Guest Post: Anthony Alcock – Homily on Soul and Body by Athanasius of Alexandria

The Coptic text forms part of BM Ms. Or. 5001, published by E. A. Wallis Budge in Coptic Homilies in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London 1910); a Syriac text of more or less the same work, also published there, is contained in BM Ms. Add. 17,192. The title of the Coptic text makes it clear that the work has been attributed to Athanasius, the Syriac to his predecessor Alexander (313-328). Budge very sensibly and helpfully included both texts in his volume. My aim here is to present a translation of the Coptic text, which differs in minor points from Budge’s translation. It is fairly clear that, if both texts are translated from a Greek original, there must have been two versions of it: the Coptic text is approximately twice as long as the Syriac. Budge thinks that the Syriac is only a partial translation of the text. The title of the Syriac text, in addition to ‘soul’ and ‘body’, includes the words ‘on the Incarnation of Our Lord’. Budge’s page numbers are at the top of each section and the folio numbers in brackets. The Coptic Dictionary is cited simply by the name of the author, Crum.

286Many early Christian texts display a certain anti-Semitism, and this is one of them. An interesting feature of the phenomenon here is that it ranges from the ingratitude of Jews in the pre-Messiah period to their hostility to Christ and his followers in the Messiah period.

Download the translation HERE.

Alin Suciu’s note: This homily is not genuinely Athanasian and has a very complicated literary history. While the Coptic redaction is attributed to Athanasius (CPG 2004, clavis coptica 0223), the Syriac version has survived under the name of Alexander of Alexandria. In Georgian, the text is attributed to both of them. To make things more complicated, a portion of the homily was interpolated in two pseudo-Chrysostomic texts (In sanctam Christi resurrectionem [CPG 3773, under the name of Epiphanius] and In ascensionem Domini [CPG 4533]). There is also a fragment of the homily in Greek, which is attributed to Melito of Sardes. Therefore, many scholars (including Tito Orlandi) have argued that the true author is actually Melito.


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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8 Responses to Guest Post: Anthony Alcock – Homily on Soul and Body by Athanasius of Alexandria

  1. « Coptic », « Syriac », « Crum »… May I have, Dr Suciu, a (stupid) question for all of you ? Around 1907, our Dear Walter Ewing Crum said that in his own opinion, no Coptic text was translated from Syriac (« M. Crum, le distingué coptisant anglais, a bien voulu nous faire savoir qu’a sa connaissance aucun texte copte n’est traduit directement du syriaque. ») (¹) ; more than a hundred years later, what about this claim ?


    • Alin Suciu says:

      Dear Richard,
      It seems that Crum made that statement in 1907. Since then, it is assumed that at least some of the Coptic Manichaean texts were translated from Syriac. There are also a few other cases. For example, I have found the Coptic version of a metrical homily by Jacob of Sarug, which was written in Syriac. I am still not completely sure if the Coptic is based on the Syriac or on a lost Greek intermediary, but until now everything seems to suggest that it is a translation from Syriac.
      Be that as it may, all these are peculiar cases and sometimes quite problematic.

      • What do you think of e. g. « Gospel of Philip » (p. 57, pl. 103, l. 23-26), “pneuma”, neuter in Greek, feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic : « Some say that Mariam was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. They are confused, they know not what they say. Whenever has a female been impregnated by a female ? » ? Dr Simon Gathercole – private mail – answered me that all (I guess he thinks : all of old and ancient) Apocryphal and Gnostic texts were written in Greek, not Aramaic.

      • Alin Suciu says:

        The hypothesis you mention has been suggested concerning the Gospel of Philip, but I do not think that it was translated from Syriac. Why not written by a Syrian in Greek? The same topos, i.e. the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit, appears also in the pseudo-Macarian homilies. Or, their original language is undoubtedly Greek. Many Patristic scholars speculated that this is an important details which indicates that they were written in Syria (but not in Syriac!).
        As to the Nag Hammadi texts, I think they were all written in Greek, although I agree that Coptic originals for some of them cannot be excluded a priori.

    • Alin Suciu says:

      P.S. It is not a stupid question at all. The whole issue is still obscure and it interests me very much.

      • So… except a very specific field – Manichaean texts – and maybe some very late texts, nothing new since Crum’s assertion. And when an Aramaic approach is suspected somewhere, the answer is « They thought in Syriac, but they wrote in Greek. »… 😉

      • Alin Suciu says:

        Yes, I think you are right. It would be interesting if someone would address in a paper the issue of the Coptic translation from Syriac. Unfortunately, we have very few Coptologists who could also read Syriac.

  2. [OULOGOS…PSWMA], « A discourse delivered by the Patriarch Saint Athanasius,the Archbishop of Alexandria, about the Soul and the Body » : the difference between Anthony Alcock and a certain 😉 Alin Suciu is that the latter doesn’t forget the word « APA » when refering to Saint Athanasius (¹)…


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