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Greek Bible Manuscripts - Coptic Wiki


The Hebrew text of the Old Testament was translated into Greek. The Letter of Aristeas gives a legendary account of this undertaking. The name of the translation, the Septuagint (LXX), comes from the number of the translators. The historical core of the legend may be that the Pentateuch was translated in Alexandria under II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.), and the other writings of the Old Testament were translated later. The Christians of Egypt took over this Greek translation as Holy Scripture, and later it formed the basis for the translation of the Old Testament books into Coptic (see OLD TESTAMENT, COPTIC TRANSLATIONS OF THE).

The great parchment manuscripts of the fourth or fifth century, written in uncials—the Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, and Ephraemi Syri rescriptus—contain, with various lacunae, the Greek Old and New Testaments and some apocryphal writings. Still older are the papyrus of the that were found in Egypt (place of discovery unknown) and are now in the Bodmer and Chester Beatty libraries. They date from between the first half of the second century (Numbers and Deuteronomy) and the fourth century.

The Bodmer Library (see BODMER PAPYRI) has the major part of the Psalter, dating from the third/fourth century. The Chester Beatty Library has a greater number of Old Testament books (see CHESTER BEATTY BIBLICAL PAPYRI): Genesis in two incomplete copies, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther, Daniel, and Ecclesiastes. The copies of Genesis, though incomplete, are especially important because the book is missing in the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.

All of these manuscripts are of great value for the textual history of the Septuagint (see BIBLE TEXT, EGYPTIAN). To these we may add the HAMBURG PAPYRUS. It is unknown where this manuscript was discovered, but it was written about 400. It contains the Song of Solomon in Greek and Coptic, and also Ecclesiastes in both languages, while it presents only the Coptic version of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The Coptic translations are written in the Old Fayyumic dialect. An edition by Diebner appeared in 1989).

The Greek-Coptic bilingual manuscripts of the Old Testament (Nagel, “Griechisch-koptische Bilinguen . . . ,” pp. 246ff.) are also important for the history of the text. Through the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, the Old Testament played a great role in the church in Egypt, particularly in its early period. There are traces of the Old Testament also in Egyptian monasticism, especially Pachomian monasticism (Krause, 1981, p. 230 n. 48). Frequently whole Old Testament books, especially the Psalter, were memorized.

The books of the in the original Greek gradually came to Egypt with the missionaries who in the first century brought the Christian message, probably first to Alexandria and then to Egypt as a whole. In public worship the New Testament was read in Greek and—so far as this language was not understood by the Christians—translated orally into Coptic. Fixing the translations into the Coptic dialects in followed, at the latest, after the middle of the third century.

Antony of Kome (b. 251/252) heard a reading from Matthew 19 in his home church about 272. Since he did not know Greek, the reading must have been in Coptic. Despite the translation of the into the Coptic dialects, further Greek manuscripts were copied in Egypt, as is shown by the manuscripts found there (survey in Aland, 1976; and and Aland, pp. 106ff.). A papyrus fragment (P52) containing John 18:31- 33 and 37-38 (see and Aland, p. 109) was written as early as about 125, some thirty years after the presumed date of the Fourth Gospel.

The papyri, especially the excellently preserved Greek manuscripts that reached the Chester Beatty collection in 1930-1931, and those that later were added to the Bodmer collection, together with the great parchment already mentioned above, which also contain writings, show first the Alexandrian and then the Egyptian text. P46 and P66, dated about 200, contain the text of this time; P75, that of the beginning of the third century; and P72, that of the third/fourth century.

P75 is so close to the Codex Vaticanus that the theory of a revision of the text in the fourth century must be abandoned. According to and Aland (p. 103), in the “early” text we can distinguish alongside the “normal” text, which hands down the original text, a “free” text (represented, for example, by P45, P46, and P66) with more variations than in the “normal” text, and a “firm” text (represented by P75), which accurately transmits the original text.


  • Aland, K. Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments. Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung 1. Berlin, 1963.
  •  . Die griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments— Korrekturen und Ergänzungen zur “Kurzgefassten Liste.” Materialien zur neutestamentlichen Handschriftenkunde, Vol. 1. Arbeiten zur Neutestamentlichen Textforschung 3. Berlin, 1969.
  •  . Repertorium der griechischen christlichen Papyri, Vol. 1. Berlin, 1976.
  • Aland, K., and B. Aland. Der Text des Neuen Testaments. Stuttgart, 1982.
  • Diebner, B. J. Hamburger Papyrus Bil. 1. Die alttestamentlichen Texte des Papyrus bilinguis 1 der Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg. Geneva, 1989.
  • Kenyon, F. G. The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, Vols. 1-3 and supplement. London, 1933-1937.
  •  . The Text of the Greek Bible, 3rd ed. London, 1975.
  • Krause, M. “Der Erlassbrief Theodors.” In Studies Presented to Hans Jakob Polotsky, ed. D. W. Young. East Gloucester, Mass., 1981.
  • Metzger, B. M. The Early Versions of the New Testament. Oxford, 1977.
  • Nagel, P. “Studien zur Überlieferung des sahidischen Alten Testaments, Teil I: Der Stand der Wiederherstellung der alttestamentlichen Kodizes der Sammlung Borgia (Cod. I-XVI).” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 110 (1983):51-74.
  • ______. “Griechisch-koptische Bilinguen des Alten Testaments.” In Graeco-coptica. Griechen und Kopten im byzantinischen Ägypten. Wissenschaftliche Beiträge, Martin-Luther-Universität, Halle-Wittenberg, 1984.
  •  . “Studien zur Textüberlieferung des sahidischen Alten Testaments, Teil I B: Der Stand der Wiederherstellung der alttestamentlichen Kodizes der Sammlung Borgia (Cod. XVII- XXX).” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 111 (1984):138-64.
  • Treu, K. “Griechisch-koptische Bilinguen des Neuen Testaments.” In Koptologische Studien in der DDR. Halle-Wittenberg, 1965.