Earliest Bible Codex on the Block | God's World News

Earliest Bible Codex on the Block

  • 1 cscodex
    The Crosby-Schoyen Codex sold for more than $3.89 million at auction. (Reuters/Andrew Hofstetter)
  • 2 cscodex
    Pages of the Crosby-Schoyen Codex (CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2024)
  • 3 cscodex
    The pages of the codex are made from papyrus. (CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2024)
  • 4 cscodex
    Before the printing press, scribes carefully transcribed books by hand. (Public domain)
  • 5 cscodex
    Papyrus plants grow by the Nile River in Uganda. (Public domain)
  • 1 cscodex
  • 2 cscodex
  • 3 cscodex
  • 4 cscodex
  • 5 cscodex


You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.

The bad news: You've hit your limit of free articles.
The good news: You can receive full access below.
WORLDteen | Ages 11-14 | $35.88 per year

Already a member? Sign in.

Centuries ago, scribes acted as early photocopy machines. They carefully transcribed entire books by hand, sometimes working around the clock by candlelight. On June 11, one of the world’s oldest handwritten books appeared at auction. Christie’s auction experts estimated the sale value of $2.6 million to $3.8 million. When the final bids were in, the treasured volume sold for just a smidge more than expected: $3,898,000, including taxes.

The Crosby-Schoyen Codex contains five different texts and dates to A.D. 250-350. Only a few books from that time period have survived. Most experts credit the preservation to Egypt’s dry climate.

A codex is an ancient manuscript compiled and bound as a book—instead of on a scroll. This codex’s pages come from a water plant called papyrus.

Texts in the Crosby-Schoyen Codex appear in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian dialect. In addition to an Easter sermon and two other works, the codex contains the Bible books of Jonah and 1 Peter.

These are the earliest known complete copies of these two books. The 1 Peter copy is older than one held in the Vatican! Scholars believe the Crosby-Schoyen 1 Peter “is copied from a Greek [example] written before 2 Peter existed”—possibly A.D. 60-130. They call it “the single most important [manuscript] of 1 Peter.”

“It’s right at that period, that transitional period, when papyrus scroll starts turning into codex form,” says Christie’s manuscript expert Eugenio Donadoni. “And what we have in this book is the earliest known texts of two books of the Bible.”

For scribes of yesteryear, copying books by hand called for great skill and intense training. They spent many hours each day studying and transcribing texts. Copies often took weeks or years. Toiling in a scriptorium, or writing workshop, scribes—many of them Catholic monks—usually worked in isolation, quiet, and possible discomfort. However, most of them likely saw transcription of religious works as a duty and privilege.

Experts say one scribe penned all 104 pages (52 front and back). The scribe probably spent about 40 years transcribing at an Egyptian monastery.

The Crosby-Schoyen Codex was discovered in Egypt in the 1950s buried in a jar in the sand. Norwegian collector Dr. Martin Schoyen acquired the codex in 1988. He chose to auction it with other highlights of his world-renowned collection.

“If you think about the time frame and the immediacy of those very, very early Christians to the period of Jesus Christ, . . . it’s only a couple of hundred years away,” Donadoni says. “And they’re learning how to celebrate Easter.” He calls the codex an early “witness to that.”

Why? Christian believers don’t require experts to validate the Bible. But it’s fascinating to see time and again how God preserves His word.

For more about the reliability of the scriptures, see More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell in our Recommended Reading. 

Test my knowledge