Crosby-Schøyen Codex: 4th-century book documenting Christianity sells for $3.9M

Crosby-Schøyen Codex

An ancient book documenting Christianity hit the auction block this week and sold by Christie’s for $3.9 million.

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex is about 1,800 years old and was written at one of the first Christian monasteries in Upper Egypt. It dates to between 250 and 350 A.D, Barron’s reported.

PBS reported the timing of the codex as 325 to 350 A.D.

Christie’s said it was “The earliest known book in private hands, and one of the earliest books in existence. The earliest Christian liturgical book.”

The manuscript is written in Coptic on papyrus and contains two complete books of the Bible — the first epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah — as well as an Easter homily, the BBC said.

Christie’s senior specialist for books and manuscripts Eugenio Donadoni told the BBC earlier this year that the book is of “monumental importance as a witness to the earliest spread of Christianity around the Mediterranean”.

Crosby-Schøyen Codex

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex was uncovered near Disna, Egypt, in 1952 along with more than 20 other codices.

The items made up the Bodmer Papyri collection— also called the Disna Papers — and contained religious writings, Biblical portions as well as pagan literature.

Ian Mills, an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at Hamilton College, said in an article for PBS, “I consider the Dishna Papers an invaluable witness to the formation of the Christian Bible. This ancient library shows how, before the consolidation of the Bible, early Christians read canonical and non-canonical scriptures – as well as pagan classics – side by side.”

The collection had been owned by the University of Mississippi until 1981 and went through several owners, the last being Norwegian manuscript collector Dr. Martin Schøyen. This week’s auction had several items from his collection.

“The Crosby-Schøyen Codex is one of the earliest examples of the book in a form recognizable to us today,” Donadoni said, according to Barron’s. “As the earliest known book in private hands, it is exceedingly rare, and it is highly unlikely that anything of its kind will ever appear at auction again.”

This isn’t the first time an early religious book brought a high price at auction.

The record for the most expensive manuscript was set last year when the Codex Sassoon, a 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible, was sold for $38.1 million at auction, Barron’s reported.

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