An ancient Coptic manuscript of the III-IV centuries to be auctioned off at Christie's London

An ancient Coptic manuscript of the III-IV centuries to be auctioned off at Christie's London

One of the oldest surviving handwritten books will be put up for auction next June at Christie's in London. Its cost is estimated at about $3 million.

Dubbed the "Crosby-Shoyen Codex", the manuscript dates from the period between 250-350 AD. It was written in Coptic (the language of Egyptian Coptic Christians) in one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Upper Egypt. The book, consisting of 104 pages (54 sheets), includes two biblical texts - the First Conciliar Epistle of St. Peter the Apostle from the New Testament and the Book of the Prophet Jonah from the Old Testament and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). According to some reports, the document was written by the same person for 40 years. In recent decades, the monument of antiquity has been kept under Plexiglass.

The manuscript was discovered in Egypt in the 1950s and acquired by the University of Mississippi, where it was kept until 1981. In 1988, it was bought by the Norwegian collector of ancient manuscripts Martin Schoyen, whose collection of manuscripts is considered one of the largest private collections in the world. Several exhibits from the Shoyen collection will be on display at the auction.

The Coptic artifact will first be auctioned at Christie's in New York from April 2 to April 9, and the lot will be put up for sale in London on June 11. The auction house estimates that the value of the manuscript will range from $2.6 million to $3.8 million. 

Eugenio Donadoni, an expert on Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts at Christie's auction house, attributes the book's good preservation to Egypt's dry climate. He added that only a few books of the III and IV centuries have survived to our days. "It is true that during that transition period, papyrus began to take the form of manuscripts and then books that we know today," he said. "What we have are the oldest known texts from two sacred books." According to him, all the Christian manuscripts that were found in the late 19th and 20th centuries are concentrated in Egypt because of these very delicate climatic conditions.
# Egypt
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