An early Christianity scholar saved a 1700-year-old piece of the New Testament on eBay.
On Saturday, Dr Geoffrey Smith told the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta, USA, that he had spent the year studying a piece of papyrus he had noticed posted on eBay in January.
Here’s the original listing:
For starting bid of $65, someone might have owned one of about 130 known examples of Christian scripture written on papyri.
It is the size of a credit card, and contains six lines of the Gospel of John on one side. Another papyrus expert who saw the sale on the same day as Smith, Brice C Jones, noted the seller had uploaded (some rather shoddy) images of the other side which showed unintelligble Christian text.
He blogged about it immediately, and the publicity saw bids start pouring in, sending it to well above $1200 within hours.
Fortunately, Smith stepped in and saved the rare scrap before it was sold.
“I thought, ‘This can’t be allowed to sell on eBay’,” he told the New York Times. “‘It will just disappear into a private collection.'”
On Smith’s insistence, the seller agreed to halt the auction to allow him to study it.
He told conference attendees he believed it to be the only known Greek New Testament papyrus written on an unused scroll.
Smith dated it around AD 250 to AD 350, at the time Christians preferred to record texts on codexes, a forerunner to books.
The eBay listing said it had belonged to Harold R Willoughby, a professor of early Christianity at the University of Chicago.
He died in 1962, but part of his private collection fell into the hands of a relative. The papyrus “fell out of a stack of letters” when the relative opened a suitcase that had been stashed in an attic since 1990.
A collection inventory compiled after Mr Willoughby’s death confirmed it was part of his collection in 1962.
Smith doesn’t know what will happen to the fragment, but he said the seller had been “harassed by collectors offering him absurd amounts of money”.
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