A name given to the statements at the end of a manuscript about the copyist, the readers, or other persons. Among Coptic manuscripts from the second half of the fourth century with colophons are Codex II (145.20-23; Krause and Labib, 106) and Codex VII (127.28-32; Krause and Labib, 3) from the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY.
In collective manuscripts there are often colophons at the end of each individual book (see CODEX ALEXANDRINUS), for instance, in British Museum Oriental 7549, a Coptic Bible manuscript from the fourth century, at the end of Deuteronomy (Budge, 1912, pl. 4) and of Acts (Budge, pl. 9).
The early colophons are short; usually they contain only words of blessing for the scribe and readers and do not mention the name of the scribe. In the course of time, however, they became longer and more communicative, mentioning not only the name of the scribe but also the person who commissioned the transcription, the monastery or church for which the manuscript was intended, and often the date of its writing. In collective manuscripts it is even specified when the writing of the manuscript began and when the writing of the individual Gospels was completed (Horner, 1898, pp. xliff.).
Thereby the colophons are important for Coptic paleography, because they not only date the manuscripts exactly through their naming of scribes but also provide us with knowledge of the scribal schools (see SCRIPTORIUM). They help us to reconstruct the original strength of church and monastery libraries (see LIBRARIES). and provide material for the history of the churches and monasteries that they mention. They are important for the history of piety in the period (many books were endowed for the salvation of the customer’s soul) and supply abundant material for our knowledge of personalities (see PROSOPOGRAPHY).
It is therefore important that the work of A. van Lantschoot, which is of value for the colophons contained in Sahidic manuscripts, be continued. Not only must the colophons of the Sahidic manuscripts, which have become known in the interval, be edited, but also those of the remaining dialects, among which the Bohairic, because of their great extent and their late drafting, promise particularly numerous insights. The later Bohairic manuscripts also contain maledictions against those who should dare to steal or damage the manuscript (see, e.g., Horner, p. cxiv).
- Budge, E. A. W. Coptic Biblical Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. London, 1912.
- Horner, G. The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Northern Dialect Otherwise Called Memphitic and Bohairic, Vol. 1. Oxford, 1898.
- Krause, M., and P. Labib. Gnostische und hermetische Schriften aus Codex II und VI. Abhandlungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Kairo, Koptische Reihe 2. Glückstadt, 1971.
- Lantschoot, A. van. Recueil des colophons des manuscrits chrétiens d’Egypte. Louvain, 1929.