Open Position: directeur d’études “Gnose et manichéisme,” EPHE (section Sciences religieuses)


Deadline: March 10

Details HERE (scroll down, DE n° 5184).

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Note on the Word “Scriptorium” in Coptic Sources

If you are not yet familiar with Carrie Schroeder and Amir Zeldes’ “Coptic Scriptorium” you should visit the new website of this important Coptological project. The platform has recently received a lovely new design.

10615448_10152536511511621_8951231104159969868_nAs you can see in the photo above, the header of the website contains on the right-hand side the title of the project, “Coptic Scriptorium,” while on the opposite side features what is supposed to be the Coptic Sahidic word for “scriptorium,” PMA NTMNTSHAI. While this syntagm is grammatically correct, it has one problem: it is not attested in any original Coptic document. But did Coptic have a word or formula to designate the place within the monastery where the manuscripts were copied by the scribes? Crum does not mention such a term in his dictionary and I am not aware of any other study that would tackle the problem. However, I think there are at least two possible occurrences of some such syntagm in Coptic documents. As the sources are rather meager, the question deserves to be addressed here.

Until recently, I did not find the problem very relevant. I thought that the existence of Coptic monastic scriptoria is self-evident and I did not try to find out how the Copts actually called the place where the professional copyists produced books. However, some months ago I received a message from a Jerusalem-based colleague, who works on monastic scriptoria in late antique and early medieval eastern Mediterranean area. I understood that she intends to argue in a paper that there is no evidence whatsoever in Coptic, Syriac and Greek sources that ancient monasteries dedicated a special place for the manufacture of manuscripts. The codices were rather inscribed by monks in their private cells. Therefore, she found it interesting that in one of my articles I referred to a colophon of a Sahidic manuscript that would mention a scriptorium.

I confess that, although I was initially puzzled by the hypothesis that ancient monasteries did not have scriptoria, I began to pay more attention to it when I realized that the evidence is indeed poor. This does not mean, however, that I agree with my colleague. I do not know if scriptoria are mentioned in Greek and Syriac sources, but I am confident that the colophons of at least two Sahidic codices from the Monastery of Shenoute seem to contain references to such a place. Both of them are available in Arnold van Lantschoot, Recueil des colophons des manuscrits chrétiens d’Égypte, Bibliothèque du Muséon 1, Louvain 1929. Here they are:

  • Van Lantschoot, Colophons, 127-131 (= no. LXXVII). This colophon has survived on two fragments in the National Library in Paris, BnF Copte 1317, f. 35v and BnF Copte 1321, f. 66. The scribe of the manuscript was a certain Raphael, who says that he completed the transcription on Paone 12, 807 Diocletian Era, 486 Era of the Saracens (= June 6, 1091 CE), “while my brother, the deacon Matthew, was with me in the scriptorium” (TBIBLIOTHYKE [sic!] NTMNTGRAPHEUS), literally, “library of copyist-ship.” While it is true that the meaning of the phrase is not immediately obvious, I think we can be quite confident that Raphael refers to the place where the professional scribes carried their work.
  • Van Lantschoot, Colophons, 153-155 (= no. XCI). This is the colophon of IFAO 1 (CMCL siglum, MONB.XH), a White Monastery manuscript containing works of Shenoute. It can tentatively be dated on paleographical grounds to the late seventh-early eighth centuries CE. The scribe mentions that the transcription was completed while Apa Peter was in charge of “the house of the scribes” (PHI NNGALIOGRAPHOS [sic!]).

Now, I imagine that “the house of the scribes” designates, in a way or another, the scriptorium. We know that, just like in the Pachomian monasteries, the monks of the White Monastery were organized according to their crafts in separate houses led by a housemaster, in which they lived and probably also exercised their skills. The colophon of MONB.XH is of special importance as it supplies evidence that the scribes of the Monastery of Shenoute had their own house. In conclusion, “the house of the scribes” which features in the colophon of IFAO 1 designates the place where the scribes lived and which in all likelihood served also as scriptorium.

To the best of my knowledge, these are the only attestations in Coptic documents of what seems to be a scriptorium. The fact that the same place is designated differently in the two colophons is probably due to the fact that they are separated chronologically by approximately 400 years.

From this point on we can only speculate. It is possible that the BIBLIOTHYKE NTMNTGRAPHEUS is a more appropriate denominator of the scriptorium, being that special room in the “house of the scribes” where the professional copyists worked and probably kept the books used as models for the newly inscribed manuscripts.

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International Summer School “The Coptic Bible and Coptic Literature in the Digital Age” (Göttingen/Hamburg, July 20 – August 1, 2015)

Egyptian Christianity has left a wealth of textual and non-textual sources which are of great interest to a number of stakeholder groups, Coptic scholars, biblical scholars and church historians, scholars of Late Antiquity, Egyptologists, scholars of Islam and last but not least, the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church itself. Unfortunately, due to historical circumstances, the literary heritage of Egyptian Christianity, including the Bible in Coptic, has been fragmented and is still today inadequately researched. However, the recent progress in Digital Humanities methods and tools has introduced a paradigm shift into the field. A number of new digital projects have sprung up internationally, dedicated to various areas of the Coptic heritage.

K 9075 RectoVerso MONB.JUThe Institute for Egyptology and Coptic Studies at the University of Göttingen and the Corpus of Coptic Literary Manuscripts (CMCL) at the Hiob-Ludolf-Institute for Ethiopian Studies, University of Hamburg, will be offering a two-week summer school “The Coptic Bible and Coptic Literature in the Digital Age”. The summer school will focus on cataloguing and editing Coptic manuscripts – Biblical and literary – using both traditional scholarly techniques and new methods in the Digital Humanities (DH).

The Summer School is associated with two major projects, the ”Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament“ in Göttingen and the “Corpus of Coptic Literary Manuscripts (CMCL)” in Hamburg, and will profit from the expertise of the staff members as well as that of international experts.

Main instructors in Göttingen:

Prof. Nathalie Bosson (Coptic Bible, textual criticism)

Prof. Heike Behlmer (Coptic language, reception history of the Bible)

Dr. Frank Feder (Coptic Bible, textual criticism)

Prof. Ulrich B. Schmid (DH), Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities Staff

Main instructors in Hamburg:

Prof. Paola Buzi (Coptic manuscript studies, DH)

Prof. Tito Orlandi (Coptic literature, DH)

Dr. Alin Suciu (Coptic manuscript studies, Coptic literature)

The programme will include study visits to the Göttingen Greek Septuagint Project, the Coptic-Orthodox Monastery at Höxter (near Göttingen) and the Hamburg State and University Library.

The summer school is open to graduate students (B.A. completed), doctoral students and postdocs in the areas of Coptic Studies and Biblical Studies as well as Oriental Christianities, Church History, Egyptology, DH/Historical Linguistics and related fields. Previous knowledge of Coptic is desirable, however, Coptic language instruction will be offered during the entire summer school at both beginning/intermediate and advanced levels.

There are no tuition fees. Financial aid is available. Amounts will be depending on the outcome of a current funding application and will be announced as soon as possible.

Please direct your applications (cover letter, CV) by February 28, 2015 to: Dr Alin Suciu asuciu at uni-goettingen dot de. He will be happy to answer any questions you may have prior to this date.

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Two Positions Available in the Project “Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament” (Göttingen Academy of Sciences)

Akademie Göttingen

The new project “Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament” at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences has two positions available. Please find the advertisement (closing date: January 20, 2015) here: (German) (English)

You must click on the link which appears in the right-hand column.

Fg.IsaïeSohagcouvblancBelow is the description of the job in English:

 The Göttingen Academy of Sciences has two job openings for the long-term project

Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament

These are two-year fixed term positions starting at the earliest possible date on or after February 1, 2015. An extension of the contract beyond the initial two-year term may be available. The project (planned completion date: December 31, 2036) is based in Göttingen. Both positions can be filled either full-time (100%) or part-time (50%) on the public service scale TV-L E 13. For a full-time appointment a completed Ph.D. is required.

The appointees will be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Collection and catalogisation of Coptic manuscripts of the Old Testament in an online database
  • Transcription and analysis of the manuscript texts to create a digital edition
  • Comparison and analysis of the textual tradition for the production of a critical edition of the individual books of the Coptic Old Testament
  • Translation of the Coptic text of the edition into English or German

Requirements are specifically:

  • Ph.D. or M.A. (or equivalent) in the areas of Coptic Studies, Theology/Religious Studies, Egyptology, Christian Oriental Studies, Byzantine Studies or related fields. Opportunities for training and the pursuit of further academic qualifications (e.g. a Ph.D.) are available.
  • A solid knowledge of Coptic language and literature and of the history and culture of Christian Egypt. Additional expertise and experience – especially in the areas of Philology/Editions and Manuscript Studies, Digital Humanities (digital editions, data analysis and visualisation), Corpus Linguistics, Biblical Studies / Religious Studies / Theology / Church History, Christian Near Eastern and Byzantine Studies, Arabic and Islamic Studies – are particularly welcome.

Candidates are expected to have:

  • Willingness and ability to quickly familiarise themselves with the textual culture and history of the Coptic Old Testament
  • Familiarity with modern databases and online research and the willingness and ability to be trained in the use of a variety of Digital Humanities tools and methods
  • Language skills (other than Coptic) in Ancient Greek and modern foreign languages (relevant for the project are a reading knowledge of German and French). Other language skills, in particular in Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Syriac or Ethiopic (Ge’ez), are helpful.
  • Excellent time management and good teamwork skills

The Göttingen Academy of Sciences is an equal opportunity employer. In case of identical qualifications applicants with disabilities will be considered on a preferential basis. A shared appointment will be considered.

Closing date: January 20, 2015

Please send your application (cover letter, CV, copies of relevant diplomas, publication list, if applicable) – in electronic form – to:

Institute for Egyptology and Coptic Studies, University of Göttingen (

Professor Heike Behlmer ( is available to answer any enquiries about the project.

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Panel on Early Christian Literature Preserved in Classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez)

conference2015I got the following announcement from Timothy B. Sailors.

As part of the 19th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, to be held from 24-28 August, 2015, at the University of Warsaw, Poland, a panel on ‘Early Christian Literature Preserved in Classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez)’ is being organized by Timothy B. Sailors (Tübingen).

The description of the panel from the call for papers is as follows:

One of the more important sources for the study of early Christian literature are the versions of these writings preserved in Classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez). This panel will provide the opportunity to focus upon the all too often under-appreciated Ge’ez versions of these works of literature originally composed in the first several Christian centuries. These include books that would come to be part of the Christian Bible, writings categorized among the so-called ‘Apostolic Fathers’ or ‘Apologists’ or ‘Church Fathers’ and so-called early Christian ‘Apocrypha’, consisting, for example, of apocalypses, acts of apostles and testaments. Moreover, many of the ancient church orders from this era are importantly preserved in Ge’ez versions, as are other writings of a monastic, didactic or legendary nature.

Some writings from this period are preserved exclusively in Ge’ez, while others are also extant – at least in part – in Greek or in other ancient translations or versions, and papers offered for this panel may examine the relation of the Ge’ez to these other witnesses.

Proposals are welcome too for contributions that investigate the historical, religious and cultural settings in which the Ge’ez versions of this literature were produced, transmitted and preserved. Papers may also give attention to the material evidence for these processes by examining codicological or palaeographical aspects of the manuscripts that contain this literature, or by considering extracts from these works in florilegia in Ge’ez. Of interest too might be the immediate literary context within the manuscript tradition, i.e., with which other writings is a work transmitted or combined? Panellists may also ask whether the content of the Ge’ez version itself presents any specific or unique philological, literary, historical or theological features to which one’s attention should be drawn.

The call for papers has been extended and is open until 15 December 2014. Paper proposals must be submitted via the official conference website.

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SBL Coptic Sushi Night

Below is an announcement from Christian Askeland.

On Monday, 24 November, the SBL Coptic illuminati will gather for their annual feast, following the evening session.  (If you are reading this blog, then consider yourself one of the illuminati.)  Christian Askeland will lead interested participants to the venue from the Texts and Traditions in the Second Century session, and Dylan Burns will guide those in the Mysticism, Esotericism and Gnosticism in Antiquity session.

Texts and Traditions in the Second Century

11/24/2014 4:00 PM to 6:15 PM

Room 33 A (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center

Theme: Gospels in the Second Century

Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity

11/24/2014 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM Room: 410 B (Level 4 (Sapphire)) – Hilton Bayfront

Theme: Early Christianity Featuring reviews of Jared Calaway, The Sabbath and the Sanctuary: Access to God in the Letter to the Hebrews and its Priestly Context (Mohr Siebeck, 2013).

All others can show up at the Dragon’s Den restaurant (Asian fusion), where a section has been reserved.  Just ask for the Coptic group.  The reservation is for 7:15, but feel free to show up early.  RSVP’s in the comments section would be appreciated, so that we can confirm the reservation.


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50 % off for 518 Sources Chrétiennes Volumes

sources chretiennesIn the period September 9-December 31, 2014, no less than 518 volumes in the Sources Chrétiennes collection are 50 % cheaper.

More information HERE.

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La Bible grecque des Septante. Cycle de conférences 2014-2015

Ce cycle de conférences internationales permet de réunir ceux qui prennent part à l’entreprise de traduction commentée de la Bible des LXX et tous ceux qui s’intéressent à cette ancienne version juive de la Bible. En France, la collection « La Bible d’Alexandrie » (Éditions du Cerf) est dirigée par Marguerite Harl, Gilles Dorival, Olivier Munnich et Cécile Dogniez. A ce jour, 19 volumes sont parus. Les conférences portent sur la Bible des LXX envisagée sous ses aspects historiques, textuels, littéraires et herméneutiques.


Anna Angelini (Université de Lausanne), L’imaginaire du démoniaque dans les traditions de l’Israël ancien: les cas du bestiaire d’Esaïe dans la Septante
de 16h 30 à 18h 30 (salle D 116)

9 JANVIER 2015

Philippe Le Moigne (Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier), Au-delà du réel : Remarques sur le subjonctif éventuel dans la LXX de l’Octateuque
de 16h 30 à 18h 30 (salle D 116)

6 MARS 2015

Johanna Erzberger (Institut Catholique de Paris), Les termes de la loi dans la Septante de Jérémie
de 16h 30 à 18h 30 (salle D 116)

10 AVRIL 2015

Philippe Hugo (Université de Fribourg), La culpabilité de David et la mise à mort de Joab selon 3 Règnes 2. Contribution à l’histoire du texte et à la caractérisation de David en 2 Sam-1 Rois
de 16h 30 à 18h 30 (salle D 116)

Elles ont lieu le vendredi, de 16h 30 à 18h 30
à la Maison de la Recherche, salle D 116
28, rue Serpente, 75006 Paris

Contacts : ;

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Sources Chrétiennes Lectures 2014-2015

biblindex-séminaire-14-15The Sources Chrétiennes colleagues in Lyon announce the lectures that they will host this academic year. For further information please contact Dr. Smaranda Marculescu-Badilita ( or Dr. Laurence Mellerin (

Programme 2014-2015 du séminaire

Toutes les séances ont lieu de 11h à 13h
dans la salle de documentation au premier étage
de l’Institut des Sources Chrétiennes, 22 rue Sala, 69002 Lyon.


  1. Vendredi 26 septembre 2014 : Christian Boudignon, Nouvelles recherches sur Lucien d’Antioche et la Bible (un cas d’utilisation de Biblindex).
  2. Vendredi 17 octobre 2014 : Présentation des travaux des étudiants du Master de Théologie et de Patristique.
  3. Vendredi 14 novembre 2014 : Bernard Meunier, Les citations bibliques dans l’In Ioannem de Cyrille d’Alexandrie.
  4. Vendredi 12 décembre 2014 : Michel Dujarier, Le corpus biblique du « Christ frère » dans l’exégèse patristique grecque, latine, syriaque et copte.
  5. Vendredi 16 janvier 2015 : Katell Berthelot, Autour de la question de l’identification des citations bibliques à partir du cas du corpus de Qumrân (points méthodologiques).
  6. Vendredi, 6 février 2015, Frédéric Chapot, La Bible de Tertullien.
  7. Vendredi 6 mars 2015 : Marie Gabrielle Guérard, Lectures des livres historiques de l’Ancien Testament dans les écrits de Nil d’Ancyre.
  8. Vendredi 10 avril 2015 : Pierluigi Lanfranchi, Ézéchiel le Tragique et la Bible.
  9. Vendredi 29 mai 2015 : Jérémy Delmulle, Lire la Bible en Gaule à la fin de l’Antiquité.
  10. Vendredi 12 juin 2015 : Marie Formarier, Les citations bibliques dans les exempla cisterciens (XIIe-XIIIe).
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Guest Post: Stephen Emmel – The Codicology of the New Coptic (Lycopolitan) Gospel of John Fragment (and Its Relevance for Assessing the Genuineness of the Recently Published Coptic “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Fragment)

Stephen Emmel earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1993 (department of religious studies, program in the study of ancient Christianity). His doctoral dissertation, “Shenoute’s Literary Corpus” (published in 2004), laid the groundwork for his current main research preoccupation, which is an international collaborative project to publish the writings of the ancient Coptic monastic leader Shenoute the Archimandrite (ca. 347–465). In 1996 Emmel was appointed professor of Coptology at the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology at the University of Münster in Germany. During the academic year 2010–11 he was on leave of absence from the University of Münster in order to serve as the first full-time professor of Coptology at the American University in Cairo. (Source: Wikipedia)

Some weeks ago, Christian Askeland discovered a crucial piece of evidence that must now necessarily be the basis for any scientifically founded opinion as to the genuineness of the Coptic papyrus fragment called the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The new evidence is a second papyrus fragment from the same source, with a part of the Gospel of John in one of the “Lycopolitan” dialects of Coptic. Because the text of the John fragment is known from Herbert Thompson’s 1924 edition of the fourth-century “Qau codex” (a few minor textual variants notwithstanding), and because the John fragment appears to have belonged to a codex leaf, it is possible to calculate hypothetically the approximate reconstructed dimensions of the complete leaf.

Using conservative measurements taken provisionally from scaled photographs, and assuming that the codex had only one column of writing on each side, the results of my calculations are as follows (the dimensions are given height × width):

minimally:        44 × 22 cm (and surely no smaller), proportion 0.50

on average:      49 × 25 cm (width quite possibly greater), proportion 0.51

maximally:       54 × 27 cm (width quite likely greater), proportion 0.50

These dimensions, if accurate, would mean that the John fragment represents the tallest papyrus codex yet known. Otherwise, the tallest papyrus codex known to me is a Greek codex, one complete leaf of which survives in the Berlin Papyrussammlung, measuring 40.4 × 21.5 cm. Papyrus codices taller than 35 cm are on the whole rare.

Assuming that the John manuscript was a two-column codex results in dimensions that are even more incredible (height × width):

minimally:        17 × 40 cm (and surely no smaller), proportion 2.35

on average:      20 × 45 cm (width quite possibly greater), proportion 2.25

maximally:       23 × 49 cm (width quite likely greater), proportion 2.13

The widest papyrus codex on record (so far as I know) is a Greek codex with dimensions of 28 × 37 cm (height reconstructed). As of 1977, the papyrologist and codicologist Eric G. Turner knew of only four such papyrus codices that are wider than they are tall. The greater than 2 : 1 proportion (width : height) of the hypothetical two-column John codex is without parallel in Coptic, Greek, and Latin papyrus codicology. The closest proportion recorded by Turner is 1.9 : 1, but the one known example with this proportion is small in size, only 9.8 × 19 cm. Papyrus codices laid out in two columns are in any case rather rare.

Thus the reconstructed John manuscript is either an extraordinarily tall and narrow single-column codex, or it is a short and even more extraordinarily wide two-column codex. If its existence be accepted as a fact, it would appear to deserve to be acknowledged as the tallest (or widest) papyrus codex yet known. Among extant papyrus codices written in Coptic in particular, this hypothetical John codex would stand out as even more extraordinary.

For myself, this codicological analysis of the John fragment strengthens still further the conclusion to be drawn from observations that other scholars have brought forward in recent weeks about its text, orthography, and paleography. I do not see how there can be any room for doubt in anyone’s mind that the John fragment is but the product of a hoax. That this conclusion has implications for judging the genuineness of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment is obvious, and the demonstrable certainty that the John fragment is a fake confirms me in the opinion that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment too is a fake, a product of the same hoax that has brought us a new (but worthless) witness to the dialect-L5 Coptic version of the Gospel of John.

On the other hand, the application of several “hard science” techniques of analysis to both the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of John fragments – namely, radiometric dating and two types of spectroscopy – has resulted in a quantity of useful data, but the interpretation of these data must now be reviewed in light of the exposure of both fragments as having been inscribed only recently. In the hope and expectation that an increasing number of ancient manuscripts will be subjected to such analyses, students of ancient manuscripts need to become at least somewhat familiar with how these analytical techniques work, what kinds of data they produce, how the data are to be interpreted, and – perhaps most importantly – what questions the data might be used to answer.

Finally, as seriously as I take codicology, radiometric dating and spectroscopic analysis of ancient manuscripts, Coptic grammar and orthography – and also the existence of faked Coptic manuscripts – nevertheless, at the end of my paper I offer a somewhat light-hearted bit of food for thought in connection with the question of what might have motivated the person who faked these Coptic papyri.



How Much Text Is Missing from the “Harvard John Fragment”?

What Are the Dimensions of the Harvard John Fragment?

Reconstructing a Complete Codex Leaf from the Harvard John Fragment

Comparison of Reconstructed “Codex H” with Extant Papyrus Codices

An Alternative Reconstruction: A Two-Column Codex H?

No Codicological Reconstruction of H Is Entirely Credible

Conclusions from the Codicological Analysis

The Spectroscopic Studies: A Critique from a Layman

P.S. Yet More Nails for the Coffin?

P.P.S. Was the New Gospel of John Fragment Meant to Be a Joke?


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Genesis 3:15 in the Sahidic Version of Jacob of Serugh’s memrā on the Ascension of Christ

Just recently, I have identified and edited the Sahidic version of Jacob of Serugh’s verse homily on the Ascension of Christ.[1] This text is not only the first attestation of Jacob of Serugh in Coptic, but it may also be the first evidence of a direct translation from Syriac into Coptic, with the exception of some texts discovered in the milieu of the Manicheans of Kellis.

As my article is currently under review, I will not give many details about it. (Later edit, December 2015: the article has now been published as “The Sahidic Version of Jacob of Serugh’s Memrā on the Ascension of Christ,” Le Muséon 128 (2015) 49-83, and can be read HERE.)

However, I will briefly discuss here an interesting feature of the Sahidic version of Jacob’s homily. Remarkably, although the text is translated from Syriac, the Coptic translator adjusted the biblical quotations and allusions in such a way as to conform to the Sahidic version of the Bible. It is well-known that the ancient translations of the Bible are not uniform, but they often contain different readings. These variae lectiones confer originality to each version. Choosing to adapt the Syriac according to the Sahidic Bible, the translator deviated from the original, preferring an adjustment that certainly sounded more familiar to a Coptic audience.

For example, verse 236 (Bedjan p. 819, verse 21) of Jacob’s memrā reads in Syriac ܡܘܬܐ ܘܦܟܝܪ ܐܕܡ ܘܫܪܐ ܓܪܣܐ ܘܦܥܝܥ, “death was bound, Adam was freed, and the serpent was bruised.” Mentioning the bruising of the serpent, Jacob of Serugh refers to the messianic prophecy of Genesis 3:15. This was a widespread patristic exegetical tradition, which saw in this Old Testament passage a reference to Christ, the descendant of Eve who defeated the Devil. There is also an Arabic version of Jacob’s homily on the Ascension, which accurately translates the bruising of the serpent as وأنرضت الافعى. However, the Coptic text is so different that my first impression was that it must be corrupted,

1“and the serpent watched his head.” Luckily, everything became clear when I checked the Sahidic version of Genesis 3:15.

But let’s have a closer look at the text. In order to understand properly the translational option of the Sahidic, one must compare the different versions of the biblical passage envisaged here. Thus, in the Masoretic text of Genesis 3:15, God curses the serpent saying, [הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹ֔אשׁ וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב,[2 “it (i.e. the seed of Eve) will bruise your head, and you will bruise its heel.” The LXX version differs at this point, αὐτός σου τηρήσει κεφαλήν, καὶ σὺ τηρήσεις αὐτοῦ πτέρναν,[3] “he will watch your head, and you will watch his heel.” The fulcrum of the patristic exegesis of 3:15 is the translation of the Hebrew masculine singular pronoun הוּא by αὐτός, which is also masculine singular. However, while in Hebrew the pronoun connects well with the masculine “seed,” in Greek σπέρμα is neuter.[4] This apparent disagreement constitutes the basis for the patristic interpretations of the passage as foretelling Christ’s final victory over the Devil.

More important for the present question, as can be seen above, the LXX (on which the Sahidic version is based) renders the Hebrew verb שׁוּף“to bruise, to trample, to crush” by τηρέω “to guard, to watch.” This refers to the seed of Eve (or to the mysterious masculine personage) watching the serpent’s head in order to bruise it, and to the serpent lying in wait in order to bite man’s heel. Jacob of Serugh knew Genesis 3:15 only according to the Peshitta, which follows closely the Hebrew text, [ܗܼܘܢܕܘܫܪܫܟ.[5 Precisely to this version he referred when he said that the “serpent was bruised (ܦܥܝܥ).”

However, although the Sahidic version of the Genesis rightly translates τηρέω by 1it differs both from the Masoretic text and the LXX because it says, 1,[6] “he shall guard/watch his heel, and you, in your turn, will guard/watch your head.” Thus, in the Sahidic Genesis 3:15 the serpent does not watch to bite man’s heel, but rather watches its own head not to be crushed by man.

Only now it becomes apparent why the Coptic translation of verse 236 reads, “the serpent guarded/watched (roeis) his head”[7] instead of “the serpent was bruised.” This reading does not find support either in the Syriac original of Jacob’s homily or in the Greek LXX, but only in the Sahidic version of Genesis 3:15.

In my article, I discuss whether the translation of the memrā was made by a Copt who knew Syriac or rather by a Syrian who learned Coptic. The peculiar rendering of verse 236 seems to suggest that the translator must be a Copt familiar with the Sahidic Bible. On the other hand, it is not impossible to imagine that the translation was made by a Syrian who anticipated the problems a Coptic audience may have, and adapted it according to the Sahidic text of Genesis. Be that as it may, the Sahidic version of Jacob of Serugh’s memrā raises many questions, some of which I address in my forthcoming article.

[1] Syriac text in P. Bedjan, S. Martyrii, qui et Sahdona quæ supersunt omnia (Paris – Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1902) 808-832. The Syriac text edited by Bedjan has been taken over and translated into English in T. Kollamparampil, Jacob of Sarug’s Homily on the Ascension of Our Lord (Texts from Christian Late Antiquity, 24. The Metrical Homilies of Mar Jacob of Sarug, 21; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010).

[2] R. Kittel, Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1937) 4.

[3] A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes vol. 1 (4th edition; Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1950) 5.

[4] J.L. Ronning, The Curse on the Serpent (Genesis 3:15) in Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics (Ph.D. thesis; Westminster: Glenside, PA: Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997) 14.

[5] Biblia sacra juxta versionem simplicem quæ dicitur Pschitta vol. 1 (Beirut: Typis typographiæ catholicæ, 1951) 4 (in Syriac numerals).

[6] A. Ciasca, Sacrorum Bibliorum fragmenta copto-sahidica Musei Borgiani vol. 1 (Rome: Typis Eiusdem S. Congregationis, 1885) 1; same text published in A. Amélineau, “Fragments de la version thébaine de l’Écriture (Ancien Testament),” Recueil de travaux relatifs à la philologie et à l’archéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes 7(1886) 197-216, at 199.

[7] The Coptic verbs hareh and roeis are synonyms in this context.

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Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Paola Buzi‘s catalogue of the Coptic manuscripts in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has finally been printed. This is a long awaited publication for those interested in Coptic manuscripts in general and in the reconstruction of the White Monastery codices in particular.

acts-of-john1111Although the collection belongs to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the manuscripts are actually hosted at the Staats- und Universitätbibliothek Carl von Ossietzky, Hamburg. They were moved here some decades ago in order to be catalogued under the auspices of the Katalogisierung der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland. Thus, I often had the possibility to consult them in situ. It is an amazing collection of well-preserved parchment folios from the White Monastery.

The book can be purchased online via the publisher’s website. Here is a description of the catalogue:

“This volume is the seventh catalogue of the Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland series dedicated to the collection Coptic manuscripts belonging to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz – Orientabteilung.

The volume contains the analytical description of literary and liturgical manuscripts (Ms. or. fol. 1348–1350, 1605–1610; Ms. or. fol. 3065; Ms. or. oct. 409 and Ms. or. oct. 987) from the well known library of the White Monastery, in Sohag (Upper Egypt), two papyrus documents from Thebes (Ms. or. fol. 2097) and two Old Nubian manuscripts (Ms. or. quart. 1019 and Ms. or. quart. 1020), which are all dated between the fourth and the tenth-eleventh centuries CE.

Since a large part of these manuscripts consists of leaves of dismembered codices, great attention has been devoted to the description of each single codicological unit (that often correspond to one single leaf), and, wherever possible, to the virtual reconstruction of the original codices. Moreover, particular care has been dedicated to applying an extensive codicological description and to the possibly exhaustive listing of secondary literature.”

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The Greek Version of Stephen of Thebes’ Ascetic Rules

The Rules (ʼΕντολαὶ) of Stephen of Thebes have survived in numerous Greek and Old Slavonic manuscripts. As Father Filotheus Bălan (Petru Vodă Monastery, Romania), with whom I often discuss about Patristics, shows in a forthcoming book, the Rules of Stephen are available also in old Romanian manuscripts.

The Greek text was published for the first time in 1913 by K. Dyobounites in the magazine ̔Ιερὸς Σύνδεσμος. However, Dyobounites wrongly attributed this and other texts to another Stephen, namely the Sabaite. It appears that the Greek scholar produced a single manuscript edition, based on a codex from Amorgos Monastery, dated to the 11th century.

This remained for a long time the only available edition of the Rules. However, William R. Veder has edited recently the Old Slavonic version, which features in the so-called Scete Paterikon.[1] This collection of ascetical texts is the translation into Slavonic of the Apophtegmata Patrum. Prof. Veder’s article should appear any moment now in Polata knigopisnaja. I am grateful to him for sharing with me his paper before publication. Veder edited together with the Slavonic version a Greek text different from that published by Dyobounites but, unfortunately, it is not clear to me which manuscripts have been used.

As the Greek original of the Rules of Stephen of Thebes is very difficult to find (Dyobounites’ article is extremely rare in Western libraries), I publish here a tentative edition and translation into English. My edition is partly based on Dyobounites and photographic reproductions of two manuscripts, kindly supplied to me by Father Filotheus Bălan:

Vatopedi 472, ff. 196v-197r (12th century)

Iviron 408, f. 277r-v (15th century)

I should like to make one final remark. It appeared to me a few days ago that rules 4-10 and 14 feature also in the long version of “De octo cogitationibus” attributed to Ephrem (CPG 3975), which was published by Assemani in illo tempore. I append the text of Ps.-Ephrem at the end of my translation. I think this textual witness is as important for establishing the text of Stephen’s Rules as the manuscripts used for the present edition. It is not clear yet what relationship exists between the Rules and Ps.-Ephrem but I find likely that the latter is a heavily interpolated version of a shorter text entitled “De octo cogitationibus” and attributed to the same author (CPG 3956).

N.B. The following numbering of the commands is my own. The two Greek manuscripts I checked do not number them, but give instead a continuous text. On the other hand, in the Slavonic and Romanian manuscripts the commands are numbered from 1 to 12.

Στεφάνου Θηβαίου ἐντολαὶ τοῖς ἀποτασσομένοις[1]

1) Πρῶτον μὲν μὴ ἔχε κοινωνίαν μετὰ γυναικῶν, ἵνα μὴ κατακαῇς εἰς τὸ πῦρ αὐτῶν,

2) μήτε μετὰ μικροῦ παιδίου, ἵνα μὴ ἐμπέσῃς εἰς τὴν παγίδα αὐτοῦ.[2]

3) Μὴ ἔχε κοινωνίαν μετὰ ἀρχόντων τοῦ τόπου.

4) Μὴ ἀγαπήσῃς ἀπέρχεσθαι εἰς τὰς πόλεις, ὅτι καθαρός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου, ἐὰν μὴ ἴδῃ πονηρά.

5) Μὴ πίνε οἶνον εἰς μέθην, ἵνα μὴ ποιήσῃς τὴν καρδίαν σου μαινομένην εἰς τὴν πορνείαν.

6) Μὴ φάγῃς δεύτερον τῆς ἡμέρας χωρὶς ἀνάγκης, ἵνα μὴ παχυνθῇ σου τὸ σῶμα, καὶ παχυνθῶσι σου καὶ τὰ πάθη.

7) Μὴ κλείσῃς τὴν θύραν σου ἐπὶ ξένῳ, ἵνα μὴ ὁ Κύριος κλείσῃ τὴν θύραν αὐτοῦ ἐπί σοι, ὅτι ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖς ἀντιμετρηθήσεταί σου.

8) ʼΕπισκέπου ἀρρώστους, ἵνα ὁ Θεὸς ἐπισκέψηταί σοι.

9) Μὴ πολλὰ κοιμηθῇς, ἀλλ’ αἴτει ἀδιαλείπτως τὴν βοήθειαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἵνα ῥυσθῇς ὥσπερ ὄρνεον ἐκ παγίδος.

10) Μὴ πολυλόγει, ἵνα μὴ ἐμπέσῃς εἰς ψεῦδος.

11) ʼΕπίμενε εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ Θεοῦ, λέγει γὰρ τοὺς δοξάζοντάς με δοξάσω. ταῦτα γὰρ ποιῶν σεαυτὸν σώσεις καὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντάς σου.

12) Διάτριψον ἐν ἁγιασμῷ, μὴ ἐν κόποις πραγματείας, ἵνα πᾶν, ὃ αἰτήσεις, λάβῃς ταχύ.

13) Φεῦγε ὡς καθαρὸς ἀπὸ ἀναθέματος.

14) Μὴ κτήσῃς σεαυτῷ ὑπὲρ τὴν χρείαν σου, ἀλλὰ ζῆσον ἐν βίῳ μετρίῳ.

15) ʼΕργάζου, ἵνα ἔχῃς δοῦναι τοῖς χρείαν ἔχουσιν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ Κυρίῳ ἡμῶν, ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ἀμήν.

Commands of Stephen of Thebes for those who have renounced (the world)

1) First of all, do not have friendship with women so that you do not burn in their fire,

2) nor with little child so that you do not fall in his snare.

3) Do not have friendships with the rulers of the place.

4) Do not be fond to leave for the towns because pure is your eye if you do not see the wicked.

5) Do not drink wine to get drunk (Tobit 4:15), so that you do not make your heart to be maddened by fornication (Revelation 14:8).

6) Do not eat the second time a day unless it is necessary, so that your body does not grow fat and your passions will also grow fat.

7) Do not shut your door to strangers, so that the Lord does not shut his door to you, because by the measure that you measure it will be measured back to you.

8) Take care of the sick so that God too should take care of you.

9) Do not sleep much but ask unceasingly for the help of God that you may be delivered like a bird from the snare.

10) Do not talk much not to fall unto falsehood.

11) Remain in the house of God, for it is said, “Those who honor me, I will honor” (1 Sam 2:30). “By doing these, you will save yourself and those that give heed to you” (1 Tim 4:16).

12) Spend time in holiness not in exhausting labors, so that everything that you ask you will receive right away.

13) Flee from the accursed as a pure one.

14) Do not gather for you more that you need, but live a moderate life.

15) Work, so that you have in order to give to those who need in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom is the glory to the ages, Amen.

 Ps.-Ephrem, De octo cogitationibus (CPG 3975) – Assemani G2, pp. 429-430.

4) Μὴ ἀγαπήσῃς ἀπέρχεσθαι εἰς τὰς πόλεις. Ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἴδῃς πονηρά, ἔση καθαρός.

5) Μὴ πίνε οἶνον εἰς μέθην, ἵνα μὴ ποιήσῃς τὴν καρδίαν σου μαίνεσθαι εἰς τὰς ἡδονάς.

6) Μὴ φάγῃς δεύτερον τῆς ἡμέρας, ἵνα μὴ παχυνθῇ σου τὸ σῶμα, καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ τὰ πάθη.

7) Μὴ κλῄσῃς τὴν θύραν σου ἐπὶ ξένῳ· ὅτι ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρήσεις, ἀντιμετρηθήσεταί σοι.

8) Ἐπισκέπτου τοὺς ἀρρώστους, ἵνα καὶ σὲ ἐπισκέψεται ὁ Θεός.

9) Μὴ πολλὰ κοιμῶ, ἀλλ ‘ αἴτει ἀδιαλείπτως τὴν βοήθειαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἵνα φύγῃς ὥσπερ ὄρνεον ἐκ παγίδος.

10) Μὴ πολυλόγει, ἵνα μὴ ἐμπέσῃς εἰς ψεῦδος.

14) Μὴ κτήσῃς ἑαυτῷ ὑπὲρ τὴν χρείαν σου, ἀλλὰ ζῆσον ἐν βίῳ μετρίῳ.


[1] Same title as Abba Isaiah’s Logos 9 (= Syriac 5).

[2] Cf. Abba Isaiah, Logos 9, 2.

[1] W.R. Veder, “The Works of Stephen of Thebes in Old Slavonic,” forthcoming in Polata knigopisnaja 39 (2013).

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Search for Post-Doctoral Associate in Early Christian Papyrology


Dr. Philip Sellew announces that the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota seeks to hire a recent PhD or ABD to join a team of researchers at Minnesota and Oxford universities on the ‘Ancient Lives’ crowd-sourced papyri transcription project. “Our next step is to focus on developing better search tools and analyzing documentary papyri in Coptic and Greek of interest to historians of early Christianity in Egypt.”

Start date is Fall 2014. Please see the link to the job posting for further details. Inquires and applications may be directed to Prof. Philip Sellew at

Details HERE.

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The Garshuni Manuscript Oxford, Marsh. 465, fol. 255: An Unknown Text of Stephen of Thebes?

While browsing through Payne Smith’s catalogue of the Syriac manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, I came upon an interesting reference to an ascetic text attributed to Stephen of Thebes,[1] which seems to be unknown. The short text features in MS Marsh. 465 (no. 150 of the catalogue), a Garshuni (Arabic written with Syriac characters) codex tentatively dated by Payne Smith to the 16th century.

The Oxford codex contains mainly verse homilies by Isaac of Antioch, but also ascetical writings by various authors. According to Payne Smith’s description, fol. 255 features a brief text by “abbatis Stephani Thebani.” As I am interested in this author (I prepare the editio princeps of the Ethiopic version of his Sermo asceticus), I asked Salam Rassi (Oxford)[2] if he could provide me with a copy of this folio. A few days ago, he kindly sent me the text so I could finally compare it against the other known writings of Stephen of Thebes.

But first of all, who is Stephen of Thebes? Unfortunately, we do not possess any historical information about this author, except that he may have been from Thebes (Upper Egypt), as his name seems to indicate. In any case, it is certain that he and Stephen the Sabaite are not the same person, as his first modern editor, K. I. Dyobouniotis, wrongly asserted.[3] Jon F. Dechow and Enzo Lucchesi have theorized that Stephen could be the one cursorily mentioned by Palladius in Historia Lausiaca 55.3.[4] It also seems reasonable to believe that he is identical to Stephen the Anchorite, whose writings feature in the catalogue of Coptic books in the library of the Monastery of Apa Elias of the Rock.[5] I have also found that a certain Stephen the Anchorite is celebrated on May 7 in the calendar provided by Abū al-Barakāt in his Lamp of Darkness.[6]

Are these one and the same person? I am not sure but be that as it may, it seems to me that Stephen of Thebes must belong to the great generation of Egyptian ascetics of the late 4th or 5th century CE.

As I already pointed out in a recent post, the following writings have survived under Stephen of Thebes’ name:

  1. Sermo asceticus (Greek, Sahidic Coptic, Arabic, Gǝʿǝz, Georgian)
  2. Diataxis (Greek, Slavonic)
  3. Entolai (Greek, Slavonic, Romanian)
  4. On the All-Night Vigils (Slavonic)
  5. Sermon on Penitence (Arabic)
  6. Sermon on Daniel and Moses (Arabic)

Notably, the Oxford text does not correspond to any of these. Although it comprises ascetic gnomai very similar to the Sermo asceticus, Diataxis and the Entolai (Rules), it stands out as a different text.

The manuscript is in Serto characters, but here I give a transcription of the incipit in Estrangela, ܐܢ ܐܢܬ ܫܝܬ ܐܢ ܬܕܟܼܠ ܐܠܚܝܐܗ ܘܬܿܬܿܢܝܚ ܡܥ ܟܿܐܦܗ̈ ܐܠܩܕܝܣܝܢ ܘܝܟܿܬܒ ܐܣܡܟܿ ܦܝ ܣܦܪ ܐܠܚܝܐܗ ܘܬܿܩܣܡ ܦܝ ܩܝܐܡܗ̈ ܐܠܐܛܗܐܪ., (“If you want to enter life and rest with all the saints and write your name in the book of life and have a portion in the resurrection of the pure…”). After the introductory phrase follow eleven commandments, all of them starting with “Do not be called etc” (ܠܐ ܬܟܿܘܢ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ). Here are the first and the last in Garshuni and Arabic transcription:

ܦܠܐ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ ܡܣܬܿܟܿܒܪ ܒܠ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ ܡܬܿܘܐܛܼܥ.

فلا تدعى مستكبر بل تدعى متوطع

“Do not be called arrogant, but be called modest”

ܠܐ ܬܟܿܘܢ ܬܿܕܿܥܝ ܐܠܡܟܼܐܠܦ ܒܠ ܐܠܚܐܦܛܼ ܠܘܨܐܝܐ ܐܠܠܗ.

لا تكون تدعى المخالف بل الحافظ لوصايا الله

“Do not be called offender, but keeper of the commandments of God”

I would not jump to the conclusion, however, that these new Rules of Stephen of Thebes are completely unknown, as it often happens, especially in ascetic literature, that the same text is attributed to more than one author. It is possible, therefore, that these rules survived in some ancient language under a different authorship. For example, this is the case with the Diataxis which, although attributed to Stephen of Thebes in Greek and Old Slavonic, is nothing else than a compilation of extracts from the Logoi 3 and 4 of Isaiah of Scetis.

Here I would simply not that although more research is required before finally attributing the Garshuni rules of the Oxford manuscript to Stephen of Thebes, the first results suggest that this is a new addition to his ascetic corpus.

[1] R. Payne Smith, Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Bodleianae part 6: Codices syriacos, carshunicos, mendaeos, complectens (Oxford: E. Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1864) 484b.

[2] Kudos to Adam McCollum for putting me into contact with him.

[3] This possibility has been convincingly refuted by J. Darrouzès, “Etienne le Thébain,” in Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique vol. 4 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1961) 1525-1526.

[4] J.F. Dechow, Dogma and Mysticism in Early Christianity. Epiphanius of Cyprus and the Legacy of Origen (North American Patristic Society. Patristic Monograph Series, 13; Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1988) 167; E. Lucchesi, “Vers l’identification d’Étienne de Thèbes,” Analecta Bollandiana 116 (1998) 106. Lucchesi revisited his hypothesis later in “Retractatio à propos de l’identification d’Étienne le Thébain,” Analecta Bollandiana 125 (2007) 15-16.

[5] As suggested by Lucchesi, “Retractatio,” 15. This ostracon is preserved on an ostracon which is kept in the French Institute in Cairo (Ostracon IFAO 13315). The text is available in several editions, the latest being that of R.-G. Coquin, “Le catalogue de la bibliothèque du couvent de Saint-Élie ‘du rocher’ (ostracon IFAO 13375),” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 75 (1975) 207-239.

[6] E. Tisserant, Martyrologes et ménologes orientaux. Le calendrier d’Abou’l-Barakât (Patrologia Orientalis, 10/3; Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1913) 27.

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Guest Post: Joost L. Hagen – Possible further proof of forgery: A reading of the text of the Lycopolitan fragment of the Gospel of John, with remarks about suspicious phenomena in the areas of the lacunae and a note about the supposed Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

You can download the PDF version of Joost’s article HERE.


In this post, I share the result of my work preparing for reading the supposed Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the related Lycopolitan fragment of the Gospel of John for the Coptic Reading Group of the DDGLC Project at the University of Leipzig, Germany, on the 29th of April 2014. Most of the work was done on Sunday the 27th, and its starting point was the (re)discovery of the Gospel of John piece and its dependence of the text of the Qau Codex by Christian Askeland that was so widely taken up in the days before. I used the photos of the manuscript and the parallel text presented on the websites of Mark Goodacre (Recto) and Alin Suciu (Verso), as well as some further text of the Qau Codex mentioned to me in subsequent correspondence with Christian Askeland (for line 9 of the Verso).

Pages from SwagerGJWFTIRFinalReportPages from SwagerGJWFTIRFinalReport

My remarks are not meant to be exhaustive but made in order to demonstrate that it is possible to say more about the Lycopolitan Gospel of John fragment than that it was copied from the Qau Codex with only every other line being copied as well as exactly the same line breaks being used. In the damaged areas of the papyrus, strange things seem to be going on, and several of them are highly suggestive of forgery. These facts should be added to the debate about the fragment, not least because they are also relevant for the discussion of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. During the reading of the texts with the group (we only had time for the Recto), my colleague Frederic Krueger came up with a brilliant remark that I and the others considered to be the ultimate ‚smoking gun‘ of this fragment (see below). I would like to thank the participants for listening to and elaborating my arguments, which I hereby present to a wider audience.

Reading and reconstruction of the text

For the following presentation of the text of the Lycopolitan Gospel of John piece, both on the papyrus and not on the papyrus, I took the fragment itself as my point of departure, and not its supposed Vorlage, the Qau Codex, as was done by Alin Suciu, Mark Goodacre and Christian Askeland. From the edition of the Qau Codex, however, I took the words and letters missing on the fragment as it is now, in order to get a better feeling for what a complete original would have looked like.

For the same reason I added notes about the number of letters per line, both on the preserved part and for the reconstructed missing part, giving the presumed total number on the right. I have no further remarks to make about these numbers, except for one important observation that was made independently by Christian Askeland (see below), but thought it only logical to look into the matter in the course of my work. With the one exception, at first glance all of these numbers look quite possible to me, but in light of the additional evidence for forgery to be mentioned below, maybe more could be made of this when someone has a closer look.

I do not pretend my text to be a proper edition of the fragment, nor claim that it is perfect, but within the time and circumstances available to me I hope to have given a faithful rendering of both the text visible on the photos and of the edited text of the Qau Codex, both as presented in the online sources mentioned above. The problems I have with the text are indicated in red, and these parts are then quoted and commented upon in the next paragraph.

Recto_Page_1Recto_Page_2Recto_Page_3Summary and conclusion

In several instances in the areas of the lacunae and of otherwise damaged text, the manuscript fragment of the Lycopolitan Gospel of John, which in its better preserved parts seems to follow the Qau Codex to the letter (except for ebol for abal), seems to deviate from its ‚Vorlage‘.

In several instances, traces of letters do not seem to have the right shape; in four cases (Recto, l. 2, 4 and 5 and Verso, l. 4), there does not seem to be enough space for the number of letters expected; in two cases (Recto, l. 4 and Verso, l. 5) a letter seems to have been accidentally omitted; in one case (Recto, l. 8) several letters of one word seem to have been omitted; in one case (Verso, l. 9) a lacuna is much too long for the text it can be supposed to have contained; finally, in two cases (Recto, l. 5 and Verso, l. 4) it seems apparent that the text was actually written around an already existing gap in the papyrus, rather than the papyrus having been damaged sometime after having been written upon.

Whether all these things are due to the clumsiness of a forger (who apparently could not estimate how many letters fit into a lacuna, and did not pay close enough attention to each and every letter of the ‚Vorlage‘) or were at least partly done on purpose, in order to provide some variation from the text of the Qau Codex, something clearly is wrong with this Gospel of John fragment.

I have nothing to add to the discussion about the related Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, except for the fact that in l. 3 of that text, the way in which the final M of Mariam and the M of mpsha are too close together, reminds me of the things that made me suspicious about the Gospel of John piece in the first place.

Whether or not all of the above remarks can survive further scrutiny by others, things seem to add up to (even more) evidence of forgery…

JOOST L. HAGEN (born 1978 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands) studied Egyptology at the University of Leiden from 1996 to 2003 and was in Münster for the Wintersemester 2004/2005. As from autumn 2005 he is writing his doctoral dissertation about the Coptic texts from Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia: “Multilingualism and cultural change in medieval Nubia”. During the first phases of this research, conducted between 2005 and 2009 at the Leiden Institute CNWS/LIAS, he regularly worked in the Egypt Exploration Society excavation archive in Cambridge and London and in the Coptic and Egyptian Museums in Cairo. SOURCE

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The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Papyrus. Final Considerations

Christian Askeland has recently pointed out that the Gospel of John fragment, allegedly found together with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus, is undoubtedly a modern forgery. His assumption is based on the fact that the text of this fragment, which is written in the Lycopolitan dialect of Coptic (dialect L5, more precisely),[1] follows the edition of the only known manuscript in this idiom (yes, dialect L5 is attested only in one manuscript!), that is, British and Foreign Bible Society MS 137, published by Herbert Thompson in 1924.[2]

Pages from SwagerGJWFTIRFinalReportThe modern forger even followed the same line breaks, although s/he constantly skipped one line in Thompson’s manuscript, wishing to engender a presumption that the fragment belonged to a codex twice the size of the original model. However, it is precisely this detail that makes the forgery plain because it is highly improbable that a manuscript could completely harmonize with its model in such a consistent manner every second line.

Untitled-11As the John fragment and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus stem from the same pen, it is now beyond reasonable doubt that the latter must necessarily also be a hoax. Of course, it is only the latest blow this text has received since September 2012. Numerous other red flags have been raised in between: unconvincing paleography, literary dependency upon the only surviving copy of the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic, the rocambolesque modern history of the fragment, which involves German scholars (all conveniently dead), the whole affair unfolding in a movie-like Cold War scenario.

4785_jesus-wife-papyrus-aap-120922-bGiven that the evidence of the forgery is now overwhelming, I consider the polemic surrounding the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus over. Personally, I am not interested from this point onwards in speculating on who the forger might be and what his/her intentions are. Also, I do not consider Karen King responsible for this affair. As scholar, she has only followed her call and edited a potentially interesting manuscript fragment. She may consider herself cheated, but nothing more. I am sure that many other scholars would have done exactly the same thing in her place.

My involvement in this has always been purely academic. I have been constantly addressing the questions as researcher interested in Coptic, notably in paleography and literature. From this perspective, I suspected the forgery from the very moment I saw this fragment in September 2012 in Rome, a few minutes after Karen King introduced it to us during her presentation. Ever since, my only worry has been that the scholarship might become “infected” by such a forgery. Otherwise, I am not interested in the implications this fragment might have for contemporary Christian beliefs, had it been genuine. As I have been suspicious regarding GJW’s authenticity, I have avoided constant updates about it on this blog, although it is a place devoted primarily to Coptic literature and manuscripts.

I should also stress that I am not a scholar of early Christianity. I feel myself more comfortable with later texts, albeit they are less interesting for most people out there. I am definitely keener to spend time on a newly attested text in Coptic, which adds little but not negligible information to our knowledge of Coptic literature, than on a fragment which creates such a fuss in the media. It’s time for me (and this blog) to go back to less shocking texts.

[1] For the sigla system of Coptic dialects, see R. Kasser, “A Standard System of Sigla for Referring to the Dialects of Coptic,” Journal of Coptic Studies 1 (1990) 141-151. At p. 148, Kasser introduces the dialect L5 and the only known manuscript written in this dialect, namely the John manuscript edited by Thompson (see the following note).

[2] H. Thompson, The Gospel of John according to the Earliest Coptic Manuscript (London, 1924).

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Christian Askeland Finds the “Smoking Gun”

Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, Christian Askeland announces that photos of the Gospel of John fragment, allegedly purchased together with the Gospel of Jesus Wife papyrus, are available here (click on “read the full report”)

Christian remarks that

The shocker here is this.  The fragment contains exactly the same hand, exactly the same ink and has been written with the same writing instrument.  One would assume that it were part of the same writing event, be it modern or ancient. … Actually, if you are a Coptic nerd, there apparently is a bigger shocker…  The text is in Lycopolitan and apparently is a(n exact?) reproduction from the famous Cambridge Qau codex, edited by Herbert Thompson.  What is so shocking about that?  Essentially all specialists believe that Lycopolitan and the other minor dialects died out during or before the sixth century.  Indeed, the forger tried to offer two manuscripts both in Lycopolitan, but made two crucial mistakes.  First, the NHC gospel of Thomas is not a pure Lycopolitan text, but the Qau codex is.  That is we have two clearly different subdialect of Lycopolitan, which agree exactly with published texts.  Second, this GJohn fragment has been 14C dated to the seventh to ninth centuries, a period from which Lycopolitan is totally unknown.

I collated the text of the fragment against Thompson’s edition of the Gospel of John in the Lycopolitan dialect of Coptic and the results can be seen in the photo below (this is the verso of the fragment, which contains John 6:11-14).

Untitled-11This implies that the modern forger (now we can confidently use this word) copied from Thompson’s edition, following the same line divisions. As both this papyrus fragment and the GJW stem from the same pen, the latter must also be a forgery. Congratulations to Christian for finally finding the “smoking gun.” Although to many of us the forgery has always been obvious, now we can finally say ‘Case closed”!

P.S. I repeat here, just for the sake of clarity: genuine blank papyrus fragments have been purchased and used for these blatant forgeries.

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The Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus

My current projects include the editio princeps of the Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus, which is preserved in an unicum, namely EMML 4493, ff. 103r-105r (dated 1528 CE). Stephen is one of the most mysterious Egyptian ascetical writers, because our sources seem to lack any biographical information about him. Although Stephen of Thebes remains shrouded in mystery, the numerous versions of his writings attest to the wide diffusion this ascetic writer once enjoyed.

The first who attempted a reconstruction of the ascetic corpus attributed to Stephen was Jean Darrouzès in 1961.[1] Darrouzès remarked that the Greek manuscripts attribute to Stephen three writings: the Sermo asceticus, a Diataxis and a series of brief monastic Entolai. It has already been remarked that the Diataxis is nothing else than a compilation from Logoi 3 and 4 of Abba Isaiah of Scetis.[2] For his part, William Veder pointed out that the Old Slavonic tradition does not feature the Sermo asceticus but, besides the Diataxis and the Entolai, attributes to Stephen a brief work titled On the All-Night Vigils (о бъдѣнхъ вьсенощьнꙑхъ).[3] A homily on penitence (incipit: قال اسمعوا ما اقول لكم يا اخوتى واولادى الاحبا الشعب المسيحى المحاضرين فى هذة البيعة المقدسة نصرانى يخالف وصايا اللة ويمشى فى طريق الشيطان ليس هو نصرانى) and [4] is attributed to Stephen in Arabic.

Thus, the following works have been preserved in various languages under Stephen of Thebes’ name:

  1. Sermo asceticus (Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Gǝʿǝz, Georgian)
  2. Diataxis (Greek, Slavonic)
  3. Entolai (Greek, Slavonic)
  4. On the All-Night Vigils (Slavonic only)
  5. Sermon on Penitence (Arabic only)
  6. Sermon on Daniel and Moses (Arabic only)

Undoubtedly, the most important of these writings is the Sermo asceticus. Between 1964 and 1970, three versions of this text appeared. Thus, Jean-Marie Sauget published in 1964 the Arabic version.[5] Five years later, Édouard des Places edited the original Greek text of the Sermo asceticus.[6] Finally, Gérard Garitte edited the Georgian text of the same sermon in 1970.[7]

Portions of a fragmentary Sahidic version have been published by Tito Orlandi, but they have been wrongly attributed to Paul of Tamma.[8] Only later Enzo Lucchesi has identified correctly the text and attributed the fragments in question to their real author.[9]

There are other Coptic Sahidic fragments of this text. They will all be mentioned in my forthcoming article. Until then, here is an excerpt from the draft version of the edition and translation of the Gǝʿǝz version, which has previously been unknown.

If you don’t see properly the Ethiopic text, you probably must install THESE FONTS on your computer. Or, alternatively, you can download the text HERE as PDF.


Stephanus Thebanus, Sermo asceticus – versio aethiopica

በስመ፡ አበ፡ ወወልድ፡ ወመንፈስ፡ ቅዱስ፡ ፩አምላክ። ንወጥን፡ በረድኤተ፡ እግዚአብሔር፡ ወንጽሕፍ፡ ሐዳጠ፡ እመብዙኅ፡ እምቃለተ፡ አቡነ፡ ብዙ.፡ እስጢፋኖስ፡ ዘሀገረ፡ ተባይሲ፡ በእንተ፡ ሥርዓተ፡ ምንኵስና፡ ወመድኀኒተ፡ ነፍስ፡ ዶሠቲ፡ ወበረካቲ፡ ተሀሉ፡ ምስለ፡ ገብሩ፡ ለዓለመ፡ ዓለም፡ አሜን።

In the name of the Father, athe Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. We begin through the help of the Lord to write the words of Father Éstifanos of the Land of Täbaysi on the order of the monastic life. May the Redeemer of the soul be with his servant forever and ever, amen.

1. ወይእዘኒ፡ ወልድየ፡ መቅድመ፡ ኵሉ፡ ግብር፡ ክሐድ፡ ዓለመ፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምሀግርከ፡ ወእምኣዝማዲከ፡ ወእምነ፡ ኵሉ፡ ግብር፡ ዘይመጽእ፡ ላዕሌከ፡ ትካዘ፡ ዝንቱ፡ ዓለም፡ ከመ፡ ትርእይ፡ ግብረ፡ ዘኅቡእ።

Now, my son, above all matters, renounce the world and stay away from your homeland and relatives (Gen 12:1), and from all matters that will come upon you, the troubles of this world, in order to see the hidden things.

2. ወቅላእ፡ ግላ፡ እምልብከ፡ ወርሐቅ፡ እምተዐውር፡ ወርስዓት፡ ከመ፡ ትርእይ፡ ዝኢየስተርኢ፡ ኩን።

Remove the veil from your heart, and stay away from negligence and godlessness in order to see the invisible (2. Cor 3:12-18).

3. ዓቃቢሃ፡ ለልብከ፡ ከመ፡ ታእመር፡ ዘየኀድር፡ ውስቴትከ፡ እስመ፡ ዐቂበ፡ ልብሰ፡ ለፍጹማን፡ ይእቲ፡ እለ፡ ይፈልጡ፡ እኩየ፡ እምነ፡ ሠናይ።

Continue reading

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Coptic Faces

Over at Manuscripts and Microfilm blog, I’ve read a nice post about a Greek manuscript in Istanbul (Patriarchate Library, Panagia Kamariotissa, ms. 5 – 10th century; contains homilies of John Chrysostom), in which the blogger “found a delightful illustrated note left by a monk called Ignatios from the early 17th century.”

Then follows the photos of the illustrated note. The author remarks:

“The best thing about Ignatios’ note is probably the accompanying portrait in which a bearded man (a monk, likely) stretches out his left hand at the text. Ignatios (or perhaps someone else) did two little test drawings of a face and a hand. I think it’s not unfair to say that the faces turned out a little better than the hands. 🙂

You should definitely check out the portrait made by this 17th century Greek maestro. It’s truly a masterpiece. But other grandi maestri preceded Ignatios by many hundreds of years (600 or 700). Below are only two examples which I found in Coptic (Sahidic) manuscripts. I admit, the choices are purely personal.

f7.highresI read on the web many conspiratorial theories according to which Coptic manuscripts speak about the existence of UFOs. Above is the evidence that these theories are correct.

I.1.b.655 verso Lantschoot no. LVIII

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