March 5, 2007
The world's oldest known copy of the Gospel of Saint Luke, containing the earliest known Lord's Prayer, and one of the oldest copies of the Gospel of Saint John have been acquired by the Vatican, according to reports from Rome.
A nonsectarian New York nonprofit, Pave the Way, helped facilitate the acquisition.
Now stored in the Vatican's Library, the documents are for the first time available for scholarly review. In the future, excerpts may be put on display for the general public.
Collectively known as the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, the documents date to 175-225 A.D. and consist of 51 leaves from a manuscript that originally consisted of 72 leaves folded in the middle to form a single quire, according to Father Richard Donahoe, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama, who also helped with the acquisition.
"The papyrus authenticates that which has been passed down over the millennia," Fr. Donahoe told Discovery News.
He believes it is even possible the texts may have been copied from the original gospels.
Many of the earliest Biblical texts are in the possession of private collectors. In this case, the materials were found, along with other papyri, in 1952 at Pabau, Egypt, near the ancient Dishna headquarters of the Pachomian order of monks.
The papyrus was mysteriously smuggled to Switzerland, where collector Martin Bodmer purchased it.
To fund the construction of a library, the Martin Bodmer Foundation contacted the auction house Christie's about a sale. Gary Krupp, founder of Pave the Way, Donahoe and others learned of the sale and, with the Vatican's help, sought a buyer who could purchase the papyrus for the Vatican.
Frank J. Hanna III , CEO of an investment management company and co-chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence, agreed to be the buyer. Hanna privately purchased the documents for an undisclosed, "significant" price.
With drama befitting a Dan Brown novel, the papyrus was transported from Switzerland to the Vatican.
"An armed motorcade surrounded by people with machine guns picked up the texts," said Krupp, the only Jewish man to have ever been twice knighted by two popes.
Donahoe added, "The materials were carried in the passenger section of a public plane that had some seats removed. Officers then escorted it to the Vatican."
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a librarian and archivist at the Vatican, received the papyrus, from which he took a few pages to Pope Benedict XVI's private apartment.
According to the Catholic News Service, Cardinal Tauran invited the pope to "come in person to the library to meditate, if I may say so, in front of that which can be considered a true relic, given that the church has always venerated the divine Scriptures."
Donahoe believes the papyrus has now come full circle.
He said, "It has been a pilgrimage, a holy journey, to bring the texts back to the church, back to their proper home."