Lot 5
  • 5

The Martyrdom of Saint Chamoul, in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic, codex on papyrus [Upper Egypt, sixth or seventh century]

15,000 - 20,000 GBP
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  • Papyrus
2 large pieces, from different leaves but placed adjacently to form a leaf, up to 190mm. by 200mm., up to 18 lines, written in a fine large upright well-spaced Coptic uncial, some abbreviations for nomina sacra, edges defective on two sides, some cracks discreetly repaired, between perspex



(1) Apparently from the library of St. Pisentius (569-631/2), bishop of Coptos. Pisentius – also spelled Pesynthus or Pesentheus – had been a hermit in a cave in Jeme. Probably in 598 he was appointed bishop, and reputedly prophesied the coming of the Arabs and the Muslim domination of Egypt. He fled his diocese on the Sassanian invasion of Egypt in the early seventh century, and joined the community of Epiphanus in western Thebes, where he died. His vast papyrus archive, including hundreds of letters addressed to him and fragments of Christian books, was excavated following the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt and was brought to France, where most of it is now in the Louvre (cf. De L. O'Leary, The Saints of Egypt, 1937, pp.234-6; W. C. Till, 'Datierung und Prosopographie der koptischen Urkunden aus Theben', Sitzungberichte der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 240, I, 1962, esp. pp.168-9; G. Gabra, Untersuchungen zu den Texten über Pesyntheus, Bischof von Koptos, 569-632, 1984).

(2) Guglielmo Libri (1803-1869), who evidently acquired the residue of the archive in France (W.E. Crum, Short Texts from Coptic Ostraca and Papyri, 1921, p.viii). The principal portion of the present manuscript was sold, probably by Libri, to the British Museum by 1855 (C.W. Goodwin, 'On Two Fragments of the Acts of the Martyrs Chamoul and Justus in the Sahidic Dialect', Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Communications, VI, 1856, pp.191-3). In Libri's time these were almost the only examples of Coptic uncial script ever recorded: "the National Library of Paris, so rich in ancient manuscripts, contains but a single leaf of the sort like ours written in Coptic" (Libri, Monuments inédits, 1862, p.5). His sale in our rooms, 25 July 1862, part of lot 433, to Phillipps.

(3) Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872); his sale in these rooms, 'The Phillipps Coptic Papyri' (still with a substantial group of letters addressed to Pisentius), 30 November 1971, part of lot 484, to Ede; afterwards The Rendells, The Ancient World, 3100 B.C. – 800 A.D., Early Writing from Mesopotamia and Egypt, cat.141, 1979, no.107.

(4) Schøyen MS 2752, bought in 1999.

Catalogue Note


Unique and unpublished, including an early Christian revelation of Jesus himself. The principal portion of the present manuscript, still with the residue of its ancient stamped binding, is in the British Library (W.E. Crum, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum, 1905, pp.146-7, no.325; published and translated by E.O. Winstedt, Coptic Texts on Saint Theodore... Chamoul and Justus, 1910, pp.169-71 and 175-211). Chamoul was a Christian from Arabia during the persecutions of Diocletian, c.299-305. He was tried before the governor Pompeius, tortured, spent three days unharmed in a fiery oven and was then skinned alive and cast into prison, where he was visited by Christ. The present fragments take up the story. The recto of the larger piece includes the words 'In the middle of the night he stood up and chanted... I would arise... to worship' (itself a rare allusion to early Christian liturgical practice) and on the verso, 'The Saviour spoke to him saying, Hail, my most chosen Apa Chamoul: I am the Christ who hears everyone who cries out ... Christ who gives a cure for every sickness'; the smaller piece includes Christ's words to Chamoul's persecutor, 'this one who rejects my name'. The words of Christ here have echoes of Matthew 4:23 and John 11:41. The text probably fits between fragments 82 and 83 of the British Library manuscript (Winstedt, p.204). In the event, Chamoul was beheaded the next day, and a miracle-working stream later sprang forth from his tomb.