The world’s oldest book just fetched $3.9 million in auction

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It’s not every day that a 1,700-year-old book gets sold. 

The 104-page Crosby-Schøyen Codex from Egypt just got sold in an auction for $3.9 million (£3.06 million). It was expected to be sold between $2.6 million and $3.8 million. 

The book, written in Coptic, dates back to 250-350 AD and marks a significant period in history during the early years of Christianity. It’s also one of the oldest pieces of evidence of a book, as we know it today. 

A single scribe wrote the entire book on 52 leaves over four decades. 

The codex is being auctioned as part of the “manuscript masterpieces” in The Schøyen Collection, which Christie’s says is “one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of manuscripts ever assembled.”

“It is of monumental importance as a witness to the earliest spread of Christianity around the Mediterranean: The earliest monks in Upper Egypt in the earliest Christian monastery were using this very book to celebrate the earliest Easter celebrations, only a few hundred years after Christ and only a hundred or so years after the last Gospel was written,” Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s senior specialist in medieval and renaissance manuscripts, told CNN.

The papyrus has aged well thanks to Egypt’s dry weather, becoming one of the world’s oldest books in private ownership. 

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex has changed hands many times since its discovery in the 1950s, along with several other religious texts called the Bodmer Papyri. It was acquired by the University of Mississippi in 1981 and was ultimately bought by Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen in 1988. 

The best-known texts in the Codex are the Old Testament Book of Jonah and the First Epistle of Peter, still read in Easter services today.

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