On the Dispersion of Libraries

I’ve had the break-up of libraries on my mind lately for several reasons. At one level, this phenomenon is never far from my thoughts. For years now, I’ve been working on the somewhat scrappy remains of what must have been many collections of ancient Christian books and wondered about how the books came together, and in the case of the Christian books at Oxyrhynchus, how they came to be tossed out as garbage.

But for a few months now, I’ve been in the process of thoroughly culling of my own books. I’ve sold a few lots to Powell’s books in Portland, Oregon, and I have more for sale through amazon. It has been an interesting process of deciding which books I really love and which books I simply can’t justify toting around with me anymore. For the ones I let go, I wonder about their fate.

That’s not to say I’m no longer acquiring books. There are items I covet and for which I keep an eye out. One of them showed up recently in the used book market at a good price, and I snapped it up without thinking twice. Windows booksellers in Eugene, Oregon was offering for sale Frederic Kenyon’s edition and facsimile volume of the Chester Beatty codex of the Pauline epistles, better known to New Testament scholars as P46. These books were published in 1937 by Emery Walker, and they were superbly produced–well bound and with excellent quality photographs for the time period. The volumes of photographic plates show up on the market only rarely and usually at grossly inflated prices.

Kenyon P46

The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, Descriptions and Texts of Twelve Manuscripts on Papyrus of the Greek Bible: Fasciculus III Supplement, Pauline Epistles (London: Emery Walker, 1937)

I was delighted when the books arrived in great condition, but my feelings were pretty mixed when I saw the ex libris stamp in the books:

Andover Ex Libris

Ex libris plate for Andover Newton Theological Library

These volumes were once a part of the library of the Andover Newton Theological School, the grounds of which were sold in 2017.  A portion of its faculty was recently absorbed by Yale Divinity School (and, speaking of the dispersion of libraries, the Oxyrhynchus “distribution” papyri that were given to Andover Newton have now become part of the rare books collection at Yale Divinity School and are not kept with Yale’s other papyri in the Beinecke Library). None of the other volumes of the Beatty Biblical Papyri were available through Windows booksellers at the time that I purchased the Pauline epistles codex, so the set must have already been broken up some time ago. I know that all the used books I’ve acquired over the years have a story to tell and have been a part of one or more libraries, but it is a little odd to own books that come from a library I knew. Although I’m very happy to be able now to leaf through the plates of Paul’s letters whenever I want, there’s a little bit of melancholy that comes with the knowledge that I’m holding the remains of a once excellent library that has now, I suppose, been scattered to the winds.

This entry was posted in Chester Beatty Papyri, Chester Beatty Pauline Epistles, Codices, Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to On the Dispersion of Libraries

  1. I’ve wondered the ethics of adding an additional ex libra to books I’ve purchased second hand.

    • Yes, I sometimes feel like I’m sullying books by adding my own stamp (I have a couple of books from Bruce Metzger’s collection, and I can’t bring myself to stamp them). But on the other hand, my library is now a part of their story.

  2. Geoff Hudson says:

    Yes, and I wonder about the vast libraries of Caesarea and Alexandria. What happened to them?

  3. “….and in the case of the Christian books at Oxyrhynchus, how they came to be tossed out as garbage.”
    I recently reread the significant contribution to learning by AnneMarie Luijendijk, “Sacred Scriptures as Trash: Biblical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus.” Vigiliae Christianae 64:3 (2010): 217-54. And, though I do not doubt that some Christians discarded some Christian mss, and though I appreciate the observations, inferences, and speculations there, might that presentation have overestimated casual Christian discarding of whole Christian books? Because the digs were not done with stratigraphic dating, later Muslims (or others) discarding or tearing may be more significant than inferred there. (Recall different guesses as to who ripped some Qumran Cave 4 mss–and when.) And dumps are not only searched for fertilizer, but for other usable stuff. And kids play there. And animals forage. (Not to mention latrine use.) And a Christian, say, knowing Coptic–or an illiterate–may have less use for a Greek book, or even awareness of its content. And a book may have been in a home of someone with a disease or with a perceived curse and the household dumped for that reason, not having anything to do with the text itself, but for perceived contamination by association. Or some could have been dumped–or temporarily stashed–so authorities would not know, prior to their assigned burning. Or intra-Christian polemic motivation. Or a parent discouraging a child’s inclination toward being a religious. Or the reverse, after a devout (grand)parent dying, a less-so inclined child tossing. Or theft for spite. Or accidental, unintentional conveying or loss. Or others others may imagine, or unknown to imagine. So learned speculation is good, but selected argued speculation may have limits.

  4. In wondering “how books came together” Qumran may be worth comparing. There are various proposals, among which are:
    a) The view that all the ms deposits were quick hidings in a short time because of war with Rome, and then they were not retrieved. Among those proposing this were Roland de Vaux (who assumed a Qumran library) and Norman Golb (who assumed several Jerusalem libraries) and others. Though there may have been some of this, some mss, some likely penned locally, were carefully wrapped in linen, put in jars, some made at Qumran, and capped with lids and sealed with bitumen or tied–a time-consuming process. And there may be reason to date some cave deposits to different times.
    b) Various genizah theories, for retiring worn sacred mss in permanent burial. Again, there may have been some of this, but such may not exclude another option, namely
    c) A group at Qumran acted as if a tabernacle in the wilderness, awaiting a day when when the Jerusalem Temple would become in their view purified and properly administered. Then, they expected, preserved scrolls could be read again.

  5. Pingback: Kenyon’s Editions of the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri Online | Variant Readings

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