While working through Scott Carroll’s videos, I’ve mentioned what I’m calling the Tchacos-Ferrini Codex of the Pauline epistles in Coptic (LDAB 108582). Little is currently known about this papyrus codex aside from an article in the journal Early Christianity by Hans-Gebhard Bethge from 2013. Through this article we learn that this is the codex that was allegedly found together with three other codices (supposedly in Qarara in Egypt): one containing the Gospel of Judas and other texts (LDAB 108481), one containing Exodus in Greek (LDAB 66871), and one containing mathematical material in Greek (LDAB 10719). These books first surfaced on the antiquities market in the early 1980s. Coptologist Stephen Emmel saw them in Geneva hotel room in 1983 and reported as follows on the codex of Paul’s letters:
“Item 3 is fragments of a papyrus codex from the 5th (possibly 4th) century A.D. containing at least some of the letters of St. Paul. The leaves are approximately 24 cm tall and 16 cm broad. The scribe outlined his writing area with pink chalk. His handwriting is cursive in style, as though somewhat quickly written. The pages are numbered above the center of a single column of writing, the highest page number observed being 115. There are some nearly complete leaves of the codex preserved, and many smaller fragments, which might be reassembled into at least a sizeable portion of the codex. There is also part of a leather binding (either the front or the back cover, including the spine, lined with scrap papyrus) which probably, though not certainly, belongs to this codex. The contents identified with certainty are Hebrews, Colossians, and l Thessalonians. The texts are in a nonstandard form of the Sahidic dialect.”
The basic story of the codex of Paul’s letters is reasonably well known because of the hoopla surrounding National Geographic‘s publication of the Gospel of Judas. By the year 2000, the books were in the hands of the antiquities dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger. She then sold them to the American dealer Bruce Ferrini in 2001. That deal went sour, and Tchacos Nussberger reclaimed the bulk of the codices, although Ferrini retained some parts of the books.
We can pick up the specific story of the Pauline epistles codex in 2010. At that time, most of the manuscript of Paul’s letters was at the Universitätsbibliothek Augsburg. It was subsequently sent back to Tchacos Nussberger in Geneva, but not before parts were exhibited and a catalog produced, Novum opus ex veteri: Vom Judas-Evangelium zur Furtmeyr-Bibel (2010). I haven’t been able to consult the catalog, but I did find an image of its cover online:
Thus, while most of the codex is in Europe, Ferrini’s holdings were dispersed on the market in the US. A travelling exhibition, “From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America,” which was curated by the rare book dealers Lee Biondi and Craig Lampe, was exhibiting a leaf of this codex at least as early as 2004, as described in this report of the exhibit’s stop in Pittsburgh in 2004:
“Another rare fragment showcased at the exhibit is a letter from Paul to the Colossians. This third-century document is the earliest surviving account of Paul’s writing — his work from the first century has since been destroyed. The Coptic tongue this version of Colossians is written in makes it unique. Coptic, the Egyptian language his book was penned in, indicates the vast expansion of the early Christian Church.
‘This document had a huge faith impact on me,’ Biondi says. ‘It is amazing that this fragile piece of papyrus, that could have been a death warrant for the person keeping it, survived the Roman persecutions.’
Despite the religious nature of the material, the curators say this is a historical rather than theological exhibition.”
The exhibition, which also included some fragmentary “Dead Sea Scrolls” that have since ended up in the Museum of the Bible, was accompanied by a couple catalogs, both by Lee Biondi, The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America: How God Preserved His Word (Biblical Arts of Arizona, 2004) and From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America (Legacy Ministries International, 2009). Both catalogs carried an image of the papyrus leaf containing Colossians in Coptic:
The pink chalk line mentioned by Emmel is clearly visible along the left margin. And, now to return to Scott Carroll, who in a September 2016 talk, very briefly displayed this image of a papyrus leaf with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in Coptic, also showing the pink chalk line along the margin:
So, it’s unclear to me how many leaves of this codex might be floating around in private collections in the US. It would be especially good to know the whereabouts of the remains of the leather cover, which Emmel described as “lined with scrap papyrus,” that could potentially help to identify the date and place of the codex’s construction. But, of course, one of the various antiquities dealers who has so thoroughly dissected the book may have simply separated or discarded parts of the codex that didn’t carry text. The antiquities trade at work.
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