At the heart of this entire collection lies the Papyrus Bodmer that contains the earliest writings of Christianity, including the oldest known copy of the Gospel of John. It is also the very first codex that has come down to us. The collection’s other gem is a Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in the West.
Martin Bodmer eventually acquired over 80 Bibles in all, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and “polyglot” editions, as well as a range of vernacular Bibles (Luther’s German Bible, the English King James Bible), and versions in Ethiopian and Iroquois.
The Fathers and Doctors of the Church are also well represented, from Saint Augustine to Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas Aquinas, along with the writers of German mysticism, Meister Eckhart, Suso, and others.
Luther figures highly in the collection with over 60 original documents, including the famous 95 theses of Wittenberg. The Jewish tradition also enjoys a strong presence with Moses Maimonides and the first edition of the Zohar, printed in Mantua.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Papyrus Bodmer II (P 66) is an exceptional document, containing the oldest complete version of the Gospel of John. Dating from the late 2nd century, the manuscript gives us a good idea of the state of the Christian text barely a century after it was composed. Written on sheets of papyrus that were brought together in quires, it is also one of the first “codices,” the precursors of the modern book, which would gradually replace the traditional scrolls of the ancient world.
The Gospel of John is the “spiritual Gospel” par excellence, focusing on the revelation of Christ’s glory. It contributed to the development of various forms of piety as much as it stimulated theological and philosophical thinking. Written in the late first century in either Syria or Asia Minor, the Gospel of John is probably the result of several succeeding stages of composition.
The language of the fourth gospel suggests that it took shape at a crossroads of different religious worlds. Fundamentally grounded in primitive Christianity, it also shows traces of heterodox Judaism and ancient syncretism.
Part of the permanent collection on display in the museum for over a decade (2003-2014), the papyrus is now kept in the foundation’s storage for reasons of conservation.