A Fragment from Genesis in Sahidic Sold at Christie’s

In memoriam Karlheinz Schüssler

Scholars of Coptic literature must be familiar not only with the content of the papyrological collections around the world but, as far as possible, also with different manuscripts or manuscript fragments which sometimes surface from private collections. However, as private owners usually do not understand the scientific value of the manuscripts they buy, their collections are not easily accessible to scholars.

Although one of the purposes of the CMCL database is to keep track of all extant Coptic manuscripts, we often find difficult to record in a satisfactory way the manuscripts in private hands. As manuscripts that circulate in a chain of private collectors change often the possessor, it is impossible to establish a system of reference which would be valid on a long run and serve the future generations of scholars. A good example is this papyrus sheet, formerly in the possession of Erik von Scherling, which passed later into the collection of Lawrence Feinberg and it is now in the hands of an unknown owner.

Editing, copying or preserving photographs of the manuscripts we find for sale can overcome such a difficulty, at least partly. Writing about several manuscript fragments sold on eBay, Brice Jones has made some remarkable work in that direction. During the course of time, I have also written about Coptic manuscripts sold by major auction houses like Sotheby or Christie’s. I became particularly interested in ten parchment fragments purchased by Bolaffi from Sotheby in July 2009. The current whereabouts of the fragments are unknown but I imagine they will surface again at a certain point. Whether this will happen during our lifetime or later cannot be predicted.

In this post, I want to draw attention to another Sahidic fragment, which was sold by Christie’s a couple of years ago. According to the report provided on the website of the auction house, the fragment was sold on November 20, 2011 for the sum of £ 21,250 (= $ 32.895).

30246867It seems that the fragment was part of a larger lot of ancient manuscripts which belonged to Malcolm S. Forbes, Jr., the famous editor of Forbes magazine, “who was twice a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for president.” Here is a (very bad!) description of the manuscript on Christie’s website (N.B. the fragment is Sahidic not Bohairic!):

Lot Description

GENESIS, Books VI and VII on a leaf from a Bible in BOHAIRIC COPTIC, MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM [Egypt, ?10th century]. Approximately 365 x 280mm, 36 lines in two columns written in black ink in uncial script, capitals in red (worn, losses to margins, loss affecting eight lines of text in one column, some soiling and a few letters overpainted).

This fragmentary leaf contains part of Genesis, from Book VI:14 to VII:19, with references to the Ark and the Flood, in the Bohairic Coptic translation of the Septuagint (for the text, see ed. Melvin K. Peters, ‘A Critical edition of the Coptic (Bohairic) Pentateuch, Volume 1, Genesis’, Septuagint and Cognate Studies Series no 19, c.1985). Bohairic, the northern dialect of Coptic, originated in the western Nile delta and is still the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Interestingly enough, a parchment fragment in the National Library in Paris belonged to the same codex as the Genesis fragment sold at Christie’s. Thus, Paris BnF Copte 1291, f. 3 is a codicologically related folio which contains Gen 7:13-24; 8:1-13.

21As the source of the Paris fragment is certainly the Monastery of Apa Shenoute (aka the White Monastery), it is obvious that the Christie’s leaf must come from the same library. The content of the two fragments makes clear that they were consecutive leaves in the original codex. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that both folios show the same damage pattern in the outer corners (upper and lower). The Christie’s fragment was the first leaf of the innermost bifolio of the first quire of the codex. As the next leaf, our Copte 1291, f. 3 in Paris, has the page numbers [8]/9 (even-odd!), it may be concluded that the Christie’s leaf must have been pages [6]/[7].

The only problem is that the verso of the latter, whose photo is not available on the internet, should have the text of Gen 7:2-19, whereas our Paris folio starts with Gen 7:13. However, it is very likely that there is a mistake in Christie’s description. Karlheinz Schüssler, with whom I shared this identification shortly before his tragic death, transcribed the recto of the Christie’s folio and wrote me: “The text of the recto has 24 lines in my Word transcription, exactly like the text of 7:2-13. On the other hand, the text of 7:2-7:19 would have 32 lines (and this would be too much for the verso).”

Actually, Karlheinz intended to edit the two fragments. To that end, he asked me if I could obtain photos of both sides of the Christie’s leaf. Until now, I have not managed. As I already said, manuscripts in private hands are sometimes as good as lost.


About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
This entry was posted in Bible, Genesis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Fragment from Genesis in Sahidic Sold at Christie’s

  1. McPherson, Alistair (College of General Studies Instruct) says:

    Thank you Alin.


    P.s.: has anyone ever told you that you resemble a young Peter Sellers? 🙂


    From: Alin Suciu <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Alin Suciu <comment+eyk1syfjcjfj11fodhzc-_s@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:58 AM To: Alistair McPherson <amcpherson@liberty.edu> Subject: [New post] A Fragment from Genesis in Sahidic Sold at Christies

    Alin Suciu posted: “In memoriam Karlheinz Schssler Scholars of Coptic literature must be familiar not only with the content of the papyrological collections around the world but, as far as possible, also with different manuscripts or manuscript fragments which sometimes su”

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