Ancient tablets and papyri are collected to illuminate not only the times and traditions of the biblical era, but also the state of the languages, scripts, and materials which originally conveyed sacred texts.

There are nearly one thousand cuneiform tablets in The Van Kampen Collection, which were acquired in several lots from private collections in Europe over the last decade. The tablets appear to have come through a number of sources and do not represent a single provenance. The texts date from the Old Akkadian period to the Medo-Persian period; the majority are Ur Dynasty III period tablets. Many of the texts are economic records, inventories and sacrificial records. Likewise, a number of Guti Period dedication cones contain pertinent historical data, as do several Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Medo-Persian literary texts. Many of the tablets are decorated with cylinder seal impressions of cultic and mythological scenes.

Approximately 5,000 fragments make up the papyri holdings in The Van Kampen Collection. The papyri range in date from the Egyptian pharaonic period to the eighth century ad. The smaller proportion of texts in the collection is written in Egyptian hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic scripts. Several of the Egyptian texts are decorated with pagan ritual scenes. In addition to Aramaic texts, there are close to 1,000 near-complete and complete Arabic texts, constituting for the West a significant gathering of Arabic papyri. Although these are largely comprised of economic and domestic texts, there are important historical, literary and religious documents represented as well.


VK 854, Early Christian Letter in Greek and Coptic, Egypt, 6th century AD

The vast majority of the collection of papyri are written in Greek or Coptic. The texts originate from a variety of provenances and date from the Roman to the early Byzantine periods. As might be expected, a number of the texts come from Christian monastic settings and include letters as well as homiletical, hagiographical, and biblical material. Approximately eighty percent of the Greek and Coptic material is documentary, including government records, receipts, contracts, practice writing samples, and magical texts. The preparation of a printed catalogue of the papyri is currently in progress.

Van Kampen Collection holdings in the Ancient East also include a number of miscellaneous antiquities that may be classified as ancient texts. There are Greek and Coptic ostraca, inscribed boards, samples of writing on linen, mummy wrappings, lapidary inscriptions, ceramics, ancient coins and magic bowls. Together, the cuneiform, papyri and antiquities enrich our understanding of ancient cultures and illustrate the earliest stages of the written biblical record.

VK 783, Mississippi Coptic Codex II, 4th century

The Van Kampen Collection holds an extensive number of early Coptic biblical manuscripts, the majority on parchment fragments from the fourth and fifth centuries. The earliest codex in the Collection from this period is a fourth-century Coptic manuscript containing portions of Jeremiah and Baruch along with the complete text of Lamentations. The Mississippi Codex II, as it has come to be known, is a companion volume to a codex in the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana in Geneva, Switzerland.

NEXT: Early Middle Ages

 

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