The incipit of Ps.-Theophilus of Alexandria’s Sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief on a Sahidic Paper Fragment from Ṭihnā al-Ǧabal

I returned from the 11th International Congress of Coptic Studies, which took place July 25-30 in Claremont, California, with many books and off-prints from colleagues and friends.

Among these, there is also a recent catalogue of the Coptic manuscripts in the collection of the Jesuits in Cairo, which I received from Mr. Nabil Farouk Fayez.[1] I have also contributed to this catalogue with the edition and translation of a late Sahidic monastic letter (no. 46), which I prepared together with Fr. Philippe Luisier from Rome.

The catalogue comprises mostly Bohairic and Arabic manuscripts, but there are also a few Sahidic among them. One item caught my eye in particular: under no. 41 (inventory number 520/4. Ms Copt. B 18), Fayez and Masson have described an incomplete Sahidic paper leaf from Ṭihnā al-Ǧabal, which they have tentatively dated to the 18th-19th centuries. I am not sure what arguments they had in mind, but this dating seems to me difficult to accept, as it is almost impossible to imagine that Copts still copied Sahidic manuscripts at such a late date. If I were to venture a guess, I would rather suggest a 12th or 13th century CE dating.

FullSizeRenderGiven that the annunciation is mentioned, the piece seems to be either a hymn to the Virgin Mary, or to the archangel Gabriel. As the text begins with a capital alpha, it may belong to an acrostic hymn. On the upper right margin of the recto, there is a brief scribal note which reads, “Apa Theophilus the Archbishop: The Sun of Justice.” One may recognize here the incipit of a sermon on the Cross and the Good Thief (CPG 2622; clavis coptica 0395), which has survived under the name of Theophilus of Alexandria. This patristic text is preserved exclusively in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic. I edited this version a few years ago according to the four manuscripts currently known in the journal Zeitschrift für antikes Christentum.[2] Here is the beginning of this work according to my translation: “The Sun of Justice has appeared from out of the Eastern places, lightening those who are in the darkness and the shadow of death.”

Although the length of the text is insignificant, I think this brief scribal note shows us that Ps.-Theophilus’s sermon on the Cross and the Thief circulated in Sahidic until very late.

[1] N.F. Fayez – J. Masson, S.J. “Catalogue des manuscrits coptes des Pères jésuites au Caire,” Bulletin de la Société de la Société d’archéologie copte 54 (2015) 59-150.

[2] A. Suciu, “Ps.-Theophili Alexandrini Sermo de Cruce et Latrone. Edition of Pierpont Morgan M595 with Parallels and Translation,” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum – Journal of Ancient Christianity 16 (2012) 181-225.


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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