P.Bodmer 58 and Ancient Instructions for Preparing Parchment

PBodmer 58 Spine

While the Bodmer Papyri are best known for the subset of Greek and Coptic codices that Martin Bodmer acquired from Egyptian sources through the Cypriot dealer Phocion Tano in the 1950s, there are other early Christian materials in the collection that were acquired under different circumstances. One of the most curious of these is now known as P.Bodmer 58 (LDAB 107785). This papyrus codex, usually said to have been copied in the sixth or seventh century, contains a series of works in Coptic: a dialogue between two deacons and Cyril of Alexandria, letters of Theophilus, a dialogue between Horsiesius and Theophilus, a dialogue between Phausos and Timotheos with Horsiesius, and a collection of works attributed to Agathonicos, along with a set of instructions for the preparation of parchment. Unlike the more famous Bodmer Papyri that first appeared on the antiquities market in the 1950s, P.Bodmer 58 has been known since the nineteenth century. It was formerly in the collection of Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872). The individual papyrus leaves have been placed between a kind of wax paper, and these “sandwich” leaves have been bound together in a modern binding in a somewhat jumbled order. Three different copyists seem to have been responsible for the production of the leaves now bound together in the codex.

PBodmer 58 leaf

Papyrus leaf from P.Bodmer 58; image source: Fondation Martin Bodmer


PBodmer 58 in binding

P.Bodmer 58 in its modern binding; image source: Fondation Martin Bodmer


The portion of the catalog of Phillipps’ collection published in 1863 included this codex as item 18833. It is unclear how and when Phillipps acquired the book. There is some speculation that P.Bodmer 58 was bought at Thebes in 1832 and may originate from the Monastery of Epiphanius (Crum and Evelyn White, The Monastery of Epiphanius, 2.299, note 1 to item 578). Phillipps bequeathed his massive collection of some 60,000 manuscripts to his daughter Katharine Fenwick (1823-1913), who in turn passed it on to his grandson Thomas Fitzroy Fenwick (1856-1938). While the codex was in Thomas Fitzroy Fenwick’s possession, Walter Crum published the recipe for parchment in 1905 and the rest of the codex in 1915. Fitzroy Fenwick and his heir, Alan George Fenwick (1890-?), broke up the collection and sold it. Bodmer probably acquired the codex along with other codices he bought from the Phillipps Collection through the English dealers Lionel and Philip Robinson between the late 1940s and the late 1960s. The exact date that Bodmer bought P.Bodmer 58 is unknown, but an inscription on the inside of the back cover reads, “März 1954.”

PBodmer 58 Cover Date

P.Bodmer 58, date on inside of back cover; image source: Fondation Martin Bodmer

The instructions for preparing parchment deal with handling problematic surfaces. The leaves are bound backwards near the end of the book on pages numbered ⲅ through ϛ. The first page (ⲅ) is below:

PBodmer 58 Parchment Instructions

First page of the instructions for preparing parchment in P.Bodmer 58; image source: Fondation Martin Bodmer

Below is Crum’s translation of the parchment instructions. For the full Coptic text and notes, see Crum’s edition here.

[Page 3]    [ . . . ] together. Then (λοιπόν) you shall wipe it and write on it. Again (πάλιν δέ) too when you see that it is shriveled you shall polish (λεοντηρίζειν?) it and write on it.
If it be one that is all in wrinkles (?) or (ἤ) that is . . ., you know that it will change (?): you shall merely (?) place (?) the soft (?) pumice (κίσηλις) upon it and shall wipe it and write on it; but (ἀλλά) you shall pumice (κισηλοῦν?) it on both sides before you write at all upon it. Then (λοιπόν) you shall spread upon it (?) a little [page 4] white-lead (ψιμύθιον) mixed with a little alum (or vitriol), they being pounded (?) together and tied in a linen cloth, so that only the powder reach it (sc. the parchment); then you shall wipe it and write on it.
If it be one that is . . . (μονοξύς), you shall rub it little by little with the . . . pumice (κισ.). Then (λοιπόν) if there are . . ., you shall put . . . thereon, mixed with a little white-lead (ψιμ.) and . . . together, pounded (?) and tied in a cloth. Then (λοιπόν?) if the ink (μέλαν) is spread over it, [page 5] and it (sc. the ink) run (?), you shall pour some drops of water of alum (??) into the ink (μέλαν) which is in the jar (βικίον) and shall write on it: it shall run (?) no more (οὐκέτι).
If it be one that has (?) a corroded skin, you shall scrape (?) it well (καλῶς) with the hard pumice (κισ.) and write on it with a fine reed.
If it be one that is smooth, you shall rub it with the soft pumice (κισ.). Then (λοιπόν) you shall pound (?) a little white-lead (ψιμ.) and tie it in a cloth and shake (it) upon it (sc. the parchment), [page 6] so that its powder reach it, and you shall knead it well (καλῶς) into it with your finger. And again (πάλιν) when you take the reed and it be hindered from going any longer, you shall rub it (sc. the parchment) with a piece of ochre (ὤχρα?) and knead it well (καλῶς) into it and shall (then) write on it.
If it be one that is sticky (?), you shall pumice (κισηλοῦν?) it with the soft sort and shall not wipe it at all (ὅλως) but (ἀλλά) shall leave (?) the pumice-water upon it and shall polish (λεαντηρίζειν?) [it . . .

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Bodmer Papyri, Book binding, Codices, Monastery of Epiphanius, Thomas Phillipps. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to P.Bodmer 58 and Ancient Instructions for Preparing Parchment

  1. There may be more information in A. N. L. Munby, The Dispersal of the Phillipps Library (1960, Cambridge UP). [Our copy is “being repaired.”]

  2. It is quite a story that the Robinson brothers, booksellers, purchased the remains of the Phillipps library from Alan George Fenwick (who died, I think, in 1966) for 100,000 pounds, when the books were crated up, and had only a partial inventory, and they had opened only a mere sample of the crates.

  3. Pingback: The May 2019 Biblical Studies Carnival – Carnival # 160 | Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament

  4. Lawrence Norman says:

    Sort of ironic that the instructions for parchment preparation are copied on papyrus material…

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