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).
As a chronological reminder, I believe that I was the first to see Polaroids of all of the mss. in question (Gospel of Judas, Exodus, and Mathematical Treatise), when they were sent to me by Frieda Tchacos in 1981 or 1982. I identified the text as that of Exodus. She had called me from Switzerland at 8:30 AM one Saturday morning while I was a Ph. D. student at the University of Chicago, living in Hyde Park, and had asked for my address.
Years later I received a call from the late Marv Meyer who drove from Orange county to my home in Santa Monica, at that time, because he had gotten wind that I still had the original Polaroids. The news about the Gospel of Thomas was still not public knowledge at the time, and he asked that I keep it secret. I was able to locate the photos, along with a file of my transcriptions of the Greek of Exodus, photos that showed all of the mss. in good condition, and the Exodus ms., which seem rolled up was thick with papyrus pages, showing only a single vertical strip of legible text, but enough to make the identification. I handed all photos over to Marv, who unfortunately died some years ago, so who knows where the original Polaroids are today?
The basics of discovery and my modest role in the whole story are described in Herb Krosny’s, The Lost Gospel (2006), pp. 166-167. He had called me around this time to conduct a phone interview in advance of completing his book.
Roy D. Kotansky
Thanks, Roy. I recall that from Krosney’s book. What I failed to realize was that Bruce Ferrini and Frieda Tchacos were already selling pieces from the find in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. I had understood (wrongly, apparently) that Tchacos acquired the codices in 1999 or 2000 and sold them to Ferrini shortly thereafter. But it seems at least part of the find was dispersed in a different way.
According to “The Schøyen Collection: Checklist of Manuscripts 1 – 2867” 15th edition, Oslo (1999), p. 19, Schøyen bought MS 187 from “Bruce Ferrini, Arkon, Ohio, Sept. 1988.”
Thanks, Årstein. That agrees with the information in Minutoli and Pintaudi. It is quite interesting that this transaction seems to have taken place in 1988. I wonder when and how Ferrini and Tchacos had their hands on these leaves in the 1980s and 1990s. Clearly there are some missing and/or wrong information in the standard accounts of acquisition of the “Qarara codices.”