Digital Edition of the Coptic (Sahidic) Old Testament

Contact: Heike Behlmer

On January 1, 2015, the Institute for Egyptology and Coptic Studies, in close cooperation with many scholars and research projects from Germany and abroad, resumed work on the Coptic (Sahidic) Old Testament, one of the most important translation projects of Late Antiquity and the foundation of the entirety of literature in Coptic, the last stage of the Ancient Egyptian language. This literature is to a large extent the literary legacy of the Egyptian Church, one of the oldest and most important churches of Christianity, which traces its origins back to the mission of the evangelist Mark in Alexandria. Today the Coptic Orthodox Church, which developed in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon (451) has its centre in Cairo. The church is headed by the 118th patriarch on the chair of St. Mark, Pope Tawadros II.

Unfortunately, there is no complete edition of the Old Testament in Sahidic, the dominant form of the Coptic language in the first millennium BC. Reasons for this lie in the history of scholarship, especially the dispersal of the manuscripts of important monastic libraries of Egypt since the end of the Middle Ages and the lack of interest in Coptic literature by early scholarship. Unfortunately a project that had devoted itself, from the end of the 1990s, to this research lacuna at the University of Halle-Wittenberg (Walter Beltz, Frank Feder, Jürgen Horn, Peter Nagel) could not be completed. The complete materials of this project (for example, photos, collation notebooks) have been made available for digitisation by the Seminar Christlicher Orient und Byzanz in Halle.

The project will close a large gap in research on Christian Egypt and in Biblical Studies and provide new insights into this important textual tradition of the Christian Bible, which is not only the main source for the Coptic language, the basis of almost the entirety of Coptic literature and an impressive translation achievement resulting from still under-researched multilingual milieus of Late Antique Egypt, but also the foundation of an important culture and a church with a 2000-year-old tradition and uncertain future.

The new edition has been designed from the beginning as a digital project and will use the advances in Digital Humanities to research the Coptic Bible. In the end, an electronic edition will be available that is not only interactive and easily accessible for the user, but will also make all components (manuscript description, digital surrogates, transcriptions, collations, text editions and translation as well as elements of the virtual edition and research environment) available to other research projects via the appropriate interfaces.

Past Activities:

  • International Conference Digital Edition of the Coptic (Sahidic) Septuagint: Issues and Challenges (April 2013).

    This conference was held, thanks to the generous hospitality of H.G. Bishop Damia, in the Coptic monastery Höxter-Brenkhausen, in the presence of Peter Nagel, the doyen of the Coptic Biblical Research. Scholars from Germany and abroad summarised the state of research on the Coptic Old Testament and discussed future perspectives. The conference proceedings (edited by Heike Behlmer, Frank Feder and Ute Pietruschka) have been published as an electronic resource in 2015 (download here).
  • Workshops on "Digital Coptic"

    In the summer semester 2013 and the winter semester 2013/2014, Juan Garcés conducted two workshops for students on the digitisation of Coptic texts. The focus in the first workshop was on the encoding of Coptic texts in TEI / XML, the second on corpus linguistic questions and digital tools (e.g. concordance programs). A further workshop in the summer semester 2015 (lecturer: Uwe Sikora) continued this series.
  • Summer School on the Coptic Bible

    From July 20 to August 1, In 2015, a summer school "The Coptic Bible and Coptic Literature in the Digital Age" was held in Göttingen and Hamburg (sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation). Lecturers in Göttingen: Nathalie Bosson, Marco Büchler, Frank Feder, Ulrich Schmid, Uwe Sikora; Lecturers in Hamburg: Paola Buzi, Alberto Camplani, Tito Orlandi, Ute Pietruschka, Alin Suciu.