Coptic  Versions  of  the  Bible


                     The Coptic language is now recognized in four principal dialects, Bohairic
                     (formerly Memphitic), Fayumic, Sahidic (formerly Theban), and Akhmimic. The
                     relative antiquity of these as literary idioms is much debated. But the fact is that
                     no Bohairic manuscript and probably no Fayumic manuscript is older than the
                     ninth century, while some Sahidic and Akhimimic codices are apparently as old
                     as the fifth and even the fourth century. In the ninth century Bohairic was
                     flourishing, in Northern Egypt, particularly in the Province of Bohairah (hence its
                     name) south-west of Alexandria and in the monasteries of the Desert of Nitria,
                     while Sahidic was spread throughout Upper Egypt or Sahid (hence the name of
                     Sahidic) inclusive of Cairo, having already superseded Fayumic in the Province of
                     Fayum (ancient Crocodilopolis) and Akhmimic in the region of Akhmim (ancient
                     Panopolis). Later (eleventh century?) when the Patriarch of Alexandria moved his
                     residence from that city to Cairo, Bohairic began to drive out Sahidic and soon
                     became the liturgical language of the Copts throughout Egypt.


                     There are versions of the Bible in all four dialects. All of them are now
                     incomplete, but there is hardly any reason to doubt that they once existed in
                     their entirety. It is now considered certain that they were made independently
                     and that their differences are to be traced to a difference between the Greek
                     recensions from which they were translated. There is much discussion between
                     specialists as to the age of the Coptic versions, especially as to which of them
                     was made first. The present writer in his "Étude sur les versions coptes de la
                     Bible" (Revue biblique, 1897, p. 67) concluded that some Coptic version must
                     have been in existence as early as the end of the second century. On the other
                     side Forbes Robinson (Hastings, "Dict. of the Bible:, IV, 570) does not think that
                     there is sufficient ground for believing that a Coptic version existed before the
                     fourth century (see also Burkitt in Cheyne, "Encycl. Biblica", IV, 5008 seq.).
                     However, in proportion as older manuscripts are discovered, and Coptic versions
                     are submitted to closer study, the pendulum of opinion is swinging back to the
                     former view. Leipoldt agrees that the Sahidic version was completed about A.D.
                     350 ("Gesch. der christlichen Literaturen", VII, 2, Leipzig, 1907, p. 139). Dr.
                     Kenyon goes one step further: "If, therefore, we put the origin of the Coptic
                     versions about A.D. 200, we shall be consistent with all extant evidence, and
                     probably shall not be very far wrong" ("Textual Criticism of the New Testament",
                     154, quoted by Budge in "Coptic Biblical Texts", p. LXXXIII). More emphatic still
                     is Horner: "If, with Harnack, relying on Leipoldt we may conjecture, though we
                     cannot prove, that the Sahidic version partly goes back to the third century, there
                     seems some reason for supposing that need of a vernacular version arose as
                     early as the time of Demetrius [A.D. 188]. Where history fails us, the internal
                     character of the Sahidic supplies confirmation of a date earlier than the third
                     century. . .the traces of early mixture shown by the definite tinge of Western
                     influence can hardly be explained except by reference to a date as early as
                     possible. If Christianity did not exist at all in Upper Egypt before A.D. 150, then
                     we must come down to the date of Demetrius as the earliest possible date of the
                     version; but if, as is more likely, the Christian religion had spread by means of
                     the Nile immediately after it began to be preached in Alexandria, and had already
                     become infected by heretical and semi-pagan superstitions in the second
                     century, we may provisionally conclude from the character of the Sahidic version
                     that it was made at that time" ("The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the
                     Southern Dialect", III, Oxford, 1911, p. 398).

                     All agree as to the great value of the Coptic versions. The Sahidic version is
                     especially of importance for the study of the Septuagint, as it was made, it
                     seems from Greek manuscripts free from Hexapla influence. However, the critical
                     value of those versions cannot be fully realized until we have a more
                     comprehensive study of them, based on critical editions as we already have for
                     the New Testament in Boharic and for the Gospels in Sahidic by Horner. The
                     following is a synopsis of the material on hand for the study of the several Coptic
                     versions. (See the writer's "Étude des versions coptes de la Bible" in "Rev. bibl."
                     (1896-7) for a fuller account of the Boharic material and in the case of the other
                     three versions for an account up to that date.

                     The Bohairic Version

                     The only complete books of the Old Testament known to be extant in Bohairic
                     are the Pentateuch, the Prophets with Lamentations, the Psalms, and Job. Of
                     the others we have fragments only, mostly taken from lectionaries. The New
                     Testament is complete. Chief editions: Pentateuch, Wilkins (London, 1731); P.
                     de Lagarde (Leipzig, 1867); Prophets and Lamentations, Tattam, Prophetae
                     majores (Oxford, 1852); Prophetae minores (ibid., 1836); Psalms, Tuki (Rome,
                     1744), Ideler (Berlin, 1837), Schwartze (ibid, 1851); Job, Tattam (London, 1846).
                     The older editions of the New Testament have all been outranked by the recent
                     Oxford edition; "The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Northern
                     Dialect, otherwise called Memphitic or Bohairic", by Geo. Horner (4 vols.
                     Clarendon Press, 1898-1905). The only new manuscript of importance is one of
                     these recently acquired by the late J. P. Morgan of New York. It is supposed to
                     have come from the Monastery of St. Michael in the Fayum as the rest of the
                     collection. It contained once the four Gospels. Many leaves unfortunately are now
                     missing. Still it may prove of considerable value as it is from one to two hundred
                     years older than the oldest known Bohairic manuscript of the Gospels (Bodl.
                     Huntington 17, A.D. 1174).

                     The Sahidic Version

                     Of this version until recently we had almost nothing but fragments, representing
                     several hundred manuscripts, chiefly from the monastery of Amba Shnudah
                     (Shenoute) near Sohag province of Akhmim, generally known as the "White
                     Monastery". The only complete books were those of the Wisdom of Solomon and
                     the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and some of the minor
                     Epistles. Of late, however, this number has been considerably increased, see
                     above. COPTIC LITERATURE, Morgan collection, and British Museum, Recent
                     acquisitions. The most important editions since 1897 (besides those mentioned
                     in the article just referred to) are the following:

                     Old Testament

                     (1) Rahlfs, "Die Berliner Handschrift des sahidischen Psalters" (Abhandlungen
                     der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenchaften, zu Gottingen, philolog.-hist.
                     Klasse, IV, 4), Berlin, 1901. This codex, which Rahlfs ascribes to about A.D.
                     400, contained in the neighbourhood of 129 leaves out of which 98 are still extant
                     in a rather dilapidated condition. The greatest lacuna (about thirty leaves),
                     between leaf 94 and 95, covered Psalms 106-143. Six pages are reproduced in
                     collotype at the end of the book.

                     (2) "A Coptic Palimpsest containing Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Judith, and Esther",
                     by Sir Herbert Thompson (Oxford Univ. Press, London, 1911). This palimpsest is
                     the manuscript Add. 17,183 of the British Museum known already from the
                     descriptions of W. Wright, "Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts in the British
                     Museum", II, 89, no. DCCCXII, and Crum, "Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts
                     of the British Museum", no. 12. Specimens of the script, which can be dated in
                     the seventh century, were published by the present writer in "Album de
                     paleographie copte" (Paris, 1888), pl. VII, 1, and LVI, 1. Some twenty-five folios
                     of the original MS. are now missing, leaving as lacunae: Joshua, ii, 15-iii, 5; x,
                     26-36; xvii, 17-xviii, 6; xix, 50-xx, 1,6; xxii, 14-20; Judges, vii, 2-6, 15-19; viii,
                     11-19; viii, 28-ix, 8; x, 7-14; xvi, 19-xvii, 1; xviii, 8-21; xix, 8-15; xx, 16-23; xx,
                     48-xxi, 6; xxi, 15 end; Ruth, iv, 3-9; Judith, ii, 6-iv, 5; v, 6-14; v, 23-vi, 3; vii, 2-7;
                     vii, 18-21; xvi, 7-xvii, 16; Esther (according to Sweet's Greek edition: A, 11-i,11;
                     ii, 8-15; iii, 13-B, 4; iv, 13-C, 6; D, 9-vi, 5; viii, 2-E, 6; E, 17-viii, 12.

                     (3) "The Coptic (Sahidic) version of certain books of the Old Testament from a
                     Papyrus in the British Museum: by Sir Herbert Thompson (Oxford Univ. Press,
                     London, 1908). This papyrus (British Museum, Or. 5984), once in ordinary book
                     form, now consists of fragments only, preserved in 62 numbered glass frames.
                     Originally it contained the Books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of
                     Canticles, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach). Of Job only xxxviii, 27-xxxix, 12
                     is left. Of Proverbs there are considerable portions from iv, 16 to the end; of
                     Ecclesiastes, likewise from vi, 6 to ix, 6; of Canticle of Canticles, from the
                     beginning to the end; of Wisdom, from the beginning to xix, 8; of Ecclesiasticus
                     from the beginning to xl, 18. The script (illustrated by a plate reproducing
                     Ecclesiasticus Prol., 1-i, 12) is pronounced by Crum (Proc. Of the Soc. of Bibl.
                     Archaeology) to be "Perhaps of the sixth or seventh century".

                     (4) "Sahidischgriechischa Psalmenfragmente" by C. Wessely in "Sitzungsber. d.
                     kais. Akad. d. Wissenschaften, philos.-histor. Klasse", vol. 155, I (Vienna, 1907).
                     In this the learned curator of the Rainer collection gives us some very important
                     fragments of the Psalms, among which are twenty-four leaves of a papyrus codex
                     containing once the whole Psalter both in Greek and Sahidic on opposite pages,
                     and shorter fragments of two other bilingual parchment manuscripts of the
                     Psalms, and other parchment fragments in Sahidic only. Another bilingual
                     fragment of the Psalms, from the same collection, was published by Wessely in
                     his "Griechische u. koptische Texte theologischen Inhalts I" in "Studien zur.
                     Palaographie u. Papyruskunde", IX (Leipzig, 1909) no. 17.

                     (5) The latter volume of Wessely contains also several fragments of the Old
                     Testament in Sahidic, along with some Psalms in Greek only.

                     (6) "Textes de l'ancien testament en copte sahidique" by Pierre Lacau in
                     "Recueil de travaux relatifs a la philologie et a l'archeologie egyptiennes et
                     assyriennes", XXIII (Paris, 1901). >From the library of the Institut Francais, Cairo,
                     one leaf of an Old-Testament lectionary (Borgia, XXXII), and six leaves of a
                     manuscript of Isaias; from the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, one leaf of the latter

                     (7) Winstedt. Some unpublished Sahidic fragments of the Old Testament in
                     "Journ. of Theol. Studies", X (Oxford, 1909), 233-54. Those are the nos. 5, 15,
                     44, 19, 20, 40, 43, 45, 46, 47, 53, 51, 52, 56, 59, and 14 of Crum's "Catalogue of
                     the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum" (London, 1905).

                     (8) "Sahidische Bibel-Fragmente aus dem British Museum zu London I and II" in
                     "Sitzungsberichte der kai. Akademie d. Wissenschaften in Wien, philos.-hist.
                     Klasse", vol. 162, VI, and 164, VI (Vienna, 1909-11) by J. Schleifer and
                     "Bruchstucke der sahidischen Bibelubersetzung," (ibid., vol. 170, I, Vienna,
                     1912) by the same author. Those are the nos. 11, 43, 48, 47, 21, 51, 40; 1, 4, 5,
                     7, 10, 13, 23, 8, 938; 9, 934, 935, 936, 953, of Crum's "Catalogue" (see above),
                     plus one fragment from Eaton College Library, London, and one from the
                     Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris (1317, fol. 36). With reference to the edition of the
                     Paris Old-Testament fragments published by G. Maspero, "Memoires de la
                     Mission," etc. (Paris, 1886) we must mention:

                     (9) S. Gaselee's "Notes on the Coptic Version of the LXX, I" in "Journ. of Theol.
                     Studies", XI (1909-10), 246-55, in which the writer supplies from the originals
                     quite a number of corrections and some additions, to the text of the historical
                     books in that edition.

                     Also (10) Deiber's "Fragments coptes inédits de Jérémie", supplying likewise one
                     leaf of Jeremias (xxxiii, 13b-xxxiv, 4), overlooked by Maspero.

                     (11) Finally, an excellent contribution to the Old-Testament Sachidic fragments
                     by A. Hebbelynck in his "Manuscripts coptes sahidiques du Monastère Blanc, I",
                     reprinted from the "Muséon" (Louvain, 1911). The author identifies the fragments
                     scattered throughout Europe which belonged once to the same codices as the
                     thirty-two Borgian fragments. We are informed that this work of identification will
                     be extended to the other fragments of the whole Monastery outside of the
                     Borgian collection.

                     B. New Testament

                     (1) "Sacrorum bibliorum fragmenta copto-sahidica musaei Borgiani, vol. III,
                     Novum Testamentum edidit P.J. Balestri O.S.A." (Rome, 1904), with forty
                     full-page collotype specimens under special cover.

                     (2) "The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect otherwise
                     called Sahidic and Thebaic, with Critical Apparatus, literal English translation,
                     Register of fragments and estimate of the version", I-III (Oxford, 1911), with
                     photographic specimens of the most important manuscripts. In this masterpiece
                     of patient scholarship, the author (whose name does not appear on the title
                     page), Rev. George Horner, has succeeded in reconstructing the whole of the
                     Four Gospels (a few verses excepted) out of 744 fragments scattered throughout
                     the public and private collections of the world. These fragments belonged once to
                     some 150 different manuscripts, the identification of which by the author is
                     perhaps not the least merit of his work. Unfortunately some valuable fragments,
                     in particular those in the Rainer collection, now incorporated with the Imperial
                     Library of Vienna, were not accessible to Horner in time to be used for his

                     (3) Since then, the New-Testament fragments of that rich collection have been
                     published in autography with the most minute palaeographical details by the
                     curator C. Wessely, "Griechische u. koptische Texte theologischen Inhalts, I-III"
                     in "Studien zur Paläographie u. Papyruskunde", IX, XI, XII (Leipzig, 1909-12).

                     C. Mixed Editions

                     Fragments both of the Old and the New Testament have also been edited since
                     1897 (inclusive).

                     (1) By Pleyte and Boeser from the the Leyden Museun in their "Catalogue des
                     manuscripts coptes du Musée d'antiquités des Pays-Bas" (Leyden, 1897).

                     (2) By Leipoldt, from the Museum of Berlin in "Aegyptiselie Urkunden aus den
                     königlichen Museen zu Berlin, koptische Urkunden", I (Berlin, 1904).

                     (3) By O. v. Lemm, from the British Museum, the Bibliothèque, Nationale of
                     Paris, the Golenishef Collection, St. Petersburg, and the Berlin Library in his
                     "Sahidische Bibelfragmente III" in "Bulletin de l'Académie imper. des Sciences,"
                     Ve, ser., XXV, 4 (St. Petersburg, 1906).

                     Most of the New-Testament publications in the fragments just mentioned have
                     been used by Horner for his edition. But they are not the less welcomed in their
                     independent actual condition, especially when printed page by page and line by
                     line, as done, for instance by Wessely, O. v. Lemm, and Schleifer, so as to give
                     to all students of the Coptic version the means of reconstructing as far as
                     possible the ancient codices as they originally were.

                     Fayumic Version

                     E. Chassinat edited anew and more correctly the fragments once published by
                     Bouriant (Bull. de l'Inst. Franc. D'arch. or. au Claire, II) and showed that they
                     belonged to the same codices as the Borgian "Fragmenta Basmurica", I-III. Other
                     additions to the same fragments were made from the Rainer collection by C.
                     Wessely in "Sitzungsber. der kais. Akad. d. Wissensch. in Wien, philos.-hist.
                     Klasse", vol. 158, 1 (Vienna, 1908), and Jos. David from the Bibliothèque
                     Nationale of Paris in "Revue biblique" (1910), 80 sqq.. There are also a dozen
                     more fragments rather short, on papyrus or on parchment, described and
                     published as far as they could be deciphered by W. E. Crum, "Catalogue of the
                     Coptic MSS. in the British Museum" (London, 1905), nos. 493-510, 1221. Three
                     of those, 500, 502 and 504 are bilingual, one side of the leaf, exhibiting the Greek
                     and the other the Fayumic text. Since the completion of Crum's "Catalogue," the
                     British Museum has acquired a new fragment, Or. 6948, Acts, vii, 14-28, ix,
                     28-39. It was published by S. Gaselee in "Journ. of Theol. Studies", XI, (1909-10),

                     Akhmimic Version

                     A considerable addition since 1897 has been made to the material for our
                     knowledge of this version, in the discovery of a whole papyrus codex containing
                     the Proverbs of Solomon. It is to be hoped that this valuable manuscript, now
                     preserved in the Berlin Library, will soon be published. Apart from that the only
                     other important additions are papyrus fragments of the Gospel of St. John
                     (bilingual, Ch. x, complete in Akhmimic, vv. 1-10, in Greek; xi, complete in
                     Akhmimic, vv, 1-8, 45-52, in Greek; xii, 1-20, in Akhmimic, xiii, 1, 2, 11, 12, in
                     Akhm.) and the Epistle of St. James (I, 13-v, 20). They were published by Rosch,
                     in "Bruchstücke des ersten Clemensbriefes" (Strasburg, 1910). The famous
                     parchment codex of the twelve lesser Prophets in the Rainer collection is
                     unfortunately still unpublished. But the short papyrus fragments published by
                     Bouriant have been given out anew in a more correct edition by Lacau in "Bulletin
                     de l'Institut Francais d'archéologie orientale", VIII (Cairo, 1911), 43-107 (see
                     COPTIC LITERATURE in this volume; and EGYPT).

                     H. HYVERNAT
                     Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett
                     Dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory

                                  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XVI (Index Volume)
                                    Copyright © 1914 by The Encyclopedia Press, Inc.
                                    Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                  Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1914. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
                                 Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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