An Old Testament Pseudepigraphon in Coptic: Yet Another Manuscript from the Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac

Here and here I wrote about the identification of some papyrus fragments which belonged once to the Catholic University in Louvain. They have been among the few unidentified items published by Louis Théophile Lefort in his catalogue of the Coptic manuscripts in this collection. As I have already said, all the manuscripts were burned in a fire which devastated the library in Louvain in May 1940. This was the second burning of the library, another fire reducing it to ashes in August 1914. Sad to say, in the 1940 fire perished also the entire photographic collection of Coptic manuscripts gathered by Lefort. Luckily, he reconstructed it patiently after the war, and the new series of photographs served as a nucleus of the much larger collection which Professor Tito Orlandi has formed later.

I shall continue the identifications of the Louvain material with two parchment fragments published by Lefort as nos. 52-53 of his catalogue. Although Lefort edited the texts separately, he already remarked their kinship, saying that “the quality of the parchment, as well as controllable paleographical features makes us believe that nos. 52 and 53 came from the same codex” (my translation from French). Although today we are not able to check anymore if the fragments were indeed paleographically related, Lefort’s assertion is confirmed by the fact that I identified both of them as coming from the same writing.

More precisely, the lost Louvain fragments came from an Old Testament pseudepigraphon: the Testament of Isaac (CAVT 98; clavis coptica 0350). This work, which seems to be a Coptic pastiche of the Testament of Abraham, survived in Sahidic, Bohairic, Arabic and Ethiopic. I will not review here all these versions; good bibliographies are available in Jean-Claude Haelewyck’s Clavis Apocryphorum Veteris Testamenti or in Martin Heide, Die Testamente Isaaks und Jakobs. Edition und Übersetzung der arabischen un äthiopischen Versionen (Aethiopistische Forschungen, 56; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000). The Bohairic version, preserved in a single manuscript in Vatican, is especially interesting as it is attributed, together with the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Jacob, to Athanasius of Alexandria. According to the opening paragraphs of the text, the patriarch of Alexandria copied the three testaments after certain ancient apostolic books which he found.[1]

The text narrates the events surrounding Isaac’s death. Of notable interest is the apocalyptic section of the Testament in which Isaac makes a tour of the heavens accompanied by an angel. The Christian elements are clear in the text, but it has not been established yet if they belong to the original version or were, rather, a later addition. Personally, I prefer the former hypothesis.

The Sahidic version of the Testament of Issac is not unknown. Before the identification of the fragments presented here, this version was known to survive in a manuscript housed today in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. The text was published with an English translation by Karl Heinz Kuhn in two issues of the Journal of Theological Studies.[2] In order to show that the Louvain fragments are from yet another copy of the Testament of Issac, I am attaching below Lefort’s transcription of the fragments together with their parallels taken from Kuhn’s articles. Nevertheless, all this deserves a closer examination in the future.

LOUVAIN NO. 52

LOUVAIN NO. 53


[1] I. Guidi, “Il testo copto del Testamento di Abramo,” Rendiconti della Reala Accademia dei Lincei s. 5, vol. 9 (1900) 157-180; Idem, “Il Testamento di Isacco e il Testamento di Giacobbe,” Rendiconti della Reala Accademia dei Lincei s. 5, vol. 9 (1900) 223-264. Guidi’s editions can be downloaded here.

[2] K.H. Kuhn, “The Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 8 (1957) 225-239; Idem, “An English Translation of the Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 18 (1967) 325-336.

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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 Apocrypha, Athanasius of Alexandria, Bible, Old Testament, Testament of Isaac and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An Old Testament Pseudepigraphon in Coptic: Yet Another Manuscript from the Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac

  1. Lynda Dods says:

    Hi I have a couple of questions. 🙂
    What is the earliest manuscript or writings found and who interpreted them into Greek. How do we know that these earliest interpretations are correct, or without bias. Where did the new Testament writings come from, who wrote them and who translated them. Are there any original writings surviving from the time of Christ. If so Who wrote them? Where did the books Matthew Mark Luke and John come from? Are they complete? Have they been reworked at any time? In regard to the dead sea scrolls, were there any references to support the accuracy of the new testament. Is it possible that the Dead Sea Scrolls are Fake.
    Sorry for all the questions 🙂

  2. Lynda Dods says:

    Are there any original manuscripts that have been interpreted by independent people of non religious persuasion?

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