Life of the Coptic Patriarch Isaac (686-689 AD) by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has kindly translated for us all a Bohairic Coptic account of the life of the Coptic patriarch Isaac (686-689 AD), which he has sent to me for publication.  The PDF is here:

Isaac does appear in the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church, but only briefly – this Life is much longer, but also hagiographical.  It is translated from the text in the Patrologia Orientalis 11 (1914).

Our thanks to Dr. Alcock for making this accessible!

Solomon in Coptic Songs – text and translation by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock continues his series of translations from the Coptic.  This new item consists of 10th century AD Coptic songs – folk-stories – which mention Solomon.

Thank you, Dr A., for sharing this with us!

More colophons from Coptic manuscripts, by Anthony Alcock

A little while ago Anthony Alcock sent in a set of colophons – ending remarks – from Coptic manuscripts, which appear here.

Today I have received a follow-up email from Dr A., with translations of a further 20 colophons found in Coptic manuscripts.  It’s here:

Here is an example (number 111):

Through the zeal and providence of the God-loving brother Chael, the son of late Stephen the island farmer, the man of the plain which is north of Esna: he is responsible for the production of this book through his own labour and gave it to the monastery of Mercurius at Edfu for the salvation to provide reading materal about St John and Apa Pachomius so that Mercurius the General and victorious martyr, John the Baptist and forerunner of Christ and Apa Pachomius the archimandrite might call upon Christ on his behalf and bless him in this world and save him from the snares of the devil and wicked people and assist him in all things towards good. After the completion therefore of this life he will be worthy to have his sins forgiven and to receive his inheritance together with all the saints. So be it. Amen.

Remember me, Theopistos, the lowly deacon, the son of Severus the archpresbyter of the monastery of St Mercurius at Esna. I wrote this book with my hand. Pray for me that God might forgive me my many sins, for they are indeed numerous. So be it.

Added in Greek which is not readable in places:

Written Emshir 16, indiction 15, AM 703, AH 376.

Abba Nicodemus the lowly . . . Apollonia . . . Thebes . . . Philae. Amen

Amshir is the Coptic month that starts on 8 February, AH (Anno Hegirae) is the Muslim era, so this manuscript was completed by the deacon Theopistos, son of Severus, on 24 Feb, 987 AD.

Let us indeed remember him, as he requested; and thank Anthony Alcock for making these words accessible to us all.

A collection of colophons from Coptic manuscripts, by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has kindly sent in a text and translation of some colophons – final material – from Coptic manuscripts.  It’s here:

As ever, many thanks to Dr. A.  It is really useful to have this material online and in English!

Coptic text of the Acta Pilati – translated into English by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock continues his splendid series of translations from Coptic with a translation of the Coptic version of the Acta Pilati, from a papyrus manuscript in Turin published in the Patrologia Orientalis 9.  This forms part of the text known as the Gospel of Nicodemus.

Here it is:

Our thanks to Dr Alcock for making this available!  More please!

The apocryphal Pilate literature is a tangled mass of materials in Greek, Latin and other languages, which ought to be sorted out one day.

English translation of Coptic apocrypha, “The Investiture of the Archangel Michael” – by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has translated another Coptic apocryphon for us – the Investiture of Michael the Archangel.  It purports to be written by John the Evangelist, and narrates non-canonical discussion between Jesus and his disciples.    The complete text is preserved in a 9th century Sahidic codex, and fragments from a White Monastery parchment manuscript of the 9-12th century.[1]

The translation is here:

Thank you so much, Dr A.

  1. [1]These notes via here, H. Lundhaug &c, The monastic origins of the Nag Hammadi codices, 2015, p.156-7.

Anthony Alcock: translation Wansleben’s1671 account of Coptic church

Anthony Alcock has translated a curiosity for us: an account of the state of the Coptic church in Egypt made by a certain Johann Michael Wansleben, and published in 1671.[1]  Wansleben was a Lutheran traveller who hoped to reach Ethiopia.  His book is an account of Egypt as it then was.

Here is Dr Alcock’s translation of Wansleben’s account:

Such an early account must be of great interest.  Indeed it would be nice to have all of Wansleben in English.  Thank you, Dr. A., for translating this section.

Here’s a taster from the end, which is interesting in its own right for how Coptic books tended to be alienated from their holders, and why so many Coptic churches were in a disgraceful state when the British arrived in the 19th century:

The Turks genuinely allow each person a free conscience, not only in Egypt but in all their countries, provided it does not affect them. Nonetheless they often deprived Christians of their best churches and monasteries. Some years ago the Monastery of the Raven in Manfalut was turned into a mosque.

Similarly the late Pasha Ibrahim, three years ago, built a mosque in the village of Matariya outside Cairo five miles away where the was a small chapel; behind it a porphyry appeared to foreigners, on top of which the Virgin used to stretch out the clothes of the baby Jesus to dry them after washing. Nearby is the spring that miraculously started to dispense water, thanks to the omnipotence of Jesus, when on His arrival in Egypt he was suffering from great thirst. To this day it still dispenses water so sweet that surpasses in goodness all other waters, whether from the fountains of Cairo or the Nile itself. The Pashas themselves, notwithstanding the distance from their castle or being enemies of Christians and their things, used this water in their refectories. Past the chapel the way leads down to a garden with the fig tree behind which, according to an ancient tradition, Our Lord hid during the persecution by Herod. Opening in the trunk by itself, the fig wove spiders’ webs so thick and old in appearance that they concealed Our Lord from his enemies as they went by and did not look for him. Today no Frank is allowed to visit these places since it is now a mosque.

The Turks also took the Church of Anastasius in Alexandria from the Copts and turned it into a mosque. They make no effort to restore churches fallen into ruin as a result of penalties. Indeed, the Christians are not keen on removing the spiders’ webs for fear that Turks find them attractive.

Moreover, the Turks tax the churches and monasteries heavily, as happened with the Abyssinians in Cairo fourteen years ago. The Pasha of that time, out of a certain apprehension he felt towards them, threatened to take away their churches if they did not pay a certain large sum of money. They were forced to sell the property of the church and their manuscript books to pay this tax, These books, about forty of them, had been sent by Father Eleazar, a Capuchin, to Mgr Pierre Seguier the Great Chancellor of France, in whose house I saw them. That is also the reason why I was able to find almost no Ethiopic book in Cairo, except for four in the possession of the Father, which I copied. These taxes gradually began to annoy the Christians so much that they were no longer able to resist. The number of Coptic churches is constantly being reduced, and I have no doubt that the Turks will soon confiscate the remainder. The Franks are in a better situation than the Copts, because the Turks not only allow them to attend church services without harassing them, but they also have more respect for the missionary Capuchins and Franciscans, who both have their chapels behind their place of residence, each wearing the dress suitable to their order.

All of this harassment and discrimination was normal in Egypt, then as now, as we find from accounts in the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandrai.  It was intended as a means to induce the Copts to convert to Islam.  It is remarkable, if we consider that they have suffered thirteen centuries of it, that the Copts have managed to remain in existence.

  1. [1]J. M. Wansleben, Relazione dell Stato presente dell’Egitto. 1671.  Online here; PDF via here.

Archellites – a 10th century Coptic poem, translated by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has sent me another translation from Coptic.  There is a collection of 10th century Coptic poems, which were published in Oriens Christianus (the volumes are online at Archive.org).  One of these is about the martyr Archellites.  Here it is:

There is no historical content to this, but it is useful to have this material in English – thank you!

I remember long ago transcribing the English translation of the Legend of Hilaria, a story about a female monk, who supposedly lived in the late 5th century, in the time of the Emperor Zeno.  There is also a Legend of Archellites.  In fact a translation of these two prose narratives, and the Coptic version of the Legend of the Seven Sleepers, was made in 1947 by James Drescher.[1]  A rather clumsy site has the book here.

UPDATE: There is a useful short article on Coptic poetry online here.  It is only two pages long.  It comes from the Coptic Encyclopedia.

  1. [1]James Drescher, Three Coptic Legends: Hilaria, Archellites, the Seven Sleepers, Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale, 1947.  Series:  Supplément aux des Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Égypte, Cahier No. 4.

Text and translation of three Coptic stelae – by Anthony Alcock

We don’t do a lot with inscriptions here.  But I wonder if people realise that there are inscriptions in Coptic?  I certainly never thought about this; but there are.

Anthony Alcock has made a text and English translation of three stone stelae, which have Coptic inscriptions.  These are from various locations around Egypt.

Fascinating!

(I’ve asked Dr A. for the reference for the original publication – will add it later).

UPDATE: The source publication is Claudius Labib, Stèles Coptes Inédites, Cairo: Ain Shams Press, 1909. 32p.  This I found online! – labib-steles-copte-inedited-1909, PDF, from the Coptist blog.

The editor, Claudius Labib, was a Copt who sought to revive Coptic as a spoken language in his country, and with much success.  His publication is in Arabic and French.  The Coptist blog has a bibliography, with links to many of his works.

The use of Coptic by modern Egyptians – Anthony Alcock translates

I’ve been sent the attached PDF, which is a curiosity of great interest.  It is translated from a modern book, written entirely in modern Coptic, which Dr Alcock found on the web.

I think many of us would like to know more about how the last version of the Ancient Egyptian language is enjoying a revival in Egypt today!

(I apologise for my silence here recently.  I have been suffering from a dose of food poisoning for nearly two weeks now.  Your prayers would be appreciated.)