A little-known find of Coptic books in 1910

While perusing the Book-Think blog, I came across mention of a find of Coptic books at the Monastery of St. Michael in 1910.  This was interesting, since although I am interested in Egyptian manuscript discoveries, I had never heard of it.

I find an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia which deals with the find.

The most important of these discoveries was undoubtedly that of the library of the Monastery of St. Michael in the Fayûm (Spring, 1910). Most of the fifty-eight volumes of which it consisted found their way to Paris, where they were purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (Dec., 1911), in whose library (at New York) they are now preserved. 5000 volumes remained in Egypt, and, with a few fragments of the same origin, are kept [in Cairo]… Mr. Morgan’s collection is no less remarkable as a group of dated manuscripts of absolutely certain provenance. … the Morgan collection contains eighteen dates ranging from A.D. 832 to 914… Many of the manuscripts are still in their original bindings…

Why do we have so many fragmentary books?

One of the most important features of the Morgan collection is that it consists of complete volumes, while other collections, yet reputed so valuable, those of Rome, Paris, and London (see below under British Museum Collection), to name the principal ones, consist mostly of fragments. It is an inveterate habit with the Arabs of Egypt to tear the manuscripts they discover or steal, so as to give each member of the tribe his share of the spoils, and also in the hope of securing higher prices by selling the manuscripts piecemeal, a process fatal to literature, for while some leaves so treated will be scattered throughout the public or private collections of Europe and America, a good many more will either meet destruction or remain hidden indefinitely by the individual owners. Most of the manuscripts of the Monastery of St. Michael had already been divided into small lots of leaves and distributed among a number of Arabs when they were rescued at the cost of untold toil and expense.

The same happened to the Gospel of Judas, the Exodus, the Greek Mathematical Treatise and the Letters of Paul manuscripts, half a century later.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article lists the books (bless them!).  There are biblical texts, liturgical stuff, and masses of Saints’ lives.  There are also some homilies by Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius, Shenuda, among others.

Interestingly, at the end of the page in the CE, are details of other purchases by the British Museum of Coptic mss.  Among the texts found is a “discourse of Eusebius of Cæsarea on the Chanaanite woman” [Ms. Or., 5001, item 10].   Has this ever been published, or translated?  The article gives as sources:

On Or. 5000 and Or. 5001 cf. CRUM, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts of the Brit. Museum (London, 1905), Nos. 940, 171; WALLIS BUDGE, The earliest known Coptic Psalter in the Dialect of Upper Egypt from the unique Papyrus oriental 5000 in the Brit. Museum (London. 1908); IDEM, Coptic Homilies in the dialect of Upper Egypt (from Or. 5001 text and English tr., London 1910).

The last item is at Archive.org, which is a blessing, believe me.  For I saw a bound copy of this book, thick, small, fat and with a tight binding impossible to photocopy, and my heart failed me and I passed by on the other side and did not try to scan it.  Thankfully someone else has.   From this I find that the homily is of Eusebius of Caesarea in Cappadocia!


2 thoughts on “A little-known find of Coptic books in 1910

  1. Roger, the sermon on the Canaanite woman attributed to Eusebius is not genuine. The same text is preserved in Greek and Latin under the name of John Chrysostomos. You may check volume 2 of the Clavis Graeca, sub numero 4529. The Greek text is available in PG 52, coll. 449-460.

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