St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter

Volume 3, No. 2 January 1997

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Introduction: The Coptic Church like any Christian Church is primarily founded on the Bible. Biblical readings and quotations are found in abundance in its liturgical services. The Bible was the constitution that its saints have lived by, and the inspiration of the writings of its fathers. Its iconography abounds in Biblical themes. It was used by its theologians to define the faith of the Church. In fact, the Bible was, is, and will always be the heart and soul of the Coptic Church

History of Coptic Version: Translation of the Bible into Egyptian, written in the Coptic Script, dates back to the second century AD. At first, some missionaries translated orally or informally from Greek into Egyptian, certain passages to use in their missionary work. In the last half of the Second Century, Pantaenus the missionary philosopher, came to Alexandria and became the head of the Theological School. Later on St. Demetrius the first became the Bishop of Alexandria. He was the first known Egyptian to be bishop of that city. The presence of those two sparked a concerted effort to spread Christianity among the Egyptian peasants. Thus the Coptic script was officially christianized for use in translating the Scriptures as needed in the missionary work. This was done to insure the uniformity of the Christian teachings to be given to the new converts.

The first translations were in the form of passages mainly from the Gospels. Later on, the whole books were translated. Probably the Gospels were translated first, followed by the Acts in the New Testament. Among the Old Testament books, Psalms followed by Genesis was probably the early order of translation. Eventually the entire New Testament was translated, followed by the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Poetic Books and the Historical Books in that order. Based on manuscript as well as inscription evidence, the whole Bible was translated in Sahidic. This is probably not the case with the Bohairic, which is deficient in the Old Testament Historical Books and most of the Poetic Books also. This translation process may have lasted about a century or even more. Keep in mind that all the translations were done from the Greek whether it Old or New Testament Books. Except on rare occasions, the Hebrew Old Testament was never utilized by the Christians of Egypt.

As Egypt rapidly turned to Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries, more uniform and accurate translations began to appear. The later translations were not always done directly from Greek. Some probably were improvements to the Coptic to give it a better linguistic format.

Christians revived the dying literary dialects of the Egyptian language to facilitate the spread of Christianity to all of Egypt. So one sees many Biblical manuscripts written in Achmimic, Asyutic (Lycopolitan), Middle Egyptian, and Fayoumic along with the two main dialects of Bohairic and the Neutral Sahidic. Eventually, those regional dialects died as literary ones some centuries later, giving way to the Bohairic and the Sahidic ones. Only the Bohairic and the Sahidic versions were independent translations from the Greek. The text of the other dialects was based on the Sahidic version except for the Fayoumic which was a product of the neighboring Bohairic.

When Bohairic became the official version of the Coptic Church in the 11th century, the Sahidic version began to disappear. The 12th or the 13th century is probably the last time that any Biblical manuscript in Sahidic has been copied, except in a Lectionary format.

Value of the Coptic Version: The Coptic version is considered by scholars to be an excellent witness to the Greek Bible. This is due to the careful and literal style of the Coptic translator. This literal nature has allowed some of the Biblical scholars to conclude that this Version reflects Greek originals that no longer are in existence. However to the Copts, this version reflects a lot more than that!

Copts have recorded in their translation of the Holy Scriptures not only an equivalent text to an original Greek one, but rather a careful interpretation of some of the difficult words and passages that the original have. In other words, this version represents the way the Copts of the early centuries of Christianity understood the Greek. Such understanding is valuable due to their constant exposure to Greek in Egypt as well as the presence of the solid orthodox teaching of the Christian Fathers there. Keeping in mind that Coptic is relatively constant in its linguistic evolution, it can be easily concluded that it provided us with a more accurate rendering of the original Greek meaning than any other ancient version available.

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Recently, under the guidance of Prof. Antonio Loprieno, UCLA, I have began a translation of a homily titled:

A homily given (by) our holy father, the Spirit-clad abba Benjamin the Archbishop of Alexandria concerning the wedding feast which (took place) in Cana of Galilee.

The text of this seventh century homily is published in at least two places: Prof. C. Detlef. G. Müller's Die Homilie über die Hochzeit zu Kana und weitere Schriften des Patriarchen Benjamin I. von Alexandrien, which is a superb edition; containing the Bohairic text, Sahidic fragments, and an Arabic version; all accompanied by German translations; and also in Henri de Vis' Homélies Coptes de la Vaticane, which only contains the Bohairic text and a French translation. This Homily provides us with a number of interesting elements, both linguistic as well as historical. Here I would like to quickly focus on one of them.

In the beginning of the Homily the Patriarch exhorts his audience to listen and to implement what they shall hear . He then proceeds to quote John 2:1,2. First, he comments as to the presence of the Virgin Mary at the wedding, and then he proceeds to give reasons as to why each of the disciples was invited, along with Christ, to the wedding.

The homily lists the twelve in the order given in the Gospel of St. Matthew (10:2-4). In most cases there are two elements. The first emphasizes the role of that individual disciple as a witness to the miracle in particular, or to Christ in general. The second element emphasizes that after witnessing, that disciple later went on to preach of what he saw (see 1 Jn 1:1). For instance, "Simon the Canaanite was invited in order that he may see the men filling water (jugs) to their brim. Afterwards, through the power of Christ, wine was drawn. And he went forth and preached of the miracles which he saw." We can find a major exception to this pattern in the case of Judas, who is given a direct command. For while the Eleven are in the midst of the wedding, Judas is depicted as sitting on the side, braiding a rope;


Sit yourself down O Judas with she who gave (lit. told) you this evil advice, that is, your wife. And prepare for yourself a rope until the time you strangle yourself with it, and die, and your soul perish in Hades, in the place which you will go to.

The contrast between the mood of the wedding and Judas' disposition is incredibly vivid. And in the beginning of a long sermon, this dichotomy acts as a great attention grabber.

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Historical Information as recorded in the Martyrdom: This martyrdom affords us a look at circumstances that the Copts lived in under the rule of the Ayyubite dynasty. This coincided with the early Crusades which brought enormous perils on the Copts in Egypt. As we read this text, we come face to face with a man, directly or indirectly, describing the Copts of his time and their rulers. Such information greatly enhances our knowledge of the History of the Copts. The following is a short list of such material:

  1. Osman the son of Joseph, was one of the Ayyubite kings of Egypt (AD 1193-98). During his reign Christians such as our Martyr were coerced into Islam as a result of a seemingly illicit affair.
  2. The existence of a refuge village in Upper Egypt called Pepleu, governed by a Moslem with benevolent feelings toward the Christians. There, Christians who were probably coerced into conversion, were allowed to live in peace after they decided to retain their Christian Faith again.
  3. Conversion from Islam to any other faith, including Christianity, required a royal sanction or pardon. A sanction that rarely was granted, which explains the Martyr's readiness to die as a result of such appeal.
  4. El-Kamel, the son of El-Adel the reigning Ayyubite king, was being referred to as a king even though his official reign started in AD 1218. This supports the fact that El-Adel appointed his sons, during his lifetime, to rule certain parts of his kingdom (apprentice kings!).
  5. The author held Upper Egyptian in high esteem. He labeled them as "the faithful Christians". This is an indication of the solid Christian presence in Upper Egypt in comparison to that in Lower Egypt.
  6. Monks were highly regarded at the time. They were frequently visited by Christians seeking advice.
  7. The Martyr's failure to pursue an audience with the Patriarch seemed to indicate that the ecclesiastical authorities were perceived to be in fear of the secular Moslem authorities.
  8. Copts in high places were held in great esteem by fellow Copts. This explains the Martyr opting to meet with Abu-Shaker the physician, instead of the Patriarch.
  9. Some Coptic officials in the government sometimes converted to Islam probably to keep their jobs. Most of the time the conversion was nominal and it was not perceived by them as a deadly sin in consequence. This testimony comes from Abu-Shaker, as he tried to lessen the burden of guilt that the Martyr had.
  10. Conversion to Islam was perceived by the masses to be a form of apostasy.
  11. The Upper Egyptian Christians held a celebration for St. George on the 7th Sunday of the Paschaltide. This is probably a different one than the one normally celebrated in the Church. The discovery of the second volume of the Upper Egyptian recension of the Synaxarium may shed light on such celebration.
  12. A church in the name of St. George was located outside of Cairo, west of the Nile.
  13. The spending of the night in prayers in the Church during commemorative feasts of saints was practiced at the time.
  14. The king usually rode in the company of his chief-judge and the Moslem chief-elder and was surrounded by his mamlukes.
  15. The way that public trials were staged in Cairo in the midst of mob scenes.
  16. El-Kamel was preparing Navy ships to be sent for the war against the Crusaders.
  17. Coptic Christians regarded the Mamlukes as apostate Christians, which explains their despise for them, e.g. Philim the executor of the Martyr.
  18. El-Kamel deferred the legal matters to his chief justice.
  19. The author furnished important information on the genealogy of Ayyubite kings of his time. He even mentioned the alternate names that such rulers were known by. El-Adel was known as Mohammed son of Abu Bakr son of Job.
  20. Unruly mobs forced the Christians to hide in fear, as occurred after the Martyr gave up the spirit.

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ST. SHENOUDA'S WRITINGS (7) (by Ashraf Hanna and Hany N. Takla)

This is the second part of a text translation from a second Arabic sermon of St. Shenouda read on the 1st Sunday during Lent in the Coptic Church. The text was transcribed from a microfilm copy of Paris Arabe 4761 (CML 1592).

... Because (7r) fasting and prayer prevent (lit. from) occurrence of temptations, according to the our Lord Jesus Christ's saying, "Pray lest you enter into the temptations." Whereas the alms for the poor and the wretched along with the repentance, it forgives the sin. According to Daniel the Prophet's saying to Bakhtanassar the king, "Hide your sins with alms for the poor and the wretched". In the Psalm, he says, "he gave alms and gave his goodness, and his goodness endures forever." And our Lord Jesus Christ, Glory be unto Him, says, "Fasting and prayer and alms-giving and performing the commandment is not completed except by the love for all people, the near and the far ones, and the forgiveness to whomever offends us." For our Lord gave us an example of the servant who asked his master about how much money he is indebted to him. And he said, "My master, I am very poor and I have nothing to pay back to you." His master had compassion (7v) upon him and he forsook all the money he had owed him. Then this servant went to another servant like him, who owed him some dirhams (or pennies), and he demanded (it) of him. So he (the second servant) began to appeal to him and request him to grant him a delay, and afterwards he would pay him what he owed him. But (the first servant) did not grant him a delay but grabbed him and he choked him and took him to the lock-up and the prison. When the master of that servant was informed, he commanded that he appears before him, and he began punishing him saying, "O evil servant, O the spiteful one, O the wrathful one. When you asked me concerning what you owed me I gave it up to you. So why have you substituted what good I have done to you with the evil (that you did) unto your companion." [According to] our Lord's [saying], Glory be unto Him, in the Gospel, "All that you want people to do unto you, do it unto them." And He said, "With this commandment, rests the whole law [...] that you do unto another (8r) as he does with you." "So why did you not have mercy upon your friend as I had mercy upon you?" He then orders his servants saying, "Take this evil servant, stretch his hands and legs and throw him in prison until he repays what he owes." For our Lord said, "If you do not forgive whoever offends you, I would not forgive you your offenses. If you judge you shall be judged, and if you forgive, you will be forgiven. And by the measure that you give with, you will be given. And as I said, love precedes(?) all the virtues. By this our master Paul testified saying, "If I speak with the tongue of angels and know the mysteries and all knowledge, and if all wisdom is in me, and I move the mountains from their places and feed the wretched everything that is mine, and sacrifice my body to the burning (8v) fire, and there is no love in me; then I gain nothing. Do not ye (dare), beware and beware O brethren, that one fast, or pray, or do any of the Gospel commandments and in his heart toward his brother enmity or spite or fury. For his deed will become void and will anger God by his deed. But hurry up in removing the spite and the fury out of your hearts so that your fasting be acceptable and appreciated before God. According to our Lord Jesus Christ's saying in the Gospel, "If you brought your offering upon the altar and knew that your brother is unhappy(?) with you, then leave your offering upon the altar and go and reconcile with your brother and afterwards come and present your offering. Look my brethren how the offering has come after the sanctification for the forgiveness (9r) of the sin and wiping of the transgressions. So He commanded the reconciliation of the brother before the offering. Woe and much sorrow for who begrudges his brother and do not forgive him his wrongdoings unto him from all his heart. For St. John Chrysostom (lit. tongue of gold) said, "He who fasts and does not pray, he is not fasting. He who fasts and he is spiteful toward his brother, he is not fasting. He who fasts and he swears, or lie, or steals, or testify falsely, or gossip upon his brother, he is fasting. He who fasts and does not pay to the needy as much as he is capable of, like a loaf of bread or a cup of cold water, as our Lord said in the Gospel, he is not fasting. Be it known to you that the gift of the little according to capability is preferred over the gift of the rich. And the witness to that is the widow that dropped two mites in the (treasury) box, (9v) the Lord praised her more than the rich ones... (To be continued)

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NEWS (by Hany N. Takla)

1. NKCSC Project Progress: The latest product in our computer software series is out. It is the Lectionary of the Coptic Church for the Days of the year. The order no. of this title is NKCSC-CG1. It requires the Antonious Coptic fonts which are available in -CL1 (Coptic Lessons) and -CB1(a) (Coptic New Testament). It requires also Windows 3.1 or higher (not Win95) and Word for Windows version 2 or 6. The program has the same look as the Coptic Lessons (-CL1) and will generate the readings of the Coptic Church in Coptic and English. The English is taken from the KJV except for the Psalm readings which were translated anew from the Coptic for the first time. The price is $8.00 for members and $12.00 for non-members.

The other software titles that we Have are: -CL1, Bohairic Lessons ($8/$12); -CL2, Coptic-English Dictionary ($8/$12) [Requires Coptic Fonts], -CB1, Coptic New Testament [Boh/English/Sah/Gr.] ($30/$45); -CB1a, Coptic NT [Boh/English] ($16/$23); -CB1b, Coptic NT [Sah/Gr.] ($16/$23). Only -CL1 requires Word for Windows, all the rest require only Windows. A version for Win95 is also available with the added designation of 'M'.

2. Books Available Through the Society: Copies of Rev. Partrick's, "Traditional Egyptian Christianity -History of the Coptic Orthodox Church" are still available. The price is $10.00 for members and $14.95 for non-members.

Coptic Puzzles and Word Games vol.1 is also available at the special price of $2.00 for members and $3.00 for non-members. This is an excellent introduction to Coptic Language for kids and adults, that will insure hours of fun and learning for all. Such work was a product of love of many of our Coptic youth associated with the Coptic Regional Center of Orange County, California.

Analysis of the Coptic Liturgy, Mr. Monir B. Raphael is available in 3-volume set which covers the St. Basil Liturgy including the Raising of Incense service. This is a valuable work for all interested in gaining a better understanding of the language of the Liturgy. Price is $32.00 for members and $38.00 for non-members. Future volumes covering the other Coptic Liturgies are in the work by the same author.

Other important titles available are the 2-volume Coptic Art Pictorial set ($35 for members/$40 for non-members), and Dr. Gawdat's Gabra's "Cairo - Old Coptic Churches", ($12 for members/$15 for non-members).

3. Bulletin of the Society: The third volume of the Annual Bulletin of the Society is being prepared. The list of papers included in this edition is as follows:

Dues paying members receive a complimentary copy, as part of their membership fees. For other members and dues paying members needing extra copies, the price will be $5.00. Copies of Volume 1 and 2 are still available for sale.

4. The Society on The Internet: We are still at the same address, "". Based on the e-mail response that we receive, the site was visited by people on every continent, except for Antarctica. During the last period we added a course in Coptic Bohairic Grammar, this is viewable using the Microsoft Word Viewer plus the Coptic fonts. we are still working on a list of all the available microfiche of Coptic Studies research material. This material can be ordered electronically through our Coptic Store on the web. Further we are working on an on-line summary listing of the microfilm-of-manuscripts holdings of the Society, arranged by subject. Tune in on the web for more developments.

Starting with the Vol. 2, No. 3 edition of the Newsletter we made it available to our electronic mailing list. Such edition had the full text of the printed edition except for any Coptic text included. With the introduction of the Word Viewer, mentioned above, any one can view the full text including the Coptic via a Link that we are providing in the HTML version of the Newsletter. We are still working on a directory listing of persons with a particular expertise in the different disciplines related to Coptic Studies. The idea was submitted by Mr. Shenouda Mamdouh of Cairo, Egypt ( This will be incorporated as part of our Manual of Coptic Studies Section. Work is still pending on the report for the 6th International Coptic Congress. Its address will be eventually: "".

5. Request for Grants: In the past month, Prof. Ariel Shisha-Halevy, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, informed us that he is working on a major work on the Grammar of the Bohairic Coptic. This work is based on the Vatican and Paris oldest Pentateuch manuscripts. Both of these manuscripts have a parallel Arabic version. In order to insure the accuracy of work, the Arabic translation need to be considered. For such task, Dr. Ofer Livneh, a student of the prominent Christian Arabic scholar Prof. Joshua Blau, was selected. Christian Arabic is not a subject that the Hebrew University offer research grants for, so Prof. Shisha-Halevy is requesting a grant for Dr. Livneh to enable him to pursue such a task. Those who can offer such grants are encouraged to contact Prof. Shisha-Halevy at 'The Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus 91905 Jerusalem Israel'. He can also be reached via e-mail address ''.

6. Lives of the Coptic Monks of Wadi 'N Natrun: The work done on the Coptic Version of the Life of St. John the Short has advanced into a possible full series of the lives of the Coptic Fathers of Wadi N' Natrun. This series, if approved would be made under the editorship of Dr. Tim Vivian of Bakersfield California, and would be published by the Cistercian Publication in Michigan. The work will include translations from all available original texts of these lives, including Coptic, Arabic, and Syriac. The Bohairic Coptic and the Arabic will be our responsibility, the Syriac will be handled by Prof. Greer of Yale Univ., and Sahidic Coptic and the introductory work will be by Dr. Vivian. More details will be published as they become available on this exciting new project.

7. Coptic Microfilm Library: In the last quarter we received microfilm of 20 Coptic and Christian Arabic manuscripts from the National Library of France which includes more than 5000 frames. We also concluded a deal with the Austrian National Library, through the good offices of Prof. Dr. Hermann Harrauer to procure 19 microfilm reels of the Coptic material in the collection. The total number of frames is nearly 16,000. The order will be divided into two separate ones. The first including the first 9 reels is due to arrive soon, and the second will arrive two months after. We also received a full-size copy of K391, Life of St. John of Lycopolis, which was not microfilmed as part of the collection. A lot of bibliographic work will have to be done on these films once they arrive because of the much scattered information available about the collection. Many of the fragments included in the collection has come from the Library of the Monastery of St. Shenouda, an important target of our collection. This would be the largest collection received by the Society after the collection of the Cairo Coptic Museum. We can now safely say that the Society's microfilm holdings of Coptic and Christian Arabic Manuscripts of Egyptian provenance is the largest of its kind in the world, of course with a price to match!

8. Coptic Book Library: About 40 new important volumes were added to our Coptic library. These included books on history, Art, Patristics ... etc.

9. Coptic Classes: The Intermediate Bohairic Coptic Class, dealing with the translation of smaller, simpler Bohairic texts, is continuing at the Coptic Center. The class meets on Saturdays from 6-7:30 p.m. Also at the Center, we have the Advanced Coptic Seminar. This is held on Sundays from 6-7:30 p.m. It is divided up into two sessions, one translating more advanced Bohairic literary texts, and the second dealing with Sahidic monastic texts. The Intermediate Bohairic Coptic class at the Coptic Theological Seminary in Los Angeles concluded on December 19, 1996. All the above classes are taught by Mr. Hany N. Takla, the Society's president.

Prof. Loprieno of UCLA will be offering either a 4- or 8-unit Coptic Sahidic class in the Spring Quarter, (April 97). We are hopeful that this upcoming class will be as popular among the Coptic students there as the first one was in 1995.

10. The Scriptorium: The Scriptorium is continuing to provide quality educational programs in the field of Biblical Studies. The last ones deal with the study of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the New and Old Testaments respectively. For more information on these classes as well as other educational programs of the Scriptorium, please contact Prof. Jerry Pattengale at (800) 333-8373.

11. Research Projects: The final corrections for the 'Copts' entry in Macmillan upcoming Encyclopedia of Immigrant America, were submitted and were approved. The transcription of Coptic glosses of the famous Hibat Allah ibn Al-Assal's 13th century critical Arabic translation of the Coptic Gospels, is about 95% complete. The final review has started and is expected to be complete by April or May 1997. The article about the Life of St. John Kolobos (the Little) that includes the translation only of the Coptic texts with an introduction by Dr. Tim Vivian has been submitted to 'Coptic Church Review'. Because of the size of the work, its publication date has been pushed back to early 1998. Mr. Maged S. Mikhail of the Coptic Center's staff was the primary translator of the Bohairic Version. We are still awaiting an answer from Prof. Dr. Horn of Göttingen, Germany, concerning obtaining a microfilm copy of the Arabic Life of the Saint which is preserved in the Göttingen University Library. Our request include other Coptic and Arabic items as well.

Mr. Ashraf Hanna, of our Center's staff is continuing his work on collation of the different manuscripts of the Coptic (Arabic) Synaxarium. Similarly, Mr. Sherief Sorial is working on the Coptic Psalmodia, Mr. Emad N. Georgy is working on the Coptic Horologion, and Mr. Peter Mankarious is working on Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil. All of these projects are designed to trace the developmental history of these important books in the Coptic Church. The extensive manuscript-on-microfilm holdings of the Society are what made these projects a reality.

12. American Coptic Studies Association: As we indicated in the last issue, a new organization for the promotion of Coptic Studies has been born in Portland, Oregon. The first newsletter of the Association has come out. Its president is Professor Sami Hanna of Portland Oregon. Annual membership dues is $25. For more information contact Prof. Hanna at e-mail address The Association's mailing address is: 2625 SE Market Street, Oregon 97214.

13. Coptic Multimedia: Photographs of Coptic Sites in Egypt become more and more important with age. This is due to the unstable conditions that the Copts are subjected to in these days. We were fortunate over a year ago to be able to secure a slides copy of a collection of such photographs made but a professional photographer, Mr. Paul Kuiper, back in 1971. The impeccable credentials of the photographer is a testimony to the quality of the material. The time has come for the Copts to try to bring these treasures to our youths in an appropriate format they would be familiar with. This would be a multi-media CD (Computer) production. The material available can yield several of these CD's. The Los Angeles Coptic Diocese has not been able to pursue this great task due to lack of expertise available to them at this time. It is our sincere hope that some of our community members in the US will help in the start of this endeavor. Funds as well as expertise will be needed. For those interested, the material is available as graphic images in CD-format at the Coptic Center in Los Angeles.

14. The First St. Shenouda Coptic Symposium: The Society has tentatively planned a new annual Symposium of Coptic Studies. The first one will be devoted to Coptic Liturgy and Church History. It will be a one-day event, tentatively scheduled on the last Saturday of June 1997. More details will be forthcoming in future editions of this Newsletter. The objective of this symposium is to allow Copts to participate in a scholarly atmosphere and present their research in areas more applicable and practical to the Coptic Church. This will act also as the professional training grounds for better participation by the Copts in the Leiden Congress in 2000. We encourage all Copts, not only in Southern California, to attend and/or participate.

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Prepared by Hany N. Takla. Last Update 1/2/97

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