Monday, October 29, 2012

A Coptic New Testament Papyrus Fragment (Galatians 2) For Sale on eBay


Just today (29 October 2012), a seller on eBay posted an auction with the title, “Greek-Coptic Roman Rare Egyptian Uncial Papyrus Fragments.” This seller (“mixantik”), who is from Turkey, has been auctioning hundreds of ancient Coptic and Greek papyrus fragments in lots on eBay for at least a year. I have contacted this seller on several different occasions to inquire about some of his papyri. He tells me that all of his papyri come from Egypt, although it is not clear precisely where in Egypt. But it is clear that someone has discovered a very large quantity of papyri. A colleague has suggested to me that perhaps the locals are continuing to find papyri in Oxyrhynchus, which is a possible scenario. The papyri that are sold by this dealer are 100% authentic; this can be verified by an analysis of the handwriting from the images the seller posts on eBay—usually very good images. I check eBay daily, with the search phrase “papyrus fragment,” to see if this seller (or any other) is auctioning off papyri. This seller's previous lots have sold for pennies, anywhere from $20 to $300.

One of the papyri in the lot that was posted in the auction today immediately caught my attention. After doing a quick check, I positively identified one of his fragments, on the basis of the images he provided, as a folio of a codex (recto and verso) of Galatians 2:2-4, 5-6. The seller is currently asking $14,000—an excessive figure. I thought I would post the images of this fragment here and provide a transcription and brief palaeographical discussion.

Recto (image from eBay auction 221146685190)
Verso (image from eBay auction 221146685190)
The papyrus fragment (approximately 9 x 11 in.) is written in the Sahidic dialect. There is an average of 13 letters to the line. The scribe employs a biblical uncial or unimodular script. Very roughly bilinear. Logical punctuation, tremata, apostrophe, and supralinear strokes are present. The hasta of epsilon is extended. Decorations (serifs and finials) are few. Alpha is written as a wedge in either two or three sequences. Recto has 8 lines; verso has 7 lines. Left (recto) and right (verso) margins are only partially preserved. The left margin of the recto is justified. Ample spacing in between lines and letters. The scribe makes several blunders: interlinear addition (r. l.7), deletion (by erasure v. l.6; by superimposition v. ll. 6-7). The Greek word ὑποταγή (v. ll. 3-4) has a kappa instead of gamma, and horeh for rough upsilon is absent. There are several other incorrect spellings which may suggest that the scribe did not know Coptic very well. The general impression of the hand suggests a 4th-5th century date. Alin Suciu and Malcolm Choat have also confirmed this guess, although it must be stated that dating Coptic manuscripts palaeographically is difficult due to the lack of established criteria. 

Here is my transcription of the papyrus:


Without question, this is an authentic Coptic papyrus fragment of the NT, likely from the 4th or 5th century CE, and as such it deserves to be conserved and studied by specialists. Unfortunately, many important ancient manuscripts (biblical or otherwise), when they are auctioned in this manner, disappear without a trace of their whereabouts. It would be beneficial if the buyer would come forward to let others know the location of the manuscript. Of course if we are dealing with a papyrus that has indeed been exported from Egypt, then there are sensitive legal issues involved. Regardless, at least we now know that a very important manuscript of the Coptic NT exists. The future of the manuscript, however, remains a mystery. 

13 comments:

  1. Perhaps we can have a "collection" to purchase the fragment? But for a reasonable price of course, 14,000 is crazy! The seller must know, or thinks he knows what he has here and expects high demand.

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  2. Richard BudelbergerOctober 30, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    Identifying, editing, these fragments – even in a lost blog – give them an incredible value ; their “owners” – indeed, “receivers of stolen goods” – can hardly read some letters in them ; but naive valuable scholars do the job. More money for them, more despair for us.

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  3. I'm concerned that they came out of Egypt possibly illegally (who knows when they came out), but I am much more concerned that he is openly selling them from Turkey - and that's illegal. I've already reported it to eBay and the Turks, and hope others will too.

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  4. "A colleague has suggested to me that perhaps the locals are continuing to find papyri in Oxyrhynchus, which is a possible scenario" While a possible scenario it is also an unlikely one as virtualy no Coptic biblical MS have been found at Oxyrhynchus. There is frg. of Romans 4:15-25 excavated at Oxyrhynchus, and possibly up to 5 other frgs. that might be from Oxyrhynchus or its environs
    Regards,
    Matthew Hamilton

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  5. Thanks for your comment, Matthew. The comment was more general, referring to his many different papyrus auctions. Most of his fragments are in fact Greek. It would seem that, given the quantity of Greek fragments that he has sold over the last year or so, someone has made a big find. In the images he posts, there is dirt all over the papyri, which tells me these are coming straight from the ground.

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  6. Nice find Brice. As "the colleague" I want to clarify my comment regarding Oxyrhynchus as a possible provenance. In late September I emailed this particular seller about two lots of Greek and Coptic papyri that closed in early October. He told me that these two lots came from Oxyrhynchus. He said nothing about the provenance of his other papyri. I found his mention of a specific provenance striking since he normally doesn't know (or doesn't comment on) find locations. I imagine that he gets his papyri from a variety of sources in Egypt, so in the absence of additional evidence, there is no reason to assume (not that you are assuming this!) that this Galatians scrap hails from Oxyrhynchus. Perhaps it did; perhaps it didn't. In any case, thanks for posting these images online.

    Geoffrey Smith

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    1. Thanks for the clarification, Geoff. Perhaps I should have been more clear in my introductory paragraph, but as I said in response to Matthew Hamilton above, the statement about Oxyrhynchus (and your suggestion) was in reference to his papyri generally--not this one. I doubt the Coptic materials hail from Oxyrhynchus.

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  7. The question now is  : Were are the fragments ? in Turkish authorities’ hands ? (Since former “Mixantic” – now “ebuyerrrr” – has withdrawn them.)

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    1. Interesting, thanks for the update Richard. I just assume he has accepted an offer.

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    2. I don’t think so ; I hope that because of the intervention of Mrs Dorothy King, he has now some legal issues with Turkish Authorities. Note that « making your Feedback Profile private » on eBay, « you can’t sell items » no more (http://pages.ebay.com/help/feedback/profile-public-private.html).

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  8. The Turks are trying to sort him out but ... I'm thinking of bidding on new lots, then requesting the export certificate before I pay ... They can't find him without help from eBay

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