A Conversation with John D. Turner on Sethian Gnosticism

On October 27, our dear colleague and friend, John D. Turner, passed away. His scholarship influenced so many of us who work (or worked) on Nag Hammadi, early Christian, and Platonic texts.

I knew John since 2002, when we started an extensive email exchange about all things Gnostic. In 2006, when I was working for my PhD at Laval University, we spent together the whole summer in Québec, talking about Sethian Gnostics and Platonic philosophy.

While going through every piece I email I exchanged with John in the early 2000s, I found a lengthy conversation I had with him in 2003 about his work on Gnosticism. If I remember correctly, this appeared in print in a Romanian journal. I decided to publish it on this blog again in John’s memory.


Alin Suciu: Dear Professor Turner, please tell us a few things about your university years. Whom did you study with? What was your first contact with Gnosticism, a subject to which you have dedicated your scholarly life?

John D. Turner: I attended Dartmouth College from 1956 to 1960, graduating with concentrations in Philosophy and Mathematics. I became interested in religion and theology as a result of attending a seminar offered by Paul Tillich, so after a tour of duty in the Army and a couple of years’ work in a large corporation I attended Union Theological Seminary in Virginia where I concentrated mostly in biblical studies with James Luther Mays and John Bright, receiving a B.D. in 1964 and a Th.M. degree in 1965. Thereupon I entered the doctoral program at Duke University, studying mostly with W. D. Davies, D. Moody Smith, James L. Price, and my eventual dissertation supervisor Orval S. Wintermute. Halfway through the program it became apparent that the scholarship on early Christianity of the late sixties had somehow become moribund with remote prospects for exciting breakthroughs or an original contribution to knowledge, so I shifted my attention to the study of ancient languages and literatures relevant to the study of Mediterranean antiquity. Just at the time I was working on certain Middle Egyptian and Coptic texts, my principal adviser Orval Wintermute returned from a trip to Cairo, bringing with him photographs of Codex II of the Nag Hammadi library. After making my own English translation the Book of Thomas and the Apocalypse of Paul from Böhlig’s Koptisch-gnostische Apokalypsen aus Codex V von Nag Hammadi, I decided to pursue the study of Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi Codices. I met Hans Jonas and James Robinson at the 1966 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, and Robinson mailed me photos of Codex XIII, so I translated the Trimorphic Protennoia and sent it to him, and as a result he asked me to join a team of 20-odd younger scholars, mostly American, that he was in the process of assembling for the Coptic Gnostic Project at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, California.

A.S.: You were a member of the team of researchers which, beginning with 1967, worked in the Coptic Museum in Cairo on the study and replacement of the papyrus pieces and finally on the translation of the Nag Hammadi Coptic Codices. What is worth telling about that period?

JDT: After I took my doctoral exams at Duke, in 1968 I left for Claremont, California under the auspices of a Rockefeller Doctoral Fellowship to write my dissertation on the Book of Thomas. James Robinson had just returned from Europe, where he had managed to obtain photographs of all the Nag Hammadi Codices. We spent the next year using these black and white photographs, in lieu of the originals, to reassemble the somewhat jumbled papyrus leaves together with many fragments into its original order by making paper tracings and cutouts and putting them in stacks to see where the contours lay, trying as best we could match fiber direction and textures in order to reconstruct the original sequence of papyrus leaves and placement of fragments. In 1969-1972 I began work on the papyrus originals in Cairo as an associate of the UNESCO technical subcommittee for the publication of the Nag Hammadi Codices, collaborating with colleagues from France, Germany, Switzerland, and the USA whom I came to know in the course of several trips there. In 1969 I also spent some time in Jerusalem to consult with H. J. Polotsky. By 1973-4 we had everything pretty well placed, and proceeded to send mimeographed transcriptions and translations of these materials to interested scholars throughout the world who had until now been unable to access them.

A.S.: In 1970 you obtained your Ph.D. at Duke University. It was about one of the Christian Gnostic texts, The Book of Thomas the Contender, which would become later your first book (John D. Turner, The Book of Thomas the Contender. Coptic Text with Translation, Introduction and Commentary, Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 23; Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1975). What can you tell us about this first period of your work?

JDT: While at Claremont, I finished my dissertation—the edition princeps of the Book of Thomas the Contender from Codex II—and took a job as Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, and used my spare time to begin critical editions of 6 more of the Nag Hammadi treatises from Codices XI and XIII. I became most interested in the Trimorphic Protennoia and Allogenes, which proved to have Sethian affinities, eventually leading me to develop a specialization in Sethian Gnosticism and especially in its fascinating relationship to the development of Platonic philosophy in the first four centuries of our era. From 1970-75 I taught at the University of Montana as a biblical scholar with a specialization in early Christian literature and history. There I became a colleague of Robert Funk, the executive secretary of the Society of Biblical Literature, who founded the internationally prominent but short-lived Scholars Press and, fifteen years later, the “notorious” Jesus Seminar. At that time I became heavily involved with the Society of Biblical Literature and especially with its recently formed Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Section. The next year after I had moved to the University of Nebraska to begin a new program in Religious Studies, we released The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Brill and Harper&Row, 1977), the first complete one-volume English translation of all thirteen codices plus the treatises from the Berlin Codex 8502, although my critical edition of Codices XI and XIII did not appear until 1990. Since the late 1980’s, I have been on the steering committee of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Section; during my six-year term as chair, I organized the SBL’s 1995 plenary commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Nag Hammadi discovery (see The Nag Hammadi Library After Fifty Years: Proceedings of the 1995 Society of Biblical Literature Commemoration, ed. J. D. Turner and A. McGuire; Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 44; Brill, 1997).

A.S.: Afterwards you passed on to another subject, bringing some of the most important contributions to the issue of the Sethian branch of Gnosticism, a branch you consider prior to the school of Valentinus. Thus, you wrote in Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition, p. 57: “Sethian Gnosticism is the earliest form of Gnosticism for which we possess a great deal of textual evidence”. Could you tell us something about the beginning of your passion for Sethianism and how do you understand the origins of this branch of Gnosticism?

JDT: Throughout the 1980’s, I undertook the English language critical editions of Nag Hammadi Codices XI (The Interpretation of Knowledge, A Valentinian Exposition, Allogenes, Hypsiphrone) and XIII (Trimorphic Protennoia), as well as an updated edition of the Book of Thomas the Contender from Codex II, which were published as volumes #21 (1989) and #28 (1990) in E. J. Brill’s “Nag Hammadi (and Manichean) Studies” series. From my work on the Trimorphic Protennoia and Allogenes, and especially after my friendship with Hans-Martin Schenke, I began to concentrate on Sethian Gnosticism, and so, except for brief encyclopedia articles, I published nothing further on the Book of Thomas until the May 2003 international colloquium on “L’Évangile selon Thomas et les textes de Nag Hammadi” at Laval University in Québec, where I explored the Platonic affinities of that text (to be published as “The Platonic Jesus”). In 1991 I began my lasting association with the Nag Hammadi project at Université Laval in Québec City as visiting research professor and eventually member of the editorial board of the Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi, the French language project to produce critical editions, concordances, and monographs on the entire Nag Hammadi Library. It was during seven summers there that I produced introductions and commentaries to 3 more Sethian treatises, Zostrianos from Codex VIII, Marsanes from Codex X, and a new and improved edition of Allogenes from Codex XI. It was the special philosophical properties of these three treatises—which together with the Three Steles of Seth I call the Platonizing Sethian treatises—that led me into the study of the history of the Platonic tradition and ultimately to my magnum opus to date, Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition (Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi, section « Études » 6; Québec: Presses de l’Université Laval; Louvain-Paris: Éditions Peeters, 2001). One of the outcomes of this work is the demonstration that the theological interpretation of Plato’s Parmenides so evident in the Sethian Platonizing treatises Zostrianos and Allogenes (studied in Plotinus’ third century Roman seminar) originated, not with Plotinus, but with his Middle Platonic precursors. During the last ten years, I have focused on the relationship of the Sethian religion to Johannine Christianity and its subsequent crucial involvement in the origins of Neoplatonic metaphysics. I have pursued the former topic in the Johannine seminar of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (to which I was elected in 1985), and the latter topic in the SBL, where I inaugurated the six-year-long (1992-98) “Gnosticism and Later Platonism Seminar” composed of experts on Greek philosophy and Gnosticism (see Gnosticism and Later Platonism: Themes, Figures, and Texts, ed. J. D. Turner and R. Majercik; SBL Symposium Series 12; Society of Biblical Literature, 2001). I had thus developed another specialty in the history of later Greek philosophy. As a sequel, I went on to inaugurate a new six year seminar, Rethinking Plato’s Parmenides and its Platonic, Gnostic and Patristic Reception, consisting of international authorities in religion, theology, classics, philosophy, patristics, and history who convene at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature to reexamine the entire question of the place of Plato’s Parmenides in the world of classical and late antique philosophy from Speusippus in the 4th century BCE through Proclus in the fifth century CE. Since this work has been of especial interest to continental, mainly Parisian, scholars, I have given invited lectures on my work on Sethianism and Platonism at the 2002 Paris colloquium on Gnosis and Greek Philosophy commemorating the royal charter granted by Queen Victoria to Université Laval in Québec, and this summer in Paris at the CNRS/EPHE Centre d’études des religions du Livre and at the Collège de France. I also have been asked by the Société d’Édition « Les Belles Lettres » to do a volume La gnose séthienne et les orignes du néoplatonisme for a wider, non-specialist audience.

A.S.: Why do you think we should imagine Sethianism so dynamic? Why couldn’t we imagine that both the Christian and the Platonic expression of Sethianism were in fact contemporary?

JDT: Its consistently innovative character. As Michael Williams (Rethinking Gnosticism, 91-93) has noted, the significant diversity among the Sethian texts as a whole most likely reveals—not so much the writings of a single sect or social group—but rather “indices to a series of related religious innovations.” Some of these eventuated in the formation of Sethian communities, but none with the size or perdurance to become “successful” new religious movements. Sethianism can be thought of as a sequence of fascinating, but “failed,” religious innovations. Thus, the innovative Sethian Christologies that tried to explain the pre-existent Christ as the self-generated son of Barbelo, or—on a lower level—as identical with the ancient Seth who has recently appeared in the guise of Jesus, seem to have resulted in a gradual expulsion of Sethians from the apostolic churches. Since the basic framework of the Sethian picture of the world and its origin had already incorporated Platonic features, subsequent affiliation with Platonist circles such as that of Plotinus would have been a natural move. But again, their innovative multiplication of divine hypostases and apparent disparagement of the physical cosmos and the cause of its origin likely led to increasing exclusion from these circles too.

I cite from my article “Time and History in Sethian Gnosticism,” in the H.-M Schenke Festschrift For the Children, Perfect Instruction: “The designation ‘Platonizing Sethian treatises’ is not intended to deny in any way the vital influence of Platonism throughout the entire Sethian corpus. Even the Sethian treatises of the descent pattern exhibit the influence Platonic doctrine: They distinguish the earthly, visible realm of change and becoming from a transcendent, invisible realm of permanence and stability, and make much use of the associated doctrines of archetype/image and model/copy. And their portrayal—usually a parody—of the world creator is broadly patterned, not only on the initial chapters of Genesis, but also on the demiurgic figure of Plato’s Timaeus. But only the four Platonizing treatises feature a method of enlightenment through a visionary ascent that in effect reascends the chain of being generated by the original emanation of the Barbelo Aeon from the Triple Power of the supreme deity. That is, their approach to enlightenment directly presupposes their distinctive ontology and emanative theogony.”

A.S.: An original contribution of your work is the division of the Sethian corpus in two fundamental patterns: “the descent pattern” and “the ascent pattern”. While the texts influenced by the first pattern would be of Jewish origins, the second would be evidently Platonic… Could you please develop this idea in a few words?

JDT: Of course, it is possible that the ascent and descent patterns were merely alternative—rather than successive—conceptions enlightenment from the beginnings of the Sethian movement, but such an assumption cannot account for the elaborate multiplication of psychic realms and post-mortem conditions of souls in Zostrianos (e.g., VIII 42,10-44,22 and 27,19-28,30; attested also by Plotinus) compared with the rather simpler four-level hierarchy of psychic realms and conditions within the four Luminaries of the Apocryphon of John (BG 64,14-71,2; II 25,16-27,30). I cite again from my Schenke Festschrift article: “There is of course an element of both ascent and descent in all the Sethian treatises. The ‘ascent pattern’ treatises narrate the ascent of an exemplary visionary who achieves enlightenment through cognitive assimilation with transcendent realities. Angels and glories may descend to reveal information, but they raise no one into the light. There are no external antidivine powers to be defeated. In the ‘descent pattern’ treatises that portray enlightenment as a gift conferred by a descending revealer, all but two (the Hypostasis of the Archons and Thought of Norea) associate its advent with a baptismal rite usually called the ‘Five Seals.’ Here, a savior descends, not only to elevate the participants out of corporeal and emotional bondage into the world of light, but also to free them from bondage to hostile external powers. In the descent pattern, salvation is effected by the revealer; in the ascent pattern, the revealers merely explain what is heard and seen by the visionary, but the visionary must actualize the ascent. Platonism from Plato to Plotinus held that the unaided human soul had the power to free itself from the bondage to the material world and unite with the divine, and the Platonizing Sethian treatises are no exception. Approximation to the descent pattern only begins with Iamblichus, for whom the soul’s ascent requires illumination by the lower “visible” gods invoked through theurgical ritual. But no invisible transcendent gods descend to earth.

Although the Platonizing Sethian treatises presume the self-performable character of enlightenment through visionary ascent, both they and the descent pattern treatises clearly affirm the importance of the divine initiative. The divine realities they describe have themselves ordained, authorized, and revealed the salvific rituals or contemplative practices offered for the readers’ emulation. In fact, Zostrianos effects a transition between these two approaches by symbolizing the stages of the visionary ascent as ritual actions such as baptism, anointing, and crowning, even though they have been entirely transposed into the transcendental realm. In reality, every Sethian text is incomplete, for each points beyond itself to its completion by certain actions or cognitions inexpressible in words. They all require actualization by the readers’ own emulation, whether by ritual action, or by contemplative assimilation to transcendent realities.”

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Dumbarton Oaks/HMML Coptic and Syriac Summer School (July 7-August 2, 2019)

Upon the invitation of Fr. Columba Stewart, next summer I will teach an intensive Coptic course in the United States, together with my colleague, Victor Ghica (Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo). The course is funded by Dumbarton Oaks and will be hosted at HMML, Collegeville, Minnesota, between July 7 and August 2. The deadline for applications is February 15, so, if interested, there is still time to apply. We will do lots of Coptic literature and manuscripts! Here follows the official announcement.

bodmer 16 5

Building on three summers of success, Dumbarton Oaks in collaboration with the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) announces an intensive four-week course introducing the Syriac and Coptic languages and paleography in summer of 2019. The program, sponsored and funded by Dumbarton Oaks, will be hosted at HMML, located on the campus of Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. The summer school will run from July 7 to August 2, 2019 (arrival on July 6, departure August 3). The audience is doctoral students or recent PhDs who can demonstrate a need to learn Syriac or Coptic for their research.

Approximately ten places will be available for each language. Costs for tuition, housing, and meals will be covered by Dumbarton Oaks. The selected participants will be responsible for their own travel costs to and from Saint John’s University (nearest airport: Minneapolis-St Paul).

The program welcomes international applicants but does not sponsor J visas.

Course Offerings
The Summer School will consist of morning and afternoon sessions Monday-Friday, complemented by guest lectures and other learning opportunities, as well as social events and enjoyment of the beautiful 2700-acre campus with woods, lakes, and notable architecture.

Prior familiarity with basic Syriac or Coptic grammar is not a prerequisite but some preparation will be required before arrival, as directed by the instructors. The courses will include an introduction to paleography and to the study and use of manuscripts, especially those now available in the vHMML Reading Room from HMML’s vast collection of digitized manuscripts.

Following this intensive course, students will be fully equipped to continue reading on their own or to enter reading courses at other institutions.

Faculty for 2019

Syriac: Dr. Robert Kitchen, Regina, Saskatchewan, and Sankt Ignatios Theological Academy, Södertälje, Sweden; Dr. Sergey Minov, University of Oxford.
Coptic: Dr. Alin Suciu, Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen; Prof. Victor Ghica, Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, Oslo.
HMML Staff, and guest lecturers

Accommodation and Costs
Students will be housed in apartments on the Saint John’s University campus. Each participant will have a private bedroom and bathroom, with shared kitchen and laundry facilities. A meal contract at the student Refectory will be provided. All expenses will be covered by Dumbarton Oaks, apart from travel to and from Saint John’s University. See more about visiting HMML.

Requirements for Admission
Applicants must be either enrolled doctoral students in good standing with a demonstrated need to learn Syriac or Coptic for their research, or recent PhDs, including early-career faculty members, who can demonstrate the value of Syriac or Coptic for their teaching and research. Priority will be given to those who lack opportunities to learn Syriac or Coptic at their own institutions. Those with significant prior study of Syriac or Coptic (e.g., a semester-long class) will not be considered. Those accepted into the program will be informed about resources to help them in their preparation. A basic familiarity with the Syriac and Coptic writing systems and principal script-forms will be presumed upon arrival.

Application Procedure
Applications are due February 15, 2019. The application should include:

A letter of no more than two single-spaced pages describing the applicant’s academic background (including language skills) and an explanation for why learning Syriac or Coptic is important for future research and teaching.
A curriculum vitae.
A transcript of graduate school coursework for those who are currently doing graduate study. This is not required for those who have completed their PhD.
Two letters of recommendation, to be sent separately.

The application letter and recommendations should be addressed to Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, Executive Director of HMML. Letters and other materials should be sent as email attachments to fellowships@hmml.org with “Syriac [Coptic] Summer School” in the subject line.

Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of previous academic achievement, demonstrated need for intensive study of Syriac or Coptic, and research promise. Awards will be announced in late February 2019, and must be accepted by March 15, 2019.

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Guest Post: Julien Delhez – The Third Hiob Ludolf Centre Summer School in Ethiopian and Eritrean Manuscripts Studies, Mekelle, Ethiopia, 24-29 September 2018

The last week of September, 33 graduate students and faculty members took part in the third summer school on Ethiopian and Eritrean manuscript studies organized by the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies (Hamburg). This year, for the first time, thanks to generous support from the Volkswagen Stiftung, the event did not take place in Germany but in Mekelle, Ethiopia, and was organized in cooperation with the St Yared Centre for Ethiopian Philology (Mekelle). The venue was the Axum Hotel.

Summer School

The summer school had been designed to be accessible to a diverse public and did not require previous knowledge in Ge’ez or in any other language of Ethiopia. The event included both theoretical lectures and practical workshops.

The first two days (September 24-25) were dedicated to theoretical presentations. Monday’s lectures included introductions to Ethiopian and Eritrean studies, their methodology and tools, Ethiopian manuscript studies, and codicology and palaeography of Gǝ’ǝz manuscripts. Tuesday comported lectures on Gǝ’ǝz philology and literature, and it ended with four presentations on work-in-progress by summer school participants: Stanislau Paulau (University of Göttingen), Alex Dally MacFarlane (University of Oxford/British Library), Yonas Yilma (Addis Ababa University/ARCCH) and Yeneneh Tariku (Addis Ababa University/Haramaya University).

On the morning of September 26, the participants were introduced to digital resources and TEI XML for Ethiopian manuscript studies. The afternoon of the same day was dedicated to Islamic literature in Ethiopia and Islamic Ethiopian manuscript studies.

September 27 started with theoretical presentations on manuscript cataloguing. Then, in the afternoon, the attendees were split into groups and worked on two Ethiopian manuscripts (in PDF format) which they had to catalogue and describe codicologically, as well as from the point of view of textual content.

This exercise continued in the morning of September 28. Afterwards, the participants were able to have a first-hand experience of the digitization of two Ethiopians manuscripts, with the material that researchers usually resort to when they visit Ethiopian churches or monasteries: sophisticated enough to enable them to take high-quality pictures, but light enough to be carried on even up to monasteries that are difficult to access, e.g. on the top of a mountain.

The last day, September 29, was dedicated to art history and the conservation of manuscripts. The event was closed by a farewell address of Professor Kindeya Gebrehiwot, President of Mekelle University.

The summer school was followed by the International Congress of Ethiopian Studies (1-5 October 2018), which was also organized in Mekelle. Many of the participants therefore prolonged their stay in order to attend both events.

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Call for Applications: Professor of Coptology, University of Münster

Stephen Emmel writes us that, “The University of Münster in Germany is now accepting applications for the position Professor of Coptology (Professor für Koptologie), to begin on October 1, 2019. The deadline for applications is August 15, 2018. For details, see this link (or go to: https://www.uni-muenster.de/de/ and follow the links DIE WWU > KARRIERE > Ausschreibungen, and there you will find two links for the Coptology professorship under “Professuren,” one in English, the other in German).”

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5-day Reading Coptic Course in London

Monday 2 to Friday 6 July


with Dr Bill Manley

This is a brand new 5-day course for experienced readers of Coptic. It will concentrate on the great Coptic father Shenoute, as well as one of the intriguing ‘gospels’ discovered in the famous Nag Hammadi library. Studied together these texts will improve your skills and experience as a reader of the Ancient Egyptian language, while exploring some of the most distinctive words and ideas from the foundational century of the Coptic Church.

Course fee: £340

(and attached HERE)

Further information & booking:

+ 44 (0)207 679 3622



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Lecture at Matenadaran, Yerevan, May 12, 2018

I know that some friends and colleagues from Armenia are reading this blog, so I am pleased to invite you to a lecture I will give on May 12, 2018 from 12 o’clock at the Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran) in Yerevan.


The lecture is entitled “From Fragments to Codices: The Reconstruction of the Library of the White Monastery.” Here is the abstract:

“During the 12th century, an Armenian community settled in the Monastery of Apa Shenoute, commonly known as the White Monastery, situated in Upper Egypt near modern-day Sohag. As a sign of their presence, the Armenians left a series of astonishing frescoes, which document their journey on the Nile, far away from their native lands. Alin Suciu’s paper introduces the monastery where the Armenian community once lived, and the vital role played by its library in the preservation of Coptic literature. During the period when the Armenians lived there, the White Monastery possessed the largest Christian library in Egypt, estimated to ca. 1000 codices. Unfortunately, the manuscripts have survived dismembered and scattered all over the world. As the library of this monastery probably contained copies of most ecclesiastical works existing in Coptic, the codicological reconstruction of its manuscripts is, to a certain extent, coextensive with the reconstruction of Coptic literature. The lecture focuses on the dispersal of the library of the Monastery of Apa Shenoute in modern times, and some of the problems that we encounter in the attempt to piece together its codices.”

The announcement on the Matenadaran website (in Armenian only).

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High-Resolution Images of London, BL Or. 5287(3) = Genesis 3:16-4:4 (Sahidic version)

Genesis 3:16–4:4 (sa 202 [Schüssler])


P.Lond.Copt. I 932                                17.4 × 13.9 cm                      probable date: 6th century

British Library Or. 5287(3)                                                                                             Akhmim

Parchment                                                                                           Acquired by B. P. Grenfell


These high-resolution photographs are meant to accompany the article of Zuzana Vítková and Hans-Gebhard Bethge, “Parchment BL Or. 5287(3) Revisited: A New Edition of the Sahidic Fragment of Genesis 3:16–4:4 (sa 202 [Schüssler]),” Journal of Coptic Studies 20 (2018) 189-203.

ABSTRACT: In this article, we present a new edition of the Sahidic Coptic biblical manuscript fragment sa 202 (Schüssler’s number in Biblia Coptica), British Library Or. 5287(3), a single parchment codex leaf with Genesis 3:16–4:4. The more legible part of the manuscript was published in the supplementary section of Crum’s Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum: London 1905, p. 391 (no. 932). The ink has significantly faded in the worse preserved parts, but many of the letters are readable anyway because they are “engraved” in the parchment due to the scribe’s use of a kalamos. Careful observation, including with the aid of ultraviolet light, has revealed the “lost” verses to a great extent. The article offers the full text of the parchment and its presumed reconstruction where the text remains unreadable as well as its comparison with the only other Sahidic Gen 3 fragment survived, sa 108L (Genesis 3:16–24; Schüssler = sa 16 L [SMR]; Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Borgia copto 109, cass. XXIII, fasc. 99; probably date of origin 14-15th century; ed. Ciasca, Sacrorum Bibliorum Fragmenta 1:1–2).



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Summer School in Coptic Literature and Manuscripts

A summer school in Coptic literature and manuscripts will take place 17-21 September 2018 at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg.
We invite all those who are interested to apply until May 31 2018. Details HERE.
Pages from 180227_Coptic SSch Programme
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Guest Post: Julien Delhez – A Successful Conference for French-Speaking Coptologists

From June 22-24, Coptologists from a dozen countries gathered in Brussels for the eighteenth congress of the Association Francophone de Coptologie (French-speaking association of Coptology). Thirty speakers and several additional attendees enjoyed a weekend of stimulating lectures, conviviality, and fellowship.

In accordance with the association’s custom, all the talks were delivered in French. Unsurprisingly, speakers from France and Belgium were well represented. Nonetheless, the conference also benefited from the presence of non-native speakers from countries such as Egypt, Poland, and Russia. Given the importance of English in scientific activities, one may be tempted to expect such a French-speaking event to be attended predominantly by native speakers. In fact, the native speakers only made up slightly more than 50 % of the lecturers.

The conference started in the buildings of the Université libre de Bruxelles, with a few welcome words by Xavier Luffin, President of the Department of Languages and Literatures at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Nathalie Bosson, president of the AFC. Mr. Luffin and Mrs. Bosson expressed gratitude towards Alain Delattre and Naïm Vanthieghem, the two main organizers of the conference.

ULB Bâtiment A[1]

At the Université libre de Bruxelles: The building in which the AFC conference started (© Wikimedia Commons)

The event comprised eight thematic sessions, namely:

1) Art history

2) Coptic-Arabic studies

3) Epigraphy and papyrology

4) Literature I

5) Palaeography

6) Linguistics

7) Literature II

8) Archaeology and collections


Session 1: Art history (June 22, 10:30-12:10)

Dominique Bénazeth (Louvre) and Cédric Meurice (Louvre), spoke about their project of a catalogue of Coptic sculptures of the Louvre Museum. In a presentation which was both instructive and theatrical – they read aloud original texts of Emile Chassinat, Jean Maspéro, and others, and they made them discuss with each other –, they summarized the history of the Louvre’s collection of Coptic sculptures. This talk ended with a description of the current situation and the speakers’ own project.

Marie Delassus (Louvre) talked about the Louvre’s Rider Ivory (E 10813). After a stylistic description of the artefact, she compared it with similar ivory sculptures conserved in Aachen, Athens, and Baltimore. She highlighted the fact that this ivory had the purpose of emphasizing the imperial power (this tradition persisted until the collapse of the Byzantine Empire). In addition, she compared the ivory sculpture with numerous textiles of the ninth century, which are characterized by similar motives.

Héléna Rochard (École Pratique des Hautes Études), who just defended her dissertation, provided the attendees with a description and a commentary of the preserved iconographical scenes of Bawit. As she explained, the Eucharistic rites are well represented. Miss Rochard gave explanations about the meaning of the representations of the scenes, what they alluded to (e.g. Psalms 71 and 140), and how they had been influenced by apocryphal literature. The liturgical inspiration is more or less represented, depending on the hall. Some areas are linked with the liturgy, but it is not the case for all of them.

Julien Auber de Lapierre (École Pratique des Hautes Études) spoke about Yuhanna al-Armani’s icons of Saint George from the Osmanli era. After starting with an icon whose date is unknown but which was made between 1736 and 1745, he showed fifteen icons made precisely in 1777 (some of them, on which the archangels Michael and Gabriel appear, are reconstitutions from the nineteenth century) and kept in a church of Cairo. He explained in what way Yuhanna al-Armani differentiated himself from the traditional iconography. Unfortunately, Youhanna Nessim Youssef (Catholic University of Australia), who was due to be the second speaker for this talk, was not able to attend.

Session 2: Coptic-Arabic studies (June 22, 13:40-15:20)

The talk of Adel Sidarus (University of Evora) was dedicated to the very end of Coptic literature, in the second half of the fourteenth century. At this time, the usage of Coptic as a literary language, which had disappeared in the eleventh century, apparently came back for a while. A few works were composed in Bohairic Coptic, in a language whose quality is very relative. As for the Sahidic dialect, only one translation is known to have been made. Mr. Sidarus described extensively the lives and the works of Ibn al-‘Amid (d. after 1398/9) and Athanasius of Qus (Upper Egypt, floruit in the second half of the fourteenth century). He also explained that the fourteenth century, apart from seeing the final uprising of Coptic literature, was a turning point which saw a drastic reduction of the Christian population in Egypt, especially in the Nile Delta, because of the increasing pressures on religious minorities.


Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (© Wikimedia Commons)

Naglaa Hamdi Dabee Boutros (Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale – Université Catholique de Louvain) spoke about how three Egyptian chronicle writers – Mīḫā’īl, bishop of Tinnīs, Anṭākī, and Maqrīzī – wrote about the Fatimid sultan al-Ḥākim, one of the most controversial figures of Egyptian history. Whereas he ordered the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem to be destroyed, forbade women to leave their houses and shoemakers to make shoes for them (in order to ensure that they would stay at home), he is also known as the only sovereign in the history of Islam who officially authorized apostasy. Two episodes of his reign are taken as examples of how the three Egyptian writers could refer to the same event in a very different way.

Perrine Pilette (Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique – Université Catholique de Louvain) talked about the History of churches and monasteries of Egypt, a historical-topographic work originally written in Coptic but preserved only in two (or three) Arabic manuscripts which were edited, respectively, in 1895 and 1984. It is not sure whether these manuscripts have preserved the same work, or several works which are so similar that they were put together. After checking the page numbers and the other codicological characteristics of the manuscripts (including an unexpected mention of Saladin in a colophon), Miss Pilette cannot give a certain answer to the question of how many manuscripts there were originally. As for the literary genre, she points out that many similar works have been preserved in the Muslim Arabic literature, while there is no equivalent among Christian works written either in Coptic or in Arabic. Therefore, she thinks that his text – which is undoubtedly Christian – could have drawn upon an earlier Muslim work, to which it would have added hagiographic Christian quotes. During the question time, a speaker deemed this hypothesis very bold, but plausible; he was probably not the only one.

Naïm Vanthieghem (Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique – Université libre de Bruxelles) gave an overview of the documentation from the monastery of Naqlun. The preserved documents include private letters, petitions, receipts, fiscal texts, and juristic documents. This is a rare example of an Arabic documentation from a monastic milieu.

Session 3: Epigraphy and papyrology (June 22, 15:50-18:00)

Maria Mossakowska-Gaubert (University of Copenhagen) talked about the fabrication of textiles in the Egyptian monastic milieu from the fourth century to the seventh century. She was mainly concerned with the materials used for the textiles.

Grzegorz Ochała (University of Warsaw) showed several new graffiti from Deir el-Bahari (Thebes). He gave an overview of the different kinds of graffiti (pagan and Christian, Greek and Coptic, etc.) and explained their respective functions. At the end of his talk, he showed an emotional graffito made by a man who had lost his cat. It seems to be the only Coptic inscription mentioning a misfortune of this kind.

Esther Garel (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften) spoke about titles and functions in Fayyumic documents. As she explains, since the Fayyumic dialect is not yet well known, the titles and the functions may be a good basis for advancing our knowledge of this dialect. In some cases, it is very difficult to distinguish functions from names indicating the origin, since both of them start with the same prefix (ⲣⲙ-, ”man of”). The word ⲗⲉϩⲙⲉϥ is a good example of how difficult the interpretation can be: in many contexts, it seems to apply to a prostitute. However, in some cases, it is about a loaner. Perhaps both functions were associated in the minds of people, or the word whose meaning was “loaner” was used in a euphemistic way to design the world’s oldest profession?

Roxanne Bélanger Sarrazin (University of Ottawa – Université libre de Bruxelles) talked about the calls to Jesus as healer in iatromagical Coptic texts. As in the Greek texts of the same type, the most often quoted text is Mt 4 :23. Other texts are also quoted, especially the letters supposedly exchanged between King Abgar and Jesus; the healing power of those letter was thought to be considerable. Often, canonical and apocryphal texts are used along with each other.

After the talks, a reception took place inside the ULB buildings, in front of the conference room. The attendees stayed for one to three hours, and then each participant was free to choose his own plans.

The second day of the AFC started around 9 am. The seven talks of the morning (sessions 4 and 5) were held inside the buildings of the Université libre de Bruxelles. The five talks of the afternoon (sessions 6 and 7) took place at the Royal Academy of Belgium.

Academy palace[1]

The Academy Palace, near the Coudenberg (© Wikimedia Commons)

Session 4: Literature I (June 23, 9:00-10:20)

Firstly, Nathalie Bosson (University of Genève) and Sydney Aufrère (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) examined Shenoute’s polemical writings against the Jews. In Shenoute’s texts, the Jews are associated with all the other enemies of the Church, such as the pagans and the heretics. However, Shenoute goes on with words that are specifically aimed at the Jews, who are depicted as the ones who crucified the Christ. His text, whose primary function was to educate the monks, is strongly anti-Jewish, although much harsher can be found in the early Christian literature. After the presentation, I asked Nathalie Bosson whether the biblical quotes used by Shenoute in these polemical writings were accurate, or whether Shenoute had changed a few words in order to ensure that these modified quotations would suit him better for his purpose. She explained to me that Shenoute’s quotations were in fact very accurate, but that he provided interpretations after quoting the Bible; for instance, after quoting very accurately a passage in which the word “Jerusalem” appears, the archimandrite explains that “Jerusalem” must be understood as “the Jews.” Of course, as Wolf-Peter Funk noticed, one has to be careful when debating Shenoute’s accuracy: since the preserved manuscripts of the White monastery date back from much later that Shenoute’s life, the “accuracy” may also be the result of later corrections made by copyists who transmitted Shenoute’s works.

Jacques van der Vliet (Universities of Leiden and Nijmegen) spoke about the new edition of the Coptic text of the Apocalypse of Paul, which is currently in preparation. He came back over the text’s discovery, the earlier editions, and the two main manuscripts. One of them is a manuscript from London which lacks the first fifteen chapters (the “prologue of Tarsus”) but contains thirteen additional chapters at the end; all of them are unknown not only in the other Coptic manuscript, but also in every single manuscript of the Latin tradition, in which the text has no satisfying ending. In the Syriac version, the redactor created an epilogue using sentences of the prologue. Therefore, it may be that all the versions, except the one of the London manuscript, are derived from one mutilated manuscript.

Eugenia Smagina (Russian Academy of Sciences) talked about the description of the twelve precious stones in the Encomium to the saints Peter and Paul, preserved in a codex of the monastery of Hamuli. The text contains a comparison of the twelve apostles with the twelve precious stones of the Bible, listed in the book of Exodus (Ex 28:17-20, 39:10-14) and mentioned by several Christian authors such as Meliton of Sardis and Tertullian. According to Mrs. Smagina, some of their properties are linked to their etymology in the Hebrew text of the Bible, but most of them have parallels in the work of Theophrastus, or of Theophrastus’ sources, or of the authors who draw upon Theophrastus.

Session 5: Palaeography and codicology (10:50-12:30)

Chantal Heurtel (Paris) made a comparison between the ostraca Frange wrote in his early years and those he wrote at the end of his life, in order to understand the evolution of his hand. Among others, she showed the numerous variants of Frange’s own name. Sometimes, several of them can be found in the same document.

Loreleï Vanderheyden (Collège de France) presented an online tutorial for learning Coptic palaeography. Available for free on the EPHE’s website (http://humanum.ephe.fr/ephe-palaeography-tutorial/fr), it provides the apprentice with reading exercises, in an order of increasing difficulty. It is quite difficult to find texts which can be put online, since they must be copyright-free, without lacunae, and without abbreviations. Until now, three texts from the sixth and seven centuries have been put online, but we can hope that many more will be available in the next years; it would also be interesting to add texts which date from earlier or later periods. The tutorial, which was used in front of the public, is very user-friendly.

Nathan Carlig (University La Sapienza, Rome) showed the public the very few literary Coptic rolls that he identified after checking the lists and examining the texts. There are only ten of them. Mr. Carlig described them one after another and draws conclusion on the basis of their characteristics. To summarize, it seems that the rolls were only used in two particular cases: for very elegant copies, to which the format gave the prestige of archaism, and for cheap personal copies, which were a re-usage of earlier document. Clearly, the codex is the predominant format of this time, and the roll has almost disappeared.

Catherine Louis (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) talked about Coptic manuscripts whose pagination system deviated from the norm. Her research was limited to the manuscripts of Hamuli and the White Monastery. She found a few manuscripts that were paginated only on the verso (e.g. M. 592). As far as the codices of the White Monastery are concerned, the codex MONB.YQ is paginated on only one side. There are also codices which are not paginated at all: MONB.AV (Varia) and MONB.GN (Canon 7).

Session 6: Linguistics (15:00-16:20)

Wolf-Peter Funk (Université Laval) spoke about the variation of literary Coptic in texts from Middle Egypt. First, he summarizes what we know about the particularities of the Coptic dialects of this area, namely, the Fayyumic and the Mesokemic; he enumerated five criteria which enable us to distinguish the texts belonging to one of those dialects. Then, he comes back over two texts from Middle Egypt, Mich. 3520 and Mich. 3521, which have characteristics of both Fayyumic and Mesokemic (the first one could be described as “Fayyumic with some influence of Mesokemic”, and the second one as “Mesokemic with some influence of Fayyumic”). Finally, he mentions six fragments which are situated somewhere between Fayyumic and Mesokemic but in which it is not possible to see clear tendencies.

Korshi Dosoo (Labex Resmed) talked about the terminology of peace in Coptic. His research centre, Labex Resmed, has a project of investigating the words related to peace in the languages of the Mediterranean world (Les Mots de la Paix: http://www.islam-medieval.cnrs.fr/MotsDeLaPaix/index.php/en/projects/textual-analysis/the-coptic-terminology-of-peace), and Mr. Dosoo is working on the Coptic language. In older forms of Egyptian, the principal word for “peace”  was ḥtp, which was linked to the ideology of ma’at – cosmic and national order and justice. The cognate Coptic term, ϩⲱⲧⲡ, did not retain these associations, but simply refers to “reconciliation”. The Greek word εἱρήνη was borrowed into Coptic, where it is not solely associated with the idea of “peace” (i.e. the absence of war), but may express the idea of interpersonal harmony and wellbeing. Mr. Dosoo also mentioned expressions such as ϩⲛ ⲟⲩⲉⲓⲣⲏⲛⲏ, which was so common that in one passage of Proverbs it was used to replace the Greek ἐπ ἔλπιδι, as well as the Coptic equivalent for “May peace be with you,” which does not appear in documentary texts before the Arabic conquest. Mr. Dosoo ended his talk with a discussion of the word ⲙⲧⲟⲛ, used to express the idea of rest, physical health, and peace of mind.

Session 7: Literature II (16:50-18:15)

The speech of Jitse Dijkstra (University of Ottawa) was about the Life of Aaron, a hagiographic work about the lives of ascetics who lived near the southern border of Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries. The text was written in the sixth century and edited by Wallis Budge. Mr. Dijkstra explained how the author, by using quotations and references to earlier Coptic works, shows the reader his knowledge of Coptic literature and his ability to interact with it. The Bible is often quoted, especially the Old Testament (three times more often than the New Testament). That said, Mr. Dijkstra also mentions other texts which could have inspired the author of the Life of Aaron. It is clear that the author had a profound knowledge of Coptic literature, although, since the date of many works is unknown, it is very difficult to say who was influenced by whom.

The day ended with the talks of Anton Voytenko (Russian Academy of Sciences) and Albert Ten Kate (Leiden). Mr. Voytenko spoke about the homily of Pisenthios, bishop of Coptos, in honour of Onophrios the Great. Mr. Ten Kate compared several versions of Psalm 151 in the manuscript Barb. Or. 2, which contains this text in five languages of Eastern Christianity (Bohairic Coptic, Armenian, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Syriac).

Then, the participants had a guided tour of the town centre. They were led by Alain Martin (Université libre de Bruxelles), who showed them the Coudenberg, the Mount of Arts, and the Grand Place with the City Hall. At the end of the day, the participants gathered for a superb dinner in a restaurant of the Grand Place.

On the third day, the speakers met around 10:20 in the Royal Museums of Art and History.

Hall of Antiquities[1]

Inside the Royal Museums of Art and History: The Hall of Antiquities (© Wikimedia Commons)

Session 8: Archaeology and collections (10:30-12:30)

The first speech, by Jean-Luc Fournet (Collège de France) and Dominique Bénazeth (Louvre), was about spoons from Christian Egypt on which inscriptions were written. Some of the inscriptions are invocations to the apostles, others are calls to rejoice. All of them are written in Greek, which is not surprising, Mr. Fournet explained, given the sociolinguistic context: before the Arabic conquest, Greek is still the juristic and administrative language, while Coptic is only used for private exchanges.

Gertrud van Loon (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) came back over the excavations of Jean Clédat at the cemetery of Deir Anba Hadra. In 1903, Jean Clédat received the authorization to examine the paintings and the inscriptions at Deir Anba Hadra. In 2015, Mrs. van Loon’s team started to consult Jean Clédat’s diaries, which enable them to see what he had done; he excavated seven tombs, but it is not possible to know which these tombs are.

Finally, Emmanuel Serdiuk (Université libre de Bruxelles) proposed to identify an era of the Ramesseum as a former pigeon loft. He proposed several reconstitutions, which were showed in his PowerPoint presentations, and he gave anthropological explanations for the choice of such a place for a pigeon loft.

After the last talks, the AFC’s general assembly took place in the same room. The president, Mrs. Bosson, announced that three new members had joined the association: Korshi Dosoo, Eugenia Smagina, and myself. Several proposals were made regarding the place where the next conference could take place. Then, we had a lunch in the museum’s restaurant, not far from the meeting room.

After the lunch, most participants remained in the museum for a visit of the Egyptian collections. Our guide was Dorian Vanhulle, who recently completed his PhD at the Université libre de Bruxelles. Luc Delvaux, curator for the museums’ Egyptian collections, even made available a few artefacts which the public cannot see under normal circumstances.

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Conference “The Physiologus between East and West” at Sorbonne

On June 15-17, I will participate in a conference dedicated to the Physiologus, which will be held at the Sorbonne University in Paris. The conference schedule can be downloaded HERE. My paper is titled “The Coptic Physiologus: Evidence of an Early Translation.”

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Ariel Sabar in Göttingen

On May 23, 2017, we will host in Göttingen a discussion with Ariel Sabar, the author of a splendid article which unveiled the forger of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus.

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Guest Post: Lance Jenott – The Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel

Lance Jenott has prepared an English translation of the Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel, an apocryphal text which belongs to a peculiar genre of Coptic literature, which I call “apostolic memoirs.” I am grateful to him for making his translation freely available.

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Hot off the press: The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon. A Coptic Apostolic Memoir

Alin Suciu, The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon: A Coptic Apostolic Memoir (WUNT, 370; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017).

10958_00_detailI am pleased to announce that my book on the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon has just been published with Mohr Siebeck. The book is available HERE.

Abstract: “The present volume offers a new edition, English translation, and interpretation of the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon, previously known as the Gospel of the Savior. An apocryphal story about Jesus probably transpiring shortly before the Crucifixion, the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon claims to recount the narrative as told by the apostles themselves. The text also includes a long hymn sung by Christ to the cross on which he will soon be crucified. The Berlin Strasbourg-Apocryphon is exclusively preserved in Coptic by two fragmentary manuscripts, Papyrus Berolinensis 22220 and Strasbourg Copte 5–7. Additionally, a Coptic manuscript discovered at Qasr el-Wizz in Christian Nubia contains a short version of the Hymn of the Cross. Until now, it has been almost unanimously accepted that the Berlin Strasbourg-Apocryphon is an ancient Christian gospel – probably datable to the second century CE – which was bypassed in the formation of the Christian canon. Approaching the text from the angle of Coptic literature, Alin Suciu rejects this early dating, showing instead that its composition must be located following the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), whose theological deliberations gradually alienated Egypt from the Byzantine world. The author argues that the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon is one of numerous “apostolic memoirs,” a peculiar genre of Coptic literature, which consists of writings allegedly written by the apostles, often embedded in sermons attributed to famous church fathers.”

I owe a special debt of gratitude to the Mohr Siebeck editors and staff for their professionalism. I finalized the manuscript in October and today I already got my free copies.


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Conferință despre literatura coptă la București: “Biblioteca Mănăstirii Albe: centru al culturii monastice în Egiptul copt”

Dacă sunteți în București pe 28 noiembrie, vă invit la NEC de la ora 17 pentru prelegerea “Biblioteca Mănăstirii Albe: centru al culturii monastice în Egiptul copt”. Voi vorbi despre dezmembrarea manuscriselor Mănăstirii Albe, situată în Egiptul Superior, lângă Sohag, și importanța reasamblării lor pentru studiul literaturii copte.

A doua zi, pe 29 noiembrie, va avea loc un workshop cu cercetătorii care participă la cursul The Bible in linguistic context. Introduction to the Coptic language, care se derulează de  câțiva ani deja la NEC. Sunt onorat de invitația pe care mi-a făcut-o echipa de la București, mai ales pentru că este prima prelegere pe care o țin în România.


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Coptic Sushi, SBL, San Antonio 2016

sushi-zushi-colonnadeI will not be attending the SBL conference this year (I plan to have my first SBL in Boston next year), but here is an important announcement from Christian Askeland:

By popular demand, the biggest Coptological party of the year will once again occur at an establishment of fine sushi. RSVP in the comments here or by emailing Christian Askeland.

Monday, 21 November 19:15

Sushi Zushi (click for the exact location)


Many attendees will probably be coming from the following session:

Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism


4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Room: Crockett B (4th Level) – Grand Hyatt (GH)

Theme: Gnostic Writings, Sayings, and Histories

René Falkenberg, Aarhus Universitet, Presiding

Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham University

Women as Readers of the Nag Hammadi Codices (20 min)

Eric Crégheur, Université d’Ottawa

On Plants, Spices and Gems: How Feasible are the Baptismal Rituals in the “Books of Jeu”? (20 min)

J. Gregory Given, Harvard University

Four Texts from Nag Hammadi amid the Fluidity of the “Letter” in Late Antique Egypt (20 min)

Discussion (15 min)

Geoffrey S. Smith, University of Texas at Austin

Medicine and Polemic in Tertullian’s Version of the Valentinian Sophia Myth (20 min)

Emanuel Fiano, Fordham University

The Theory of Names of the Gospel of Truth (20 min)

Einar Thomassen, Universitetet i Bergen

Did Gnostics Have a Concept of History? (20 min)

Discussion (15 min)

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Complete Facsimile Edition of the Coptic Codices from Hamuli Online

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Ronald Hurlocker and to his supervisor, Christian Askeland, for making available on archive.org the massive facsimile edition of the Morgan Library & Museum’s Coptic codices which belonged to the Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Hamuli, in the Fayyum (Henri Hyvernat (ed.), Codices coptici photographice expressi: Bibliothecae Pierpont Morgan. Rome, 1922).

You can access the collection HERE.


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Job Opening for the Project Katalogisierung der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland/Cataloguing of Oriental Manuscripts in Germany

This is a two-year fixed term position starting at the earliest possible date on or after October 15, 2016. An extension of the contract beyond the initial two-year term may be available. The project (planned completion date: December 31, 2022) is based in Berlin. The position is part-time (50%) on the public service scale TV-L E 13. There is the possibility (not yet finalised) for a full-time appointment from July 1, 2017, depending on funding being made available.

The appointee will be responsible for the following tasks:

•       Catalogisation of Coptic manuscripts, ostraca and papyri from German collections, chiefly from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection Berlin, in an online database

Requirements are specifically:

·       Ph.D. or M.A. (or equivalent) in the areas of Coptic Studies, Theology/Religious Studies, Egyptology, Christian Oriental Studies, Byzantine Studies or related fields. Opportunities for further training are available.

·       A solid knowledge of Coptic language and the textual tradition of Christian Egypt. Some expertise and experience in the area of Philology/Editions and Manuscript Studies/Codicology is welcome.

Candidates are expected to have:

·      Willingness and ability to quickly familiarise themselves with the tasks at hand

·       Familiarity with modern databases and online research

·       Language skills in Ancient Greek and German. Other language skills, in particular in French or ancient languages other than Coptic are helpful.

·      Excellent time management and good teamwork skills.

The Göttingen Academy of Sciences is an equal opportunity employer. In case of identical qualifications applicants with disabilities will be considered on a preferential basis.

Closing date: September 30, 2016

Please send your application (cover letter, CV, copies of relevant diplomas, publication list, if applicable) – in electronic form – to:

Professor Heike Behlmer (hbehlme at uni-goettingen dot de)

Please direct any enquiries about the project to the same address. General project information can also be found here.

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Papers Presented by the Göttingen Crew at the Recently Concluded Congress of Coptic Studies

Six members of the Göttingen University and Göttingen Academy participated in the recently concluded 11th International Congress of Coptic Studies (Claremont, CA, July 25-30): Heike Behlmer, Frank Feder, So Miyagawa, Troy Griffitts, and myself.

Thus, Frank Feder organized together with Siegfried Richter (University of Münster) the panel “Prospects and Studies for the Reconstruction and Edition of the Coptic Bible,” and spoke about “Reconstructing and Editing the Coptic Bible: The Münster-Göttingen Collaboration for a Complete Reconstruction and Edition of the Coptic Sahidic Bible.” In the same panel, Heike Behlmer presented a paper entitled “Paul de Lagarde, Agapios Bsciai and the Edition of the Coptic Bible.” Frank also organized with Christian Askeland (Indiana Wesleyan University) the “Coptic Digital Tools for Beginners Workshop.”

Troy Griffitts and So Miyagawa participated in the panel “Coptic Digital Humanities,” chaired by Carrie Schroeder (the University of the Pacific). So read a paper which he prepared together with Marco Büchler, from the Göttingen Center for Digital Humanities, who unfortunately could not attend the congress. Their talk was titled “Computational Analysis of Text Reuse in Shenoute and Besa.” Another member of our team, Uwe-Karsten Plisch, gave a talk on the Mesokemic codex Glazier and its relevance for the Coptic translation of the Septuagint.

IMG_5106Finally, I delivered the paper “Recovering a Hitherto Lost Patristic Text: Greek and Coptic Vestiges of Melito of Sardis’ De Baptismo” in the panel “Early Christian Literature Preserved in Coptic,” organized and chaired by Timothy Sailors (Tübingen University).

IMG_5109The abstracts of all the papers presented at the congress, including those mentioned above, can be read HERE.

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The incipit of Ps.-Theophilus of Alexandria’s Sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief on a Sahidic Paper Fragment from Ṭihnā al-Ǧabal

I returned from the 11th International Congress of Coptic Studies, which took place July 25-30 in Claremont, California, with many books and off-prints from colleagues and friends.

Among these, there is also a recent catalogue of the Coptic manuscripts in the collection of the Jesuits in Cairo, which I received from Mr. Nabil Farouk Fayez.[1] I have also contributed to this catalogue with the edition and translation of a late Sahidic monastic letter (no. 46), which I prepared together with Fr. Philippe Luisier from Rome.

The catalogue comprises mostly Bohairic and Arabic manuscripts, but there are also a few Sahidic among them. One item caught my eye in particular: under no. 41 (inventory number 520/4. Ms Copt. B 18), Fayez and Masson have described an incomplete Sahidic paper leaf from Ṭihnā al-Ǧabal, which they have tentatively dated to the 18th-19th centuries. I am not sure what arguments they had in mind, but this dating seems to me difficult to accept, as it is almost impossible to imagine that Copts still copied Sahidic manuscripts at such a late date. If I were to venture a guess, I would rather suggest a 12th or 13th century CE dating.

FullSizeRenderGiven that the annunciation is mentioned, the piece seems to be either a hymn to the Virgin Mary, or to the archangel Gabriel. As the text begins with a capital alpha, it may belong to an acrostic hymn. On the upper right margin of the recto, there is a brief scribal note which reads, “Apa Theophilus the Archbishop: The Sun of Justice.” One may recognize here the incipit of a sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief (CPG 2622; clavis coptica 0395), which has survived under the name of Theophilus of Alexandria. This patristic text is preserved exclusively in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic. I edited this version a few years ago according to the four manuscripts currently known in the journal Zeitschrift für antikes Christentum.[2] Here is the beginning of this work according to my translation: “The Sun of Justice has appeared from out of the Eastern places, lightening those who are in the darkness and the shadow of death.”

Although the length of the text is insignificant, I think this brief scribal note shows us that Ps.-Theophilus’s sermon on the Cross and the Thief circulated in Sahidic until very late.

[1] N.F. Fayez – J. Masson, S.J. “Catalogue des manuscrits coptes des Pères jésuites au Caire,” Bulletin de la Société de la Société d’archéologie copte 54 (2015) 59-150.

[2] A. Suciu, “Ps.-Theophili Alexandrini Sermo de Cruce et Latrone. Edition of Pierpont Morgan M595 with Parallels and Translation,” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum – Journal of Ancient Christianity 16 (2012) 181-225.

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An Unusual Sahidic Lectionary Manuscript

Under the siglum sa 297L, Schmitz and Mink’s list of the Sahidic New Testament manuscripts mentions a number of fragments from a lectionary which belonged the Monastery of Shenoute, i.e. the White Monastery. Schüssler’s Biblia Coptica designates the same manuscript as 818L. Although the script has variously been dated to the 9th or 10th century, I would rather opt, on paleographical grounds, for a late-seventh, early-eighth century dating.

Here are the known fragments of this codex:

London, British Library, Or. 3578B, f. 21

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Copte 129(21), f. 5-8

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Copte 132(3), f. 180

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Copte 133(1), 51, 51a-b

Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, K 9648

Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, K 9673b

And a few random photos of some of the fragments (sorry for their bad quality):

220 no sigla9201 no sigla9045Although scholars have sometimes quoted this lectionary, I think no one has remarked until now that it represents something of an oddity: as far as I am aware, it is the only Sahidic manuscript which has three columns of text on a page.

There are Greek manuscripts written in three columns (Vaticanus) or even four (Sinaiticus). I know that this is typical also for Syriac, Armenian, and some Ethiopic manuscripts. However, sa 297L stands out as the only example of a Coptic manuscript with more than two columns per page.

I am not sure why the scribe decided to organize the page in this way. Does it have something to do with the exemplar he used? In any case, this is certainly something strange enough to be worth noting.

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