Oldest Known Christianity Book Expected To Sell For Millions At Auction

The oldest known Christianity book is expected to fetch millions of dollars at auction. The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, dated between 250-350 AD, is estimated to sell for between $2.6 million and $3.8 million at Christie’s auction house as part of the The Schøyen Collection.

The codex — one of the oldest books in existence — was written in Coptic script over the course of 40 years at the dawn of Christianity by one scribe, BBC News reports. It contains the earliest complete texts of the first epistle of Peter, the Book of Jonah, and one of the earliest witnesses of Maccabees. The manuscript is 104 pages, or 52 leaves, long, and written on papyrus.

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex is expected to fetch millions at auction
The Crosby-Schøyen Codex is expected to fetch millions at auction. (credit: Christie’s)

“It’s right at that period, that transitional period, when papyrus scroll starts turning into codex form,” says Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s senior specialist of medieval and renaissance manuscripts, to Reuters. “So, books as we know them today. And what we have in this book is the earliest known texts of two books of the Bible.”

This codex is one of the earliest witnesses to the spread of Christianity.

“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,” Donadoni told CNN.

Egypt’s dry climate helped preserve the over 1,600-year-old codex.

“All the major finds of Christian manuscripts that we had in the 20th century and at the end of the 19th century are all concentrated in Egypt for those very precise climactic conditions,” Donadoni told Reuters.

Reuters reports the manuscript was discovered in Egypt in the 1950s. The University of Mississippi then purchased the codex where it remained until 1981. Then, in 1988, Norwegian manuscript collector Dr Martin Schøyen bought the codex and now he is selling it as part of The Schøyen Collection at Christie’s.

Other auction items include:

  • The Holkham Hebrew Bible
  • The Geraardsbergen Bible
  • The Venerable Bede
  • The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere
  • The “Charles of Anjou” Gospels
  • The Tanaglia Lactantius
  • The Lindesiana Chronicles of Scotland
  • An essential compilation of Greek literature
  • The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours
  • A 12th-century compilation
  • Middle English Statutes

“The lots offered for sale here are the highlights of one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of manuscripts ever assembled: The Schøyen Collection. The importance of the materials in this collection goes far beyond the scope of a private collection, or even a national public collection. The sale spans 1,300 years of cultural history and includes world heritage manuscripts such as the Crosby-Schoyen Codex, the Holkham Hebrew Bible and the Geraardsbergen Bible, but also Greek literature, humanist masterpieces, a book owned by a Saint, early English law, a historically important Scottish chronicle, and the earliest known book-binding,” Christie’s says in the lot description.

The codex will be on exhibition in New York from April 2-9 and then Paris from April 18-23. Bidding will begin June 11.

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