This semester, I am teaching Introduction to Christian Origins at Concordia University, and one of the plans was to take my students to McGill University's library to see some ancient manuscripts. Due to scheduling conflicts among students, I made this field trip non-obligatory. Out of 41 students only 10 attended, but those 10 had a great experience. The fine curator of McGill's Rare Books and Special Collections, Dr. Richard Virr, was kind enough to allow us an entire hour to handle and discuss a variety of ancient papyri, parchments, wooden and stone tablets, ostrika, a scroll, and a Cuneiform stone cylinder. One of the stone tablets dates from 2,000 B.C.E. and was purchased from the British Museum.
McGill has five Oxyrhynchus papyri (P.Oxy. 1517, 1541, 1555, 1674, 1685) and a few others from different or unknown provenances. They also have a small collection of Coptic fragments (not to mention manuscripts written in other languages), one of which I discovered a couple years ago and published in ZPE 184 (see the publication here). Interestingly, this manuscript, a palimpsest, had been purchased from Erik von Scherling in the 1950s, but since no one ever documented the locations of purchased von Scherling items, the fragment was as good as lost. My rediscovery of the fragment led to the identification of the manuscript (2 Samuel 10), as well as the manuscript to which it belongs—P.Monts. Roca II 4—housed in Spain. Anyway, I used this story as a demonstration of what papyrologists do and how manuscripts get discovered, lost, rediscovered, published, etc. It was an excellent conversation piece and it was also nice to be reunited with it.
P.Oxy. 1517 is interesting because of its mention of two otherwise unknown villages: θῦρις and Δάχμων. There is also a wooden Coptic funerary tablet that was published by Naphtali Lewis in the 1930s. Dr. Virr tells me he thinks it may be a modern forgery. I also came across an interesting piece that seems to be unpublished. I need to do some more detective work, but it may well be another missing von Scherling item. Stay tuned!