A Coptic Apocryphal Manuscript from Nubia (the Qasr el-Wizz Codex)

When the High Dam was built in the 1960s, almost the entire Nile valley between Aswan and Wadi Halfa had been inundated in order to create the Lake Nassar. As the waters were rising, many archeological sites were destroyed, while others, such as the well-known temples of Abu-Simbel, were removed from their original location and re-erected elsewhere. During the construction of the dam, more precisely in October-November 1965, the archeological team from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago was excavating a Christian monastery at Qasr el-Wizz, situated just a couple of kilometers north of Faras, in Lower Nubia. I will not detail all the results of their excavations because good reports are available, for example, in G.T. Scanlon – G. Hingot, “Slip-Painted Pottery from Wizz,” African Arts 2 (1968) 8-13, 65-69 (article in English and French).

Perhaps the most exciting discovery of the Chicago team at Qasr el-Wizz was a small parchment book written in Coptic. The manuscript was found almost intact, virtually the entire text being preserved. The Qasr el-Wizz codex was initially housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, but was later been moved to the new Nubian Museum in Aswan.

(PHOTOGRAPH from Péter Hubai, A Megváltó a keresztről: Kopt apokrifek Núbiából (A Kasr El-Wizz kódex) (Cahiers Patristiques, Textes Coptes; Budapest: Szent István Társulat, 2006)

It contains two short apocryphal pieces. The first of them, which begins on fol. 2r – see photo above, is a revelation of Jesus Christ to the apostles on the Mountain of Olives. It contains a dialogue of the apostle Peter with the resurrected Christ concerning the eschatological and soteriological function of the Cross. The second text (fol. 12v-17r) is a hymn sung by Jesus whilst the apostles are dancing around the Cross.

The discovery made some fuss, with a number of popular newspapers mentioning it in their headlines. Here is what the New York Times, for example, wrote on December 24, 1965:

Stephen Emmel pointed out recently that the second text is an abbreviation of the hymn of the Cross which appears in a badly damaged parchment manuscript in Berlin (the so-called ‘Gospel’ of the Savior, i.e. P. Berol. 22220), as well as in the so-called Strasbourg Coptic Gospel, published for the first time by Adolf Jacoby.[1] Regarding the first text, this has been known for a long time in a Nubian version published by Francis L. Griffith in 1913.[2]

Soon after the discovery of the manuscript in 1965, the two short texts were translated into English for private use by the eminent Egyptologist George R. Hughes. In 2006, when I started to work on the ‘Gospel’ of the Savior for my doctoral dissertation, I found out about Hughes’ unpublished translation. Thus, through the kindness of Janet H. Johnson, from the Oriental Institute in Chicago, I was able to obtain a copy of it. Of course, this translation is somewhat outdated as we now have a new one in German, made by Péter Hubai.[3] Besides, my friend Paul Dilley will publish his own English translation in a forthcoming collection of Christian apocrypha edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. To the same collection I shall also be contributing with several translations, including the partly parallel ‘Gospel’ of the Savior.


[1] S. Emmel, “Preliminary Reedition and Translation of the Gospel of the Savior: New Light on the Strasbourg Coptic Gospel and the Stauros-Text from Nubia”, Apocrypha 14 (2003) 9-53.

[2] F. L. Griffith, The Nubian Texts of the Christian Period (Abhandlungen der Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse 1913,8; Berlin: Verlag der Königlich Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1913), 41-53, and G. M. Browne, “Griffith’s Stauros-Text,” Studia Papyrologica 22 (1983): 75-119.

[3] P. Hubai, Koptische Apokryphen aus Nubien: Der Kasr El-Wizz Kodex (trans. A. Balog; TU 163; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009).

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28 Responses to A Coptic Apocryphal Manuscript from Nubia (the Qasr el-Wizz Codex)

  1. ergamenis says:

    Perhaps it is of your interest to read the Nubian Report in:

    https://oi.uchicago.edu/pdf/nn214.pdf

  2. Agreed, Fascinating Text:)

  3. Artur Obluski says:

    Paul, I am looking forward to see your commentary to the codex, too. Nubian studies always welcome people who are interested in Nubian culture.

    Alin, all copies of Hughes’ translation stored at the OI have a stamp “not for publication”.

  4. Artur Obluski says:

    Alin, I agree with you on the importance of Hughes’ translation now (especially with forthcoming Paul’s update) but in my opinion if it it has a clause “not for publication” we should consider respecting it and don’t make it public without consent of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

    Paul, when your translation will be available ?

    • Roger says:

      Does the translation in fact belong to the University of Chicago, though? By default any intellectual property would belong to the author and his heirs, wouldn’t it? No copyright can be acquired simply by stamping something “not for publication”, as far as I know. If it is their property, of course, they should be asked for permission. Any idea who one would ask?

      If the translation is now obsolete, is there any real reason why it should not appear online? The ordinary public might well be stirred to take some interest in the text. I myself had never heard of Qasr el-Wizz; and if I had not, no non-specialist has.

      Only libraries are likely to buy Peter Hubai’s version; and, while I wish the new collection all the best, of course, the same is probably true of that also. I believe you have a publication forthcoming; but again, what ordinary person will ever see it, valuable as it undoubtedly will be?

      It’s really important to promote Coptic studies to a wide public. The more people who can be persuaded that Coptic contains things that they want to read, the greater the chance of films and documentaries about Coptic things, which would translate into funding for posts and for research. I suspect that a few more teaching posts in our universities in Coptic would not go amiss.

      • Artur Obluski says:

        First of all I did not ask to remove it I just suggested that in my opinion a proper way to make it public is to apply for permission to the Oriental Institute first. And I am not representing the OI I just shared my private opinion.

        It is true that I was made responsible for publication of the final report of the OI’s excavations at Qasr el-Wizz but the codex has been already published and I don’t and I can’t have anything against translation of it. You may have noted that I do not have problem with Paul’s work.

        Secondly, I didn’t write the publication rights of Hughes’ translation belong to the OI. I stated that all copies of Hughes’ translation at the OI have a stamp “not for publication” which was omitted both in Alin’s blog entry and in his very accurate transcription of the whole document he received from the OI. I don’t want to start a discussion on legal aspects of making this document public and property laws because I do not know the American regulations and what is more important there is no need to do it. The fact is that Alin received document with translation from the OI not from Hughes nor his family.

        Roger, believe me I am not against promotion of Nubian studies (the text was found in Nubian not Coptic monastery and Coptic was one of three languages used by Nubians between at least 8th and 11th cent. A.D.) to a wide public. Yet we still need to follow some rules which are not written, don’t you think? I am pretty sure that the OI will promote the publication of final report of all Qasr el-Wizz finds and what you may like even more they put recent publications on their website where you can download it for free.

        It was just a friendly remark to keep up with some standards and maybe avoid unwanted situations I think our discussion should more focus on Alin’s excellent research.

      • Alin Suciu says:

        Mr. Obluski, it was nice to have you here although things have gone a bit too far. It was my mistake and I corrected it. I posted the translation because this blog is meant to make Coptic literature more popular. Good luck with your studies!

    • Hi Artur, I plan to submit the new translation and commentary in December, but my guess is the first volume of More New Testament Apocryphal may not be in print until late 2013 or 2014. I’m not entirely sure what the publication calendar looks like.

  5. Is the ‘Gospel’ of the Savior the text that Hedrick published a few years back?

  6. Wow that this text sounds really interesting. I wish I had gotten here before you pulled down the link.

  7. Pingback: The Qasr el-Wizz apocryphon at Roger Pearse

  8. There’s also an interesting Time Magazine article, “New Words of Jesus?” (Jan. 7 1966), with a small excerpt translated into English (not sure if it’s by Hughes, will check this though), and the following comment, attributed to anonymous scholars: “Are these the authentic words of Christ? Scholars think not, mainly because the prayer-book language is similar to that of apocryphal gospels composed by the Gnostics, the early Christian heretics who claimed that Jesus left a secret body of teaching known only to an elite.”

    • Alin Suciu says:

      I know the article. I used to collect at a certain point old articles about apocrypha published in magazines and newspapers. Similar comments appeared in the 1950s, following Marcus-Antonius van den Oudenrijn’s edition of the Ethiopic ‘Lament of Mary.’ I might blog about this later.

  9. Artur Obluski says:

    If you are interested in paper clips on Wizz codex I can check what the OI have and let you know.

  10. Pingback: Texts online « Medieval Sai Project

  11. Pierluigi Piovanelli says:

    Dear Alin,

    To the bibliography on the so-called Gospel of the Savior and the Qasr el-Wizz Codex you can now add a modest contribution of my own: “Thursday Night Fever: Dancing and Singing with Jesus in the Gospel of the Savior and the Dance of the Savior around the Cross,” Early Christianity 3 (2012): 229-48 (with an English translation of the Dance of the Savior, 240-41).

    Best wishes.

    Pierluigi Piovanelli, Ottawa

  12. Pingback: A Coptic Apocryphal Manuscript from Nubia (the Qasr el-Wizz Codex) | digitalcollaboration

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