, the Crosby-Schøyen Codex attests to the growing influence of Christianity in pre-Constantine ancient Rome, a time when periods of persecution tried — but failed — to stamp out Christians’ influence on the empire.

Amazingly, scholars believe the Crosby-Schøyen Codex may yet hold new undiscovered insights.

That’s because the same technology that allowed scholars to find new insights on the Dead Sea Scrolls hasn’t been used on the Crosby-Schøyen Codex.

“Researchers would have a field day [with the codex] if they got a chance,” said Jordan Jones, an expert in biblical archaeology. “These pages are in a better state of legibility than the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

At auction, the Crosby-Schøyen Codex is expected to sell for as much as $3.8 million.

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