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Oldest Known Book in Private Hands to be Auctioned

One of the earliest books in existence is expected to fetch up to $4 million when it goes up for auction this summer.


The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, which was written in Coptic on papyrus in Egypt, is the earliest Christian liturgical book, according to Christie’s, which will be holding the sale in London in June. Due to their age and delicate state, the pages are preserved behind plexiglass, kept in two lockable wooden boxes.


A page from the Crosby-Schøyen Codex
Credit: Christie's Images Ltd. 2024

A single scribe is said to have written the codex, which is made up of 52 leaves - or 104 pages - over a period of 40 years at a monastery in upper Egypt. Carbon dating indicates the book dates back to sometime between the middle of the 3rd and 4th centuries. One of the earliest witnesses to the spread of Christianity, the codex features the first epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah.


“It is of monumental importance as a witness to the earliest spread of Christianity around the Mediterranean: The earliest monks in Upper Egypt in the earliest Christian monastery were using this very book to celebrate the earliest Easter celebrations, only a few hundred years after Christ and only a hundred or so years after the last Gospel was written," Eugenio Donadoni, senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Christie’s in London, told CNN. "It contains the two earliest complete texts of two books of the Bible, 1 Peter and Jonah, both used in those Easter services.”


The codex is part of the Bodmer Papyri, which were discovered in the 1950s and comprise biblical texts, Christian writings and pagan literary texts.


It was eventually acquired by the University of Mississippi where it remained until 1981. It exchanged hands a couple of times in the 1980s before being purchased by Norwegian manuscript collector Martin Schøyen in 1988. As such, the codex is the oldest known book in private hands.

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