While many of the papyrus and parchment codices in the Fondation Martin Bodmer appear to be part of a single ancient find, several of these codices are known to have distinct origins. One of these is P.Bodmer LVII, a portion of a large papyrus codex containing a commentary on the Psalms by Didymus the Blind. It is part of a find generally known as the Tura Papyri. Along with the Didymus’s commentary on the Psalms, the Tura find also included parts of at least seven other papyrus codices containing works of Didymus and works of Origen in Greek (see the details of each codex below). Relative to other finds of early Christian manuscripts, the Tura Papyri have been somewhat neglected in scholarship. What follows is a brief overview of the codices and the story of their discovery.
Tura (also sometimes spelled Tora, Toura, Tourah, Turah, etc.) is the site of an important limestone quarry in Egypt just to the south of Cairo. The mines were the source of limestone blocks for the pyramids and seem to have been abandoned in antiquity. During World War II, the Egyptian government allowed British armed forces to set up operations in the quarries. The codices are said to have been discovered by local workers during the removal of the rubble in the caverns in August of 1941.
According to early reports, the books were simply sitting unprotected under the debris that had built up by the walls of one of the tunnels in the quarry. The leaves were immediately separated and dispersed on the antiquities market. The majority of the find was reunited in Cairo, but parts of the find have ended up all over the world in many different museums and libraries. The Bodmer collection, for example, purchased its portion of the Didymus Psalms commentary in 1953 from the Groppi Collection in Cairo. Other parts of the find travelled even further. As recently the 1980s, ten leaves of the Psalms commentary turned up in an attic in a house in New England. Thus far, well over 2,000 pages of material has been recovered.
The codices are generally dated on the basis palaeography, the analysis of handwriting, to the sixth or seventh century. For the most part the books were written in quick, competent script that resembles documentary writing, but Codex I (Origen’s Dialogue and paschal sermon) is copied in a competent example of the pointed majuscule and Codex VII (Didymus’s commentary on Job) is written in a rough informal round hand. The place where the codices were produced is uncertain (they do not contain colophons naming the location where they were copied). Some scholars have argued that the books were deposited by monks from the nearby Monastery of Arsenios, which is a reasonable surmise.
The codices are in varying states of preservation. Some sheets are in superb condition while only small fragments remain of others. Below is a list of the codices in the find, plus one isolated sheet, followed by a link to the relevant entry in the Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB), which contains additional bibliography. I’ve given images of published plates of the codices to give a sense of what they look like as a group. There are also links to (better) images online, if they are available. If anyone knows of other images online, please let me know, and I will add links.
Codex I (LDAB 3509)
Works of Origen: Dialogue with Heraclides and Peri pashca
Images of the Dialogue with Heraclides
Images of the Peri pascha
Codex II (LDAB 3512)
Works of Origen: excerpts from Contra Celsum 1 and 2, On the Pythonissa of Endor, and the Commentary on Romans chapter 5 and 6
Images of Contra Celsum
Images of the Commentary on Romans
Codex III (LDAB 773)
Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Ecclesiastes
Images of the Köln leaves of the Ecclesiastes commentary
Codex IV (LDAB 775)
Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Genesis
Codex V (LDAB 776)
Didymus the Blind, Commentary on the Psalms
Images of the BYU leaves of the Didymus Psalms commentary
Images of the Köln leaves of the Didymus Psalms commentary
Codex VI (LDAB 772)
Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Zechariah
Images of the Köln leaves of the Didymus Zechariah commentary
Codex VII (LDAB 774)
Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Job
Codex VIII (LDAB 777)
A quire from a codex containing (at least) a homily on the Psalms and portions of Didymus’s commentary on the Gospel according to John
Isolated sheet (LDAB 771)
Didymus the Blind, Dialogue with a Heretic
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