A Fragment from a Homily Attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria

In 1937, Joseph Buchanan Bernardin edited and translated into English a Sahidic homily entitled On the Passion of Christ and the Judgment (CPG 2184), attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria.[1] This homily is entirely preserved in codex M595, ff. 100v-108r, a parchment manuscript which belongs to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.[2] A photographic reproduction of the manuscript was published in volume XLIII of Henri Hyvernat’s facsimile edition of the Pierpont Morgan Coptic codices.[3]

According to the colophon,[4] the codex was copied in the year 571 Era of the Martyrs – which corresponds to 855 A.D. – for the Monastery of the Archangel Michael, situated in the Fayyum oasis. Nothing is mentioned concerning the place where the codex was copied, but the paleographical evidences suggest that this might be an “early Touton” manuscript, antedating with several years the classical Toutonian scribal productions.[5]

In his introduction, Bernardin stated that he edited the homily On the Passion after the codex unicus M595, since there is “no other copy of this sermon in Coptic or any other language.”[6] However, Bernardin was not aware that approximately twenty years before him, Henri Munier published in his catalogue of the Sahidic manuscripts in the Coptic Museum a fragment belonging to another copy of the same work (call number 9228).[7] Although Munier did not identify the content of the fragment and described it cautiously as “Récit (?) de la passion,” the text parallels ff. 103r-104r of the Pierpont Morgan codex which contains the homily attributed to Athanasius.

During a research trip in Cairo in the spring of 2008, I made an autoptic examination of the fragment in question and I obtained the rights to photograph and publish it.


[…] he entered into the praetorium. He spoke with Jesus, saying: “Behold, the entire people of the Jews gathered to me to hand you over and to give you to their hands to crucify you. I would like to set you free but they do not want to release you. But if you truly are the Son of God, let your Godhead save you from their hands.” He did not reply anything, as Isaiah prophesied about him, saying: ‘Like a sheep that they brought to slay and like a lamb which does not raise his voice in front of the one who smites him, thus he has not opened his mouth in his humbleness.’

And Pilate ordered them to prepare a frightful judgment throne and to make a cross. And, immediately, there was a great turbulence among the nation of the Jews for they laid false testimony (Mark 14:57). One prepares a sponge with vinegar mixed with gall; another one from the impious Jews sits sharpening a lance, others preparing (?) nails. Another one plaits a crown from thorn tree covered with thorns. And the impious people cries, saying: “Great festival is for us today […] our nation […]. And, immediately, they took him (and) they put the Son of God near the judgment throne of the governor. He raised his eyes to his Father and he did not open his mouth but Jeremiah was the mouth that talked for him in front of his Father, saying: ‘Lord, you know my heart, you have tested me before you. Because of this, let them all be ashamed so that I should not be ashamed, let them all be disturbed so that I should not be disturbed.’ And again, David was mouth for him, saying: ‘Lord, save me from the mouth of the lion, my only son from the hand of these dogs.’

Pilate told them: “Behold the man! I brought him to you. What do you want me to do with him?” And they cried, saying: “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate told them: “What is the sin that he has done? I will punish him and release him.” And Pilate made himself innocent to his blood. He gave him to them to crucify him. And immediately they [took] him to the Place of the Skull. They stripped him […]

[2] H. Hyvernat, A Check List of Coptic Manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library (New York: privately printed, 1919) 15-16 (= no. 29); L. Depuydt, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library vol. 1 (Corpus of Illuminated Manuscripts 4; Leuven: Peeters, 1993) no. 170.

[3] Bybliothecae Pierpont Morgan codices coptici photographice expressi Vol. XLIII (Rome: 1922).

[5] On this scriptorium see L. Depuydt, Catalogue, cx, cxii-cxvi. On the Toutonian style, someone can check the study of P. Micoli, Dodici codici della Collezione Morgan: Saggio di Codicologia e Paleografia copta (Tesi di laurea, anno accademico 1980-1981, Università degli Studi di Roma, Facoltà di Lettere), which is, unfortunately, very difficult to find. Most recently Ch. Nakano, “Indices d’une chronologie relative des manuscrits coptes copiés à Toutôn (Fayoum),” Journal of Coptic Studies 8 (2006) 147-159, discusses M595 as an early Touton codex.

[6] Bernardin, “Coptic Sermon,” 113.

[7] H. Munier, Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Nos 9201-9304: Manuscrits coptes (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1916) 19-21.


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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