During his first visit to Egypt in 1906, Charles Lang Freer was offered a small group of biblical manuscripts. Despite knowing little of their significance, he made the purchase. Freer’s instincts were good: he had purchased one of the world’s oldest Greek parchment manuscripts of the Gospels. In subsequent years, Freer obtained additional manuscripts from Egypt. The texts are written in Greek and Coptic, the Egyptian language used after the third century, on parchment or papyrus. They are in codex form, with folded sheets forming leaves like a modern book. Together, these works comprise one of the most important collections of biblical manuscripts outside Europe. The collections also includes a small but choice selection of medieval Armenian gospels.
Highlights of the collection include:
- the third-oldest Greek parchment manuscript of the Gospels in the world (late 4th–early 5th century), known as the Washington Gospels (Codex Washingtonianus) or the Freer Manuscript of the Gospels; it is enclosed between painted wooden book covers dating to the 7th century
- an early 5th-century Greek parchment codex containing the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua
- an early 5th-century incomplete Greek parchment codex of the Psalms
- a 6th-century century fragmentary Greek parchment codex of the Epistles of Paul
- a 5th-century Coptic parchment codex of the Psalms
- a fragmentary mid-3rd-century Greek papyrus codex of the Minor Prophets