Preliminary Report on Nahman's Papyri: 1925


22 July, 1925

My dear Kelsey:

I send herewith Bell's report upon Nahman's papyri, in three copies, since you may wish to send it to Columbia and Princeton.

You will see that the quality of the last consignment is so poor that it does not help us much to regulate the purchase of the big roll or rolls for which his price is £2,000. So far as we are concerned there is little that we need, beyond two or three documents which belong to lots previously purchased by us. If therefore you can arrange for the whole lot (with these few exceptions) to be taken up in America, we shall be quite content; but if you want help from us, we shall be glad to do what we can.

Of Kondilios' lot we have taken our full third, and the purchase has been approved by the Trustees.

If your plan for taking Bell out with you to Cairo in the course of the next winter comes off, I have no doubt the Trustees will let him go. It would be a valuable experience for him, such as I wish I had had.

With best wishes, I remain


Yours sincerely,

F. L. Kenyon


16 July, 1925

It will be recalled that for the long rolls sent last October Nahman asked the price of £2000. I valued these rolls at a maximum of £500, and after some negotiations it was arrandged that by way of making up the difference Nahman should send all the papyri he had in stock at a low valuation so as to redress the balance.

The papyri reached me in May, 1925, and I have now gone hastily through them. The results are, it must be confessed, very disappointing. The prices asked are not specially low, and the papyri themselves are for the most part of inferior interest. The new consignment therefore does not go very far towards making up the balance on the old.

For purposes of description I have divided the consignment into five lots, which are briefly described below. More detailed descriptions of the single pieces will follow after I have examined the papyri from Dr. Askren and those bought by Prof. Boak, which are, I understand, available, if required, for distribution. It will then be possible to see more clearly how to determine the share of each participator in the purchase. But the position with regard to Nahman's account is of course unaffected by these other papyri.

Lot I

A Greek paper MS. for the University of Michigan. Charged £25, which seems a reasonable price

Lot II

Waxed tablets, all imperfect. Nahman's price, £6, may be accepted.


Under this I have placed a great mass of material which in Nahman's invoice appears under several headings. Taken as a whole this material, which was designed principally to make up for the excessive price of the October rolls, is very disappointing. There is a large amount of rubbish or fragments which promise little. These I have not described separately. Even of the pieces (349 separate numbers, many of them including two or more different fragments) which I have picked out for separate description the majority are imperfect, often unattractive in appearance, and of inferior interest, such as accounts, registers, or contracts of common types. The best of this lot are the Coptic papyri. Many of these also are very imperfect, but there is a fair proportion of interesting material, and at least three MSS. which are of outstanding importance. These are: no.278, extensive fragments of an early Coptic codex containing at least some of the Pauline epistles, probably of the 4th cent. This promises to be of real importance, and though in lamentable condition, having been torn to pieces during a dispute among the finders, it should be possible to identify and place most, if not all, of the fragments; nos.270 and 271, early biblical rolls, of which, I believe, Mr. Crum has sent a separate description to Prof. Kelsey. I must add that Mr. Crum had time to examine only some of the Coptic material and that only very cursorily.

There are also a few fairly well preserved Demotic rolls. Among the Greek papyri are some literary and magical fragments, one or two of which may be of value, and a certain number of documents which offer points of interest. On the whole however the Greek papyri are poor.

I have valued the single pieces of this lot at prices which total £728, to which may perhaps be added £50 for the undescribed fragments, as they may prove to contain matters of interest, though I am not sanguine that much will be found. Such valuations are of course very subjective, and it is possible that some prices are fixed too high and others too low (e.g. the three Coptic papyri referred to may prove on detailed examination to be worth rather more than I have allowed), but on the average I think the prices I have put on the single pieces are such as, in the present inflated state of the market, a dealer could fairly expect to get if he sold them singly. It does not therefore follow, however, that they are all of them worth buying by institutions like Michigan and Columbia, which have already good collections of papyri; and as a matter of fact there are many whose purchase I should not myself recommend could the question be considered entirely without reference to the position with regard to Nahman.

Lot IV

Papyri from Oxyrhynchus. These are on the average much superior to the last and include some good pieces. A noteworthy feature is a set of freight contracts for the carriages of tax-barley, of the 4th century. These should be kept together and assigned to a single contributor. There are also some Homeric fragments of the Ptolemaic period, a Ptolemaic petition, and some good documents of the 4th cent. I have valued these at £132.

Lot V

A further portion of the taxation rolls sent in October (see below). Cols.130-139. £45 has been paid for this, and that amount is therefore taken as fixed, but it seems to me too high a price.

The total of the above valuations works out at £986, which, to give a round figure and to concede some thing to Nahman, may perhaps be taken as £1000. This compares with a price of £860 asked by Nahman. Thus a balance of only £140 on the most favorable estimate can be carried forward to redress the disparity on the October rolls.

I have examined these rolls more exactly than I was able to do in the autumn, unrolling them completely, in the hope of finding a general heading, which might give us the name of the place and a date. Unfortunately no such heading occurs. Two fragments, apparently of the same series, in the lot acquired last autumn from Dr. Askren are described on the cover as from Batn Harit (Theadelphia). Theadelphia, where several very long rolls have been found, does indeed deem a not unlikely place. Probably evidence will be found in the personal names to identify the site. In the Nahman fragments I have traced the following columns (others will be supplied by Askren consignment and a considerable portion in the Kondilios papyri) :-

(1) Cols.1-68

(2) Cols.15-19 (this looks like the beginning of a roll), 27-35, 39-42, 49-64, 102-104, [121]-139, 146-162. Col.64 has the date Pachon 8 of the 14th year (perhaps of Antonius Pius or Marcus Aurelius?).

(3) Cols.87-96. Perhaps this fits the following.

(4) Cols.69-76, 83-86, 97, [98].

(5) Cols.139-143, [151]-[153].

It appears from this that at least two distinct rolls are represented. Lot V above seems to be from a third roll. A curious fact is that in (2), though the successive sections were rolled up tightly together and followed on one another immediately, there are gaps in the numbers of columns. Were some numbers skipped? When to the Nahman portions are added those from the Askren and Kondilios papyri we shall probably have a fairly complete conspectus of payments for the taxes represented through the whole year. The rolls are therefore of very considerable interest and value, but I see no reason to go beyond my original valuation of £500. In the circumstances and considering that Nahman appears to have paid a good deal more for them, it is perhaps permissable to accept Prof. Boak's suggested compromise of £1000. I would there fore offer Nahman the total sum of £2000 as the maximum offer for the whole collection ( the autumn consignment and this year's), as against the £2860 asked by him. As regards the question of distribution, I am recommending the purchase of only very few of the Nahman papyri by the British Museum. One Coptic letter (III.45) from the Meletian archive edited by me in Jews and Christians in Egypt with a scrap from one of the Greek letters there published should come to us. There are also some further fragments (III.44) of the letter P.Lond. 1393, the left side of which was acquired by us in 1907 and much of the right side last year. These new fragments nearly but not quite complete the right side. There are also some fragments (III.90, 94, 120) one or two of which are proved to come from Aphrodito by the hand, which is that of Dioscorus and all probably belong to his archive, and two letters (III.104, 221) from the Heroninus archive. None are of much value, but as these two archives are already largely represented in the Museum and it is undesirable to divide up such finds more than necessary, these fragments should come to the Museum. There are also some small fragments (IV. 178) from the 8th cent. Aphrodito archive (P.Lond. IV). We should rather like the small Iliad fragments, IV.12, but do not wish to press this if Michigan is anxious for them. One or two documents (very fragmentary) which may throw light on land tenures in the 4th/5th cent. interest me, and if not wanted elsewhere and sanctioned by the Museum authorities might be assigned to us. The total value of the papyri suggested for the Museum is not likely to exceed £30. I propose to assign all the Coptic and Demotic papyri to Michigan unless otherwise instructed.

Messrs. Merton and Beatty both expressed a desire to participate in the purchase if suitable papyri were found. Mr. Beatty desires specially fine pieces, and as none such have come to light so far he is not likely to buy anything this year. I have selected a few papyri for Mr. Merton, all of which he approves. As he is anxious for specimens of the literary hand I have included two Homeric papyri; I understand Prof. Kelsey has no objection to this. All the other literary papyri, except the Iliad fragments mentioned above, I propose, unless otherwise instructed, to assign to Michigan.

I should be glad to have instruction as to the papyri from Oxyrhynchus sent by Prof. Boak in March. For reasons stated in my report on them I recommend that they should not be divided but assigned on bloc to a single contributor at the price paid for them by Prof. Boak.

H. I. Bell

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