Guest Post: Anthony Alcok – The Mysteries of John the Evangelist

BM Or. 7026 contains two Sahidic texts: the one translated here, the Mysteries of John, and the Life of Pisentius. Both were published, together with several other texts, by E.A. Wallis Budge in Coptic Apocrypha (London, 1913), in which Budge also provides translations. At the end of the Ms. is a colophon in two parts: one in relatively poor Greek and one in Coptic. The Greek part states that the text was written in the Year of the Martyrs 722 (= AD 1006) and Year (Hegira) 395 (= AD 1017) by Victor, whose parentage is given and is clearly associated with Esna: the Coptic part states that two monks from Edfu, Michael and Zacharias, “provided the book and deposited it in their monastery.” Clearly Michael and Zacharias were of the opinion that it would be “of use and assurance to those will listen.” Because of what one might call the ‘stichomythia’ between John and the Cherubim, the reader’s interest is sustained, but one has to ask what sort of spiritual edification it would have provided for whom. My translation is slightly different from that
of Budge.

Pages from Budge-Coptic Apocrypha

Budge sees echoes of earlier Egyptian belief from various funerary texts, the Am Duat (What is in the Underworld) and the Book of Gates, and talks about them on pp. lxvii ff. I am not sure how specific one can be about these allusions, but it is certainly true, for example, that the wings of Thoth (an ibis) were one of the ways in which the Pharaoh reached heaven after death (Pyramid Text Spell 304). Not surprisingly, water and the ‘body of Osiris’ (in the form of food) play a certain role in the text, as also in the Pyramid Texts (e.g. Spell 373). The image of the sky being supported on 4 pillars is recorded visually in the word shnwt-pt, where four pillars are written. And it is possible that the nnthr on p. 38 were the stars known as jhmw-sk ‘indestructibles’, the circumpolar stars. The figure ‘twelve’ undoubtedly has a resonance in Egyptian texts, for it was after all the Egyptians who divided the year into 12 periods of 30 days each, adding what they called the five ‘extra (hryw) days’ (but failing to incorporate the additional quarter of a day each year). It was also the Egyptians who divided the day and night into twelve units each. So it is not surprising to find ‘twelve’ throughout the books mentioned earlier.

There is also a fragment of a Bohairic version of the Mysteries published by H.G. Evelyn-White in Monasteries of the Wadi Natrûn Part 1: New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius (New York, 1926) p. 51, which corresponds to the passage on pp. 29 to 31 of the Sahidic text. An English translation of it is provided in footnote 31. As far as I know, there is no other version of the text.

DOWNLOAD A. ALCOCK’S TEXT HERE: The Mysteries of John the Apostle


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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