A New Witness to the Spiritual Homilies of Macarius in a Sahidic Manuscript

Under the name of Macarius the Egyptian, the great solitary from the desert of Scetis, have circulated numerous homilies, letters and other literary pieces which are sometimes labeled together as the “Macarian corpus.” I have recently identified some new fragments which belong to this corpus, yielding significant information about its transmission history in the languages of the Christian Orient.

The manuscript tradition of this vast and composite corpus of writings is very complex. In Greek, the spiritual works attributed to Macarius were transmitted in four different collections, about which we are poorly informed before the 11th century. What is more, parts of the Macarian corpus came to us under different guises in Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic and Georgian. The Arabic version, usually referred as “collection TV,” is attested by several manuscripts. Referring to the importance of the Arabic translation,[1] Marcus Plested rightly remarked in his book The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition:

The Arabic Collection TV contains, in addition to elements from Collections I, II, and III, material that is not duplicated elsewhere. There is no extant Greek witness for the form of this Collection. The TV Collection is attributed to Symeon the Ascetic or to Symeon the Stylite.[2]

I should like to point out that, as it appeared recently, the form of the Arabic collection is attested as well by a Coptic (Sahidic) manuscript.[3] I think this document is quite valuable as it allows us to infer that the form of the Arabic collection TV existed before in Coptic.

So far, I have been able to identify three leaves from the Sahidic codex which contain the spiritual homilies of Macarius, but I hope that a systematic search of the deposits of Coptic manuscripts will bring to light further remnants. The original provenance of the manuscript is the library of the White Monastery, situated in Upper Egypt, on the western bank of the Nile. The codex in question can be perhaps dated around the year 1000 AD. Here are some details concerning the fragments identified thus far:

A) A parchment bifolio (i.e. two conjugated leaves), which is kept in the National Library “Vittorio Emanuele III” in Naples (call number IB.16, ff. 4-5).[4] These two folios (paginated 131-132 and 145-146) were mistakenly included by Émile Amélineau among the works of the Coptic monk Shenoute of Atripe,[5] and his attribution went unchallenged for a long time.[6] However, Stephen Emmel counted them among the dubia in his magnum opus concerning the Shenoutean literature.[7]

The text of the Naples sheet corresponds to the Macarian Homily 26 of the Collection III (no. 13 in the Arabic collection TV), which is readily accessible in the French translation made by Father Vincent Desprez for the Source Chrétiennes series.[8]

B) A fragment in Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (call number BnF Copte 102, f. 12), which is paginated 179-180. It contains a portion of the Homily 6 of the Collection III (no. 16 in the Arabic collection TV).

The pagination of the surviving fragments points out that our manuscript is a new witness of the tradition represented until now only by the Arabic collection TV. There are sixteen folios missing in the lacuna between pages 146 (the verso of the second Naples leaf) and 179 (the recto of Paris 102, f. 12). The stichometry indicates that six of the missing leaves contained the end of homily 13 and the beginning of homily 16 (according to the order in the Arabic manuscripts), leaving just enough space for the homilies 14 and 15. It becomes thus likely that the Arabic collection of Macarius’ homilies must go back to a Coptic model represented by the newly identified fragments.


[1] On the Arabic tradition in general, see G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur vol. 1 (Studi e testi, 118; Vatican: Biblioteca Apostolica, 1944) 389-392. Those pieces preserved only in Arabic were translated into German by W. Strothmann, Makarios/Symeon, Das arabische Sondergut (Göttinger Orientforschungen, I. Reihe: Syriaca, 11; Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1975). For a concordance between the manuscripts TV and the different Macarian collections, see the synopsis of W. Strothmann in H. Dörries, Symeon von Mesopotamien. Die Überlieferung der messalianischen “Makarios”-Schriften (Texte und Untersuchungen, 55/1; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1941) 471-475, and that of Strothman, Das arabische Sondergut, 7-14.

[2] M. Plested, The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford Theological Monographs; Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 12.

[3] I have made a preliminary report on this in “The Borgian Coptic Manuscripts in Naples: Supplementary Identifications and Notes to a Recently Published Catalogue,” forthcoming in Orientalia Christiana Periodica 77 (2011).

[4] Description in G. Zoega, Catalogus codicum Copticorum manu scriptorum (Rome: 1810) 640 (= no. 306) and, more recently, P. Buzi, Catalogo dei manoscritti copti borgiani conservati presso la Biblioteca Nazionale “Vittorio Emanuele III” di Napoli (Accademia dei Lincei – Memorie, Ser. IX, 25/1; Rome: Scienze e lettere, 2009) 321.

[5] É. Amélineau, Œuvres de Schenoudi: Texte copte et traduction française vol. 2 (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1914) 487-491.

[6] The fragments were still considered Shenoutean in A. Shisha-Halevy, Coptic Grammatical Categories. Structural Studies in the Syntax of Shenoutean Sahidic (Analecta Orientalia, 53; Pontificium Institutum Biblicum: Rome, 1986) 255.

[7] S. Emmel, Shenoute’s Literary Corpus vol. 2 (CSCO, 600. Subsidia, 112; Louvain: Peeters, 2004) 906.

[8] This collection, which contains forty-three homilies, was partly edited by E. Klostermann & H. Berthold, Neue Homilien des Makarius/Symeon I. Aus Typus III (Texte und Untersuchungen, 72; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1961), cf. also Pseudo-Macaire, Œuvres spirituelles I. Homélies propres à la Collection III (ed. V. Desprez. Sources Chrétiennes, 275; Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1980).

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About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
This entry was posted in Ascetic Authors, Macarius the Egyptian, Patristics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A New Witness to the Spiritual Homilies of Macarius in a Sahidic Manuscript

  1. Roger Pearse says:

    Which *volume* of Graf’s Geschichte?

    This is a very interesting find — well done!

  2. Alin Suciu says:

    Yes, I missed to mention the volume. Problem fixed, it’s the first.

  3. Pingback: A New Fragment of the Life of Moses of Abydos (Formerly Attributed to a Homily on Penitence by Shenoute of Atripe) | Alin Suciu

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