St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter

Volume 3, No. 3 April 1997

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The State of Preservation of Biblical Texts In Coptic: Manuscripts containing Coptic biblical texts did not survive in great numbers. Even though the Bible, Old and New Testament, was probably all translated in Bohairic as well as Sahidic dialects. Each version was translated independently from the Original Greek. Texts in regional dialects other than Bohairic and Sahidic, though very ancient, were usually translations from the above mentioned dialects. They survived, but in even smaller numbers. There is no indication that they were complete translations of the entire Bible. The state of current preservation of the texts was affected by many of the changes that occurred within the Church in the Middle Ages. These can be summarized in the following points:

  1. The decrease of the number of educated Copts that were well-versed in the Coptic Language not long after the Arab Conquest of Egypt in the 7th century AD. This came gradually and was caused by the new emphasis placed by them on learning the Arabic Language to keep their government jobs.
  2. The transfer of the Patriarchate to the new capital Cairo in the 11th century AD. This caused the more standard Sahidic version to slowly go into oblivion in favor of the local dialect of the region: Bohairic.
  3. Introduction of Arabic into ecclesiastical circles further retarded the use of Coptic and subsequently of Coptic biblical texts in the Church.
  4. The institutions of strict lectionary system for all Coptic services from the 12th century AD and up, made the use of full texts of biblical books not necessary and eventually their production, in manuscript form, slowly gave way to those of the lectionaries. This was especially true of Old Testament texts.
  5. As Coptic lost ground in the church, monastic circles gained more prominence in its use. Thus reading Coptic biblical texts began to be influenced by the monastic habits. In other words, the less emphasized biblical books tended to disappear in Coptic. This can be seen from the visible loss of texts of the historical books of the Old Testament, which may not have given the monks the same benefit that they derived from other books of the Bible.

In summary, the dwindling number of Educated Copts, reading Coptic, adopting Arabic for use in the ecclesiastical services, reorganization of church readings in regimental lections, and the prominence of Monastic practices has led to the present sad state of preservation of complete Coptic biblical texts. As a result we have a Coptic Bible with some incomplete and many fragmentary sections that survived in a far smaller number of manuscripts than would be expected from such an Ancient biblical-based Church!

Extent of Preserved Biblical Texts: On the basis of the identified texts, the text of the Coptic Bible has been preserved as follows:

A. Old Testament:

a. Pentateuch: The five books of the Pentateuch are complete in Bohairic. In Sahidic, only Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were preserved in complete manuscripts with small lacunas. The Sahidic Genesis survived in several manuscripts but in a very fragmentary condition. Approximately 71% of the number of verses have survived in whole or in part. The Sahidic Exodus, though it has a smaller number of manuscripts that survived, is less fragmented. About 65% of the number of verses has survived. Most of these verses are complete. In Fayumic, very small fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers are preserved. In Akhmimic, an even smaller number of fragments survived of Genesis and Exodus.

b. Historical Books: In Bohairic, only a small number of lectionary readings has survived from Joshua, Judges, I&II Samuel, I&II Kings, and I&II Chronicles. Ruth, Judith, Tobit, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and I&II Maccabees are completely missing in Bohairic. In Sahidic, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I&II Samuel, Judith, Esther, and Tobit are complete with a few textual gabs. On the other hand I&II Kings, has 16% and 32%, respectively, of the verses preserved. Only a few verses survived from II Chronicles and a couple of chapters from I Maccabees. Missing books in Sahidic include I Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. A small portion of II Maccabees has survived in Akhmimic.

c. Poetic Books: In Bohairic, Psalms and Job are complete. Proverbs only has the first 14 chapters preserved in manuscripts with a small lection reading toward the end of the book. Only lectionary readings have been preserved of the Bohairic; Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Wisdom of Jesus Ibn Sirach. Ecclesiastes on the other hand did not survive in any known manuscript in that dialect. In Sahidic, with the exception of a sporadic lacunas, all the Poetic books are preserved complete, i.e. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon and Wisdom of Jesus Ibn Sirach. In other dialects, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are complete (with lacunas) in Fayumic (F7), Psalms is complete in Middle Egyptian (Mesokemic), and Proverbs is complete in Akhmimic and substantially complete in Dialect P. Very small fragments of Fayumic Job and Psalms and of Akhmimic Wisdom of Jesus Ibn Sirach, have also survived.

d. Major Prophets: In Bohairic; the Major Prophets; Isaiah, Jeremiah (including Lamentations, Baruch, and Epistle of Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel (with the Deuterocanonical sections) are complete. In Sahidic, only Isaiah, Lamentations, Baruch, and the Epistle of Jeremiah are complete. On the bases of number of verses, only 52% of Jeremiah, 57% of Ezekiel, and 40% of Daniel (including Deuterocanonical sections) were preserved. In Fayumic, Lamentations has survived complete along with some fragments from Isaiah, Jeremiah, letter of Jeremiah, and Daniel. In Achmimic, a few verses survived from Daniel.

e. Minor Prophets: In Bohairic, all 12 books in this category are complete. In Sahidic, only Jonah is preserved in whole. On the basis of the number of verses, what has survived of the rest is 43% of Amos, 36% of Hosea, 63% of Joel, 67% of Obadiah, 25% of Nahum, 75% of Micah, 53% of Habakkuk, 26% of Zephaniah, 63% of Haggai, and 42% of Zachariah. Sahidic Malachi did not survive in any biblical manuscript identified. In Akhmimic, the entire text of the Minor Prophets is preserved with some lacunas, primarily in the Books of Amos and Malachi.

B. New Testament:

a. Gospels: In Bohairic, all gospels are preserved in complete texts. In Sahidic, all the Gospels are complete with the noticeable missing section of John 7:53-8:11. In Mesokemic, the whole Gospel of St. Matthew and over one-half of the Gospel of St. John are preserved. In Asyutic (Lycopolitan), we find most of the Gospel of St. John preserved but only a small number of fragmentary verses have survived in Akhmimic. Also a number of fragments have survived in Fayumic from all four Gospels.

b. Pauline Epistles: Bohairic and Sahidic have all 14 epistles complete. In Mesokemic, fragments have survived of 10 of the 14 epistles. More substantial fragments from 10 of these epistles also survived in Fayumic. Other small fragments survived in newly identified I7 and X1 dialects.

c. Catholic Epistles: All seven Catholic Epistles are preserved complete in Bohairic and Sahidic. Small fragments have survived in Akhmimic and Fayumic.

d. Acts: Again, Acts is preserved complete in Bohairic as well as Sahidic. Mesokemic preserved a complete first half of the book. Small fragments in Fayumic were also identified.

e. Apocalypse: Only Bohairic and Sahidic have complete texts of this book. No fragments were identified to date in any other known Coptic Dialect.

Conclusion: From the brief survey above, the reader can see that the Old Testament is substantially complete but not totally complete. For the members of the Coptic Church, the usable portion is even smaller. This is an unfortunate fact that needs to be rectified. The Bible is the foundation of the Church and to have a vibrant Coptic Church, a complete Coptic Bible needs to be in existence. To accomplish this we need first to gather what we have available in all dialects and carefully reconstruct the missing sections primarily by translating from the Sahidic and then from the Greek version, whenever the Sahidic is lacking. This would involve a careful and delicate emulation of the translation process that our forefathers have used in translating from the Sahidic and/or Greek into the Bohairic. The resultant, a rather neutral text, may not be appealing to scholars but it will be essential to the well-being of the Coptic Church and its members. May God crown such efforts for the glory of His Holy Name.

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ST. SHENOUDA'S WRITINGS (8) (by Ashraf Hanna and Hany N. Takla)

This is the Third and final 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). Uncertain translation of the Arabic text is marked with '(?)'.

(9v) ... Also the prostration of the weak and his prayer and his rising is better than the strong. For our master David the prophet says in the Psalm, "God does not wish the strength of the plant and is not pleased with flexibility(?) of the mighty man, but the Lord is pleased with those who revere Him. Those who are hoping for His mercy, He will have mercy upon them. Let us go back to being brief in this meaning, lest the talk prolongs and the listener becomes wearied. Let it be known to you, O those present, that you are standing amid the hands of God. Also, know the greatness of this grace that God has graced us with, and the salvation became unto us after the deviation and the blindness, in the presence of our priests in attendance and our honored deacons in this orthodox, universal, apostolic Church. So now no one is permitted to speak during (10r) the prayers and the liturgies, one word, even under the greatest necessity. As our fathers the apostles commanded in their canons, not only men but women too. For our master Paul says, "As for the women, they are not permitted to speak in the Church. If they would like to learn, let them ask their husbands in their homes." Meaning that if a woman hears an instructing word and does not know its meaning and how it is explained, she is not permitted to ask anyone about the word inside the Church. But she (would) ask her husband in her house lest her talking among the men becomes improper and unnecessary(?). Great woe (for) a woman that comes to the Church of God, talking in words other than asking God for mercy in private and openly. Like Hanna, the mother of Samuel, for she was barren and the (10v)Book of Kings testified that she used to go to Bait al-Maqdas (or Jerusalem) and ask of God to grant her a son, and she used to move her lips in petition without speaking, fearing that one of the men would hear her. So God heard her petition and she was granted Samuel the prophet and he a judge over the sons of Israel. And he was the one that God has sent to David the prophet and anointed him king over the sons of Israel after Saul. And David was the second king over the sons of Israel. And the reign Saul ibn-Kais was not terminated except for the reason of disobedience of one commandment, and whoever reads the Book of the Kings would know it. And so God [said to him], "The city that you control it, burn it with fire and slay all that are in it by the edge of the sword, and do not leave (11r) in it (even) a dog urinating on a wall." So he did this and (also) kept some of them. Then they looked good before his eyes and he did not slay them. God then became angry at him and removed the dominion from his off-spring.

Look, O the faithful ones, at the wrath of God toward whom violate His commandment. When our father Adam violated His commandment because of one meal, it befell him and his off-spring following him this hardship, sorrows, and great toils which we are in it present. Saul, God made him king, and the dominion was far from him. So with one commandment, God removed the dominion from him and from his off-springs. So how will our response be between the hands of God, while we commit the destructive harmful sins, which necessitate the destruction upon their doers, like murder, adultery, theft, giving false witness, false faith, (11v) gossip, hatred, envy, and all the vices that He commanded that we do not commit. What will be our response, and what shame and disgrace we will be in on the day we stand between his hands. Let us ask for God's help in the hour of forgetfulness and from the day of the fearful predicament, (when) each one is judged according to his deed.

May God, O the gathered people in this church, make you among those who repented and whom God accepted their repentance, grant you unshaken joy, subject the devil under your feet, keep you alive up to a hundred year, and make you hear the joyous voice, saying, "Come unto me O the blessed one of My Father. Inherit the inheritance that was prepared for you before the foundation of the world." And repose the souls of all the sons of baptism through the intercessions of the pure Virgin Mary, Mother of Light, and the prayers of the martyrs and the saints, and keep the lives of the faithful priests and honored deacons. Amen.

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The First St. Shenouda Coptic Symposium (June 28, 1997 - Santa Monica California) (by Hany N. Takla)

Introduction: After attending the past two Coptic Congresses as well as the Mingana Symposium within the span of the last four years, it was felt that the time has come for the Society to sponsor a similar, yet on a smaller scale, event. There are two objects behind such an endeavor, and they are as follows:

1. To bring the flavor of such events to our community.

2. To train our members for a more improved and wider scale participation in the next Coptic Congress, scheduled for the Summer of the year 2000 in Leiden, the Netherlands.

Papers: The following papers are scheduled to be delivered, time permitting, at the Symposium:

A. Coptic Liturgy:

B. Coptic History:

Format: Each plenary paper will be a 15-minute presentation with no follow-up discussion. The other papers will be structured in a 20-minute format with a 10-minute discussion.

Abstracts: Each participant shall submit a brief abstract of his proposed paper no later than May 15, 1997. A copy of these abstracts will be included as part of the registration packet.

Time and Place: The symposium will be held at St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, located at 1235 Fourth Street, Santa Monica, California 90401. Parking is available at the parking structure across the street from the church. The time will be from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday June 28, 1997.

Schedule: The following tentative schedule has been made by the Organizing Committee:

8:30-9:00 a.m. Registration
9:00-10:45 a.m. Introduction and presentations
10:45-11:00 a.m. Break
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Presentations
12:30-1:15 p.m. Lunch Break
1:15-3:15 p.m. Presentations
3:15-3:30 p.m. Break
3:30-5:00 p.m. Presentations

Registration: All interested persons can pre-register through our website. The address is '' A nominal registration fee for the Symposium will be charged as follows:

Members and Students: $10.00
Non-Members: $15.00

Publication of Proceedings: The papers presented at the Symposium will be published in the 4th volume of the Society's bulletin for the year 1997-98. A final draft of each paper shall be submitted by the presenter, no later than August 31, 1997.

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NEWS (by Hany N. Takla)

1. The Coptic Life of St. John Kolobos (in English): The Coptic Church Review (CCR) has published a special double-issue volume on the Coptic Life of St. John Kolobos (the Short). It includes translations of the Bohairic life from a Vatican Manuscript and the surviving fragments of the Sahidic version with an excellent introduction. Dr. Tim Vivian of Bakersfield, California, and Mr. Maged S. Mikhail, a member of the Center's staff, are the contributors to this volume. This is the first time that this life appears in English and in such a well-done fashion. By permission of the Editor of the CCR, Dr. Rodolph Yanney, The Society will be distributing the book as a separate publication. Of course, the subscribers of CCR will get their own copies as part of their annual membership. Others can get it through the Society or their local distributors of Coptic Church Books. The price for a single copy is $5.00. Discounts will be available to distributors for quantity purchases of 25, 50, and 100 copies. Members of the Society will be given an introductory 20% discount until May 30, 1997. All orders are to be sent to the Society's mailing address: 1701 So. Wooster St. LA, CA 90035.

2. NKCSC Project Progress: The Lectionary of the Coptic Church for the Days of the Year is now available. The order no. NKCSC-CG1. It requires the Antonious Coptic fonts which is 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 retranslated from the Coptic for the first time. The price is $8.00 for members and $12.00 for non-members. A version compatible with Windows 95 will be available by April 30 of this year.

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 requires only Windows. A version for Win95 is also available with the added designation of 'M'.

3. 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, by 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 who are 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), Dr. Gawdat's Gabra's "Cairo - Old Coptic Churches", ($12 for members/$15 for non-members), and Fr. Matthias F. Wahba's edition of the Agbeyia ($4 for members/$5 for non-members) and the Coptic Liturgy ($12 for members/$15 for non-members). Fr. Wahba's editions include contributions by the Society to the translation of many of the Coptic Texts in them.

4. Bulletin of the Society: The third volume of the Annual Bulletin of the Society is running a bit later than expected. Availability of that volume will be sometimes in the second quarter of 1997. Dues-paying members will automatically get their copies in the mail. For non-members, and dues-paying members needing extra copies, the price will be $5.00 ($4.00 for members). Copies of Volume 1 and 2 are still available for sale.

5. The Society on The Internet: We are still at the same address, "". We are currently working on enhancing the information available in our Manual of Coptic Studies Section of the site. One of the projects we are currently working on is a list of all available Biblical texts of the Coptic New Testament.

6. Coptic Microfilm Library: In the last quarter we received the long-awaited 19 microfilm reels of Coptic manuscripts from the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The total number of frames is nearly 16,000 from about 8,500 shelf-mark items in the collection. A lot of bibliographic work will have to be done on these films because of the much scattered information available about the collection. Many of the fragments included in the collection have 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!

We also received approval from the authorities of the Göttingen University Library for obtaining microfilm copies of 8 Coptic and Arabic-Christian manuscripts from the Library collection. Many of the projects being performed by our staff involve these important manuscripts. The manuscripts originally were part of the Library of the Coptic Monastery of Anba Bishoy in Wadi' N Natrun, Egypt.

7. Coptic Book Library: The Library is still growing. We added many volumes, too many to list here. The most notable is volumes 2 and 3 of the Clauis Patrum Graecorum (CPG), the most important publication for research in the field of Patristics. We also secured a rare copy of Jean Maspero's volume on the Byzantine Manuscripts preserved in the Cairo Egyptian Museum. A complete list of these volumes will be included in our Society's Progress Report in October of this year.

8. St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter: Beginning with volume 4 of this newsletter [October 97], a new and more expanded 'Subscriber Edition' will be issued. This edition will be sent to all members-in-good-standing of the Society. Non-members on our mailing list will receive an abridged version of the Newsletter. Also, we will be offering a separate subscription to the Newsletter for those wishing to receive this enlarged version but are not interested in having a full membership in the Society. Details will be forthcoming.

9. Coptic Classes: A new class will be offered for translation of selected Coptic (Bohairic) Biblical texts at the Center. This would include separate sessions for Old and New Testament Texts. The class will tentatively be held on Saturdays 6-7:30 p.m., starting May 10, 1997. Also, 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. All the above classes are taught by Mr. Hany N. Takla, the Society's president.

Prof. Loprieno of UCLA will be offering a 4-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. We are also hopeful that one or two of our Center's staff, studying at UCLA, will be enrolled in an independent study class with Prof. Loprieno. This individual-type class will involve the participants in working with the manuscript copies of liturgical manuscripts available at the Coptic Center. This represents the first cooperative endeavor between us and the Academic community at UCLA. This cooperation was only possible through the ever-willing help of Prof. Loprieno.

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 them at (800) 333-8373. Excavation work at the Wadi 'N Natrun site of the Monastery of St. John Kolobos is expected to resume next year, God's willing. The student program that was part of the earlier season, however, will not be included this time. We wish them the best on such a task so dear to the hearts of all Copts interested in the preservation of our Christian Heritage.

11. Research Projects: 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 of the first three Gospels was completed and the whole project is expected to be complete by April or May 1997. 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 is what made these projects a reality. Some of the works of Mr. Sorial and Mr. Mankarious will be conducted (hopefully) as part of an Independent Study class at UCLA, as indicated above.

12. Work by Other Members: Dr. Tim Vivian is working on an edition of the life of St. Antony which will include the translation from the Coptic Sahidic version as well as a new translation of the Greek version. It is expected to be published as part of the Cistercian Studies Series. He is also working on another volume of that series about the Discourse of Pisentius on "Paphnutius". which is expected to be published in 1998.

13. American Coptic Studies Association: The first newsletter of the Association has come out. Its president is Professor Sami Hanna of Portland, Oregon. Annual membership dues are $25. For more information contact Prof. Hanna at e-mail address: The Association's mailing address is: 2625 SE Market Street, Oregon 97214.

14. Important Events: The Los Angeles Area was blessed by two events related to Coptic Studies in the past quarter. The first was a four-week Coptic Iconography Exhibition of the works of the renowned Coptic Iconographer, Dr. Stephane Rene of London. The exhibition featured 25 icons of varying sizes. A lecture about the sacred art of Coptic Iconography was delivered by the Artist and attended by about 80 persons, the majority of whom were non-Copts. The exhibition was at the Judson Gallery in the Highland Park District of Los Angeles, and it was held from February 2, 1997 to March 1, 1997.

The second event was a two-lecture series by the renowned German Coptic Scholar, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Horn of Göttingen University. These were held during the afternoons of March 3 and March 6, 1997 at the campus of UCLA. The first dealt with the subject of Coptic Literature, Origins and Types; and the Second on Coptic Monasticism, Forms and Concepts in the 4th Century. 20-25 persons, mostly students, were in attendance. Among them were several Coptic students, enrolled at the University. We thank Prof. Loprieno of UCLA for inviting Prof. Horn, an Old colleague of his, and making this opportunity possible.

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Prepared by Hany N. Takla. Last Update 4/2/97

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