May 13, 2014

Letters, Essays, and Sermons by Saint Gregory Nazianzus

This 18th-century manuscript is a collection of letters, essays, and sermons by Saint Gregory Nazianzus (died circa 389). The manuscript is thought to be the first Arabic translation from the original Greek and has not yet been edited or published. It is the second volume of a two-volume work. Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the Theologian, is recognized as a Father of the Church in both the Eastern and Western traditions. He was born in Cappadocia (eastern Anatolia), where he spent much of his life. He was a classmate of emperors and of Saint Basil the Great. Like Basil, he had a Christian family upbringing, a classical education, and was known for his steadfast defense of orthodox positions on the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. The maiamer (essays) in this volume cover theological topics, including the heresies of Apolinarius and Arius; marriage; and reflections on the Hasmonean family. Also included are a message to clergy on Easter, Gregory’s farewell address as bishop of Constantinople in 381, a panegyric to his friend and patron Saint Basil, and another to Saint Cyprian. At the end are comments on Gregory’s life and achievements. Gregory was much honored for his religious learning and literary talent. This work is part of the Iryan Moftah Collection of Coptic Books and Manuscripts at the American University in Cairo.

Pentateuch

This manuscript is an Arabic translation of the first five books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch), which is called on the first leaf, “The Holy Torah.” The book contains little information about its production other than a note at the end indicating that it is of Coptic origin. Framed cruciform patterns appear at the top of the first leaf and are the only illustrations in the work. There are chapter and verse headings in red as well as guidewords and occasional directions for recitation during fasts and feasts. At the 25th leaf of Genesis, the script and paper quality deteriorates, the former showing ink smudging and perhaps a different hand, while the latter suffers from staining and imprecise trimming. The front and back covers are contemporary with the manuscript and consist of layers of heavy paper covered in thin red leather. The covers are blind stamped with a rosette pattern commonly used when the book was made, around 1800. By the time of copying, the Coptic language and its dialects used in earlier times had been supplanted, except for liturgical use, by Arabic among Egypt’s native Christians. We do not know from the work itself whether the translation was made from the Greek, from a Coptic-language version, or if it is simply a copy of another Arabic translation. This work is part of the Iryan Moftah Collection of Coptic Books and Manuscripts at the American University in Cairo.

Letters, Pedagogical Teachings, and Sayings of Saint Anthony of Egypt

This manuscript opens with the 20 letters “to the sons who follow his [Anthony’s] gentle path…and prayers to keep us from Satan’s example.” The letters are for the most part short, many not exceeding five folios. According to an introductory note, they are addressed to both men and women. The work is in a bold but relaxed hand. Each letter or other significant section is set off in red. There are no contemporary marginal glosses, but comments and corrections (some in English) in pencil were made by Fahim Moftah, whose name appears on the flyleaf. The letters are followed by ta’lim ruhani (spiritual instructions) “and wasayah [holy admonitions] from the sayings of Saint Anthony the Great.” The manuscript ends with stories and devotional advice in question-and-answer form, demonstrating simple faith and pragmatic wisdom. Saint Anthony (circa 250–355 or 356) is recognized as a founder of Christian monasticism and is venerated as such to this day. Thanks to a biography written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (died 373), details of Anthony’s life and teachings are more complete than for most early Church leaders, although modern scholarship has questioned details of the biography. Regardless of issues of accuracy, it was thanks to Athanasius’s Life that Anthony’s influence on monastic asceticism spread throughout the Christian world. Works ascribed to Anthony are still in print and are widely sold. This manuscript is part of the Iryan Moftah Collection of Coptic Books and Manuscripts at the American University in Cairo.

Historical Books of the Old Testament

This Biblical manuscript contains portions of the Old Testament historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The volume is incomplete at the beginning and end. The scribe, whose name might have appeared in the missing colophon, is unknown. The copying was done in 1748 (Joshua) and 1749 (Second Kings). There are guide words but no page numbers. Chapters are inconsistently marked. The work is carefully written but appears to have received little use, as indicated by the lack of the fore-edge smudging observed in some other manuscripts in the Iryan Moftah Collection of Coptic Books and Manuscripts at the American University in Cairo. The binding is especially elaborate. It features fore-edge and envelope flaps, traditional for the region and era. The front and back leather covers bear blind-stamped medallions with pendants and corners with gilding that shows significant damage. Arabic translations of the Old and New Testaments available to Copts of the 18th and 19th centuries were based on several traditions, including early Coptic, Syriac, Greek, and even Latin. Scribes did not usually indicate the sources of their Arabic renderings, and scholars have not yet taken a critical look at the Biblical texts used by Egyptian Christians during the period immediately preceding Egypt’s opening to Europe.

Gospel of Saint Mark

This manuscript copy of the Gospel of Saint Mark can be dated to the 18th century. The text is copied clearly and enclosed in a double-lined frame in red. The folios are numbered with Coptic numerals. The manuscript has many marginal notes and Old Testament references in Arabic, with Coptic numerals employed for chapter and verse citations. The marginalia may have been added by Wadi’ Muftah, whose name appears on the front endpapers. The text is complete and is in excellent condition. The binding is brown leather over boards with a flap. The scribe, date, and place of copying are not given. Chapter headings in the Gospel text are indicated in red. Saint Mark the Evangelist is held in special veneration as the founder of the Coptic Church in the first century AD. A short biography precedes the Gospel, covering his birth and apostolate with Jesus Christ, his residency in Alexandria, Egypt, and his martyrdom. The story is much the same as that recounted in modern versions of his life and reflects his centrality in Coptic Church history. Other prefatory material includes a table of contents with brief explanations of the events of each chapter. This work is part of the Iryan Moftah Collection of Coptic Books and Manuscripts at the American University in Cairo.

Gospel of Saint Luke

This manuscript of the Gospel of Saint Luke can be dated to the 18th century. The text is written clearly and enclosed in a double-lined frame in red. The folios are numbered with Coptic numerals. The manuscript has many marginal notes and Old Testament references in Arabic, with Coptic numerals employed for chapter and verse citations. The marginalia may have been added by Wadi’ Muftah, whose name appears on the front endpapers. The text is complete and is in excellent condition, although the last page is copied in a different hand and lacks the border. The binding is brown leather over boards with a flap. The volume may have been part of a set. The scribe, date, and place of copying are not given. Chapter headings in the Gospel text are indicated in red. There is an extensive table of contents. Luke is identified in the heading of his Gospel text as “Saint Luke the Physician and one of the Seventy [Disciples].” Expanding on this brief description, the introductory biography recounts that Saint Peter selected Luke as one of the 70 apostles, and that Luke wrote his Gospel in Greek in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 14th year of the reign of the Emperor Claudius. He is said to have followed Peter in preaching in Macedonia and was martyred in Rome. This work is part of the Iryan Moftah Collection of Coptic Books and Manuscripts at the American University in Cairo.