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Collections: Biblical Manuscripts


Number of objects: more than six
Historical range: 3rd–6th century
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During his first visit to Egypt in 1906, Charles Lang Freer was offered a small group of biblical manuscripts for purchase. Freer was intrigued enough to venture outside his usual collecting interests and, despite knowing little of their value or significance, he acquired the manuscripts. His instincts were good. In subsequent years he obtained additional manuscripts from Egypt, some in fragmentary condition and written in Greek and Coptic, the Egyptian language used from the third century. The manuscripts are written on sheets made of parchment or papyrus and are in codex form, with folded sheets forming leaves like the modern book. As a group, these manuscripts form one of the most important collections of biblical manuscripts outside Europe.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • the third-oldest Greek parchment manuscript of the Gospels in the world (late 4th–early 5th century), known as the Washington Gospels (Codex Washingtonianus) or the Freer Manuscript of the Gospels; it is enclosed between painted wooden book covers dating to the 7th century
  • an early 5th-century Greek parchment codex containing the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua
  • an early 5th-century incomplete Greek parchment codex of the Psalms
  • a 6th-century century fragmentary Greek parchment codex of the Epistles of Paul
  • a 5th-century Coptic parchment codex of the Psalms
  • a fragmentary mid-3rd-century Greek papyrus codex of the Minor Prophets