The Dead Sea Scrolls of New Jersey

It is well known that a few of the best preserved Dead Sea Scrolls spent some time in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.  The Syrian Archbishop Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel brought four scrolls to the US in 1949: the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa), the Rule of the Community (1QS), the Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab), and the Genesis Apocryphon (1QgenApoc). Mar Samuel took the scrolls on a publicity tour and then famously placed an ad in The Wall Street Journal (1 June 1954) in order to sell the scrolls. And he did sell them (unwittingly) to the state of Israel, through Yigael Yadin, who saw to their return to Jerusalem.

It is less widely known that Mar Samuel retained a few fragments of scrolls for himself. He is said to have acquired these small pieces on a different occasion, perhaps around July or August of 1948, (allegedly) through the illicit excavations of George Isha’ya. Most of the fragments were mashed together in a clump and stored in a cigarette box. The clump was disassembled and the fragments photographed by John Trever at Yale University in February of 1949. When Mar Samuel died, these fragments passed into the care of the Syrian Orthodox Church in New Jersey. In 2009, these fragments were photographed by the West Semitic Research Project. In connection with my work on the scrolls usually associated with Qumran Cave 1, I wanted to check on the status of these fragments to make sure they were still in New Jersey (since it was in 2009 and 2010 that sales of “Dead-Sea-Scroll-like-fragments” really began to intensify, when Hobby Lobby and other institutions were buying them up). Unfortunately, I was never able to get a response from officials at the church despite several attempts at communication.

But I recently came across a decade-old article in The Jewish Standard, “From Qumran to Teaneck,” that discusses these fragments and even provides a nice picture of one of them:

A portion of 1Q34bis; image source: The Jewish Standard

This is one part of a group of fragments known as 1Q34bis, a fragmentary scroll containing what is usually called a liturgical prayer. If we place this image next to one of the images taken by John Trever when he first separated this fragment from the clump, it appears that a piece bearing the letters שמח in the upper left corner has been lost (or is no longer framed together with these fragments):

A portion of 1Q34bis in 1949 and circa 2010; image sources: upper image adapted from John C. Trever, “Completion of the Publication of Some Fragments from Qumran Cave I,” Revue de Qumrân 5 (1965), plate IV; lower image: The Jewish Standard

This kind of deterioration is always a possibility with manuscripts copied on ancient animal hides, especially those that have at some point been exposed to moisture.

This particular part of 1Q34bis is one of the more intriguing pieces among Mar Samuel’s fragments. It actually seems to join to one of the fragments excavated by de Vaux and his team from Cave 1, 1Q34:

1Q34 and a portion of 1Q34bis; image adapted from John C. Trever, “Completion of the Publication of Some Fragments from Qumran Cave I,” Revue de Qumrân 5 (1965), plate IV

This fact has been taken as evidence that the whole clump, and indeed all of Mar Samuel’s loose fragments, must have come from Cave 1. Trever, who had the advantage of examining the clump before separation, had no doubt that the fragments had been in such a clump since antiquity, and he even offered a surprisingly detailed story of how they came to be in just such an arrangement:

“With the Roman antipathy toward the Jews and the latter’s devotion to sacred writings, it is not difficult to imagine some Roman soldier ripping apart some scrolls found in the Community Center during the attack (or perhaps snatching some scrolls from a member of the community as he sought to flee with them to a place of safety). Once torn apart, these pieces appear to have been cast down and deliberately trampled upon. Seeing such desecration, some member of the community may have gathered up the trampled fragments and succeeded in carrying them to the cave for a hasty deposit.”

Such an origin is, of course, possible, but the theory is not without problems. For instance, one of the fragments of the book of Daniel extracted from the clump, 1QDana (=1Q71) seemed to Trever to be copied in a script that suggested a rather late date, “perhaps as late as A.D. 60,” which is considerably later than the dates assigned to most other material from Cave 1. The most recent editors of this fragment have gone further, concluding that “the late palaeographical features of 1QDana would be more readily understood if this scroll belonged to a post-70 deposit” (Torleif Elgvin and Årstein Justnes in Gleanings from the Caves, p. 250). Another way of describing this situation would be to say that, in terms of its estimated age, 1Q71 doesn’t really fit the profile of the items that archaeologists excavated from Cave 1. I wonder how confident we can be that all the parts of this clump had been together since antiquity. Might some of the fragments have simply been crushed together due to rough handling in 1948? How sure are we that the contents of Mar Samuel’s cigarette box represent the results of a single trip to a single location? I am reminded of the way Trever introduced his edition of these fragments. His parenthetical question really seems quite important.

“Not long after July 18, 1948, the beginning of the second truce in the Arab-Jewish conflict of 1948, Cave I was again visited by George Isha’ya who picked up some (or all?) of these fragments and delivered them to the Syrian Metropolitan of St. Mark’s Monastery.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls of New Jersey still present some puzzles.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls | 4 Comments

Dead Sea Scrolls at the Vatican

A visit to the Vatican Museums almost always yields something new. You can never know which rooms will be open, so occasionally there is the pleasant surprise of getting to see material that is usually hidden away. There are also times that your eye catches something that is always on display but that, for whatever reason, you have missed before. In this instance, it was a couple items in the Museo Gregoriano Egizio. In a cabinet of miscellaneous near eastern artifacts, and facing away from the intense “flow” of directed traffic in the museum, are two small animal hide fragments inscribed with Hebrew text and framed upside down.

“Dead Sea Scroll” fragments on display in the Vatican Museum, inv. 57241 and 57242; image: Brent Nongbri 2021

They carry the label “Inscribed fragments of Qumran Scrolls.” I was surprised to see these items here, not only because I had never noticed them on several previous visits, but also because I must admit that I did not know that the Vatican had any scrolls. I was aware that the Vatican Library financially supported the excavations in the Qumran caves in the 1950s, but unlike some other institutions, the Vatican did not receive any scrolls. And in fact, as the label indicates, these two fragments (inventory numbers 57241 and 57242) are not “excavation” fragments; they come from the personal collection of Salvatore Garofalo (1911-1998), a priest and theologian who spent some time in the Levant in the 1950s and 1960s.

Salvatore Garofalo; image source: Lorenzo Nigro, Gerusalemme e la Palestina: Uno sguardo tra Bibbia e Archeologia: La Terra Santa nelle fotografie di Monsignor Salvatore Garofalo (Vatican City: Vatican Museum, 2008), p. 13.

The fragments seem to have been donated to the Vatican in the late 1990s. One of the fragments, written in a paleo-Hebrew script, was published in 2000:

Giancarlo Lacerenza, “Un nouveau fragment en écriture paléohébraïque,” RevQ 19 (2000), 441-447, with a follow-up palaeographic study by Émile Puech, “Note additionnelle sur le fragment en paléo-hébreu,” RevQ 19 (2000), 449-451.

Image source: Giancarlo Lacerenza, “Un nouveau fragment en écriture paléohébraïque,” RevQ 19 (2000) 441-447

Puech suggested that this paleo-Hebrew fragment may belong to 11Q22. The other fragment seems to be unpublished and, as far as I can tell, unstudied.

For provenance, little information is available, only Lacerenza’s statement that these pieces came from a private collection and that an earlier owner (presumably Garofalo) had acquired them during his time in Jerusalem:

“Ce fragment se trouve depuis quarante ans et plus dans une collection privée, à Rome, où je l’ai examiné récemment. Son existence m’est, néammoins, connue depuis longtemps, grâce à un renseignement du propriétaire précédent, qui l’avait en son temps reçu à Jérusalem, ainsi qu’un deuxième fragment, provenant également de Qumran.”

Lacerenza continues in a footnote: “II semble que les deux fragments aient été achetés séparément; malheureusement, les grottes de provenance étaient restées inconnues du proprietaire lui-meme.”

Better images of the pieces are available in an online article in Fogli e Parole d’Arte about Garofalo:

“Dead Sea Scroll” fragments at the Vatican Museum, inv. 57241 and 57242; image source: Rossana Nicolò, “Gerusalemme e la Palestina,” Fogli e Parole d’Arte

It is not clear to me how Garofalo came to be in possession of these fragments. I wonder if readers have any insights?

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls | 8 Comments

The Fate of the Van Kampen Collection

I’ve written before on a few occasions about the Van Kampen Collection of ancient manuscripts, a kind of predecessor of the Green Collection. In fact, it was Scott Carroll, the main architect of the Green Collection, who was also the force behind assembling this collection for the evangelical investment banker Robert Van Kampen in the 1990s.

The Van Kampen Collection was formerly based in “The Scriptorium” in Grand Haven, Michigan before it was moved to Orlando, Florida to become “The Scriptorium Center for Biblical Antiquities,” a subsection of “The Holy Land Experience” theme park. Now the news has broken that the theme park is closing down (see the article in Christianity Today here, which also includes an interesting financial history of the park).

The Christianity Today story does not specifically mention the Van Kampen Collection of manuscripts, but I sent some queries to the contacts at the park, and I’m told that the collection was moved from the premises and is back in the care of the Van Kampen Foundation. I am not certain exactly where the items are physically located at present.

Among the items in the collection are the leaves formerly known as Mississippi Coptic Codex II, which form part of the same book as P.Bodmer 22. Together, they were once part of a parchment codex usually assigned to the fourth or fifth century that contained Jeremiah 40-52, Lamentations, the Epistle of Jeremiah, and Baruch in Coptic (LDAB 108176). I believe the Van Kampen leaves of this codex (now rebound in a modern binding) are the second book from the left in this image from the Orlando display:

Manuscripts of the Van Kampen Collection; image source: Phoenix Rising
Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Scott Carroll, Van Kampen Collection | Leave a comment

Stands for Holding Open Papyrus Rolls?

In discussions of the early codex, one often finds statements about the obvious technological superiority of the book with pages over the roll. Sometimes these claims will push further and say that rolls were not only relatively less easy to use than codices, but that they must have been essentially awkward and difficult to handle in general. Users must have always struggled with unwieldy rolls (“hefty and unmanageable things,” according to Pelling, “Plutarch’s Method of Work in the Roman Lives”).

I can see why people make these statements (I’m sure I would have a difficult time navigating a roll myself). But I’ve never found these views very persuasive for a couple reasons. First, if all of your reading experience for your entire adult life involved reading from rolls, you would likely gain a level of dexterity in using them. But beyond that, when we think across generations, the roll format was used for centuries. The accumulated knowledge over that time would probably lead to increasingly effective ways to read and use these rolls. I imagine that by the Roman imperial period, regular readers were very comfortable and adroit users of rolls.

In a comment to my previous post, Stephen Goranson draws attention to an article that may also point in this direction:

Susan Wood, “Literacy and Luxury in the Early Empire: A Papyrus-Roll Winder from Pompeii,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 46 (2001), pp. 23-40

Wood discusses two ivory panels found at Pompeii. The panels are elaborately decorated and have two pairs of holes near the lower edge and a hole in each upper corner. An image of one the panels is below:

Ivory plaque from Pompeii, Naples Archaeological Museum 109905 A; image source: Wikimedia Commons

Similar panels have been found elsewhere in Italy and around the Roman world. A drawing of an example excavated at Ostia was published in 1912:

Wood’s article discusses a possible use for these panels. She compared the panels found at Pompeii with better preserved, though less elaborately decorated, artifacts found at Nîmes and an example now kept at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that all show a similar shape and pattern of holes. In addition, these panels have survived together with some additional parts. The set in Cambridge is especially well preserved:

Ivory plaques and rods (papyrus roll holder?) at the Fitzwilliam Museum; image source: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

So, it appears that rods passed through the lower sets of holes and knobs were fitted in the upper sets of holes. According to Wood, these artifacts would be used to hold papyrus rolls in place, showing a single column of text and freeing the reader’s hands for other activities (copying the exposed text is one possible use that comes to mind). One end of the papyrus roll would be threaded under the lower rod, over the two upper rods and then under the other lower rod, and then curled until the desired text was exposed over the two upper rods, with the excess roll then curled on either side of the apparatus. It’s reminiscent of (though not identical to) the way rolls of microfilm used to be mounted in some old microfilm readers.

The fairly narrow distance between the two upper rods would reflect the characteristically narrow written columns found especially on deluxe copies of prose texts on rolls.

Wood’s article contains an image of a nice looking replica made by her colleagues, but the key feature (“hands free”) is unfortunately not illustrated by the photograph:

I would very much like to see the model in action with a papyrus roll to see how well it actually functions in keeping the roll open to a particular column without anyone holding the edges. In any event, the interpretation that Wood offers seems at least plausible to me. It’s a fascinating article, and I highly recommend it.

Posted in Voluminology | 4 Comments

More Papyrus Roll Vocabulary: frons, cornua, umbilicus

In an earlier post, I raised some questions about the description of papyrus rolls. This generated some very helpful discussion in the comments. I now want to look at some of the ancient terminology for rolls.

A good place to begin is with the word frons. Among the meanings for frons in the Oxford Latin Dictionary are four grouped under this larger heading: “applied to one or other extremity or face of a thing”:

  • a. the outer or inner surface (of a wall, etc.)
  • b. either of the flat ends (of a papyrus roll)
  • c. the top or bottom end (of a trench)
  • d. the broad side (of something rectangular)

The definition as applied to the papyrus roll was not entirely clear to me at first glance. Lewis and Short’s comparable definition (“the outer end of a bookroll or volume”) was also a little unclear to me. The examples provided in the OLD, however, help to clarify the meaning and also introduce the other terms that interest me here, cornua and umbilicus. Here are the passages, with a little extra context provided. Text and translations from the Loeb editions (with a couple small changes):

Tibullus [Lygdamus], Elegiae 3.1.9-14:

lutea sed niveum involvat membrana libellum,
     pumex et canas tondeat ante comas,
summaque praetexat tenuis fastigia chartae
     indicet ut nomen littera facta tuum,
atque inter geminas pingantur cornua frontes:
     sic etenim comptum mittere oportet opus.

“But first let yellow parchment wrap the snow-white roll and pumice shear its hoary locks, and letters traced to show thy name border the high top of the fine papyrus, and let the horned knobs ‘mid both its fronts be painted. For in such trim guise must thy work be sent.”

Here, the frontes (translated somewhat curiously as “fronts”) might best be described as the top and bottom of the rolled-up roll. The type of deluxe roll being described here would be wrapped around a wooden rod (an umbilicus) with knobs on each end (the cornua), which are recommended to be painted in this passage. Note the wordplay here on the more typical meanings of these words, the cornua (horns) sit atop the frons (forehead).

There are not many unambiguous ancient Roman images of such a deluxe roll with an umbilicus and colored cornua. The fresco below from Pompeii is one possible example that may show cornua, but it’s tough to say when looking at different images:

Fresco depicting a woman reading a papyrus roll, possibly showing cornua, found at Pompeii (VIII.2.39), now in Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, inv. 8838; image sources: Getty Images (left) and Pompeii in Pictures (right)

I don’t know of any surviving Egyptian papyri that show evidence of attachment to an umbilicus, but Capasso (Volumen: Aspetti della tipologia del rotolo librario antico) reports the existence of several umbilici among the Herculaneum papyri. Moving on now to the next passage in the list for frons:

Ovid, Tristia 1.1.1-12:

Parve — nec invideo — sine me, liber, ibis in urbem.
     ei mihi, quod domino non licet ire tuo!
vade, sed incultus, qualem decet exulis esse;
     infelix habitum temporis huius habe.
nec te purpureo velent vaccinia fuco —
     non est conveniens luctibus ille color —
nec titulus minio, nec cedro charta notetur,
     candida nec nigra cornua fronte geras.
felices ornent haec instrumenta libellos;
     fortunae memorem te decet esse meae.
nec fragili geminae poliantur pumice frontes,
     hirsutus sparsis ut videare comis.

“Little book, you will go without me and – and I grudge it not – to the city. Alas that your master is not allowed to go! Go, but go unadorned, as becomes the book of an exile; in your misfortune wear the garb that befits these days of mine. You shall have no cover dyed with the juice of purple berries – no fit color is that for mourning; your title shall not be tinged with vermilion nor your papyrus with oil of cedar; and you shall wear no white bosses upon your dark edges. Books of good omen should be decked with such things as these; ’tis my fate that you should bear in mind. Let no brittle pumice polish your two edges; I would have you appear with locks all rough and disordered.”

In this instance, (if this were a happier book) the frontes (here rendered as “edges”) would again be adorned with the painted cornua, or knobs, of the umbilicus. But the frontes would also be “dark” and “polished with pumice.” This is an interesting description. I’m not quite sure how this would work (I’ve got another post coming on pumice and papyrus, but I don’t want to get bogged down in that now). The roll would be further decorated with a colored titulus, or tag that hung from the end of the papyrus roll and identified the contents of the roll.

Ovid, Ex Ponto 4.13.7-8:

ipse quoque, ut titulum chartae de fronte revellas,
     quod sit opus, videor dicere posse, tuum.

“I, too, though you should tear the title from the head of your roll, could tell, I think, what work is yours.”

Here, the frons is the top end of the closed roll, to which the titulus is attached.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 9.6:

"'Honestius,' inquis, 'hoc se impensae quam in Corinthia pictasque tabulas effuderint.' Vitiosum est ubique, quod nimium est. Quid habes, cur ignoscas homini armaria [e] citro atque ebore captanti, corpora conquirenti aut ignotorum auctorum aut improbatorum et inter tot milia librorum oscitanti, cui voluminum suorum frontes maxime placent titulique?"

“‘It is more respectable,’ you say, ‘to squander money on these than on Corinthian bronzes and on pictures.’ But excess in anything becomes a fault. What excuse have you to offer for a man who seeks to have bookcases of citrus-wood and ivory, who collects the works of unknown or discredited authors and sits yawning in the midst of so many thousand books, who gets most of his pleasure from the outsides of volumes and their titles?”

Here, the English rendering of voluminum frontes as “outsides of volumes” conjures (for me at least) a modern bookshelf with codex spines. If we apply the meaning of frons indicated by the previous passages, what comes to mind instead is the drawing of the lost relief from Trier showing a shelf full of rolls with frontes and tituli facing out [[Update 12 July 2021: …if in fact they are papyrus rolls and not cloth; see Jan Heilmann’s note in the comments below]]:

Image source: Christoph Brouwer and Jakob Masen, Antiquitatum et Annalium Trevirensium (Liége: Jo. Mathiæ Hovii, 1671), vol. 1, p. 105.

Martial, 1.66.9-12:

mutare dominum non potest liber notus.
sed pumicata fronte si quis est nondum
nec umbilicis cultus atque membrana,
mercare: tales habeo; nec sciet quisquam.

“A well-known book cannot change author. But if you find one whose face is not yet smoothed by the pumice stone, one not embellished with bosses and parchment cover, buy it. I have such, and nobody will be the wiser.”

Here again we find the suggestion that the frons of a very fine book, unlike the one being sought here, would be “polished with pumice,” and that treatment is paired with an umbilicus and a nice parchment cover.

Martial, 3.2.1 and 6-11:

Cuius vis fieri, libelle, munus?
Faustini fugis in sinum? sapisti.
cedro nunc licet ambules perunctus
et frontis gemino decens honore
pictis luxurieris umbilicis,
et te purpura delicata velet,
et cocco rubeat superbus index.

“Whose present do you wish to be, little book?…Do you fly to Faustinus’ bosom? You are wise. Now you may walk oiled with cedar, your twin brows handsomely adorned, luxuriating in your painted bosses, clothed in dainty purpIe, your proud title blushing scarlet.”

Here the fancy roll again gets all the treatment: oil of cedar, painted umbilici (two of them apparently – one at the beginning and one at the end?), purple cover, and red title (here index as a synonym for titulus).

So, it seems pretty clear that the frontes are the top and bottom of the closed roll. But then what can it mean to polish the frontes with pumice? I will dedicate a separate post to this issue.

Posted in Martial, Voluminology | 9 Comments

Buying Books in Rome circa 86 CE

The surviving writings of the satirical poet Martial provide a number of insights into Roman book culture. He has been an especially important figure in discussions of the history of the codex, as he mentions on multiple occasions portable parchment books, which are generally taken to be references to codices (and the earliest surviving references to codices that contain literary materials as opposed to notes and more ephemeral writings). I’ll be coming back to those issues in future posts. For now my interest is in the location of a shop in Rome where Martial says these portable books could be bought.

Here is the relevant passage from Book I, 2 (the text and translation is that of D. R. Shackleton Bailey):

Qui tecum cupis esse meos ubicumque libellos
     et comites longae quaeris habere viae,
hos eme, quos artat brevibus membrana tabellis:
     scrinia da magnis, me manus una capit.
ne tamen ignores ubi sim venalis et erres
     urbe vagus tota, me duce certus eris:
libertum docti Lucensis quaere Secundum
     limina post Pacis Palladiumque forum.

“You who want my little books to keep you company wherever you may be and desire their companionship on a long journey, buy these, that parchment compresses in small pages. Give book boxes to the great, one hand grasps me. But in case you don’t know where I am on sale and stray wandering all over town, you will be sure of your way under my guidance. Look for Secundus, freedman of lettered Lucensis, behind Peace’s entrance and Pallas’ Forum.”

As Shackleton Bailey points out in a note, the Temple of Peace was dedicated in 75 CE by Vespasian, and the Forum of Pallas is a reference to the area that would be known as the Forum Transitorium, where there was a temple to Minerva just to the northwest of the Temple of Peace. Relevant portions of the Severan marble map preserve parts of this area:

Remains of the Severan marble map supplemented with top plan and superimposed on a modern street plan; image source: Ernest Nash, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome, 2nd ed. (New York: Praeger, 1968), p. 1.439

As the overlay indicates, the area in question is located roughly at the modern intersection of the Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour. The area seems to have been a hub for the book trade in Martial’s day. He twice mentions Argiletum, the area between the Forum Romanum and the Subura, as an area of book shops. In Book I, 3, he names it as a general shopping area for books:

Argiletanas mavis habitare tabernas,
     cum tibi, parve liber, scrinia nostra vacent?

“Would you rather live in the shops of Argiletum, when my boxes have room for you, small book?”

Later in Book I (117), Martial mentions that copies of his poems can also be purchased at a nearby shop. Here is the relevant passage, again in the text and translation of Shackleton Bailey:

Argi nempe soles subire Letum:
contra Caesaris est forum taberna
scriptis postibus hinc et inde totis,
omnis ut cito perlegas poetas.
illinc me pete. †nec† roges Atrectum -
hoc nomen dominus gerit tabernae -
de primo dabit alterove nido
rasum pumice purpuraque cultum
denarîs tibi quinque Martialem.

“No doubt you often go down to Argiletum. Opposite Caesar’s Forum there’s a shop with its doorposts completely covered by advertisements, so that you can read the entire list of poets at a glance. Look for me there. Ask for Atrectus (that being the name of the shop’s proprietor), and he will hand you from the first or second pigeonhole a Martial, shaved with pumice and smart with purple, for five denarii.”

This shop is placed opposite Caesar’s Forum (the Forum Iulium). We appear to be in roughly the same area as the shop of Secundus, that is, in the vicinity of the Temple of Minerva:

Martial mentions the names of other book sellers but no other locations, as far as I am aware. Booksellers could certainly be found in other areas of the city. In the second century, Galen refers to a space called the Sandalarium (Σανδαλάριον) as having a high concentration of booksellers. Aulus Gellius also mentions this area (Sandaliarium) as a location of booksellers. Some reference works place the Sandaliarium (or Vicus Sandaliarius) to the northeast of the Temple of Peace, but I’m not entirely sure what the evidence for that placement actually is.

Posted in Book Trade in Antiquity, Martial | 6 Comments

The Vocabulary of Reading a Papyrus Roll

When I was writing an earlier post that mentioned papyrus rolls, I realized that it was difficult to describe certain physical aspects of rolls. Here is what I wrote:

“Normally when a papyrus roll was rolled up, the text was on the inner surface of the roll, and the beginning of the text on the roll was positioned so that it would be the first thing readers encountered when they unrolled it.”

What I intended to describe was the position on the roll of the beginning of the written text (for scripts that are read from left to right). A reader would hold the bulk of the roll in the right hand, unwinding the roll into the left hand. For example, the youth depicted on this kyathos with a papyrus roll appears to be reading the beginning of the roll, grasping the end of the roll in the left hand while holding almost the entire roll still rolled up in the right hand:

Attic red figure vase showing a youth reading a papyrus roll, Berlin Altes Museum (Antikensammlung) F2322 ; image source: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0

As one progressed through the roll, the sections that had been read would naturally curl into the left hand as the roll unrolled from the right hand. One can see this part of the reading process in many ancient depictions. Below is an image from a sarcophagus assigned to the third century CE in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Some of the roll is rolled up in the left hand; some of it remains rolled up in the right hand:

Panel from a sarcophagus in the Capitoline Museum, Musei Capitolini, Inventario Sculture, S 2414; image source: Brent Nongbri 2020

Eventually, if a user read all the way to the end of the roll, the roll would be gathered almost entirely in the left hand, with right hand just holding the very end of the roll.

At this point, the (polite) user would “rewind” the roll so that the next user could open it up at the beginning of the text. We don’t really know the exact mechanics of this process, but Theodore Skeat has some disciplined speculation in a short article: T. C. Skeat, “Two Notes on Papyrus,” in Edda Bresciani et al. (eds.), Scritti in onore di Orsolina Montevecchi (Bologna: Cooperativa Libraria Universitaria Editrice, 1981), 373-378.

So, back to my descriptive problem: Maybe it would be best to distinguish between:

  • the “inner” and “outer” surfaces of rolls
  • the “inner” and “outer” portions of rolls

So, in a roll that is rolled up in the normal fashion, the text would be on the inner surface of the roll; the beginning of the text would then be both inscribed on the inner surface of the roll and positioned on the outer portion of the roll (that is, far from the center or core of the rolled up roll). The beginning of the text would not generally be the very outermost portion of the roll; that would be the protokollon, or first sheet of the roll, usually left blank and attached to the roll with an opposite fiber orientation.

I think this kind of description works reasonably well, but I’m still not totally satisfied. Is there a better vocabulary for talking about this kind of thing?

Posted in Voluminology | 24 Comments

A New Project: The Early History of the Codex

A busy semester is now winding down, and I’m happy to announce that in August, I’ll be kicking off a new, five-year project: The Early History of the Codex: A New Methodology and Ethics for Manuscript Studies (EthiCodex) based here in Oslo at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society, thanks to the support of the Research Council of Norway.

The beginnings of the technology of the codex have intrigued me for a long time now, but I recognized early on that there were a number of methodological hurdles involved in thinking critically about this kind of historical phenomenon. The codicological details of many of our earliest surviving codices and codex fragments have in many cases not been as richly described and cataloged as they could be. And on top of that, most of the corpus of surviving samples of early codices lack a secure date. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am skeptical of the use of palaeography (the analysis of handwriting) to yield high-precision dates for manuscripts of the Roman era (for more details on that, see the discussion here).

Over the years, however, I came to recognize that in addition to these methodological problems, there were also ethical issues to face: Many of these books are unprovenanced and were were acquired unethically, or even illegally. Colleagues like Roberta Mazza have forced us (i.e., me) to ask: How should we, as scholars who study ancient manuscripts, respond to this fact?

This project is an attempt to begin to fill in the many gaps in our knowledge about these ancient manuscripts while at the same time taking seriously the problem posed by the illegal antiquities market. To achieve this goal, the project has four secondary objectives.

  1. Conduct provenance research into the ownership histories of early Greek and Latin codices.
  2. Produce detailed physical and codicological descriptions of the make-up of the earliest Greek and Latin codices.
  3. Design an open-access database making codicological data and provenance information for an estimated 2500 early Greek and Latin codices easily searchable and freely available online.
  4. Make a systematic canvassing of museum and library collections containing ethically acquired early papyrus and parchment books to determine willingness to have AMS radiocarbon analysis carried out on their early codices and then fund this analysis.

The goal, then, is to increase the number of securely dated manuscripts, but to avoid adding value to manuscripts that were obtained in an unethical way. And what is to be done about those unethically sourced manuscripts? We catalogue and organize the existing published data about those codices and flag them as ethically problematic. In this way, if colleagues do decide to study them, they will at least have a clearer idea of what they might be getting themselves into.

The project will be hiring two postdoctoral research fellows for three-year appointments (2022-2024). The application portal for the positions is now open here. Contact me if you’re interested!

Posted in Codices, Codicology, Radiocarbon analysis | 9 Comments

Hobby Lobby Inc. vs Dirk Obbink

A couple days ago, the news broke that Hobby Lobby has sued Professor Dirk Obbink for over $7 million USD.

The 10-page complaint (which can be seen here) does not paint a nice picture of Prof. Obbink, but that’s generally how this genre works. We await Prof. Obbink’s response to these accusations.

Four items jumped out to me in the complaint:

First, the complaint lists seven purchases between February 2010 and February 2013. So, the stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri were being sold at least as early as 2010.

Second, we get another number for the stolen fragments:

“To date, thirty-two (32) items have been identified as having been stolen by Obbink from [the Egypt Exploration Society] and sold directly to Hobby Lobby. The investigation continues.”

The number here is interesting. According to the various announcements from the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) over the last couple years, the Museum of the Bible had returned 34 total fragments to the EES (13+21), but the key phrase in the complaint is “sold directly to Hobby Lobby.” Recall that two stolen Oxyrhynchus fragments were sold to Hobby Lobby through Khader M. Baidun & Sons/Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel. It makes me wonder if other Oxyrhynchus materials might have been dispersed through that channel.

Remember that between the Museum of the Bible and the American collector Andrew Stimer, who is said to have bought 6 stolen EES fragments from a business partner of Prof. Obbink, a total of 40 pieces have been returned to the EES. Now, the EES has said that 120 papyri are missing from its collection. That means 80 Oxyrhynchus papyri remain missing. Is the possibility of dispersal through Baidun being investigated?

Third, it’s interesting to see that Hobby Lobby seems to be suing Prof. Obbink for the cost of all of the stolen fragments:

“The fact that some unknown number of the Fragments were stolen renders all the Fragments unsalable and worthless to Hobby Lobby, which stands to lose both the Fragments and the entire value of the Purchase Price it paid to Obbink.”

Now, four of these fragments (the four so-called “first century” gospel fragments) were never delivered to Hobby Lobby, and they were thus never donated to Museum of the Bible. But at least some, and perhaps most or even all, of the rest of the stolen items were delivered to Hobby Lobby and then donated to the Museum of the Bible. They had MOTB inventory numbers. A stolen Oxyrhynchus fragment of Romans [P.Oxy. inv. 29 4B.46/G(4-6)a], for example, was once known as “MOTB.PAP.000425.” It’s my understanding that these designations mean the fragments were donated by the Greens/Hobby Lobby to Museum of the Bible (I’m happy to be corrected if that is an incorrect inference). As Candida Moss and Joel Baden reported, these donations generally resulted in tax deductions at a much greater value than Hobby Lobby paid for the manuscripts: “The magic ratio for the Greens was 1:3: for a given investment to be financially viable, they had to be able to write it off at three times the amount that they purchased it for” (Moss and Baden, Bible Nation, p. 24).

So, in effect, the Greens seem to have already been paid by American taxpayers for perhaps triple the amount they paid Prof. Obbink for at least some of these fragments. Should Hobby Lobby prevail in the lawsuit, I wonder if they will be refunding some of those tax break profits back to the American taxpayers?

Fourth and finally, it’s a little surprising that the payments for the stolen fragments are all said to have gone to a bank account in Michigan. It’s still not clear to me how much access Prof. Obbink had to the large unpublished collection of papyri at the University of Michigan during his days on the faculty there, when he was “Ludwig Koenen Collegiate Professor of Papyrology.” As I noted on an earlier occasion, it seems like Michigan was a bit of a hub for the trade in ancient manuscripts. There could be more to this part of the story. But as I said, we await Prof. Obbink’s response to the allegations.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Romans, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 10 Comments

The Eusebian Apparatus in Codex Sinaiticus

The Eusebian apparatus for the gospels has been getting some much deserved attention in the last few years. This remarkable system for navigating the parallel material in the gospels has formed the topic of a very useful monograph by Matthew Crawford, The Eusebian Canon Tables: Ordering Textual Knowledge in Late Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2019) and a collection of essays (open access!) edited by Alessandro Bausi, Bruno Reudenbach, and Hanna Wimmer, Canones. The Art of Harmony: The Canon Tables of the Four Gospels (de Gruyter, 2020).

Codex Sinaiticus presents an early example of this system, but the apparatus in Sinaiticus has several odd features:

  • No canon tables survive in Sinaiticus either at the mutilated beginning of the codex or at the start of the New Testament.
  • The section numbers are only partially present (they are missing for sections 107-242 in the Gospel According to Luke).
  • The first 52 sections in Matthew are a bit more elaborately executed than the numbers in the other sections.

It’s also not immediately obvious when the section numbers were added (whether during the production of the codex or at a later time, as Tischendorf believed). The most thorough study of the physical features and layout of the codex is Milne and Skeat’s Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus (1938). They discuss all of the characteristics of the Eusebian apparatus listed above in a series of somewhat technical arguments. In this post, I’m going to try to walk through their logic and provide some illustrations.

First up is the question of whether the Eusebian numbers were a part of the original production of the codex. The Eusebian numbers were placed to the left of the columns of text and written in red ink (the Ammonian section number is on top, and the Eusebian canon number is on bottom).

But the numbers of the apparatus are executed differently in different parts of the codex. For one thing, they are copied in different hands.

Codex Sinaiticus, showing Eusebian numbers at Matthew 6:24 (quire 74, folio 3 verso, col. 3); image source:
Codex Sinaiticus, showing Eusebian numbers at John 5:37-38 (quire 80, folio 4 recto, col. 1); image source:

In this early portion of Matthew (on the left), both the section number and the canon number are accompanied by a supralinear stroke. The numbers are also noticeably smaller than the letters in the main text. In the example from John (right), only the section number has such a stroke, and two of the three letters are roughly the same size as the letters in the column. Note the distinctive forms of mu in the section numbers. The example on the left (Matthew) is similar to the “Biblical Majuscule” of the main text. The example of mu on the right (John) with its low medial dip and curved flourishes on the vertical strokes, presents a very different look from the mu of the main text.

Milne and Skeat, however, drew attention to the use of red ink elsewhere in the codex, namely for the numeration of titles of the Psalms. They note that this use of red ink must have been executed by the copyists of the Psalms (namely, Scribe D for Psalms 1:1-97:3 and Scribe A for Psalm 97:3-151:7). They reach this conclusion because the red ink is used within the columns of text in addition to being used for the marginal numbers and paragraphos marks:

Codex Sinaiticus, showing the end of Psalm 43 and beginning of Psalm 44 (quire 60, folio 4 verso, col. 1); image source:

Milne and Skeat thus argue that “the broad flourished mu” and the bold paragraphos mark are both to be included in the repertoire of Scribe D. They make similar arguments for the more decorative letters used by Scribe A in the marginal numbers in the latter portion of the Psalms. Through this reasoning, they establish that the starting assumption should be that the Eusebian numbers were in fact executed during the production of the codex by Scribes D and A. They adduce further evidence that also addresses some of the other strange features mentioned above.

Why are there no canon tables in Codex Sinaiticus? Milne and Skeat have explained this situation by noting that, according to one sequence of quire signatures, there is a full quire missing between the last quire of the Old Testament and the first quire of the New Testament. They hypothesize that a quire containing a set of tables was planned but never completed because the effort to add the section numbers in the text was abandoned before it was finished. In this regard, they point to the abandonment of the extra decorations after section 52 in Matthew and the complete lack of Eusebian numbers in much of Luke (Scribes and Correctors, pp. 7-9 and 36-37). This solution involves considerable speculation, but it makes some sense: If the canon tables had been completed and contained in the codex, it is hard to explain why the missing section numbers in Luke were not added by any later users of the codex.

Finally, it seems that we can be fairly precise about exactly when in the production of the codex the Eusebian numbers were added. Milne and Skeat point out that a correction in the lower margin at Matthew 10:39 carries a section number in identical red ink and made in sequence with the section numbers used in the main text:

Codex Sinaiticus, showing correction at Matthew 10:39 (quire 74, folio 6 recto, col. 3); image source:

The numbers in the left margin are ϥⲋ and ϥⲏ (the first character is a cursive form of the archaic Greek letter koppa, 90), 96 and 98. The number beside the correction is ϥⲍ, 97. As Milne and Skeat point out, the fact that the process of section numbering included the numbering of this correction suggests that the process of numbering took place after the text had been both copied and corrected. But there is more. The bifolium consisting of New Testament folio 10 and 15 is part of a quire copied by scribe A (quire 2), but this particular bifolium is copied by scribe D and lacks the Eusebian section and canon numbers (the surrounding leaves copied by scribe A all have the Eusebian numbers). Thus, following Milne and Skeat’s logic, we may say that the Eusebian numbers were added after an initial correction of the work by Scribe A but before the more extensive correction by Scribe D that involved the replacement of the cancel leaves (though this proposal is slightly complicated by the fact that Scribe D replaced another bifolium in a quire copied by A–the central bifolium in Quire 77–but did include the Eusebian numbers on that bifolium).

On the whole, I think it is justified to agree with Milne and Skeat that the Eusebian apparatus was part of the production of the codex and therefore provides us with a good terminus post quem for the construction of the book Unfortunately, we don’t know precisely when Eusebius developed the canon tables, but a terminus of ca. 300-340 CE seems reasonable. How much later the codex could have been copied is an open question that I will address in a forthcoming article.

For a more detailed discussion of the Eusebian apparatus in Sinaiticus, see Dirk Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus (Gorgias, 2007), 109-120.

Posted in Codex Sinaiticus, Codicology | 1 Comment