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The J. P. Morgan Collection of Coptic 



MR. J. P. MORGAN has just received from Paris what 
must be called the most complete, and from the point 
of view of ancient Christian art and literature, the most val- 
uable collection of Coptic manuscripts as yet known. 

It consists of fifty volumes, some of which contain as many 
as nine or ten different treatises. Nine or ten of them are 
still in their original bindings of the ninth or tenth century, 
and a dozen of them are adorned with full-page miniatures 
representing the Virgin with Her Divine Son at Her breast 
or sitting in Her lap, angels, martyrs, anchorites, and other 
saints. A wealth of decorations from the vegetable and 
animal realms runs along the margins and around the titles 
of the individual treatises. The bindings consist of boards 
made of layers of papyrus leaves taken from older manu- 
scripts : the boards, almost half an inch thick, are covered 
in leather enriched with exquisite designs. One of these 
bindings covering a magnificent copy of the Four Gospels, is 
richly and tastefully decorated in red and gold, and shows 
on the inside the name of the Convent of the Archangel 
Michael, to which the collection belonged. 

Many of the manuscripts are dated from the first half of 
the ninth to the latter half of the tenth century. They are 
the oldest dated Coptic manuscripts yet found, even as the 
miniatures and bindings, just referred to, are the earliest 
examples of the art of book-binding and decorating manu- 
scripts among the Christians of Egypt. 

The collection is rich in biblical manuscripts. It contains 
six complete books of the Old Testament, of which so far we 


had but few fragments, viz., the books of Leviticus, Num- 
bers, and Deuteronomy, the First and Second Books of 
Samuel, and the book of Isaiah. The New Testament is 
represented by three complete Gospels, viz., Matthew, Mark, 
and John (Luke is unfortunately incomplete), the fourteen 
Epistles of St. Paul, the two of St. Peter, and the three of 
St. John, for all of which books heretofore we were depend- 
ent on fragments from many manuscripts of various, and, as 
a rule, of uncertain ages and provenances. There are only 
three liturgical manuscripts, a Lectionary, a Breviary, and 
an Antiphonary, but all three are absolutely unique and of 
the greatest importance for the history of the ancient Egyp- 
tian liturgies. 

The apocryphal literature holds also a prominent place in 
Mr. Morgan's collection, either in the form of special treat- 
ises, as the life of St. John the Evangelist by Prochorus, and 
the Investiture of the Archangel Michael as chief of the 
heavenly hosts, or more commonly in the shape of homilies 
or discourses attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem or some 
other prominent Father of the Church. There are also nu- 
merous biographies of famous anchorites and cenobites, such 
as St. Anthony and St. Pacomius, and quite a number of in- 
teresting acts of martyrdom. 

Most of those documents are couched in the Sahidic dia- 
lect, the home of which seems to have been Upper Egypt, 
but evidently it had spread in the Fayum, as a literary lan- 
guage, as early as the eighth or ninth century. For this 
wonderful collection was discovered by Arabs in the ruins 
of a monastery on the southwestern border of that region. 
Many of the colophons to be found at the end of the manu- 
scripts make it clear beyond the possibility of a doubt that 
the manuscripts were all written in that province, and many 
of them in the convent itself, in the ruins of which they were 
found some twenty months ago, hidden away in a stone vat, 
with the writing outfits of the scribes : three ink-wells com- 
bined with calami cases, and two of the calami themselves, 
the latter consisting of reed stems sharpened into pens at 
both ends. The wells proper were of lead and contained 


once a sponge imbibed with ink, exactly as customary nowa- 
days in Egypt and other parts of the Orient. 

Two other manuscripts, as also all the colophons, are 
written in the local Fayumic dialect. There is also a Bo- 
hairic manuscript, a copy of the Four Gospels. It contains 
unfortunately many lacunae, but it has nevertheless a great 
critical value, as it is the oldest copy of the Four Gospels 
in that dialect. 

What makes the extraordinary importance of the new 
Morgan collection is the fact that these documents are as a 
rule complete, while other collections, yet reputed so valu- 
able, of Rome, Paris, and London, to name the principal ones 
only, generally consist of fragments. For the past two hun- 
dred years the Arabs have been wont to tear the manuscripts 
they discover, so as to give to each member of the tribe his 
share of the spoils, and also in the hope of securing higher 
prices by selling the manuscripts piecemeal to individual 
tourists, or explorers, who often pay as much as eighty dol- 
lars for a single leaf of volume, while they would hesitate to 
buy a whole volume at that rate. 

We need not say that this method has proved fatal to the 
interest of science, as many of the scattered leaves will meet 
destruction by some cause or another before they find a pur- 
chaser, or they will remain indefinitely hidden away by the 
individual owners. 

The most of the manuscripts of this new collection, the 
finest that was ever discovered, had already been divided 
into small bundles of leaves and distributed among a number 
of Arabs, and it would have gone the way of the former 
finds, but for the energy of Mr. Chussinat, head of the French 
institute of archeology at Cairo, who persuaded an antiqua- 
rian to hunt up the precious relics and buy them at whatever 
price the Arabs wanted for them. 

America may well feel proud that one of her sons has 
endowed her with such a treasure of art and ancient litera- 
ture. Thanks to Mr. J. P. Morgan, our country is coming 
gradually to the point where it will have nothing to envy 
the European countries for. Mr. Morgan has made up his 


mind not to keep this magnificent collection hidden away 
among his priceless treasures, but with a truly liberal and 
scholarly spirit, he will see that the whole scientific world 
be given the benefit of it, and is now considering the means 
to that end.