A new apocryphal gospel in Coptic

I’ve just discovered a blog by Alin Siciu which will be of interest to those interested in papyrology and early Christian texts.  One post caught me eye in particular:

An Unknown “Apocryphal” Text From the White Monastery

I recently edited together with Einar Thomassen a parchment folio owned by the Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen. The Schøyen leaf (MS 1991) was immediately followed in the codex by another dismembered fragment which ended up in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. They seem to belong to an unknown apocryphal writing.

Excerpts from A. Suciu & E. Thomassen, “An Unknown “Apocryphal” Text From the White Monastery,” in P. Buzi & A. Camplani (eds.), Christianity in Egypt: Literary Production and Intellectual Trends in Late Antiquity (Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum) forthcoming 2011.


The link is to a PDF, which  gives a translation of at least part of it.  I wish the whole article was there! 

If one leaf of the codex is in the Schoyen collection, and another in the BNF, then we are dealing with a find of a codex in Egypt which has passed through the tender hands of the antiquities trade, and been cut up for maximum profit in the process.  One wonders whether any other leaves are out there.

This sort of thing tends to make me annoyed.  A book survives for centuries, only to be ripped apart by greedy men to make a buck.  This sort of thing leads people Paul Barford to demand that the trade is banned.  Barford, indeed, is so vehement on the issue that he sounds rather demented to normal people.  Much of what he says is plainly wrong.  But the sentiment is genuine enough, and arises from a real desire that we don’t destroy our heritage in order to enrich sleazy Swiss or Arab middle-men (no names, no libel actions).

On the other hand, I sometimes reflect, we don’t ever seem to get papyrus discoveries from countries like Morocco and Algeria any more, not since the French handed over these countries to their traditional oppressors.  We do get them from Egypt, a country in which the most ignorant peasant knows that antiquities mean MONEY, and where Cairo dealers keep agents in rural areas.  We get them because only a fool would destroy such a find.  We get them precisely BECAUSE they are worth money to the peasants who find them.

And then we get them cut into pieces, because the middle-men who buy them find that they can get twice the price for two separate leaves, than for one item of two leaves.  We get the awful destruction visited upon the papyrus manuscripts (including the ps.gospel of Judas) left in a moist bank box for twenty years by a Coptic emigre because scholars wouldn’t meet his price.

It’s not at all clear what to do about this.  Stuff that is worth money will be sold.  Stuff that is not worth money will be thrown away or burned.  That’s the way of the world.  That’s human nature. 


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