Guest Post: Stephen Emmel – The Codicology of the New Coptic (Lycopolitan) Gospel of John Fragment (and Its Relevance for Assessing the Genuineness of the Recently Published Coptic “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Fragment)

Stephen Emmel earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1993 (department of religious studies, program in the study of ancient Christianity). His doctoral dissertation, “Shenoute’s Literary Corpus” (published in 2004), laid the groundwork for his current main research preoccupation, which is an international collaborative project to publish the writings of the ancient Coptic monastic leader Shenoute the Archimandrite (ca. 347–465). In 1996 Emmel was appointed professor of Coptology at the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology at the University of Münster in Germany. During the academic year 2010–11 he was on leave of absence from the University of Münster in order to serve as the first full-time professor of Coptology at the American University in Cairo. (Source: Wikipedia)

Some weeks ago, Christian Askeland discovered a crucial piece of evidence that must now necessarily be the basis for any scientifically founded opinion as to the genuineness of the Coptic papyrus fragment called the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The new evidence is a second papyrus fragment from the same source, with a part of the Gospel of John in one of the “Lycopolitan” dialects of Coptic. Because the text of the John fragment is known from Herbert Thompson’s 1924 edition of the fourth-century “Qau codex” (a few minor textual variants notwithstanding), and because the John fragment appears to have belonged to a codex leaf, it is possible to calculate hypothetically the approximate reconstructed dimensions of the complete leaf.

Using conservative measurements taken provisionally from scaled photographs, and assuming that the codex had only one column of writing on each side, the results of my calculations are as follows (the dimensions are given height × width):

minimally:        44 × 22 cm (and surely no smaller), proportion 0.50

on average:      49 × 25 cm (width quite possibly greater), proportion 0.51

maximally:       54 × 27 cm (width quite likely greater), proportion 0.50

These dimensions, if accurate, would mean that the John fragment represents the tallest papyrus codex yet known. Otherwise, the tallest papyrus codex known to me is a Greek codex, one complete leaf of which survives in the Berlin Papyrussammlung, measuring 40.4 × 21.5 cm. Papyrus codices taller than 35 cm are on the whole rare.

Assuming that the John manuscript was a two-column codex results in dimensions that are even more incredible (height × width):

minimally:        17 × 40 cm (and surely no smaller), proportion 2.35

on average:      20 × 45 cm (width quite possibly greater), proportion 2.25

maximally:       23 × 49 cm (width quite likely greater), proportion 2.13

The widest papyrus codex on record (so far as I know) is a Greek codex with dimensions of 28 × 37 cm (height reconstructed). As of 1977, the papyrologist and codicologist Eric G. Turner knew of only four such papyrus codices that are wider than they are tall. The greater than 2 : 1 proportion (width : height) of the hypothetical two-column John codex is without parallel in Coptic, Greek, and Latin papyrus codicology. The closest proportion recorded by Turner is 1.9 : 1, but the one known example with this proportion is small in size, only 9.8 × 19 cm. Papyrus codices laid out in two columns are in any case rather rare.

Thus the reconstructed John manuscript is either an extraordinarily tall and narrow single-column codex, or it is a short and even more extraordinarily wide two-column codex. If its existence be accepted as a fact, it would appear to deserve to be acknowledged as the tallest (or widest) papyrus codex yet known. Among extant papyrus codices written in Coptic in particular, this hypothetical John codex would stand out as even more extraordinary.

For myself, this codicological analysis of the John fragment strengthens still further the conclusion to be drawn from observations that other scholars have brought forward in recent weeks about its text, orthography, and paleography. I do not see how there can be any room for doubt in anyone’s mind that the John fragment is but the product of a hoax. That this conclusion has implications for judging the genuineness of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment is obvious, and the demonstrable certainty that the John fragment is a fake confirms me in the opinion that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment too is a fake, a product of the same hoax that has brought us a new (but worthless) witness to the dialect-L5 Coptic version of the Gospel of John.

On the other hand, the application of several “hard science” techniques of analysis to both the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of John fragments – namely, radiometric dating and two types of spectroscopy – has resulted in a quantity of useful data, but the interpretation of these data must now be reviewed in light of the exposure of both fragments as having been inscribed only recently. In the hope and expectation that an increasing number of ancient manuscripts will be subjected to such analyses, students of ancient manuscripts need to become at least somewhat familiar with how these analytical techniques work, what kinds of data they produce, how the data are to be interpreted, and – perhaps most importantly – what questions the data might be used to answer.

Finally, as seriously as I take codicology, radiometric dating and spectroscopic analysis of ancient manuscripts, Coptic grammar and orthography – and also the existence of faked Coptic manuscripts – nevertheless, at the end of my paper I offer a somewhat light-hearted bit of food for thought in connection with the question of what might have motivated the person who faked these Coptic papyri.



How Much Text Is Missing from the “Harvard John Fragment”?

What Are the Dimensions of the Harvard John Fragment?

Reconstructing a Complete Codex Leaf from the Harvard John Fragment

Comparison of Reconstructed “Codex H” with Extant Papyrus Codices

An Alternative Reconstruction: A Two-Column Codex H?

No Codicological Reconstruction of H Is Entirely Credible

Conclusions from the Codicological Analysis

The Spectroscopic Studies: A Critique from a Layman

P.S. Yet More Nails for the Coffin?

P.P.S. Was the New Gospel of John Fragment Meant to Be a Joke?


Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Genesis 3:15 in the Sahidic Version of Jacob of Serugh’s memrā on the Ascension of Christ

Just recently, I have identified and edited the Sahidic version of Jacob of Serugh’s verse homily on the Ascension of Christ.[1] This text is not only the first attestation of Jacob of Serugh in Coptic, but it may also be the first evidence of a direct translation from Syriac into Coptic, with the exception of some texts discovered in the milieu of the Manicheans of Kellis.

As my article is currently under review, I will not give many details about it. However, I will briefly discuss here an interesting feature of the Sahidic version of Jacob’s homily. Remarkably, although the text is translated from Syriac, the Coptic translator adjusted the biblical quotations and allusions in such a way as to conform to the Sahidic version of the Bible. It is well-known that the ancient translations of the Bible are not uniform, but they often contain different readings. These variae lectiones confer originality to each version. Choosing to adapt the Syriac according to the Sahidic Bible, the translator “corrupted” the original, but at the same time offered a text that certainly sounded more familiar to a Coptic audience.

For example, verse 236 (Bedjan p. 819, verse 21) of Jacob’s memrā reads in Syriac ܡܘܬܐ ܘܦܟܝܪ ܐܕܡ ܘܫܪܐ ܓܪܣܐ ܘܦܥܝܥ, “death was bound, Adam was freed, and the serpent was bruised.” Mentioning the bruising of the serpent, Jacob of Serugh refers to the messianic prophecy of Genesis 3:15. This was a widespread patristic exegetical tradition, which saw in this Old Testament passage a reference to Christ, the descendant of Eve who defeated the Devil. There is also an Arabic version of Jacob’s homily on the Ascension, which accurately translates the bruising of the serpent as وأنرضت الافعى. However, the Coptic text is so different that my first impression was that it must be corrupted,

1“and the serpent watched his head.” Luckily, everything became clear when I checked the Sahidic version of Genesis 3:15.

But let’s have a closer look at the text. In order to understand properly the translational option of the Sahidic, one must compare the different versions of the biblical passage envisaged here. Thus, in the Masoretic text of Genesis 3:15, God curses the serpent saying, [הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹ֔אשׁ וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב,[2 “it (i.e. the seed of Eve) will bruise your head, and you will bruise its heel.” The LXX version differs at this point, αὐτός σου τηρήσει κεφαλήν, καὶ σὺ τηρήσεις αὐτοῦ πτέρναν,[3] “he will watch your head, and you will watch his heel.” The fulcrum of the patristic exegesis of 3:15 is the translation of the Hebrew masculine singular pronoun הוּא by αὐτός, which is also masculine singular. However, while in Hebrew the pronoun connects well with the masculine “seed,” in Greek σπέρμα is neuter.[4] This apparent disagreement constitutes the basis for the patristic interpretations of the passage as foretelling Christ’s final victory over the Devil.

More important for the present question, as can be seen above, the LXX (on which the Sahidic version is based) renders the Hebrew verb שׁוּף“to bruise, to trample, to crush” by τηρέω “to guard, to watch.” This refers to the seed of Eve (or to the mysterious masculine personage) watching the serpent’s head in order to bruise it, and to the serpent lying in wait in order to bite man’s heel. Jacob of Serugh knew Genesis 3:15 only according to the Peshitta, which follows closely the Hebrew text, [ܗܼܘܢܕܘܫܪܫܟ.[5 Precisely to this version he referred when he said that the “serpent was bruised (ܦܥܝܥ).”

However, although the Sahidic version of the Genesis rightly translates τηρέω by 1it differs both from the Masoretic text and the LXX because it says, 1,[6] “he shall guard/watch his heel, and you, in your turn, will guard/watch your head.” Thus, in the Sahidic Genesis 3:15 the serpent does not watch to bite man’s heel, but rather watches its own head not to be crushed by man.

Only now it becomes apparent why the Coptic translation of verse 236 reads, “the serpent guarded/watched (roeis) his head”[7] instead of “the serpent was bruised.” This reading does not find support either in the Syriac original of Jacob’s homily or in the Greek LXX, but only in the Sahidic version of Genesis 3:15.

In my article, I discuss whether the translation of the memrā was made by a Copt who knew Syriac or rather by a Syrian who learned Coptic. The peculiar rendering of verse 236 seems to suggest that the translator must be a Copt familiar with the Sahidic Bible. On the other hand, it is not impossible to imagine that the translation was made by a Syrian who anticipated the problems a Coptic audience may have, and adapted it according to the Sahidic text of Genesis. Be that as it may, the Sahidic version of Jacob of Serugh’s memrā raises many questions, some of which I address in my forthcoming article.

[1] Syriac text in P. Bedjan, S. Martyrii, qui et Sahdona quæ supersunt omnia (Paris – Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1902) 808-832. The Syriac text edited by Bedjan has been taken over and translated into English in T. Kollamparampil, Jacob of Sarug’s Homily on the Ascension of Our Lord (Texts from Christian Late Antiquity, 24. The Metrical Homilies of Mar Jacob of Sarug, 21; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010).

[2] R. Kittel, Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1937) 4.

[3] A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes vol. 1 (4th edition; Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1950) 5.

[4] J.L. Ronning, The Curse on the Serpent (Genesis 3:15) in Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics (Ph.D. thesis; Westminster: Glenside, PA: Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997) 14.

[5] Biblia sacra juxta versionem simplicem quæ dicitur Pschitta vol. 1 (Beirut: Typis typographiæ catholicæ, 1951) 4 (in Syriac numerals).

[6] A. Ciasca, Sacrorum Bibliorum fragmenta copto-sahidica Musei Borgiani vol. 1 (Rome: Typis Eiusdem S. Congregationis, 1885) 1; same text published in A. Amélineau, “Fragments de la version thébaine de l’Écriture (Ancien Testament),” Recueil de travaux relatifs à la philologie et à l’archéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes 7(1886) 197-216, at 199.

[7] The Coptic verbs hareh and roeis are synonyms in this context.

Posted in Jacob of Serugh | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Paola Buzi‘s catalogue of the Coptic manuscripts in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has finally been printed. This is a long awaited publication for those interested in Coptic manuscripts in general and in the reconstruction of the White Monastery codices in particular.

acts-of-john1111Although the collection belongs to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the manuscripts are actually hosted at the Staats- und Universitätbibliothek Carl von Ossietzky, Hamburg. They were moved here some decades ago in order to be catalogued under the auspices of the Katalogisierung der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland. Thus, I often had the possibility to consult them in situ. It is an amazing collection of well-preserved parchment folios from the White Monastery.

The book can be purchased online via the publisher’s website. Here is a description of the catalogue:

“This volume is the seventh catalogue of the Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland series dedicated to the collection Coptic manuscripts belonging to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz – Orientabteilung.

The volume contains the analytical description of literary and liturgical manuscripts (Ms. or. fol. 1348–1350, 1605–1610; Ms. or. fol. 3065; Ms. or. oct. 409 and Ms. or. oct. 987) from the well known library of the White Monastery, in Sohag (Upper Egypt), two papyrus documents from Thebes (Ms. or. fol. 2097) and two Old Nubian manuscripts (Ms. or. quart. 1019 and Ms. or. quart. 1020), which are all dated between the fourth and the tenth-eleventh centuries CE.

Since a large part of these manuscripts consists of leaves of dismembered codices, great attention has been devoted to the description of each single codicological unit (that often correspond to one single leaf), and, wherever possible, to the virtual reconstruction of the original codices. Moreover, particular care has been dedicated to applying an extensive codicological description and to the possibly exhaustive listing of secondary literature.”

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Greek Version of Stephen of Thebes’ Ascetic Rules

The Rules (ʼΕντολαὶ) of Stephen of Thebes have survived in numerous Greek and Old Slavonic manuscripts. As Father Filotheus Bălan (Petru Vodă Monastery, Romania), with whom I often discuss about Patristics, shows in a forthcoming book, the Rules of Stephen are available also in old Romanian manuscripts.

The Greek text was published for the first time in 1913 by K. Dyobounites in the magazine ̔Ιερὸς Σύνδεσμος. However, Dyobounites wrongly attributed this and other texts to another Stephen, namely the Sabaite. It appears that the Greek scholar produced a single manuscript edition, based on a codex from Amorgos Monastery, dated to the 11th century.

This remained for a long time the only available edition of the Rules. However, William R. Veder has edited recently the Old Slavonic version, which features in the so-called Scete Paterikon.[1] This collection of ascetical texts is the translation into Slavonic of the Apophtegmata Patrum. Prof. Veder’s article should appear any moment now in Polata knigopisnaja. I am grateful to him for sharing with me his paper before publication. Veder edited together with the Slavonic version a Greek text different from that published by Dyobounites but, unfortunately, it is not clear to me which manuscripts have been used.

As the Greek original of the Rules of Stephen of Thebes is very difficult to find (Dyobounites’ article is extremely rare in Western libraries), I publish here a tentative edition and translation into English. My edition is partly based on Dyobounites and photographic reproductions of two manuscripts, kindly supplied to me by Father Filotheus Bălan:

Vatopedi 472, ff. 196v-197r (12th century)

Iviron 408, f. 277r-v (15th century)

I should like to make one final remark. It appeared to me a few days ago that rules 4-10 and 14 feature also in the long version of “De octo cogitationibus” attributed to Ephrem (CPG 3975), which was published by Assemani in illo tempore. I append the text of Ps.-Ephrem at the end of my translation. I think this textual witness is as important for establishing the text of Stephen’s Rules as the manuscripts used for the present edition. It is not clear yet what relationship exists between the Rules and Ps.-Ephrem but I find likely that the latter is a heavily interpolated version of a shorter text entitled “De octo cogitationibus” and attributed to the same author (CPG 3956).

N.B. The following numbering of the commands is my own. The two Greek manuscripts I checked do not number them, but give instead a continuous text. On the other hand, in the Slavonic and Romanian manuscripts the commands are numbered from 1 to 12.

Στεφάνου Θηβαίου ἐντολαὶ τοῖς ἀποτασσομένοις[1]

1) Πρῶτον μὲν μὴ ἔχε κοινωνίαν μετὰ γυναικῶν, ἵνα μὴ κατακαῇς εἰς τὸ πῦρ αὐτῶν,

2) μήτε μετὰ μικροῦ παιδίου, ἵνα μὴ ἐμπέσῃς εἰς τὴν παγίδα αὐτοῦ.[2]

3) Μὴ ἔχε κοινωνίαν μετὰ ἀρχόντων τοῦ τόπου.

4) Μὴ ἀγαπήσῃς ἀπέρχεσθαι εἰς τὰς πόλεις, ὅτι καθαρός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου, ἐὰν μὴ ἴδῃ πονηρά.

5) Μὴ πίνε οἶνον εἰς μέθην, ἵνα μὴ ποιήσῃς τὴν καρδίαν σου μαινομένην εἰς τὴν πορνείαν.

6) Μὴ φάγῃς δεύτερον τῆς ἡμέρας χωρὶς ἀνάγκης, ἵνα μὴ παχυνθῇ σου τὸ σῶμα, καὶ παχυνθῶσι σου καὶ τὰ πάθη.

7) Μὴ κλείσῃς τὴν θύραν σου ἐπὶ ξένῳ, ἵνα μὴ ὁ Κύριος κλείσῃ τὴν θύραν αὐτοῦ ἐπί σοι, ὅτι ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖς ἀντιμετρηθήσεταί σου.

8) ʼΕπισκέπου ἀρρώστους, ἵνα ὁ Θεὸς ἐπισκέψηταί σοι.

9) Μὴ πολλὰ κοιμηθῇς, ἀλλ’ αἴτει ἀδιαλείπτως τὴν βοήθειαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἵνα ῥυσθῇς ὥσπερ ὄρνεον ἐκ παγίδος.

10) Μὴ πολυλόγει, ἵνα μὴ ἐμπέσῃς εἰς ψεῦδος.

11) ʼΕπίμενε εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ Θεοῦ, λέγει γὰρ τοὺς δοξάζοντάς με δοξάσω. ταῦτα γὰρ ποιῶν σεαυτὸν σώσεις καὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντάς σου.

12) Διάτριψον ἐν ἁγιασμῷ, μὴ ἐν κόποις πραγματείας, ἵνα πᾶν, ὃ αἰτήσεις, λάβῃς ταχύ.

13) Φεῦγε ὡς καθαρὸς ἀπὸ ἀναθέματος.

14) Μὴ κτήσῃς σεαυτῷ ὑπὲρ τὴν χρείαν σου, ἀλλὰ ζῆσον ἐν βίῳ μετρίῳ.

15) ʼΕργάζου, ἵνα ἔχῃς δοῦναι τοῖς χρείαν ἔχουσιν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ Κυρίῳ ἡμῶν, ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ἀμήν.

Commands of Stephen of Thebes for those who have renounced (the world)

1) First of all, do not have friendship with women so that you do not burn in their fire,

2) nor with little child so that you do not fall in his snare.

3) Do not have friendships with the rulers of the place.

4) Do not be fond to leave for the towns because pure is your eye if you do not see the wicked.

5) Do not drink wine to get drunk (Tobit 4:15), so that you do not make your heart to be maddened by fornication (Revelation 14:8).

6) Do not eat the second time a day unless it is necessary, so that your body does not grow fat and your passions will also grow fat.

7) Do not shut your door to strangers, so that the Lord does not shut his door to you, because by the measure that you measure it will be measured back to you.

8) Take care of the sick so that God too should take care of you.

9) Do not sleep much but ask unceasingly for the help of God that you may be delivered like a bird from the snare.

10) Do not talk much not to fall unto falsehood.

11) Remain in the house of God, for it is said, “Those who honor me, I will honor” (1 Sam 2:30). “By doing these, you will save yourself and those that give heed to you” (1 Tim 4:16).

12) Spend time in holiness not in exhausting labors, so that everything that you ask you will receive right away.

13) Flee from the accursed as a pure one.

14) Do not gather for you more that you need, but live a moderate life.

15) Work, so that you have in order to give to those who need in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom is the glory to the ages, Amen.

 Ps.-Ephrem, De octo cogitationibus (CPG 3975) – Assemani G2, pp. 429-430.

4) Μὴ ἀγαπήσῃς ἀπέρχεσθαι εἰς τὰς πόλεις. Ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἴδῃς πονηρά, ἔση καθαρός.

5) Μὴ πίνε οἶνον εἰς μέθην, ἵνα μὴ ποιήσῃς τὴν καρδίαν σου μαίνεσθαι εἰς τὰς ἡδονάς.

6) Μὴ φάγῃς δεύτερον τῆς ἡμέρας, ἵνα μὴ παχυνθῇ σου τὸ σῶμα, καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ τὰ πάθη.

7) Μὴ κλῄσῃς τὴν θύραν σου ἐπὶ ξένῳ· ὅτι ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρήσεις, ἀντιμετρηθήσεταί σοι.

8) Ἐπισκέπτου τοὺς ἀρρώστους, ἵνα καὶ σὲ ἐπισκέψεται ὁ Θεός.

9) Μὴ πολλὰ κοιμῶ, ἀλλ ‘ αἴτει ἀδιαλείπτως τὴν βοήθειαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἵνα φύγῃς ὥσπερ ὄρνεον ἐκ παγίδος.

10) Μὴ πολυλόγει, ἵνα μὴ ἐμπέσῃς εἰς ψεῦδος.

14) Μὴ κτήσῃς ἑαυτῷ ὑπὲρ τὴν χρείαν σου, ἀλλὰ ζῆσον ἐν βίῳ μετρίῳ.


[1] Same title as Abba Isaiah’s Logos 9 (= Syriac 5).

[2] Cf. Abba Isaiah, Logos 9, 2.

[1] W.R. Veder, “The Works of Stephen of Thebes in Old Slavonic,” forthcoming in Polata knigopisnaja 39 (2013).

Posted in Patristics, Stephen of Thebes | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Search for Post-Doctoral Associate in Early Christian Papyrology


Dr. Philip Sellew announces that the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota seeks to hire a recent PhD or ABD to join a team of researchers at Minnesota and Oxford universities on the ‘Ancient Lives’ crowd-sourced papyri transcription project. “Our next step is to focus on developing better search tools and analyzing documentary papyri in Coptic and Greek of interest to historians of early Christianity in Egypt.”

Start date is Fall 2014. Please see the link to the job posting for further details. Inquires and applications may be directed to Prof. Philip Sellew at

Details HERE.

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Garshuni Manuscript Oxford, Marsh. 465, fol. 255: An Unknown Text of Stephen of Thebes?

While browsing through Payne Smith’s catalogue of the Syriac manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, I came upon an interesting reference to an ascetic text attributed to Stephen of Thebes,[1] which seems to be unknown. The short text features in MS Marsh. 465 (no. 150 of the catalogue), a Garshuni (Arabic written with Syriac characters) codex tentatively dated by Payne Smith to the 16th century.

The Oxford codex contains mainly verse homilies by Isaac of Antioch, but also ascetical writings by various authors. According to Payne Smith’s description, fol. 255 features a brief text by “abbatis Stephani Thebani.” As I am interested in this author (I prepare the editio princeps of the Ethiopic version of his Sermo asceticus), I asked Salam Rassi (Oxford)[2] if he could provide me with a copy of this folio. A few days ago, he kindly sent me the text so I could finally compare it against the other known writings of Stephen of Thebes.

But first of all, who is Stephen of Thebes? Unfortunately, we do not possess any historical information about this author, except that he may have been from Thebes (Upper Egypt), as his name seems to indicate. In any case, it is certain that he and Stephen the Sabaite are not the same person, as his first modern editor, K. I. Dyobouniotis, wrongly asserted.[3] Jon F. Dechow and Enzo Lucchesi have theorized that Stephen could be the one cursorily mentioned by Palladius in Historia Lausiaca 55.3.[4] It also seems reasonable to believe that he is identical to Stephen the Anchorite, whose writings feature in the catalogue of Coptic books in the library of the Monastery of Apa Elias of the Rock.[5] I have also found that a certain Stephen the Anchorite is celebrated on May 7 in the calendar provided by Abū al-Barakāt in his Lamp of Darkness.[6]

Are these one and the same person? I am not sure but be that as it may, it seems to me that Stephen of Thebes must belong to the great generation of Egyptian ascetics of the late 4th or 5th century CE.

As I already pointed out in a recent post, the following writings have survived under Stephen of Thebes’ name:

  1. Sermo asceticus (Greek, Sahidic Coptic, Arabic, Gǝʿǝz, Georgian)
  2. Diataxis (Greek, Slavonic)
  3. Entolai (Greek, Slavonic, Romanian)
  4. On the All-Night Vigils (Slavonic)
  5. Sermon on Penitence (Arabic)
  6. Sermon on Daniel and Moses (Arabic)

Notably, the Oxford text does not correspond to any of these. Although it comprises ascetic gnomai very similar to the Sermo asceticus, Diataxis and the Entolai (Rules), it stands out as a different text.

The manuscript is in Serto characters, but here I give a transcription of the incipit in Estrangela, ܐܢ ܐܢܬ ܫܝܬ ܐܢ ܬܕܟܼܠ ܐܠܚܝܐܗ ܘܬܿܬܿܢܝܚ ܡܥ ܟܿܐܦܗ̈ ܐܠܩܕܝܣܝܢ ܘܝܟܿܬܒ ܐܣܡܟܿ ܦܝ ܣܦܪ ܐܠܚܝܐܗ ܘܬܿܩܣܡ ܦܝ ܩܝܐܡܗ̈ ܐܠܐܛܗܐܪ., (“If you want to enter life and rest with all the saints and write your name in the book of life and have a portion in the resurrection of the pure…”). After the introductory phrase follow eleven commandments, all of them starting with “Do not be called etc” (ܠܐ ܬܟܿܘܢ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ). Here are the first and the last in Garshuni and Arabic transcription:

ܦܠܐ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ ܡܣܬܿܟܿܒܪ ܒܠ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ ܡܬܿܘܐܛܼܥ.

فلا تدعى مستكبر بل تدعى متوطع

“Do not be called arrogant, but be called modest”

ܠܐ ܬܟܿܘܢ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ ܐܠܡܟܼܐܠܦ ܒܠ ܐܠܚܐܦܛܼ ܠܘܨܐܝܐ ܐܠܠܗ.

لا تكون تدعى المخالف بل الحافظ لوصايا الله

“Do not be called offender, but keeper of the commandments of God”

I would not jump to the conclusion, however, that these new Rules of Stephen of Thebes are completely unknown, as it often happens, especially in ascetic literature, that the same text is attributed to more than one author. It is possible, therefore, that these rules survived in some ancient language under a different authorship. For example, this is the case with the Diataxis which, although attributed to Stephen of Thebes in Greek and Old Slavonic, is nothing else than a compilation of extracts from the Logoi 3 and 4 of Isaiah of Scetis.

Here I would simply not that although more research is required before finally attributing the Garshuni rules of the Oxford manuscript to Stephen of Thebes, the first results suggest that this is a new addition to his ascetic corpus.

[1] R. Payne Smith, Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Bodleianae part 6: Codices syriacos, carshunicos, mendaeos, complectens (Oxford: E. Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1864) 484b.

[2] Kudos to Adam McCollum for putting me into contact with him.

[3] This possibility has been convincingly refuted by J. Darrouzès, “Etienne le Thébain,” in Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique vol. 4 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1961) 1525-1526.

[4] J.F. Dechow, Dogma and Mysticism in Early Christianity. Epiphanius of Cyprus and the Legacy of Origen (North American Patristic Society. Patristic Monograph Series, 13; Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1988) 167; E. Lucchesi, “Vers l’identification d’Étienne de Thèbes,” Analecta Bollandiana 116 (1998) 106. Lucchesi revisited his hypothesis later in “Retractatio à propos de l’identification d’Étienne le Thébain,” Analecta Bollandiana 125 (2007) 15-16.

[5] As suggested by Lucchesi, “Retractatio,” 15. This ostracon is preserved on an ostracon which is kept in the French Institute in Cairo (Ostracon IFAO 13315). The text is available in several editions, the latest being that of R.-G. Coquin, “Le catalogue de la bibliothèque du couvent de Saint-Élie ‘du rocher’ (ostracon IFAO 13375),” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 75 (1975) 207-239.

[6] E. Tisserant, Martyrologes et ménologes orientaux. Le calendrier d’Abou’l-Barakât (Patrologia Orientalis, 10/3; Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1913) 27.

Posted in Ascetic Authors, Stephen of Thebes | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Guest Post: Joost L. Hagen – Possible further proof of forgery: A reading of the text of the Lycopolitan fragment of the Gospel of John, with remarks about suspicious phenomena in the areas of the lacunae and a note about the supposed Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

You can download the PDF version of Joost’s article HERE.


In this post, I share the result of my work preparing for reading the supposed Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the related Lycopolitan fragment of the Gospel of John for the Coptic Reading Group of the DDGLC Project at the University of Leipzig, Germany, on the 29th of April 2014. Most of the work was done on Sunday the 27th, and its starting point was the (re)discovery of the Gospel of John piece and its dependence of the text of the Qau Codex by Christian Askeland that was so widely taken up in the days before. I used the photos of the manuscript and the parallel text presented on the websites of Mark Goodacre (Recto) and Alin Suciu (Verso), as well as some further text of the Qau Codex mentioned to me in subsequent correspondence with Christian Askeland (for line 9 of the Verso).

Pages from SwagerGJWFTIRFinalReportPages from SwagerGJWFTIRFinalReport

My remarks are not meant to be exhaustive but made in order to demonstrate that it is possible to say more about the Lycopolitan Gospel of John fragment than that it was copied from the Qau Codex with only every other line being copied as well as exactly the same line breaks being used. In the damaged areas of the papyrus, strange things seem to be going on, and several of them are highly suggestive of forgery. These facts should be added to the debate about the fragment, not least because they are also relevant for the discussion of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. During the reading of the texts with the group (we only had time for the Recto), my colleague Frederic Krueger came up with a brilliant remark that I and the others considered to be the ultimate ‚smoking gun‘ of this fragment (see below). I would like to thank the participants for listening to and elaborating my arguments, which I hereby present to a wider audience.

Reading and reconstruction of the text

For the following presentation of the text of the Lycopolitan Gospel of John piece, both on the papyrus and not on the papyrus, I took the fragment itself as my point of departure, and not its supposed Vorlage, the Qau Codex, as was done by Alin Suciu, Mark Goodacre and Christian Askeland. From the edition of the Qau Codex, however, I took the words and letters missing on the fragment as it is now, in order to get a better feeling for what a complete original would have looked like.

For the same reason I added notes about the number of letters per line, both on the preserved part and for the reconstructed missing part, giving the presumed total number on the right. I have no further remarks to make about these numbers, except for one important observation that was made independently by Christian Askeland (see below), but thought it only logical to look into the matter in the course of my work. With the one exception, at first glance all of these numbers look quite possible to me, but in light of the additional evidence for forgery to be mentioned below, maybe more could be made of this when someone has a closer look.

I do not pretend my text to be a proper edition of the fragment, nor claim that it is perfect, but within the time and circumstances available to me I hope to have given a faithful rendering of both the text visible on the photos and of the edited text of the Qau Codex, both as presented in the online sources mentioned above. The problems I have with the text are indicated in red, and these parts are then quoted and commented upon in the next paragraph.

Recto_Page_1Recto_Page_2Recto_Page_3Summary and conclusion

In several instances in the areas of the lacunae and of otherwise damaged text, the manuscript fragment of the Lycopolitan Gospel of John, which in its better preserved parts seems to follow the Qau Codex to the letter (except for ebol for abal), seems to deviate from its ‚Vorlage‘.

In several instances, traces of letters do not seem to have the right shape; in four cases (Recto, l. 2, 4 and 5 and Verso, l. 4), there does not seem to be enough space for the number of letters expected; in two cases (Recto, l. 4 and Verso, l. 5) a letter seems to have been accidentally omitted; in one case (Recto, l. 8) several letters of one word seem to have been omitted; in one case (Verso, l. 9) a lacuna is much too long for the text it can be supposed to have contained; finally, in two cases (Recto, l. 5 and Verso, l. 4) it seems apparent that the text was actually written around an already existing gap in the papyrus, rather than the papyrus having been damaged sometime after having been written upon.

Whether all these things are due to the clumsiness of a forger (who apparently could not estimate how many letters fit into a lacuna, and did not pay close enough attention to each and every letter of the ‚Vorlage‘) or were at least partly done on purpose, in order to provide some variation from the text of the Qau Codex, something clearly is wrong with this Gospel of John fragment.

I have nothing to add to the discussion about the related Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, except for the fact that in l. 3 of that text, the way in which the final M of Mariam and the M of mpsha are too close together, reminds me of the things that made me suspicious about the Gospel of John piece in the first place.

Whether or not all of the above remarks can survive further scrutiny by others, things seem to add up to (even more) evidence of forgery…

JOOST L. HAGEN (born 1978 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands) studied Egyptology at the University of Leiden from 1996 to 2003 and was in Münster for the Wintersemester 2004/2005. As from autumn 2005 he is writing his doctoral dissertation about the Coptic texts from Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia: “Multilingualism and cultural change in medieval Nubia”. During the first phases of this research, conducted between 2005 and 2009 at the Leiden Institute CNWS/LIAS, he regularly worked in the Egypt Exploration Society excavation archive in Cambridge and London and in the Coptic and Egyptian Museums in Cairo. SOURCE

Posted in Guest Post | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments