The curious case of the Tongeren codex

From the science.history.papyri mailing list for December 2007:

Dear colleagues,

A few months ago a small papyrus codex was discovered in the Gallo-Roman Museum at Tongeren (Belgium). It consists of about 100 pages and measures roughly 14 x 13 cm. No writing is visible, but maybe we can read something after the book has been opened. It is dated by C14 to the 11th century AD! For more information, have a look at the website of the Tongeren museum :

Willy Clarysse

But that website is now long gone.  There is a picture here:

Tongeren / Tongres codex
Tongeren / Tongres codex

This is a remarkable find; but all the links online are old, to 2007 or 2008.  The details are rather scanty as well.

Another site from Dec 16 2007 reads:

After languishing in obscurity, unrecognized for what it was for over 70 years, an amazing codex on papyrus was rediscovered in late 2006 in the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, Belgium.

The object, which looked like a lump of tree-bark, was found among a collection of writing-tablets and leather finds from Broekberg in Tongeren which had been excavated in the 1930s. At first, researchers believed that the item dated to the Roman period (100-300 AD) and belonged with the other finds from Broekberg. However, Carbon-14 dating showed it was from the 10th century. Now, how the codex found its way into the Gallo-Roman Museum collection is a mystery.

Sadly, the codex appears blank (the writing may just be faded). It is still a very important find. Firstly, for its late date (when papyrus was essentially, no longer being used, even in Egypt itself) and it is one of the very few examples of papyri which have survived in the damp climate of Europe.

The full story and images of the codex can be found at the Tongeren Gallo-Roman Museum’s Web site.

Then … nothing.

I wrote today to Dr Clarysse and received a gracious reply that there was no more news.  The C14 scan confirmed a 10th (not 11th) century date.  Attempts were made to read it without opening, but in vain.  There the matter rests; for nobody, quite naturally, wants to be the one to decide to break the book-block open on the off-chance of finding something in it.

Dr C. also enclosed a 2008 report, written by himself and G. Creemers.  Some key points from it summarised by myself, are as follows:

The book block was found by museum staff in a box at the Gallo-Roman museum in Tongeren, together with Roman wood and leather fragments, including writing tablets and pieces of shoes.  The contents of the box came from the excavations at Broekberg near Tongeren in the 1930’s, but have hardly been studied.  Most of the items in the box had inventory numbers, but not the codex.  At first sight it looked like a piece of tree-bark.  Dr C. was called in, once it was suspected to be papyrus.

The codex is light brown in colour, and measures 140 x 130 mm.  Thickness of the sheets varies from 16-46 mm.  The booklet is made up of around 100 sheets, folded in two.  A portion of the codex has been lost.  Only a tiny bit of sewing thread, of fine green silk, is present.  The papyrus is of high quality, although now brown and brittle.

It is obvious that the codex cannot have been in the earth at the excavations, or it would have decayed.  One of the team of investigators, Dr. Lieve Watteeuw, is cited with the opinion that it must have been in some form of protected case.  However there are also marks of burning at the edges.

A CT and UV scan were performed; no writing was visible.

The report concludes with a number of theories as to where this item comes from.  It is possible that it has been dumped in a box at the museum, and originally came from a 19th-20th century collector, or from some other source.  There seems little reason to connect it with the excavations.

The item should now be examined under multi-spectral imaging, I think.


The Arethas codex (Paris gr. 451) of the Greek apologists is online!!!

I’m looking through the Greek mss. of the French National Library online, and compiling a post with a list.  Dull work.

But imagine my excitement when I find that Paris gr. 451 is online.  This is the manuscript that preserves for us a bunch of early Christian apologetic works!  It was copied for Archbishop Arethas of Caesarea in the 10th c., and it all we have for most of the works in it.

Contents: 1. Clement of Alexandria, Protrepicus; 2. Clement  of Alexandria, Paedagogus; 3. Justini epistulam ad Zenam; 4. Justin, Cohortatio ad gentiles; 5. Eusebius, P.E. bks 1-5; 6. Athenagoras, Apology for the Christians; 7. Athenagoras on the Resurrection; 8. Eusebius, Against Hierocles.

Get it here!  But wait just a bit, until my download has finished. Please?

Yes, you can download a PDF of it.


Codex Climaci Rescriptus to be sold at Sothebys

Here is the lengthy catalogue entry, with images of the text; what follows is a small subset of this truly excellent catalogue:

THE CODEX CLIMACI RESCRIPTUS, PALIMPSEST MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, IN CHRISTIAN PALESTINIAN ARAMAIC, GREEK AND SYRIAC.  [Judea (probably Jerusalem), sixth century AD. and Egypt (probably St. Catherine’s, Sinai), early ninth century AD.]

137 leaves (including 52 bifolia), approximately 230mm. by 185mm., with foliation according to the overtext in the hand of Agnes Lewis, written space of underscript 210mm. by 160mm., double column, 18 lines of faded brown ink in Christian Palestinian Aramaic uncials (a script most probably created from Estrangelo script for this Biblical translation, reflecting in its square monumental characters the Greek uncials in the manuscript that the translator worked from), written space of overscript 175mm. by 135mm., single column, 19 lines of black ink in Syriac Estrangelo script, underscript in varying states of fading, some slight water damage and crumbling to edges of some leaves, else in outstanding condition for age, each gathering of leaves within folders, the whole within three archival cloth-covered drop-back boxes, with the picnic basket in which Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson themselves kept it.


The celebrated Codex Climaci Rescriptus is a valuable witness to the Old and New Testament, made within an Aramaic tradition one and a half millennia ago, and most probably surviving the centuries in the library of St. Catherine’s, Sinai; it contains substantial parts of the New Testament in the closest surviving dialect to that spoken by Jesus Christ


1. The main body of this volume is written in Christian Palestinian Aramaic, almost certainly in Judea the mountainous southern region of modern Israel, in the sixth century. The quality of the uncial script as well as the size and grandeur of the original volume indicate that it was created by an experienced scriptorium within a wealthy centre, and this appears to rule out all those outside Jerusalem.

2. Subsequently, the manuscript appears to have passed to one of the early monasteries of the Sinai Peninsula or the north-west of mainland Egypt, most probably that of St. Catherine’s, Sinai (built by the Emperor Justinian I between 527 and 565). Moir states in his edition of the Greek section of the palimpsest states, “I feel certain that this manuscript was there [St. Catherine’s] in the course of its travels” (1956, p. 4). It may have been carried by Christian refugees fleeing from the Arab advance in the seventh century. The ancient and venerable library of St. Catherine’s has preserved a significant amount of Christian Palestinian Aramaic material, including the only other sixth-century manuscript in the language to survive, the Codex sinaiticus Zosimi rescriptus (a palimpsest manuscript whose colophon identifies its copyist as a monk of Sinai and dates his work to 979; it is now scattered and divided in ownership between The National Library of Russia, St. Petersberg; the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universtätsbibliothek, Göttingen; and the Schøyen collection, London & Oslo), as well as some further small fragments of Christian Palestinian Aramaic, which are also mostly palimpsest (see Müller-Kessler & Sokoloff, 1998, p. 3 & S. Brock, Catalogue of Syriac Fragments (new finds) in the library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, 1995). It appears that at some time in the distant past St. Catherine’s took into their library a sizeable parcel of books written in that language, which some centuries later, having become outdated and perhaps unreadable, were set aside and their vellum reused.

3. Acquired by the pioneering Biblical scholars and twins, Agnes Smith Lewis (1843-1926) and Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1843-1920) in three stages between 1895 and 1906 (all in the vicinity of Cairo, the manuscript having presumably been ‘liberated’ from its monastic home in order to supply leaves for the antiquity trade there). They were staunch Scottish Presbyterians with a consuming interest in the early versions of the Bible, and a profound belief in female-education, in an age when it practically did not exist. They used their own fortune to become celebrated scholars in the fields of Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Syriac, and, thrilled by Tischendorf’s discoveries at Sinai, they set off to St. Catherine’s on a ‘manuscript-hunting’ expedition in 1892. They won over the difficult patriarch, partly through their insistence that nothing was to be abstracted from the library there, but only photographs taken; and on that expedition they returned with pictures of the Syriac manuscript which would make them famous, the fourth-century Syriac Sinaiticus (their lives and its discovery are the subject of a recent book, J. Soskice, Sisters of Sinai, 2009, which was adapted for BBC Radio 4 this April). Having returned home to Cambridge they were tipped off by a mysterious informant that spectacular manuscripts were to be had through various dealers in Cairo. This was quite different from the questionable removal of manuscripts from ancient libraries, and the twins regarded it as a rescue mission, returning to Egypt and acquiring a single leaf of the present codex (now fol. 24; published by them in Studia Sinaitica 6, p. cxxxix) in 1895. They acquired a further 89 leaves from the present manuscript in October 1905, and in April of the following year, while passing through Port Tewfik, Agnes Lewis bought two palimpsest-manuscripts on a whim. Upon returning home she discovered that one contained another 48 leaves of the present manuscript, and that the two portions were separated by only a single leaf – that which the twins had acquired first in 1895. They published the entire text in 1909. Only one other leaf of this scattered manuscript has emerged in the last century: in a collection of palimpsest fragments sold by Eric von Scherling to the collector Dr. A. Mingana, now in Selly Oak, Birmingham: his Syriac MS. 637 (the fragment contains Acts 21:14-26 in its underscript, and should attach to fol. 131 here; Rotulus 5, 1949; Catalogue of the Mingana Collection of Manuscripts, 1939, III: xxv & Bulletin John Rylands Libr. 23 April 1939, pp. 201-14). On the death of the twins the manuscript was left to Westminster College, Cambridge. 



A. Smith Lewis, Codex Climaci rescriptus, Horae Semiticae 8 (Cambridge, 1909)

A. Smith Lewis, A Palestinian Syriac Lectionary containing Lessons from the Pentateuch, Job, Proverbs, Prophets, Acts and Epistles, Studia Sinaitica 6 (1895), p. cxxxix

A. Mingana, A Catalogue of the Mingana Collection of Manuscripts (1939) 

M. Black, ‘A Palestinian Syriac Palimpsest leaf of Acts XXI (14-26), Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 23 April 1939, pp. 201-14 

A. Moir, Codex Climaci rescriptus (Ms. Gregory 1561, L) (1956)

K. Aland and B. Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (1995), p. 126

K. Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum. Locis parallelis evangeliorum apocryphorum et patrum adhibitis edidit (1996), p. xxvi

C. Müller-Kressler, ‘Christian Palestinian Aramaic and its significance to the Western Aramaic dialect group’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 119 (1999), pp. 631-6 

C. Müller-Kressler, ‘Die Frühe Christlich-Palästinisch-Aramäische Evangelienhandschrift CCR1 übersetzt durch einen Ostaramäischen (Syrischen) Schreiber?’, Journal for the Aramaic Bible 1 (1999), pp. 79-86 

C. Müller-Kressler and M. Sokoloff, The Christian Palestinian Aramaic Old Testament and Apocrypha, Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic 1 (1999) 

C. Müller-Kressler and M. Sokoloff, The Christian Palestinian Aramaic New Testament version from the early period Gospels, Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic 2 (1998) 

J. Soskice, Sisters of Sinai, 2009, p. 236 

The volume today is made up from eight original manuscripts, six of which are in Christian Palestinian Aramaic and two of which are in Greek. The Christian Palestinian Aramaic volumes all date to no later than the sixth century, and the Greek to the seventh. The surviving contents of the eight original books are as follows:…