An Encomium on the Archangel Gabriel of Unknown Authorship

In a recent issue of Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum, Hans Förster published the editio princeps of P. Vindob. K 9670, a Sahidic parchment folio from the collection of the National Library in Vienna.[1] The fragment seems to come from an unidentified encomium on the archangel Gabriel and recounts the story of a man who is tempted by the wife of his business partner. At a certain point in the narrative, the man prays for the intervention of the archangel, the tenor of the text suggesting that it belongs to the miracula section of the encomium.

The fragment edited by my friend was dismembered from a larger codex which once belonged to the library of the White Monastery in Upper Egypt. Hans has studied and very carefully edited the text and supplied us with high-quality black-and-white photos of the manuscript. While I was checking these pictures, I realized that the hand-writing looks familiar and that good fortune has preserved other leaves from the same codex.

Interestingly enough, one of the newly identified fragments is the leaf to which the fragment published by Hans Förster was originally joined in a single bifolio (a bifolio is a sheet folded as to form two leaves). This new fragment is of special importance as it contains a colophon which mentions the name of the scribe, the place where the codex was copied and the year of its completion.


But let’s start with the beginning. In ancient times, the copyists used to number not only the pages of the codices, but also their quires (a quire is a gathering of sheets folded in two). Each quire used to be numbered twice, on the first and last page, in the superior inner corners. The parchment leaf K 9670 edited by Förster is paginated 81-82. On the upper left corner of the recto, one can still read the number 7, which means that the fragment used to be the first leaf of the manuscript’s seventh quire.

As for the fragment I identified as being the other half of the parchment sheet from which K 9670 was cut off, it is kept in the National Library in Vienna under the inventory number P. Vindob. K 351.[2] The text has the concluding remarks of the encomium on the archangel Gabriel and the final doxology. The leaf is paginated 87-88 and the signature of the same quire, the seventh, is visible on the upper right corner of the verso. This means that the two Vienna fragments were separated by only one bifolio, which was paginated 83-86.

In order to show that Vienna K 9670 and K 351 were joined in a single parchment sheet, I reconstructed the original bifolio in Adobe Photoshop.

Flesh side of the parchment (the quire signature is visible on both fragments, near the spine):

Hair side:

The aforementioned colophon is visible in the first picture, which reproduces the outer (flesh) side of the parchment sheet. From this colophon we find out that the codex was copied for the Monastery of Apa Shenoute at Atripe (i.e., the White Monastery) by the scribe Matthew from Touton (in the Fayyum oasis) in 656 Era of the Martyrs, which corresponds to 939-940 AD.[3]

Unfortunately, the text contained by the new fragment does not illuminate the problem of the authorship of the sermon. The only Coptic Miracula Gabrielis that I am aware of are two sermons attributed to Celestinus of Rome and to Archelaus of Neapolis, but none of them correspond to our text.

As the text does not seem to be paralleled elsewhere in the Coptic literature, it may take some time until someone will reveal the author of the bit published by Hans Förster. However, a comparison of the Coptic fragment with the miracles of Gabriel preserved in Arabic and Ethiopic might solve the riddle of the authorship sooner than expected.


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.
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2 Responses to An Encomium on the Archangel Gabriel of Unknown Authorship

  1. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival September 2011 Episode II: The Biblioblogs Strike Back | Exploring Our Matrix

  2. Pingback: A Solved Riddle: The Authorship of a Coptic Encomium on the Archangel Gabriel | Alin Suciu

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