An Ascetic Fragment from Montserrat: Aphorisms of Paul of Tamma and Anoup

In the latest issue of the Journal of Coptic Studies, Sofía Torallas Tovar (University of Chicago) brings to our attention an unidentified Sahidic parchment fragment currently kept in the Montserrat Abbey, situated near Barcelona (P. Monts. Roca inv. no. 735).[1] The fragment used to be in the possession of Father Ramón Roca-Puig, a monk of the Montserrat Abbey, who left his collection of manuscripts to the monastery after his death in 2001.

P. Monts. Roca inv. no. 735 belonged to a miniature codex (5 cm in height x 5.8 cm in breadth). Although the fragment is paginated 35-36, the signature ⲓⲉ (= 15) on the upper right corner of the verso shows that this was the last leaf of the 15th quire. Codicologically, this indicates that the scribe started anew the pagination of the manuscript, but numbered consecutively the quires. Discontinuous pagination is a well-documented practice in some Coptic codices.

The fragment seems to contain vestiges of two different texts, separated at the bottom of the recto by a title which is partly difficult to read, “The commandments of our beloved Father Apa Anoup (?) of ???. In peace, Amen.” As the content of the fragment has not been identified, it is not clear if the title represents the subscriptio of the first text or rather the superscriptio of the second. In her article, Sofía proposes that the texts could either belong to some Christian oracles (sortes sanctorum) or to the Apophthegmata Patrum. While the first possibility should be excluded from the outset in light of the aforementioned title, the second proposal seems, at first sight, bolstered by the ascetic character of the texts.

  1. The First Text

However, it appears that the first writing can be identified with paragraphs 23-25 of On humility by Paul of Tamma, a Middle Egyptian monk of the late 4th or early 5th centuries.[2]  This ascetic text has been attested until now in a single Sahidic manuscript, which came from the library of the White Monastery (MONB.GU). Here is the parallel:

1As we can see, the most significant difference between the two texts is that the Montserrat fragment omits the long quotation from Joel 3:17-21. Furthermore, On humility continues with other sayings in the White Monastery manuscript MONB.GU, while the Montserrat fragment stops here.

Does this show that it is not the same text? Actually, a similar thing happens with another writing of Paul of Tamma, On the Cell. This text has 126 paragraphs in the White Monastery codex MONB.GU, but only 102 in Michigan MS 166, which is a small-format codex similar to the one to which the Montserrat fragment originally belonged. My hypothesis is that ascetic texts like those of Paul of Tamma were inscribed in small-format manuscripts because, as they are collections of aphorisms, they could be conveniently shortened when the lack of space required, without sacrificing the coherence of the writing.

The Montserrat fragment is the third small-format manuscript which features the writings of Paul of Tamma. The other two are Michigan MS 166 (two texts by Paul, an ascetic Epistle and On the Cell) and British Library Or. 4918(1) (= Crum no. 264) (On the Cell). The latter I have identified in a forthcoming article.[3] All three manuscripts are paleographically datable around 600 CE, which means that Paul of Tamma’s texts were quite popular around that time in Egypt.

2. The Second Text

The second text is harder to identify. As I have already mentioned, the superscription describes it as “The commandments of our beloved Father Apa Anoup (?) of ???.” Sofía Torallas Tovar proposes the reading “Anoup of Nerte,” which is indeed possible but not certain since some of the letters are not clear enough on the photos available. Being the case that the place name “Nerte” is not an attested elsewhere, I would be tempted to read nneri, “of the Cells (Kellia),” but, judging on the visible traces of letters, I do not think this reading is possible either.

Be that as it may, the text has clear literary contacts with Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus, a text which is preserved in Arabic, Coptic (Sahidic), Ethiopic (Gǝʿǝz), Georgian, and Greek. Just like the writings of Paul of Tamma, the Sermo asceticus contains precepts of an ascetic teacher to his “son,” written in the style of gnomic literature.

A sentence of Apa Anoup in the Montserrat fragment resembles much the Sahidic text of Sermo asceticus 46:

2What is more, what follows after this may be a direct quotation from Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus 66:

3Leaving aside the variae lectiones, the two texts seem to me very close. If Anoup refers indeed to Stephen of Thebes, then this is the first quotation that we have from the Sermo asceticus.

These are only some preliminary thoughts, but there is definitely more to do with the Montserrat fragment. I am grateful to Sofía for bringing to light this very interesting piece.

[1] S. Torallas Tovar, “A New Sahidic Coptic Fragment: Sortes Sanctorum or Apophthegmata Patrum?,” Journal of Coptic Studies 17 (2015) 153-164.

[2] Edited and translated into Italian in T. Orlandi, Paolo di Tamma. Opere (Corpus dei Manoscritti Copti Letterari; Rome: C.I.M., 1988) 126-133.

[3] A. Suciu, “Sitting in the Cell: The Development of the Ascetic Praxis in Paul of Tamma’s Writings and the Monastic Literature of Lower Egypt. With an Edition of a Hitherto Unknown Miniature Manuscript of De Cella,” forthcoming in Journal of Theological Studies.


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 Ascetic Authors, Paul of Tamma, Stephen of Thebes and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An Ascetic Fragment from Montserrat: Aphorisms of Paul of Tamma and Anoup

  1. Muhammady Fathy says:

    Dear Dr. Alin Suciu

    I need the Coptic text of “Apophthegmata partum”, please, how can I get this?

    specially this book:

    Wilhelm Bousset, Apophthegmata: Studien zur Geschichte des ?ltesten M?nchtums, Tubengen

    Mr. Muhammady Fathy Muhammed Abdelnaby Assistant Lecturer- Department of Egyptology Coptic (Language) Faculty of Archaeology-Cairo University Giza 12613 Egypt

    ________________________________ من: Alin Suciu ‏‏تم الإرسال: 26 فبراير, 2016 03:19 م إلى: Muhammady Fathy ‏‏الموضوع: [New post] An Ascetic Fragment from Montserrat: Aphorisms of Paul of Tamma and Anoup

    Alin Suciu posted: “In the latest issue of the Journal of Coptic Studies, Sof?a Torallas Tovar (University of Chicago) brings to our attention an unidentified Sahidic parchment fragment currently kept in the Montserrat Abbey, situated near Barcelona (P. Monts. Roca inv. no. “

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