Isn’t it funny how different various groups of scholars are? Some are all free and easy and helpful. Others are all suspicious, riven with rivalries. The first lot respond to enthusiastic but ignorant emails kindly. The second ignore them. The first band together to get things working. The second sit in their various bastions and snipe at each other and the outside world.
Doing an edition of material which exists in Greek, Syriac, Arabic and Coptic throws an interesting light on the various ways these languages are handled online. Everyone knows about the Hugoye list for Syriac studies, started by George Kiraz who also made Syriac unicode fonts of all kinds freely available. He even got the Estrangelo Edessa font included by Microsoft into Windows! Syriacists are all helpful, and Syriac studies online is frankly booming. At Brigham Young University Kristian Heal is putting online a massive collection of Syriac texts. George has reprinted loads of them, which gets them into libraries. In short, every contribution adds to the whole.
Christian Arabic is much the same, not least because late Syriac writers also wrote Christian Arabic, and a lot of the same people are involved on a lower level. The NASCAS google group is where they hang out.
My experience of Coptic and Coptologists, on the other hand, belongs to the other side of the spectrum. There’s the Copts themselves, who are a good bunch. But some of the academics … phew! One sign of this is that only one decent Coptic unicode font exists, Keft; and this was done at huge expense with government grants and is still not finished. No free Bohairic font exists. Indeed people are still messing around with non-unicode Coptic fonts. Likewise I don’t know of an online forum like Hugoye or Nascas for Coptic. And always, always, I get this impression of people looking down their noses.
But at least some people are fighting back. Dr Hany S. Takla of the St. Shenouda Center for Coptic Studies in Los Angeles is doing what he can. There’s a Facebook group, which he invited me to yesterday. This in turn tells me about resources that I wouldn’t otherwise know of. There’s the journal Coptica, for instance.
Mind you; Hugoye is also a journal, not just a forum. And the journal exists in free online form, as well as in printed form. How George Kiraz makes that work I do not know. But Coptica is only offline, sadly. I hope Dr. Takla will find a way to make this online.
But I recommend the facebook group. Dr Takla (who also looks in on Nascas) is plainly doing a huge work, and doing it more or less by himself. Well done, that man!