Arabic Versions Of The Old Testament


The earliest Arabic translations of books of the Old Testament date to the Middle Ages. There are extant medieval manuscripts of the books of Chronicles, Ezra, Joshua, Judges, Nehemiah, the Pentabeuch, and Ruth.

Books of Chronicles

The Arabic versions of the two books of Chronicles have not been the object of special study. G. Graf does not give a list of the manuscripts, but simply mentions some of them in passing when speaking of the books of Kings. At the present stage of research, classification is provisional.

In the sixth chapter of the Lamp of the Darkness, composed by Abu al-Barakat IBN KABAR between 1300 and 1320, there are two mentions of these books. They are called Kitab Fadalat al-Muluk, which renders the Greek paralipomena well, and they are divided into two books.

The brief descriptions given in the manuscript catalogs suggest that the Copts were acquainted with at least six different Arabic versions of Chronicles.

Version of the Polyglot Bibles.

The oldest manuscript of this version (National Library, Paris, Arabe 23) was copied in Egypt at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Folios 168v-87v give the text of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles 1:1-35:11. The end of the manuscript—2 Chronicles 35:12-36:23—was found at Copenhagen (Arabic 76, fols. 3r-4r).

Three other manuscripts appear to contain this same version. In chronological order, they are: (1) National Library, Paris, Arabe 1 (A.D. 1585), fols. 168v-195v; (2) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 38 (fols. 168r-218v, Graf, no. 244; Simaykah, no. 49). In this manuscript, 1 Chronicles is entitled “Sixth Book of Kings,” and is divided into six chapters; 2 Chronicles is entitled “Book of Solomon, Son of David, drawn from the Books of Kings,” and is not divided into chapters; and (3) Bodleian Library, Oxford, 270, (fols. 183v-end; Nicoll, Christian Arabic 2, end of seventeenth century); the manuscript is mutilated and stops at 2 Chronicles 17:17; 1 Chronicles in this manuscript is entitled “Sixth Book of Kings.”

Version Prior to the Fourteenth Century (perhaps from the Syriac).

The oldest known manuscript of this version is Bodleian 493 (fols. 200r-62v; Nicoll, Christian Arabic 5, A.D. 1321; mutilated text). The superscription to the first book reads: “First book of the Sifr d [sic] Yumin [Debr yaman], which being translated is the son of the right hand, and it is the fifth part of the books of Kings.”

Two other manuscripts of the Coptic Patriarchate of Cairo probably belong to this version: (1) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 32 (fols. 100-125; Graf, no. 235; Simaykah, no. 23, A.D. 1585), called “Book of Bar Yumin”; and (2) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 37 (fols. 215v-86v; Graf, no. 236; Simaykah, no. 94, A.D. 1760); the first book in this manuscript is entitled “First part of the book of Debr Yamin, which means the son of the right hand, which is the relics of the Kings, which is the Chronicles which is the fifth book of the books of Kings.”

None of the catalogs gives an incipit, and identification is therefore hypothetical, being based on certain common elements. These manuscripts give the Hebrew title (dibre hayyamin), along with a wrong but identical translation of the title, “the son of the right hand,” which must have its origin in the Syriac sfar dbar yomin.

Reworked Version of Version Prior to the Fourteenth Century.

A recast version appears to be close to the pre-fourteenth- century version. It gives the Syriac title dbr yamin with the translation “the son of the right hand.” However, here the division is different. The two books of Chronicles are considered as constituting the third part of the books of Kings, but the first book contains 1 Chronicles and chapters 1-5 of 2 Chronicles. The second book begins at chapter 6 of 2 Chronicles. Nevertheless, the text of this version might be identical to the foregoing, for about a manuscript in the Coptic Patriarchate (Bible 44), Graf writes (1934, p. 96): “The same books of the Old Testament as in 236 [Bible 37] with the same text, but a different division.” Unfortunately, no catalog gives an incipit.

Three manuscripts give this version: (1) Vatican Library, Arabic 399 (fols. 181r-240v; fifteenth century according to Assemani; 1523 according to Graf); the last six chapters of 2 Chronicles are lacking through mutilation of the manuscript; (2) Coptic Museum, Cairo, Bible 102 (fols. 156v-209v; seventeenth century; Graf, no. 674; Simaykah, no. 29); the last folio, containing 2 Chronicles 36:9-23, is lacking; and (3) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 44 (fols. 175v-237v; A.D. 1782; Graf, no. 237; Simaykah, no. 107).

Three Fifteenth-Century Manuscripts Not Identified as to Their Versions.

A manuscript in the National Library, Paris (Arabe 24, copied in Egypt in the fifteenth century), is a small manuscript of 68 folios that contains only the two books of Chronicles. However, between folios 38 and 39 there is a lacuna corresponding to 1 Chronicles 29:3 to 2 Chronicles 16:2. We calculate that this corresponds to two quinions (twenty folios). This manuscript is not mentioned by Graf.

A manuscript in Florence (Palatina Mediceae Orientalium 9 [olim 4], copied in Egypt in A.D. 1496) contains the two books of Chronicles, but the folios have been shuffled and should be reordered as follows: 93r-101v (1 Chronicles), 65v-79r (2 Chronicles 1-9), and 102r-109v (2 Chronicles 10-36). No incipit is given.

In a manuscript in the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo (Bible 50; Graf, 1. 257; Simaykah, no. 44; fifteenth-century Egyptian) folios 252r-83r contain 1 and 2 Chronicles. The former is divided into five chapters, while the latter is not divided.

The 1671 Propaganda Edition.

From the second half of the eighteenth century onward, probably under the influence of the European missionaries, the 1671 Roman translation became diffused within the Coptic church. We know of seven manuscripts kept at the Coptic Patriarchate of Cairo, and an eighth at the Coptic Museum. In chronological order, the manuscripts are: (1) Coptic Museum, Cairo, Bible 87 (fols. 157v-200v [mutilated manuscript]; eighteenth century; Graf, no. 670; Simaykah, no. 41); the text ends at 2 Chronicles 29:1; (2) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 31 (fols. 289v-335v; 1778; Graf, no. 254; Simaykah, no. 101); (3) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 35 (fols. 123v-72v; 1779; Graf, no. 231; Simaykah, no. 103); (4) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 42 (fols. 177r-233v; 1782; Graf, no. 221; Simaykah, no. 106); (5) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 48 (fols. 303v-47v; 1784; Graf, no. 218; Simaykah, no. 115); (6) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 43 (fols. 183r-252r; 1786; Graf, no. 215; Simaykah, no. 117); (7) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 33 (fols. 136r-201v; 1833; Graf, no. 223; Simaykah, no. 186); and (8) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 36 (fols. 134v-93v; nineteenth century; Graf, no. 224; Simaykah, no. 167); Graf states (1934, p. 92), “following the text of the Roman edition [of 1671], but with several stylistic modifications.”

Raphael Tukhi’s Edition (1752).

In 1752, Rufa’il al-Tukhi, a Coptic Catholic who had settled in Rome, published an Arabic Bible which was influenced by the Latin Vulgate. It is not known to what extent his version made its way into the Coptic Church of Egypt.


Ezra among the Copts, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.

In the Copts’ Arabic manuscript tradition, the book of Ezra is always called the “Second Book of Esdras,” as in the Septuagint. Most frequently, it also includes the book of Nehemiah, as in Hebrew. The “First Book of Esdras” is, depending on the manuscripts, one of two Apocrypha, either 3 Esdras of the Vulgate or 4 Esdras (Apocalypse of Esdras). This two Apocrypha are studied in the context of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Canon 55 of the 56 Canons of the Apostles, the Arabic version of which could be from the tenth century, mentions “the first and second book of Esdras, which form a single book,” after the book of Ruth the Moabite. This might correspond to Ezra and Nehemiah, or else to one of the Apocrypha followed by Ezra-Nehemiah.

Around 1320, Abu al-Barakat Ibn Kabar completed the redaction of his religious encyclopedia, Misbah al-Zulmah (Lamp of Darkness). In chapter 6 he deals with Holy Scripture and mentions Esdras twice. The first time is in the list of the books of the Old Testament (inspired by Canon 55). At no. 17 he writes: “The book of Esdras: two books” (cf. Samir, 1971, p. 210). The second time, in his analysis of the work, he mentions at no. 14 only the canonical book of 2 Esdras of the Septuagint or 1 Esdras of the Vulgate (Samir, 1971, p. 225). He does not mention Nehemiah, which is probably included in Esdras.

An echo of the debate surrounding the canonical status of the two books of Esdras appears in a manuscript in the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo (Theology 286; Graf, no. 338; Simaykah, no. 366). This theological manuscript is concluded by the Apocalypse of Esdras (fols. 286r-321v), here called the “book of the scribe of the law ‘Azra the prophet, called al-‘Uzayr . . . ; this is the first book.” This is followed by the canonical book of Ezra (fols. 322r-54r), which begins with the following note: “Translation of the book of ‘Azrah, the scribe of the law, [written] after the return from the captivity of Babylon, as is the belief of the Christians. However, according to the opinion of the Jews, this book was not written by him, as he is not mentioned in any way in the first book. The church is not in agreement with this, since there is a consensus concerning these two books in the church: they belong to the books numbered by the church, but no others [i.e., books of Esdras]” (Graf, 1934, p. 127). This manuscript, copied by a Copt in the eighteenth century, has, in fact, a far earlier origin; the text of Esdras it gives is very similar to that of a manuscript (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 251) copied in Egypt in 1335.

Eliminating the modern versions of the Bible, it is possible to identify four separate Arabic versions of the book of Esdras translated by the Copts or well known to them.

The Ancient Version.

The first version, which is not only the earliest attested but stylistically the most archaic, is found in two manuscripts, one copied in Cairo in 1335 (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 251); and the other, from Egypt at the end of the sixteenth century (Vatican Library, Arabic 3), which seems to have been copied from the former manuscript when it was still in Egypt.

In these manuscripts the text is entitled: “This is the second book of ‘Azra, which contains the account of the return of the children of Israel from the captivity of Babylon, the construction of the temple, and the renewal of Jerusalem.”

A recasting of this version appears in two manuscripts of the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo (Bible 75, fols. 29r-55r, Graf, no. 219, Simaykah, no. 51, Egypt, 1691; and Theology 286, fols. 322r-354r, Graf, no. 338; Simaykah, no. 366, Egypt, eighteenth century). Although this is not stated in the catalogs, they most probably also contain the book of Nehemiah.

In these four manuscripts, the first book of Esdras, which precedes the canonical text, is the Apocalypse of Esdras (4 Esdras in the Vulgate), while in the manuscripts of the following version it is 3 Esdras in the Vulgate. Furthermore, in these four manuscripts, the “second book of Esdras” contains Ezra and Nehemiah or 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras in the Vulgate, while in the other version it contains only 1 Esdras in the Vulgate, without Nehemiah.

The Version of the Polyglot Bibles.

A second Arabic version used among the Copts was the text of the polyglot Bibles of Paris (1629-1645) and London (1657). This text is completely different from the first version and its revision. This version is considerably more literary than the preceding one. According to Emil Roediger, cited by Graf (1944, vol. 1, p. 112, l. 26), this text seems to have been translated from the Syriac of the Peshitta.

It is usually stated that the two polyglot Bibles were based on a manuscript (Paris, Arabe 1) copied in Egypt in 1585. This information is not verified. The same incipit occurs in a manuscript copied in Cairo in 1585-1586 (British Library, London, Or. 1326). In this manuscript, the “first book of Esdras” (fols. 50v-57r) corresponds to 3 Esdras in the Vulgate, whereas the second (fols. 58r-63r) corresponds only to 1 Esdras.

Two manuscripts of the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, probably give the same Arabic text (Bible 34, fols. 20v-32v, copied c. 1578, Graf, no. 246, Simaykah, no. 36; and Bible 86, fols. 257r-67v, copied in 1741, Graf, no. 245, Simaykah, no. 80). In both these manuscripts, the canonical text is preceded by 3 Esdras of the Vulgate.

The 1671 Propaganda Version.

A third Arabic version, totally independent of the two foregoing ones, is found in the text published by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide at Rome in 1671. Although this text is extraneous to the Coptic tradition, it was the most widespread among the Copts. According to Graf (1944, Vol. 1, p. 112 sec.), there are no less than eleven manuscripts of this text kept at the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, copied between 1691 and 1833.

Version by Raphael Tukhi.

In 1752, the Copt Rufa’il al-Tukhi published the whole of the Bible in two volumes in Rome at the press of Angelo (Malak) Rutili. This version was intended for diffusion among the Christians of Egypt; Graf lists no manuscripts of this version, but it is possible that some of the eleven manuscripts attributed to the Propaganda version are based on this one. In point of fact, Tukhi’s version is actually a revision of the Propaganda version: he drew his inspiration from it and improved its style (it is also customarily stated that he revised the text to bring it closer to the Vulgate).


The medieval and later Coptic tradition was acquainted with at least four different Arabic versions of the book of Joshua. The principal source of the following information is the manuscript catalogs.

The first version derives from the Syriac text of the Peshitta.

When or how this version made its appearance among the Copts is uncertain; the oldest known manuscript is dated 1321. Strangely, this version is practically unknown among the Syrians or other Christian communities. By way of the Paris manuscript, this version was used for the two polyglot Bible editions of Paris and London, thereby acquiring a certain official character, at least in the West.

The principal manuscripts in chronological order are:

(1) Bodleian Library, Oxford, 493 (fols. 3r-31v, 20 Baramhat A.M. 1037/16 Safar A.H. 721/17 March A.D. 1321); (2) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 57 (fols. 1r-20v, 41r-44v, fourteenth or fifteenth century; Graf, no. 273; Simaykah, no. 61); (3) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 50 (fols. 1v-30v [in 18 chapters]; a gloss adds: “It is said that there exists a work in Coptic which complements and completes this work”; fifteenth century; Graf, no. 257; Simaykah, no. 44); (4) Palatina Mediceae, Florence, Orientalium 9 (olim 4; fols. 1v-12r; 1496-1497); (5) National Library, Paris, Arabe 1 (fols. 86v-96v; 1585); and (6) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 21 (fols. 147v-167v, 1587; Graf, no. 242; Simaykah, no. 25).

A second Arabic version from the Syriac is attested in a manuscript in the Coptic Patriarchate (Bible 32; fols. 74vff.; 1585; Graf, no. 235; Simaykah, no. 23).

A third Arabic version attested among the Copts is to be found in the original portion of a manuscript in the Vatican Library (Arabic 449; fols. 18r-29r; 1335) that gives the text of chaps. 16-24 (numbered in the manuscript as 12-17). This Arabic text is translated from the Greek of the Septuagint, perhaps through the intermediary of a Coptic version (cf. Vaccari, p. 102, sec. 2, who studied a garshuni (a special script) copy of this text contained in the manuscript no. 2108 of the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome).

A fourth Arabic version that was greatly diffused among the Copts from the eighteenth century onward was translated from the Latin text of the Vulgate. These are copies made from the 1671 Roman edition. They are to be found in an eighteenth-century manuscript of Joshua 10:4-24:33 (Coptic Museum, Cairo, Bible 87; folios 11r-25v; Graf, no. 670; Simaykah, no. 41), and in at least five manuscripts of the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo (Bible 31, fols. 152vff., 1778, Graf, no. 254, Simaykah, no. 101; Bible 42, fols. 2r- 25v, 1782, Graf, no. 221; Simaykah, no. 106; Bible 48, fols. 164r-81v, 1784, Graf, no. 218; Simaykah, no. 115; Bible 43, fols. 1r-27r, A.D. 1786, Graf, no. 215, Simaykah, no. 117; Bible 41, fols. 138vff., 1872, Graf, no. 233; Simaykah, no. 187).

Once more, it is surprising that the Arabic versions of the Bible diffused among the Copts are of very diverse origins, and that those of Coptic origin are extremely rare if not nonexistent.


The lines published by G. Graf (1944, Vol. 1, p. 110, 11. 5-30) on the Arabic versions of the book of Judges have been superseded by the work of Bengt Knutsson. Certain additional details are contained in the article by Samir (1981) on the date and especially the origin of the manuscripts and also the connection between some of them. These observations are important for the present article. A correction must, however, be made to what is stated concerning Vatican Library, Arabic 468 (Samir, pp. 91-92–MS e): it is of Melchite, not Coptic, origin.

The Copts have been acquainted with at least seven different Arabic versions of the book of Judges.

The Version of the Polyglot Bibles.

The first of these, which was certainly the more widely diffused, was translated from the Syriac text of the Peshitta with later influences deriving from the Septuagint. This version was published in the two polyglot Bibles, of Paris (1645) and London (1657). A critical edition of chapters 1, 6, 11, and 21 is given by Knutsson (1974, pp. 238-68).

The author of this version is unknown, as is the date it was made. The oldest known manuscript would appear to be from the end of the thirteenth century and of Iraqi provenance. Neither is the date known when it made its appearance in the Coptic church; the oldest Coptic manuscript is dated 1344.

This version is attested today by at least fifteen manuscripts, twelve of which are of Coptic provenance. These are listed below for the first time, in chronological order and with precise references: (1) National Library, Paris, Arabe 22 (1344); (2) Cambridge Add. 3044 (1355; catalog by Browne, no. 1298); (3) National Library, Paris, Arabe 23 (P) and Copenhagen, Arabic 76 (C); a fourteenth- century manuscript, now divided, to be reassembled as follows (cf. Samir, 1981, p. 97): P 1-23, C 1-2, P 24-187, C 3-20; (4) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 57 (fourteenth-fifteenth centuries; Graf, no. 273; Simaykah, no. 61); (5) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 50 (fifteenth century; Graf, no. 257; Simaykah, no. 44); (6) Medicea Laurentiana, Florence, Orientalium 9 (olim Or. 4; 1496); (7) Vatican Library, Arabe 399 (1523); (8) National Library, Paris, Arabe 1 (1584-1585); (9) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 32 (1585, by the same—Muslim—copyist as the foregoing; cf. Samir pp. 99-101; Graf, no. 235; Simaykah, no. 23); (10) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 38 (1686; Graf, no. 244; Simaykah, no. 49); (11) Bodleian Library, Oxford, 270 (end of seventeenth century, cf. Samir, 1981, p. 92, no. 4; catalog: Nicoll, no. 2); (12) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 44 (1782; Graf, no. 237; Simaykah, no. 107).

Syro-Egyptian Version.

The second version is known from only two manuscripts, both of Coptic origin. Here, too, no information is available concerning the translator or the date at which this version made its appearance in the Coptic church, other than that it was prior to 1321, the date at which the earlier of the two manuscripts were copied. These two manuscripts are (1) Bodleian Library, Oxford, 493 (1321; catalog: Nicoll, no. 5) and (2) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 37 (1760; Graf, no. 236, Simaykah, no. 94).

The text would appear to be (according to Knutsson, pp. 225-27) more faithful to the model of the Peshitta than that of the foregoing version. However, Knutsson states that the Oxford manuscript shows signs of Greek influence (however, these may be Coptic influences). Knutsson (pp. 270-87) gives an edition of chaps. 1, 6, 11, and 22.

Coptic Version.

The third version is known only from a single manuscript of Coptic origin (Vatican Library, Arabic 449, dated 1335). Contrary to Graf (1944, Vol. 1, p. 110, ll. 24-26) and Knutsson (1974, cf. pp. 5-6, 17-18), this text was not translated directly from the Septuagint but from the Coptic (probably Bohairic), which derived, in turn, from the Septuagint (cf. Vaccari, 1923, p. 102, sec. 2). The manuscript contains two lacunae: Judges 6:13-32 and 18:30-19:24 (cf. Knutsson, 1923, p. 17).

This manuscript was used as a model (only for the historical books; otherwise the model was Vatican Library, Arabic 445) for the manuscript in the Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome (no. 2108), as has been shown by Vaccari (1923, pp. 102-103). This manuscript in Syriac characters was the work of the Maronite bishop of Damascus, Sarkis al-Ruzzi (Sergio Risi), who copied it during his stay in Rome between 1622 and 1638 for the Propaganda edition of the Arabic Bible. Here too, the lacunae reappear.

Propaganda Mixed Version.

The fourth version is the Propaganda edition (Rome, 1671). It is based principally on the Vatican Library, Arabic 468, based on the Peshitta, with minor revisions taken from the Casanatense manuscript and others based on the Latin Vulgate. This version was reedited, with correction of the typographical errors, at London in 1857. Knutsson gives (1974, 1. pp. 302-313) chapters 1, 6, 11, and 22 according to the Roman edition, noting the slight London The Roman edition was widely diffused in Egypt by Latin missionaries, as can be seen from the numerous manuscripts of Coptic origin that derive from it. Of eleven identified Arabic manuscripts of this version, one (Paris, Arabic 2) comes from Iran, another is of unknown provenance (London, Or. 8745), and nine come from Egypt.

The oldest of these was copied in 1754. These manuscripts are: (1) Mingana, Birmingham, Christ. Arab. 5 [103] (1754); (2) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 31 (1778; Graf, no. 254; Simaykah, no. 101); (3) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 42 (1782; Graf, no. 221; Simaykah, no. 106); (4) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 48 (1784; Graf, no. 218; Simaykah, no. 115); (5) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 43 (1786; Graf, no. 215; Simaykah, no. 117); (6) Coptic Museum, Cairo, Bible 87 (eighteenth century; Graf, 670; Simaykah, no. 41); (7) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 41 (1872; Graf, no. 233; Simaykah, no. 187); (8) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 36 (nineteenth century; Graf, no. 224; Simaykah, no. 167); and (9) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 29 (nineteenth century; Graf, no. 239; Simaykah, no. 35).

Version by Raphael Tukhi.

The fifth version was made by Rufa’il al-Tukhi.

It is commonly stated that his translation was made from the Latin Vulgate (see, e.g., Graf, 1944, Vol. 1, pp. 97-98, and the accompanying bibliography). However, a careful examination of his translation shows that it is a revision of the 1671 Roman edition; he improved the language and style of this edition and made slight modifications in order to bring the text into line with the Vulgate when divergences arose.

Graf and Knutsson mention no manuscripts of this version. However, it is quite probable that some of the manuscripts mentioned above belong to this version on account of the resemblance of the two texts.

Modern Versions.

In the modern period, the 1864 version of the American Protestant Mission of Beirut, made by Cornelius van Dyck and his collaborators, has been widely diffused among the Coptic Orthodox. The 1876 Beirut edition of the Jesuits was less widely diffused, and was known primarily in Coptic Catholic circles. These two editions are translated from the Hebrew text. At present there is no edition proper to the Copts themselves.


The book of Nehemiah is not always found in the Arabic manuscripts of the Copts. What is more, when it is found, it is most frequently an integral part of the canonical book of Ezra (Esdras), to which it forms a kind of appendix introduced by the words: “Discourse of Nehemiah son of Halaqiyya,” as is also the case in Hebrew. Thus, manuscript catalogs often omit it.

For the same reason, it is not mentioned explicitly in the list of the canon of the Bible found in the fifty-fifth of the fifty-six Canons of the Apostles, translated into Arabic by the Copts around the tenth century, nor in chapter 6 of the Lamp of the Darkness by Ibn Kabar, composed around 1320.

Ignoring the editions that appeared after the beginning of the nineteenth century, which were diffused among the Copts, only three different versions of this book are in use among the Copts.

The Version of the Polyglot Bibles.

The text of the polyglot Bibles of Paris (1629-1645) and of London (1647) would appear to derive from a manuscript in the National Library, Paris (Arabic 1, fols. 205v-209v Egypt, 1585; Troupeau’s catalog poses a problem here). Unlike the book of Ezra, the text here is identical with that of the manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (251; fols. 82r-105r copied in Cairo in 1335).

The two manuscripts of the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, already mentioned for the book of Ezra (Bible 75, Egypt, 1691, and Theology 286, Egypt, eighteenth century) also contain the text of Nehemiah, probably in the same version, unless here, too, we find a revision of this version. By contrast, a manuscript in the British Library, London (Or. 1326) does not seem to contain the text of Nehemiah.

According to Emil Roediger (1829, pp. 106-110), the text of Nehemiah was translated from two different sources: Nehemiah 1:1-9:27, or the Arabic versions, appear to have been translated from the Hebrew by a Jew between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, and subsequently interpolated by a Christian on the basis of the Syriac of the Peshitta; the translation of the sections from Nehemiah 9:28 to the end appears to come from the Syriac around the fourteenth century. However, the existence of this text in the Oxford manuscript, as copied in Cairo in 1335, suggests an earlier date mainly because of copyist errors.

The 1671 Propaganda Edition.

After Albert Vaccari’s study, it is generally accepted that the Arabic text of the Bible published at Rome in 1671 by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide was based principally (for the Old Testament) on Vatican Arabic 468. This manuscript was completed by the Melchite priest Dawud, son of the priest Tadurus, son of the priest Wahbah, of the village of Bturran in the province of Tripoli in Syria, in 1578-1579. The commission came from Giambattista Eliano, who was planning the publication of an Arabic Bible (see the colophons of fols. 489v-90r given on pl. V of Vaccari’s article).

When speaking of the text of Ezra and Nehemiah contained in this manuscript, Vaccari (1925, p. 89, last sec.) states it is “identical to the Polyglot version.” In actual fact, if the Propaganda text follows the Vatican Arabic 468 at this point, Vaccari’s statement must be corrected, since the text differs considerably from the polyglot version.

According to Graf (1944, Vol. 1, p. 112, sec. 6), this text would appear to be found in ten manuscripts of the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, copied between 1691 and 1833.

Version of Raphael Tukhi (1752).

As concerns, this version and its use among the Copts, all the remarks made concerning Ezra can also be applied to Nehemiah.


It is very difficult to find out which Arabic versions of the Pentateuch were circulated among the Copts, because the catalogs almost never indicate where the manuscripts came from, and because studies on the versions of the Bible do not discuss this question. The present section is limited strictly to those manuscripts that are of Coptic provenance; they constitute the source of information here.

The Coptic church has been conversant with at least eight different Arabic translations of the Pentateuch. Almost all of these came from other communities, and have received varying degrees of Coptic influence. These versions are translations from Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Syriac, and Latin.

Version from the Hebrew.

The first version was made directly from the Hebrew Masoretic text, by Sa‘id ibn Yusuf al-Fayyumi, an Egyptian Jew (b. c. 892 and d. at Surah, Iraq, in 942). He is considered to be the founder of medieval Jewish exegesis. He is sometimes referred to in the West as the Gaon Saadia.

His translation occasionally has the character of a paraphrase, as he employed certain periphrastic expressions in order to clarify the text; he also retranslated the geographical names, transposed certain expressions, and avoided anthropomorphisms. This permitted him to avoid composing a commentary on the text. He himself explained his method in the introduction to the Pentateuch, published in 1893 by J. Dérenbourg (Vol. 1, pp. 1-4), translated into German and discussed by W. Engelkemper in 1897 and 1901.

This version was first published in Hebrew characters, as was Dérenbourg’s edition, at Constantinople in 1546. It was republished in the two polyglot Bibles of Paris and London. In 1867, P. de Lagarde published a new edition of the text of Genesis and Exodus, based on the oldest known manuscript, that of Warner, Leiden, 377 (1239-1240).

The Copt Fadlallah ibn Tadrus ibn Yusuf ibn Fadlallah revised the text in the sixteenth century in order to integrate it into the Coptic tradition; he also composed a new introduction. Nevertheless, this version did not acquire a really official character in the Coptic church, although it was the most widely diffused. It is, however, to be found in the margins of certain Coptic-Arabic liturgical manuscripts, as was shown by Joseph Francis Rhode (1921, pp. 94-97).

Manuscripts of this version are numerous and all of Coptic origin. They are listed unsystematically in Graf (1944, Vol. 1, pp. 102-103; here the manuscript of the Coptic Patriarchate dated 1332 should be deleted, as it is not of this version). The oldest manuscripts (thirteenth to fourteenth century) are, in chronological order: (1) Warner, Leyden, 377 (Oriental 2365; 1239-1240; contains only Genesis and Exodus); (2) Laurentiana, Florence, Oriental 112 (1245-1246); (3) National Library, Paris, Arabe 4 (thirteenth century); (4) private collection Cairo (1355; manuscript mentioned by Louis Cheikho, Mashriq 21 [1923]: 141-42); (5) Vatican Library, Borgia Arabic 129 (fourteenth century); (6) British Library, London, Christian Arabic 1 (fourteenth century); (7) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 22 (fourteenth century; Graf, no. 234, Simaykah, no. 2); (8) Vatican Library, Arabic 2 (fifteenth century); (9) National Library, Paris, Arabe 1 (1584-1585; by the Muslim ‘Abd Rabbih ibn Muhammad al-Sha‘rani; this manuscript was the basis for the Paris polyglot Bible edition of the Arabic version [1629-1645]); and (10) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 32 (1585, by the same Muslim copyist; Graf, no. 235; Simaykah, no. 23); concerning the identity of the copyist, see Samir, 1981, pp. 99-101).

Versions from the Septuagint.

Several Arabic versions in use among the Copts derive directly from the Septuagint.

The first version was made on an ancient parchment written in characters called grafh (graphe). This text is attested in the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo (Bible 17; transcribed in 1381; Graf, no. 241; Simaykah, no. 17).

A second version is contained in a manuscript in the National Library, Paris (Arabic 15; transcribed in Egypt in the fourteenth century [and not in the eleventh century, as in Slane, Rhode, Graf, etc.]; Graf, 1944, Vol. 1, p. 103, no. 2a).

A third version, also based on the Septuagint, is attested from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Huntington 424; catalog: Uri, Christian Arabic, no. 8) in its more recent part (fols. 1- 14 and 403-08; Gn. 1-5 and Dt. 32:43-34:12). This text of Genesis is reproduced in Rhode (pp. 50*-57*; Graf, 1944, vol. 1, p. 103, no. 2b).

A fourth version from the Greek, without an intermediate version, is widely attested in the manuscripts of Coptic origin, including bilingual Coptic and Arabic manuscripts (Graf 1944, vol. 1, pp. 103-104). Among them are the following: (1) Vatican Library, Coptic 1 (Coptic, tenth-eleventh century Arabic, thirteenth- fourteenth century); (2) Bodleian Library, Oxford, Laud Oriental 272 (catalog: Uri, Christian Arabic, no. 1; copied by the monk TUMA IBN AL-SA’IGH in 1347); (3) National Library, Paris, Arabe 12 (1353); (4) Paris, Coptic 1 (bilingual: Bohairic and Arabic; copied in 1356-1358); (5) British Library, London, Or. 422 (Crum, Coptic, no. 712; 1393); (6) Vatican Library, Coptic 2-4 (bilingual: Bohairic and Arabic; fourteenth century; Arabic text revised on the basis of the Coptic); and (7) Bodleian Library, Oxford, Huntington 33 (Uri, Coptic, no. 1; 1674, probably copied from the Paris Coptic 1).

Version from the Bohairic Coptic.

Curiously enough, this version, the only one made from the Coptic (as far as one can state with certainty), is unknown, and is difficult to distinguish from the fourth version from the Greek. The oldest manuscript would appear to be in Cambridge (Add. 3289, dated 1337-1338; Graf, 1944, p. 104, sec. 2).

Versions from the Syriac.

The most diffused version of those based on the Syriac is based on the text of the Peshitta. It was originally in use among the Melchites of Egypt. It would seem that it was the philo-Melchite Marqus ibn Qanbar, the blind priest of Damietta at the end of the twelfth century, who introduced it into the usage of the Coptic church. This version is generally connected with his commentary on the Pentateuch (Graf, 1947, pp. 329-32). We know a large number of manuscripts of this version, including some in garshuni (special script). The oldest of them are of Coptic origin. The manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Graf, 1944, pp. 105-106) in chronological order are: (1) National Library, Paris, Arabe 16 (1238); (2) Vatican Library, Arabic 33 (late thirteenth century); (3) Paris, Arabe 10 (1330); (4) Paris, Arabe 11 (1331); (5) Vatican Library, Arabic 606 (1344); and (6) Bodleian Library, Oxford, Pococke 219 (Uri, Christian Arabic 4; fourteenth century?).

Another version of Syriac origin, based on the tenth-century Syro-Hexapla and translated by the Melchite al-Harith ibn Sinan ibn Sunbat, was well-known among the Copts. It made its appearance in the Coptic church no later than the beginning of the thirteenth century probably by way of the Melchites. Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar (d. 1324) mentions it in chap. 6 of his Lamp of Darkness. We know about ten manuscripts of this version (Graf, 1944, Vol. 1, pp. 107-108), including four old manuscripts copied by Copts: (1) Sinai Arabic 10 (manuscript transcribed at the Dayr Anba Bula [Coptic monastery] in 1233-1234; of note is fol. 205v, an addition to the Decalogue [Dt. 5:1-22], following the Samaritan Torah); (2) Vatican Library, Arabic 1 (thirteenth century, completed in 1329); (3) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 27 (Graf, no. 274; Simaykah, no. 111; 1330); and (4) National Library, Paris, Arabe 14 (fourteenth century, though Graf attributes it to the sixteenth century).

The version from the Latin Vulgate.

Last and much later–in the eighteenth century—an Arabic version based on the Latin Vulgate appeared among the Coptic community. This follows the Roman (Arabic) edition of 1671. It is probable that Rufa’il al-Tukhi was responsible for this, for two of the Vatican manuscripts are written in his hand. The manuscripts of Coptic origin are: (1) Vatican Library, Borgia, Arabic 48 (eighteenth century; by Rufa’il al- Tukhi); (2) Vatican Library, Borgia, Arabic 154 (1776; by Rufa’il al-Tukhi); (3) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 48 (Graf, no. 218; Simaykah, no. 115; 1784); (4) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 31 (Graf no. 254; Simaykah, no. 101; eighteenth century); and (5) Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 41 (Graf, no. 233; Simaykah, no. 187; 1872).

Unidentified Versions.

Other manuscripts of Coptic origin present a text that has not been sufficiently described. Of interest, in particular, is the oldest of these, National Library, Paris, Arabic 15 (fourteenth—not eleventh—century). Two others are held by the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo: Bible 30 (Graf, no. 253; Simaykah, no. 15; fourteenth century, pre-1378) and Bible 21 (Graf, no. 242; Simaykah, no. 25; 1587; giving the text side-by-side with the original Hebrew).

This attempt to compile an inventory throws into strong relief the characteristic features of translated Arabic literature of the Copts: its considerable richness, owing principally to the Copts’ openness to all the traditions of the Christian East (and even of the West), and evidence of a certain eclectic tendency.


The small book of Ruth has not been much studied, and the ten lines Graf devotes to it (1944) are teeming with errors. In the absence of a thorough study, at least a specimen of each of the versions known should be published, by which the manuscripts can be classified.

The book of Ruth apparently has not always been in use among the Copts. A manuscript copied in Egypt in 1584-1585 (Paris, Arabe 1), the usual model of the polyglot Bibles, omits it, despite Graf’s affirmation to the contrary. He also states that a Coptic manuscript from the end of the seventeenth century (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 270; Nicole, Christian Arabic 2) contains Ruth; it does not.

However, the oldest known manuscripts—those of the fourteenth century—do give the text. Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar, in chapter 6 of Lamp of Darkness, mentions it twice, once according to the list in the fifty-fifth of the fifty-six Canons of the Apostles (ed. Samir, 1971, p. 210), and on another occasion (p. 226).

The place of the book of Ruth in the Bible also varies.

Sometimes it follows Judges, as in the Septuagint, and sometimes it is found after the books of Kings. This explains why the text is not found in some sources, such as in the National Library, Paris, Arabe 22 (Egypt, 1344), the Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Bible 57 (Egypt, fourteenth-fifteenth centuries; Graf, no. 273; Simaykah, no. 61), or the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 270 (Egypt, end of the seventeenth century). These three manuscripts end with the books of Kings.

It is not known whether the text of Ruth published in the polyglot Bibles is of Coptic origin, as is the case for the other biblical books.

The Copts were familiar with at least four different Arabic versions of the book of Ruth, apart from those made after the second half of the nineteenth century. The first version appears to be translated from the Syriac. The most ancient witness is in the Vatican Library, Arabic 449 (fols. 57r-60v; Egypt; 1335). In this manuscript, Ruth follows Judges. The second version appears to be translated from the Septuagint, either directly from the Greek, or through a Coptic intermediary. It is found in the National Library, Paris, Arabic 23 (fols. 132r-34r; Egypt, fourteenth century), in which it follows the “Second Book of Kings,” which corresponds to the two books of Kings, and precedes the book of Esther. The third version is attested in the 1671 Roman edition.

It gives a mixed text, based principally on the Vatican Library, Arabic 468 (of Syrian provenance, translated from the Peshitta, with Greek influences, but revised on the basis of the Roman Casanatense 2108). At this point Roma Casanatense 2108 was copied from the Vatican Library, Arabic 449, the manuscript of the first version, and of the Latin Vulgate. Graf gives a list of numerous manuscripts in Cairo that appear to have been copied from this edition. The fourth version is that made by Rufa’il al-Tukhi and published in Rome in 1752. According to Graf, this is a recasting of the third version. However, the incipit shows it is considerably different, and also that it differs from the text of the polyglot Bibles. Scholars do not know if it was used as a model for Coptic manuscripts. The incipit reads: “Lamma kanat tatawalla al-qudat, fa-kana fi ayyam ahad al-qudat ju‘ ala al- ard, fa-intalaqa min Bayt Lahm Yahuda rajul wa-imra’atuh wa- ibnayh [sic] li-yatagharrab fi balad Muwab” (vol. 1, p. 336).

Finally, many manuscripts are still completely unknown. Other versions may emerge, as was the case for the book of Judges.


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