Oldest Christian book goes on sale

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The Crosby-Schoyen CodexImage source, Reuters

Christianity’s oldest religious book, according to auction house Christie’s, is going on sale in June.

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, written in Coptic script on papyrus in Egypt, dates to between 250-350AD.

It is also thought to be one of the oldest books in existence and could sell for up to $3.8m (£3m).

The liturgical book was produced in one of the first Christian monasteries and contains the complete texts of two Bible books.

The text is of “monumental importance as a witness to the earliest spread of Christianity around the Mediterranean,” said Eugenio Donadoni, senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Christies.

“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.”

The book is part of the Bodmer Papyri, a collection of several texts which were discovered in the 1950s, and include Christian writings, Biblical extracts and pagan literature.

The codex was written in Coptic on papyrus around 250-350 AD

Image source, Reuters

The manuscript itself contains texts including the first complete epistle of Peter, the Book of Jonah, and an Easter homily.

The 104 pages, or 52 leaves were written by one scribe at the dawn of Christianity, over a period of 40 years. The book is one of the oldest texts in the world, the auction house says.

Its remarkable preservation has been attributed to Egypt’s arid climate, Mr Donadoni said.

The codex was bought by the University of Mississippi where it remained until 1981, and was acquired several times before being purchased by Norwegian manuscript collector Dr Martin Schøyen in 1988.

Dr Schøyen is auctioning the manuscript alongside other pieces from his collection, which is one of the largest manuscript archives in the world.

The codex is on display at Christie’s New York and will remain there until 9 April.

It will be auctioned on 11 June in London, with an estimated sale price of between $2.6m and $3.8m (£2m to £3m).

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