Auction News

£3 million for world’s oldest Christian book 


Saint Mark the Evangelist

A document written in Egypt in the 3rd or 4th century will be sold at auction in London in June. The Crosby-Schøyen Codex is among the first books according to experts and carries an estimate of $2.6 million to $3.8 million (around £2.2 to £3 million).

The papyrus document was written in Coptic script in Egypt around 250-350 AD.

Its contents could make it the earliest Christian book say Christie’s, who are holding the sale. 

An early Christian scribe composed the 104-page (52 leaves) book over 40 years. 

It contains two complete books of the Bible and would have been used in Easter celebrations in an Egyptian monastery. 

A detail of the Crosby-Schøyen Codex, on show in New York now and due for a June sale in London.

Eugenio Donadoni, senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Christie’s, described the Codex as of “monumental importance”.

“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,” he told the BBC. 

The book comes to sale alongside other items from the collection of Dr Martin Schøyen, a Norwegian collector. 

It had previously been held by the University of Mississippi. 

It is a constituent of the Bodmer Papyri, a collection of 22 documents from Egypt discovered in 1952 and first owned by collector Martin Bodmer. 

The Codex comes from the historical moment when scrolls were replaced with bound books. 

Christie’s claim the book contains the first known copies of The Book of Jonah and the First Epistle of Peter. 

The vast majority of early Christian texts have been found in Egypt.

Coptic is a group of languages spoken in Egypt and used in some of the world’s oldest Christian churches. The first Coptic church was founded by Mark the Evangelist. 

Egypt’s dry climate and the tough papyrus used for documents have helped these early documents survive. 

Last year Sotheby’s sold the Codex Sassoon, a 10th-century Hebrew Bible, for $38.1 million.

Inflation adjusted prices make that the 4th most valuable book ever sold. 

A US Consitution is the highest priced, raising $48.6 million on its sale to hedge funder Kenneth C. Griffin in 2021. 

Letters by Zhao Mengfu (1254 – 1322) realised $45.5 million in 2019 and a copy of the Book of Mormon was bought by the Mormon church in 2017 for $43.5 million. 

While this early book will not match those heights, it is an extremely significant sale and one with historical, religious and collecting implications. 

Just Collecting