A couple years ago, I wrote a short web article on the dispersal of a papyrus codex of Exodus that was allegedly found with three other papyrus codices: one containing a mathematical text in Greek, one containing the letters of Paul in Coptic, and the famous codex containing the Gospel of Judas.
In that article, I gave a brief overview of how these books were mutilated and marketed by various actors. The Exodus codex was split up already in the 1990s Here is what I wrote:
“The codices resurfaced for sale in New York in the early 1990s. Again, the books did not sell, but the records of the Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen state that the Exodus codex consisted of more than fifty leaves at that time. At that point, the codex seems to have been divided for sale. One leaf of the codex was purchased by Yale University from a company associated with the Swiss dealer Frieda Tchacos in the mid-1990s. At least one leaf was acquired by the art dealer François Antonovich apparently around the same time. Five leaves were purchased by Schøyen at some point before 1998.”
What I failed to note in that article was that the Yale purchase (in 1996) creates a problem in the standard “timeline” of events associated with these codices. According to the usual story, Frieda Tchacos supposedly acquired the books only in 1999 or 2000. Yet she was already selling bits of the Exodus codex in 1996.
The Schøyen connection is also interesting in this regard. I cannot now recall why I wrote that Schøyen made his purchase “at some point before 1998.” In fact, a chapter by Diletta Minutoli and Rosario Pintaudi states quite clearly that Schøyen bought his leaves a decade earlier, in 1988:
“L’acquisizione dei frammenti di un codice contenente l’Esodo (Schøyen MS187)…risale al 1988 quando Schøyen ne acquistò dall’antiquario americano Bruce Ferrini.”
I don’t think I had appreciated before that Ferrini had some of this material already in the 1980s and Tchacos had some in the mid-1990s. It’s also odd then that James Robinson reports that Schøyen later passed on buying the Gospel of Judas codex because of “bad provenance” (Robinson, The Secrets of Judas, 65-66), since he already owned the Exodus leaves that allegedly come from the same batch of material. This would seem to suggest that the customary provenance story of these manuscripts has some holes in it.
It is also interesting to note that Schøyen has apparently put up his leaves of the Tchacos-Ferrini Exodus codex for sale, according to a 2020 article by Christopher Prescott and Josephine Munch Rasmussen, which examined Norwegian export permits:
“As far as we have been able to ascertain, all Schøyen’s post-2007 applications for export permits have been approved by the National Library, most recently an application dated 14 October 2019, granted 16 October 2019. An application dated 30 April 2018 is for four items to be sold through Bloomsbury Auctions, London. Among the four is one object described as: ‘MS187. Exodus, papyrus manuscript, 4th c. 2ff. 26 x 32 c, under glass.'”
I’m not sure of the current whereabouts of these leaves.
Diletta Minutoli and Rosario Pintaudi, “Un codice biblico su papiro della collezione Schøyen MS 187 (Esodo IV 16 – VII 21)” in Guido Bastianini and Angelo Casanova (eds.), I papiri letterari cristiani (Florence: Istituto Papirologico “G. Vitelli,” 2011), 193-205.
Christopher Prescott and Josephine Munch Rasmussen, “Exploring the “Cozy Cabal of Academics, Dealers and Collectors” through the Schøyen Collection,” Heritage 3 (2020), 68-97.
James M. Robinson, The Secrets of Judas (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007).