The history of the Bashmuric dialect is in large measure that of a “phantom dialect.” Coptic Egypt had many more dialects than modern science has been able to identify from the texts discovered; but some of these never reached the literary stage. Others did (perhaps poorly enough), but none of their witnesses has been found as yet. Hence, they are as good as completely lost. Such might have been the fate of Bashmuric it if had not been saved from oblivion by a Coptic grammarian of the fourteenth century (Garitte), Athanasius of Qus, who wrote in Arabic as follows (cf. Scala copte
44 in the National Library, Paris, p.154, left column, 11. 14-22, translated. W. Vychichl; cf. Kasser, 1975, p.403):
… and you know that the Coptic language is distributed over three regions, among them the Coptic of Misr which is the Sahidic, the Bohairic Coptic known by the Bohaira, and the Bashmuric Coptic used in the country of Bashmur, as you know; now the Bohairic Coptic and the Sahidic Coptic are (alone still) used, and they are in origin a single language.
The first scholars who in the seventeenth century set themselves to the serious study of Coptic had at their disposal only an extremely limited documentation—above all, Bohairic texts, some Sahidic, and Fayyumic texts in even smaller number. Hence, they had before their eyes three Coptic idioms or “dialects,” and they knew the text of Athanasius of Qus, who also spoke of three Coptic “dialects” and indicated their names and their location. These Coptologists thus sought to give to the “dialects” they knew the names mentioned by the bishop of Qus.
For Sahidic and Bohairic, the identification was made without difficulty. The Sahidic and the Bohairic of Athanasius having been identified, there remained, on the one hand, the Fayyumic documents and, on the other, the mention of the “Bashmuric” dialect. How could they not yield to the temptation to confuse them—the more so since one then recovered the tripartite scheme dear to the Egyptologists, with three chief regions marked by Egyptian history, Upper, Middle, and Lower Egypt?
In Tattam’s grammar (1830) one sees that the texts of the third dialect, which could not be assimilated to those of the first (Bohairic “Coptic”) or the second (“Sahidic”) are perforce those of “Bashmuric.” Georgi (1789) affirmed that the region of Bashmur, of which the learned fourteenth-century grammarian spoke, is not the one in the eastern Delta but another Bashmur, deriving from the Coptic pcam/r, territory “beyond the river,” or the Egyptian oases
of the Western Desert, including the Fayyum (cf. Quatremère, 1808, pp. 147-228, for whom Fayyumic could not be the famous “Bashmuric” of bishop of Qus; hence, Quatremère gave to Fayyumic the name Oasitic). Champollion (1811, 1817) took up this terminology without contesting it; likewise Peyron (1835, 1841), Schwartze (1850), and others. Later still, at the time when the first Akhmimic texts appeared, Bouriant (1884-1889), by a very curious reasoning, identified them with Fayyumic and hence with Bashmuric, although recognizing very well the dialectal differences that rendered them fundamentally dissimilar (Kasser, 1975, p. 405).
Maspero (1899) was, it seems, the last author who called one F text Bashmuric, without explaining why he maintained such an opinion, although it had long been contested and become outmoded. In fact, some twenty years earlier, Stern (1880, p. 12, n. 1), following Quatremère (1808), had already categorically rejected this terminology: “It was not out of desire for novelty that I abandoned the usual designation for the dialects, once Bashmuric was no loner tenable.” Shortly after, all Coptologists followed him, and since there was in fact no truly Bashmuric document, people ceased to speak of this dialect, to which only the mention made of it by Athanasius of Qus could have drawn the attention of scholars; they became almost completely uninterested in it, if they did not reach the point of denying its existence as an authentic Coptic dialect.
Thus, Steindorff (1951, p. 5) wrote: “According to Eutychius … the Bushmuric-speaking population was in origin Greek, not Egyptian; perhaps Bushmuric was a Greco-Egyptian gibberish and not a Coptic dialect at all.” W. Crum however, wondered if the medieval grammarian’s famous “Bashmuric” was not the language (written in principle, by means of an exclusively Greek alphabet, without graphemes of demotic origin) of which he published the principal texts in 1939. That is no doubt a hypothesis in whose favor several weighty and important arguments speak (cf. DIALECT G; Kasser, 1975).
- Bouriant, U. “Les Papyrus d’Akhmîm (fragments de manuscrits en dialectes bachmourique et thébain).” Mémoires de la Mission archéologique française au Caire 1 (1884-1889):243-304
- Champollion, J. F. “Observations sur le catalogue des manuscrits coptes du Musée Borgia à Velletri, ouvrage posthume de G. Zoega.” Magasin encyclopédique 5 (1811):284-317.
- . “Observations sur les fragments coptes (en dialecte bachmourique) de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testament à Copenhauge.” Annales encyclopédiques (1817):284-317.
- Crum, W. E. “Coptic Documents in Greek Script.” Proceedings of the British Academy 25 (1939):249-271.
- Garitte, G. Review of G. Bauer, Athanasius von Qus Qiladat at-tahrir fi‘ilm at-tafsir, eine koptische Grammatik in arabischer Sprache aus dem 13./14. Jahrhundert. Muséon 85 (1972):561- 63.
- Giorgi, A. A. Fragmentum Evangelii S. Johannis Graeco-Copto- Thebaïcum. Rome, 1789.
- Kasser, R. “Dialectes, sous-dialectes et ‘dialecticules’ dans l’Égypte copte.” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 92 (1966):106-115.
- . “L’Idiome de Bachmour.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 75 (1975):401-427.
- Maspero, G. “Fragment de l’évangile selon S. Matthieu en dialecte bachmourique.” Recueil de travaux relatifs à la philologie et à l’archéologie égyptiennes 11 (1899):116.
- Peyron, V. A. Lexicon Linguae Copticae. Turin, 1835.
- . Grammatica Linguae Copticae, Accedunt Additamenta ad Lexicon Copticum. Turin, 1841.
- Quatremère, E. M. Recherches critiques sur la langue et la littérature de l’Egypte. Paris, 1808.
- Schwartz, M. G. Koptische Grammatik …, herausgegeben nach des Verfassers Tode con Dr. H. Steinthal. Belin, 1850.
- Steindorff, G. Lehrbuch der koptischen Grammatik. Chicago, 1951. Stern, L. Koptische Grammatik. Leipzig, 1880.
- Tattam, H. A Compendious Grammar of the Egyptian Language as Contained in the Coptic and Sahidic Dialects, with Observations on the Bashmuric Together with Alphabets and Numerals in the Hieroglyphic and Enchorial Characters, with an Appendix Consisting of the Rudiments of a Dictionary of the Ancient Egyptian Language in the Enchorial Characters by Thomas Young. London 1830.