Coptic text of 2 Enoch recovered

2 Enoch only exists in an Old Slavonic version.  But a Coptic version has been rediscovered in fragments from Nubia, from the now drowned site at Qasr Ibrim.  The fragments were discovered in the Egypt Exploration Society rescue expedition in 1963, as the waters rose behind the Aswan High Dam. 

Joost Hagen has been entrusted by the EES with the edition of the manuscript material in Coptic, the language of Christian Egypt and one of the literary languages used in the Christian kingdoms of Nubia.

The ‘Slavonic Enoch’ fragments, found in 1972, are four in number, most probably remnants of four consecutive leaves of a parchment codex. The fourth fragment is rather small and not yet placed with certainty, also because there is as yet no photograph of it available, only the transcription of its text by one of the excavators. For the other three fragments, both this transcription and two sets of photographs are available. The present location of the pieces themselves is not known, but most probably they are in one of the museums or magazines of the Antiquities Organization in Egypt.

The fragments contain chapters 36-42 of 2 Enoch… they clearly represent a text of the short recension, with chapter 38 and some other parts of the long recension ‘missing’ and chapters 37 and 39 in the order 39 then 37. On top of that, it contains the ‘extra’ material at the end of chapter 36 that is present only in the oldest Slavonic manuscript of the work, U (15th cent.), and in manuscript A (16th cent.), which is closely related to U. For most Coptic texts, a translation from a Greek original is taken for granted and the existence of this Coptic version might well confirm the idea of an original of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch in Greek from Egypt, probably Alexandria.

Archeologically it seems likely that the Coptic manuscript is part of the remains of a church library from before the year 1172, possibly even from before 969, two important dates in the history of Qasr Ibrim; a tentative first look at palaeographical criterea seems to suggest a date in the eighth to ninth, maybe tenth centuries, during Nubia’s early medieval period. This would mean that the fragments predate the accepted date of the translation of 2 Enoch into Slavonic (11th, 12th cent.) and that they are some several hunderd years older than the earliest Slavonic witness, a text with extracts of the ethical passages (14th cent.).

Thanks to Jim Davila for the tip.  Andrei Orlov runs a site dedicated to 2 Enoch.

Texts in Old Nubian

The interest in ethnic studies in our days is not without advantages for those interested in retrieving material extant in minor languages. It’s possible to get funding from politically correct officials for things that in a saner world would be difficult to access. At one point I was attempting to obtain some money to get some translations made, and I had it in mind to use some African literature such as Old Nubian as a stalking horse for this purpose, and asked a question in LT-ANTIQ. The fund-raising went nowhere, unfortunately, but I have now had a couple of emails from Kerstin Weber, who knows about Old Nubian!

Not everyone will know who or what Old Nubian is. The Nubian kingdom occupied the northern end of what is today the Sudan, and the blacks living there were a constant feature in the history of Ancient Egypt, even leading to two dynasties of black pharaohs, and a civilisation based at Meroe, complete with imitation pyramids. They were converted to Christianity at the end of Antiquity, and continued to be so down to the Middle Ages, and material in Old Nubian is the literature of that kingdom. The Nubian kingdom eventually broke up under incessant Moslem attacks, and had ceased to exist by the time the first European travellers reached the area. Today Christianity is only a memory in that unhappy land. Excavations at the ancient Egyptian fortress at Qasr Ibrim (now mainly submerged by the Aswan High Dam) revealed quantities of Old Nubian texts. Like most people I know little about them.

Kersten very kindly gave me the following information, which I pass on as it may be useful:

‘The texts are all from the medieval-christian period (mostly 9th to 12th century). We have the “big” texts like “The Matyrdom of St. Menas” (without direct parallels in Coptic or Greek), “Griffith’s Old Nubian Lectionary” (Parts of New Testament Gospels and Letters), “The Stauros Text” (parts of it have parallels in Ancient Greek), some works by John Chrysostom or a pseudepigraph, several parts of Gospels and books of the Old Testament and the revelation of John. Original literature is very rare. There are some letters from Qasr Ibrim which are very hard to translate for we know one side of the correspondence only. Of course you find hundreds of graffito, dedications and things like this in the bigger ancient cities like Qasr Ibrim, Faras and Old Dongola. A lot of the manuscript fragments are as yet unpublished or even yet to be assigned to a particular genre. So there is a lot of work to do.

‘Frank Kammerzell from Humboldt-University in Berlin is working in this area, together with a group of students and graduates here who are continously working on the texts. There is still a large number of texts and fragments of manuscripts as yet unpublished. The longer texts have all been published by the late Gerald Browne (e.g. Literary texts in Old Nubian, in: Beiträge zur Sudanforschung, Beiheft 5, 1989). Unfortunately the smaller texts are only published within the field reports and often not sufficiently edited. There is a bibliography of the Nubian Language (Angelika Jakobi & Tanja Kümmerle, The Nubian Languages. An annoted bibliography, In: African Linguistic Bibliographies, Vol.5, 1993) which might be helpful.’

There was also interest in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the Sudan was under British rule. F. L. Griffith published all the Old Nubian texts known at the time. There is a journal devoted to Nubiology, Meroitica, (Berlin, Humboldt). Apparently there is also information on the internet, with some very good (and pretty recent) bibliographies — however, this is usually in (German-language) Egyptological contexts.