Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie

Transmission History of Coptic Literature and the Bible

Unfortunately there is a lack of basic research in Coptology, the science of Christian Egypt, which in other disciplines have existed since the 19th century, and which provide a solid basis for further research, i.e. a Thesaurus Linguae Copticae, large data collections or, in many cases, modern text editions. This has its origins in the history of the cultural heritage of Egypt in the period after the end of the Pharaonic period. With the end of the Middle Ages the active mastery of the Coptic language, the last stage in the development of hieroglyphic Egyptian, was lost in favour of Arabic. At the same time, many libraries, especially monasteries, in which the written accounts of Christian Egypt were preserved, fell into decay. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries many of these libraries were dispersed by merchants and travelers buying manuscripts, often single fragments, leaves, or blocks of leaves, and placing them in collections and museums in Europe and the US. Not many manuscripts have been completely preserved, and the preserved leaves are usually scattered over several, often dozens of collections. At the same time, the Coptic monuments and texts were often lacking in attention by Egyptologists. After the deciphering of the hieroglyphs in 1822, scholarly interest very quickly turned from the Coptic language, which had been instrumental in the decipherment, to the older phases of the Egyptian language, and from the inconspicuous - in comparison - monuments and objects of everyday life from Christian Egypt to the monumental buildings of the pharaohs. The rise of Egyptology as a science from the nineteenth century onwards therefore did not parallel to a rise of Coptology, and as result the above-mentioned research gaps arose and continue to exist.