Sometime before 1983, peasants in Egypt found four manuscript books somewhere. They were smuggled out of the country, and first seen by scholars in 1983, in boxes. They were hawked around the art market for more than 20 years. One of these contained the ps.gospel of Judas; the others were a Greek mathematical treatise, a Coptic version of three of Paul’s letters, and a copy of Exodus.
In an evil hour, these papyrus books went sold to a US antiquities dealer named Bruce Ferrini, who dismembered them and sold them, a bit at a time, to his contacts. Ferrini eventually double-crossed his supplier, and then went bankrupt.
It seems that Ferrini retained fragments of the books, despite undertaking not to. Despite being bankrupt, he seems to have operated a shop on e-Bay at one period. Some of fragments then bought by collectors are now going around again on e-Bay. A scholar is intending to purchase at least some of them and thereby get them out of this circus.
Silence has largely descended on this business. Dutch art-dealer turned game-keeper Michel van Rijn used to expose all the dealings, but his site shut down after death threats. Yet three of the four manuscripts are still missing. In all this silence, it’s impossible to say whether all the pages and fragments that went to Ferrini are recovered. I think I know where the Greek mathematical treatise is; and the anti-social scholars who have been commissioned to publish it but have not done so. The Exodus may be in pieces; the whereabouts of the majority of the Paul are utterly unknown to me.
The fact that shreds of the gospel of Judas are turning up online can only mean that even now the find is not in safe keeping. And every shred, remember, is a word of the text. It’s a little bit of ancient knowledge, gone forever unless we are lucky. It’s enough to make anyone weep.
Later: I’ve just been to look for pieces of “manuscripts” generally on e-Bay. There are offers of what is plainly pages from one manuscript, being dismembered and sold page by page by some reprehensible and greedy individual. There are obvious fakes being offered. The vision of destruction and dispersal, of the sheer lack of ethics, is horrible to see.