The Importance of Wadi al-Natrun for Coptology

The Importance of Wadi al-Natrun for Coptology

First of all, I must say some words about the history of Coptological studies[1] and the definition of Coptology.[2] I start in the 19th century, when the first professorship for Coptic language and literature was appointed at a German university. For the beginning of Coptological studies I point to my article “Coptological Studies” in the Coptic Encyclopedia.

It was Wilhelm von Humboldt, who advised Friedrich Wilhelm IVth, King of Prussia, to establish in 1845 a professorship for Coptic language and literature at the newly founded university of Berlin and to nominate Moritz Gotthilf Schwartze[3] as a candidate. Coptology thus became an independent scientific discipline at a German university, limited to Coptic language and literature, the areas in which Schwartze had worked. Schwartze died only three years after the establishment of Coptology in Berlin. Colleagues in related disciplines published manuscripts he had left after his death.

In Berlin, Coptology was replaced by Egyptology, also a newly founded discipline. K.R. Lepsius was the first representative. And the professors of Egyptology at Berlin University since A. Erman included die Coptic language in their teaching program while at other German universities the teaching program of Egyptology no longer includes Coptic language. The field of Egyptological research is now so extensive that in many universities Egyptology is divided into at least two fields, into philology and archaeology. Even the philologist normally does not care for the Coptic language. In his opinion it should be a language of the discipline of Christian oriental languages (Oriens christianus)[4] beside Syriac, Christian Arabic, Nubian, Ethiopic, Armenian and Georgian. This discipline we find now in Germany only in four universities: in Bonn, Munich, Tubingen and Halle. The University of Tubingen has already decided, that for financial reasons, the present holder of this professorship might not have a successor when he will retire.

According to a definition of Coptology in I960,[5] die Coptic language belongs to Egyptology, and Coptic literature to Church history and to New Testament studies. This definition does not care for Coptic culture at all.

About 120 years after the death of Schwartze in Berlin another German institution, Munster university, decided to give Coptology a home beside Egyptology: My professorship was called: “Egyptology, especially Coptology,”[6] and since my retirement in 1995 it is now called “Coptology.” I felt the definition of Coptology as only “Coptic language and literature” is too narrow. So my definition of Coptology is:[7]

Coptology is a scientific discipline in Oriental studies that investigates the language and culture of Egypt and Nubia in the widest sense: literature, religion, history, archaeology, and art. Its range extends from late antiquity to the Middle Ages, or even down to the present. It touches on and intersects with a number of neighboring disciplines.

The greater part of its vocabulary connects it with Egyptology, with which it is still reckoned in many countries, because Coptic is the last branch of the Egyptian language; about four-fifths of Coptic words derive from Egyptian, as their etymologies show.[8] The reproduction of the vowels in Coptic is important to the Egyptologist for the reconstruction of the vowels that were not written in Egyptian, and for the investigation of verbal accent, syllable structure, and metrics in Egyptian.

In terms of content, continuity can be observed between the ancient Egyptian and the Christian period in the survival of ancient Egyptian elements (concepts, ideas, and usages), particularly in religion, literature, and art, but also in Coptic medicine.

Coptology is linked with classical philology by the stock of Greek and Latin loanwords in the Coptic Language; the Greek, accounting for about 20 percent, far surpass the Latin. Their examination has begun, the discipline will experience a new florescence when all the loanwords have been collected.

In addition, there are texts preserved in Coptic that were originally composed in Greek, but whose Greek version either has not survived or exists only in fragments or in a Latin translation. Here Gnostic and Hermetic writings from the Nag Hammadi discovery should especially be mentioned.

In association with Byzantine studies, Coptology investigates the Byzantine period in Egypt. Work on the examination of Coptic codicology and paleography connects Coptology with papyrology. In addition to a few scrolls, early Coptic codices in particular have been preserved; they are roughly contemporary with the Greek. While Greek paleography has been well investigated, the Coptic has not advanced beyond preliminary work. Only with the appearance of colophons[9] do we find ourselves on firm ground. Collaboration with Greek papyrologists is necessary because Greek and Coptic documents often belong to the same archives.[10]

The Coptic nonliterary texts are important sources for the history and the cultural and economic developments of late antiquity. Especially from the sixth century on, they take their place alongside the Greek sources, later replace them, and are then the only sources.

The same holds good for epigraphy:[11] gravestones, inscriptions on buildings, and graffiti are couched in Coptic as well as Greek. In the forms used, we can often demonstrate the translation of Greek models. While Greek inscriptions in Egypt become fewer after the sixth century, in Nubia they alternated with Coptic for another five hundred years.

In association with the history of religions, Coptology examines the Gnostic,[12] Hermetic, and Manichaean texts, which often are preserved only in Coptic translation and have been lost in their original language. Coptic magical texts and spells also belong here.[13]

Describing the content of Coptological studies does not mean that each Coptologist is a master in all fields of Coptology, but he should try to be so. In German universities, Coptology belongs to the faculty of humanities, and the student has to study three disciplines, one main and two subsidiaries. One of them can be in another faculty, for instance theology. Thus, he is free to decide whether he wants to concentrate on Egypt, studying two other disciplines in addition to Coptology, namely Egyptology and Arabic Studies. Or he may choose to study theology and another discipline intersecting Coptology to broaden his knowledge.

The work of the Coptologist intersects with various theological disciplines (Old and New Testament, church history and history of dogma, confessional lore, and liturgies). Here reference should be made above all to the work on editions of the Coptic Old and New Testaments; to work in textual criticism, and to the editing of apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings of both Testaments.[14]

In church history,[15] the origins of Christianity in Egypt, its history beyond the split from the imperial church[16] after the Council of Chalcedon,[17] and the theological disputes that were dealt with at the early Christian councils are all the objects of Coptological research. A special investigative task force is at work on monasticism[18] in Egypt and the hagiography of Coptic Christianity.[19] The investigation of local Egyptian church history is still in its beginnings.

The confessional historian, in association with the Coptologist, examines the history of the Coptic church and its dogmas after its separation from the imperial church.[20]

We thus come to the period that extends from the Arab conquest of Egypt down to the present.[21] Here there are connections with Arabic studies and with the study of Islam. The Coptic language gradually lost its significance as a colloquial and literary language and was replaced, except as the language of the church, by Arabic. The Copts translated their literary works into Arabic, and prepared Coptic-Arabic word lists, the scalae[22] and grammatical summaries, in order to preserve the knowledge of their language. Part of the Coptic literature is preserved only in Arabic translation. The Coptic language had previously influenced Egyptian Arabic in its phonology, and Coptic words had been accepted into Arabic as loanwords.[23] The relations between Copts and Moslems are also a subject for research in both disciplines.[24]

Along with classical, early Christian, and Byzantine archaeologists, those concerned with provincial archaeology, and historians of architecture, Coptologists are concerned with the study of Coptic art, iconography, and architecture.[25] Here, on the one hand, they have established the survival of Egyptian building tradition in Coptic architecture, for instance at the White Monastery in Sohag, which Shenute had built at the beginning of the fifth century in the style of an Egyptian temple. Pictorial themes from late antiquity appear, above all on Coptic textiles.[26]

Coptology is linked with Nubiology, a discipline only a few decades old, in the investigation of Nubia in the Christian period,[27] which spans a period more than a thousand years. The Christian epoch in Nubia came to an end only in the sixteenth century. Like the Ethiopian church,[28] the Nubian was dependent on the patriarch of the Coptic church. The excavations carried out in Nubia before the building of the High Dam at Aswan have brought to light abundant source material (written and archaeological), which also sheds new light on the relations between the Coptic and Nubian churches.

Research into die relation between the Coptic church and the Ethiopian church links Coptology with Ethiopic studies. The Ethiopian patriarch was an Egyptian Copt until Emperor Haile Selassie broke with this ancient tradition. Coptic literature was translated from Arabic into Ethiopic.

The field of Coptology also intersects with the study of the Christian East (Oriens christianus)[29] which is concerned with languages, and literature of the Eastern Christian churches, including the Coptic.

We may link the investigation of the Coptic language with linguistics, which is still in its infancy, since it is only in recent years that linguists, following Hans Jakob Polotsky,[30] have concerned themselves with this task.

Coptology is connected with the history of law through investigation of Coptic law[31] of the Coptic documents. So far only some of the sources, Coptic nonliterary papyri and ostraca, have been published. The older publications need to be replaced by new ones, since they no longer correspond to the requirements of modem text editions.

The investigation of Coptic medical texts links Coptology with the history of medicine.[32] Although ancient Egyptian medicine was treated in nine volumes by Hermann Grapow and his collaborators, many texts in the Greek and Coptic languages still await treatment.

As you may have seen Coptology is not a small, but a very large discipline and needs many scholars for research. Although the number of scholars interested in the fields of Coptology has increased since the founding of the International Association for Coptic Studies[33] in Cairo 1976—also the number of participants in the international congresses[34] increased considerably—but there are no new positions for Coptology at universities or institutes of research. We remind ourselves of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 9:38 or Luke 10:2, that the harvest is plentiful, but that the workmen are few. Therefore we are very glad that the American University in Cairo plans a professorship for Coptology, but at the same time we are sorry, that we lost a position for Coptic architecture and archeology in the German Institute of Archaeology in Cairo after the retirement of our college Peter Grossmann.[35]

In any case, Coptology needs the help of scholars of disciplines neighboring Coptology which I named. So we are very glad to welcome here scholars of the faculties of theology and humanities, who work with us, helping us in our research of the Wadi al-Natrun, as well as colleagues from disciplines neighboring Coptology. As they have already collaborated with us in 1980 and 1991 as editors—I name only our colleague Khalil Samir—helping us to complete the Coptic Encyclopedia.[36]

This symposium corresponds to the Kellia symposium at Geneva in 1984[37] and to the congresses of Nubian Studies 1969.[38] It was there that scientists of Coptology and related disciplines, such as archeology, excavators, historians of art, and restorers of paintings working in Kellia or in Nubia met and reported about the results of their excavation and restoration work and discussed problems with colleagues.

This time Wadi al-Natrun[39] is not only the subject of this symposium, but also the place where we meet to report and discuss thanks to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and the organizing committee. This is only the beginning of new period of research of one of the most important centers of Coptology.

The Wadi al Natrun enriches nearly all fields of Coptology and it also covers a very long period from the 4th century of the Christian era up to the present day and—I am sure—also for the coming centuries. The excavation of lauras are going on and also new wall paintings are uncovered. They must be preserved, studied, and also published.

The geology of Wadi al-Natrun will be described by Professor Rouchdi Said. The old period of research of the Wadi al-Natrun ends with the publication of the results of the so called “Egyptian expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” published in three volumes “The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘n Natrun” in 1926, 1932, and 1933. The publication was prepared by Hugh G. Evelyn-White and after Evelyn-White’s death in the summer of 1924 published by Walter Hauser. Between 1909 and 1921 members of the Museum of New York had photographed and described the architecture and archaeology of the three monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun in volume 3, published 1933. “The history of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis” was published in 1932 in volume 2.

Here, in the Wadi al-Natrun, in Kellia, and Nitria are centers of hermits since the beginning of the fourth century. The life of Macarius and of other hermits is described in the Apophthegmata patrum. Also the Lausiac History of Palladius and John Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences show how the monks of Scetis lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, and how their settlements were organized. These reports were done by Christians, who came to Wadi al-Natrun and to other places in Egypt in order to study the famous monasticism of Egypt and to practice it here, and persisting in it after their return in their countries. The history of monasticism at Wadi al- Natrun will be sketched by Reverend Dr. Tim Vivian, and the paper of Dr. Brune “The Multi-Ethnic Character of Wadi al-Natrun” will show that people from many countries came to become monks in Wadi al-Natrun. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has already informed us about the “Current Monasticism in Wadi al-Natrun.”

Already in 1926 Evelyn-White published the first volume “New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius with an Appendix on a Copto-Arabic Ms. by G.P.G. Sobhy.” Evelyn-White also included in his publication leaves and fragments, “once belonging to the same manuscripts, which were recovered by Tattam in 1839 andTischendorfin 1844.”[40]

Evelyn-White’s publication is the standard publication of the Wadi al-Natrun for Coptic studies up till now. But the research did not stop. Evelyn-White had asked Marcos Simaika to include the Arabic manuscripts in the “Catalogue of the Coptic and Arabic Manuscripts in the Coptic Museum, the Patriarchate, the Principal Churches of Cairo and Alexandria and the Monasteries of Egypt,” which was completed in March 1929 and published in 1939 and 1942.[41]

In 1986 our colleague Ugo Zanetti published “Les manuscrits de Dair Abu Maqar. Inventaire.” Kent Brown of Brigham Young University has microfilmed the Arabic manuscripts. So the project of the Christian Arabic manuscripts is progressing.

In 1975, Oswald Hugh Ewart KHS-Burmester published a catalogue of Coptic and Copto-Arabic manuscripts of the library of the Abba Pshoi monastery.[42] His work was continued by Lothar Stork, who, after Burmester’s death in 1977, corrected and published Burmester’s notes of a catalogue of Coptic manuscripts from Dair Anba Maqar in 1995,[43] and in 1996 he published a booklet of “Addenda and corrigenda” to Burmesters catalogue.[44] During his first travel to Egypt (1853/4), Heinrich K. Brugsch saw Coptic manuscripts in the Syrian monastery of the Wadi al-Natrun. In 1870 he bought Coptic manuscripts in the monastery of Apa Pshoi, which are in the library of Gottingen university.[45] The manuscripts of these catalogues must be studied and published in the future. They once belonged to the libraries of the monasteries of the Wadi al-Natrun.

Since the middle ages, European travelers had come to Egypt and visited also the monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun and brought back to Europe books from these libraries in Coptic and Arabic, which were deposed in various European libraries. I name only the Vatican library[46] and the libraries of the universities of Cambridge[47] and of Leipzig.[48] Here, the manuscripts were studied and sometimes published and roused also the interest in the Christians living in Egypt and the Coptic church and Egyptian monasticism. Moritz Gotthilf Schwartze,[49] who in 1845 was appointed Professor of Coptology in Berlin, had copied and studied Coptic manuscripts in various European libraries and planned an edition of the Bohairic New Testament, of which only the four gospels appeared in his lifetime. We can conclude: while Egyptian monastic libraries lost manuscripts these manuscripts aroused the interest in Coptology, Coptic monasticism and the Coptic Church.

Siegfried Richter’s paper will show “Wadi al-Natrun and Coptic Literature.” Dr. Johannes Den Heijer’s lecture, “Wadi al-Natrun and the History of Patriarchs,” will show what we can learn from these reports.

The importance of the Greek, Coptic, and Syriac inscriptions for the history of Wadi al-Natrun we can see from the paper of Dr. Jacques van der Vliet.

From further new excavations of ruins in the neighborhood of the four still existing monasteries we expect more archaeological evidence of their dwellings. Many of them were destroyed by invasions of barbarians from the Libyan desert in the years 407, 434, 444, and at the end of the sixth century. The paper of Dr. Peter Grossmann about the architecture at Wadi al-Natrun will show what we know about the early and later periods of archaeology and architecture of Wadi al-Natrun.

The discovery and the excavations of the monastic settlements of the nearby Kellia and the publications of our French, Swiss and Egyptian colleges have shown the transition from eremetism-(one father-eremit living with a younger pupil-eremit) to monasticism (eremits or monks living together in one building with more rooms) in archaeology. Validating what we knew from the literary sources.

As many eremits or monks were killed by invaders during the already quoted barbarian invasions, walls were built to protect the lives of the monks, and also towers inside the monasteries. Open to question is the proposal of our college Georges Descoeudres from Switzerland that the towers in monastic buildings of Kellia could also have served as cells for monks.

When the Coptic church agreed to include the publication of the wall paintings of the Wadi al-Natrun into the French corpus “la peinture murale chez les coptes” and permitted restorers to start their work, a series of unexpected and beautiful new wall paintings were discovered. The late Paul van Moorsei[50] and his pupils, Dr. Karel Innemee and Dr. Matt Immerzeel, our Dutch colleges, who continue the work will show us a part of these wall paintings in their lectures ‘New discoveries of Wall Paintings at Dayr al-Surian” and “Stucco Work at Dayr al-Syrian.” Dr. Ewa Parandowska will inform us about the “Results of the last Restoration Campaign.”

Professor Lucy-Ann Hunt will lecture about the “Art at Wadi al- Natrun,” and Suzana Hodak about “The ornamental Repertoire in the Art of Wadi al- Natrun.”

With Professor Murad Kamil, I visited the monasteries in 1959 for the first time, and the last time with my students in 1988. So I saw the big progress of development of monasticism and the monasteries within 30 years and I was informed that it is progressing.

During the symposium we will also have the chance to see in 2002 all the enlarged monasteries, the new excavations and uncovered wall paintings and have the chance to take part in the Coptic liturgy by His Grace Bishop Youanes and later we will Hsten to the paper of father Ugo Zanetti about the liturgy of the Coptic church and the preparation, and the consecration of the holy chrism at Wadi al-Natrun by Dr. Youhanna Nessim Youssef.

All lectures are part of Coptological studies and show the importance of Wadi al-Natrun for the many fields of Coptology from the beginning of monasticism in the fourth century to the present time and—with God’s help—the coming centuries.

[1] M. Krause, “Coptological Studies,” CoptEncyc 2: 613-16.

[2] M. Krause, “Coptology,” CoptEncyc 2: 616-18.

[3] M. Krause, “Schwartze, Moritz Gotthilf,” CoptEncyc 7:2107.

[4] M. Krause, “Oriens Christianus,” CoptEncyc 6: 1845.

[5] Prof. Dr. A Falkenstein, Denkschrift zur Lage der Orientalistik. Im Auftrage der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft in Zusammenarbeit mit zahlreichen Fachvertretern (Wiesbaden, 1960), 5.

[6] Agyptologie mit besonderer Berticksichtigung der Koptologie.

[7] See note 2.

[8] J. Cemy, Coptic Etymological Dictionary (Cambridge, 1976); and W. Vycichl, Dictionnaire Etymologique de la langue copte (Leuven 1983).

[9] M. Krause, “Colophon,” CoptEncyc 2: 577-78.

[10] M. Krause, “Archives,” CoptEncyc 1:226-28.

[11] M. Krause, “InscriptionsCoptEncyc 4:1290-99.

[12] St. Emmet, “Nag Hammadi Library,” CoptEncyc 6: 1771-73.

[13] W. Vycichl, “Magic,” CoptEncyc 5: 1499-1509.

[14] T. Orlandi, “Literature, Coptic,” CoptEncyc 5: 1450-60.

[15] J. den Heijer, “History of title Patriarchs of Alexandria,” CoptEncyc 4:1238-42.

[16] D.W. Winkler, Koptische Kirche und Reichsldrche. Aites Schisma und neuer Dialog (Innsbruck-Wien, 1997).

[17] W.H.C. Freud, “Chalcedon, Council of,” CoptEncyc 2: 512-5.

[18] A. Guillaumont, “Monasticism, Egyptian,” CoptEncyc 5:1661-6.

[19] T. Orlandi, “Haiographic, Coptic,” CoptEncyc 4: 1191-7.

[20] A. Gerhards and H. Brakmann, eds., Die koptische Kirche. Einjuhrung in das agyptische Christentum (Stuttgart-Berlin-Kdln 1994).

[21] P. M. Fraser, “Arab Conquest of Egypt,” CoptEncyc 1: 183-9.

[22] W. Vycichl, CoptEncyc 8: 204-7.

[23] Emile Maher Ishaq, “Egyptian Arabic Vocabulary; Coptic Influence on,” CoptEncyc 112-8.

[24] C.F. Petry, “Copts in late Medieval Egypt,” CoptEncyc 2: 618-35.

[25] P. Grossmann, Christliche Architektur in Agypten (Leiden, 2002).

[26] P. du Bourguet, “Textiles, Coptic,” CoptEncyc 7: 2210-30.

[27] See the articles of W.Y. Adams in CoptEncyc 6: 1800-20.

[28] Boutros Ghali, “Ethiopian Church Autocephaly,” CoptEncyc 3: 980-4 and j the articles CoptEncyc 3: 984-4,1056.

[29] See note 4.

[30] H.J. Polotsky, Grundlagen des koptischen Satzbaus (Decatur, Georgia 1987 u.1990); A. Shisha-Halevy, Coptic Grammatical Categories: Structural Studies in the Syntax ofShenutian Sahidic (Rome, 1986).

[31] L.S.B. MacCoull, “Law, Coptic,” CoptEncyc 5: 1428-32.

[32] K.S. Kolta, “Medicine, Coptic,” CoptEncyc 5: 1578-82.

[33] M.B. Ghali, “International Association for Coptic Studies,” CoptEncyc 4:1299.

[34] M. Krause, “International Congresses ofCoptic Studies,” CoptEncyc 1300-1.

[35] M. Krause and S. Schaten, &EMEALA Spatantike und koptologische Studien Peter Grossmann zum 65. Geburtstag (Wiesbaden, 1998), 9 f.

[36] A.S. Atiya (Editor in Chiei), The Coptic Encyclopedia, 8 vols., (New York, 1991).

[37] Ph. Bridel, ed., Le site monastique copte des Kellia: Sources historiques et explorations archeologiques. Actes du Colloque de Geneve 13 an 15 aout 1984 (Geneve, 1986).

[38] E. Dinkier, ed., Kunst und Geschichte Nubiens in christlicher Zeit. Ergebnisse und Probleme auf Grund der jilngsten Ausgrabungen (Recklinghausen, 1970).

[39] A. Cody, “Scetis,” CoptEncyc 7: 2102-6.

[40] H.G. Evelyn-White, The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘n Natrun: Part I. New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius edited with an introduction on the library at the monastery of Saint Macarius with an appendix on a Copto-Arabic Ms by G.P.G. Sobhy (New York, 1926), VH.

[41] M. Simaika Pasha, Catalogue of the Coptic and Arabic Manuscripts in the Coptic Museum, the Patriarchate, the Principal Churches of Cairo and Alexandria and the Monasteries of Egypt. Vol. I (Cairo, 1939), XIX.

[42] Koptische Handschriften 1: Die Handschriftenfi-agmente der Staats- und ; Universitatsbibliothek Hamburg Teil 1 beschrieben von O.H.E. Khs-Burmester ” (Wiesbaden, 1975).

[43] Koptische Handschriften 2: Die Handschriften der Staats- und Universitatsbibliothek Hamburg. Teil 2: Die Handschriften aus Dair anba Maqar beschrieben von L. Stork unter Verwendung der Aufeeichnungen von O.H.E. KHS- Burmester, (Stuttgart, 1995).

[44] L. Stdrk, Koptische Handschriften 3. Die Handschriften der Staats- und Universitatsbibliothek Hamburg-. Teil 3; Addenda und Corrigenda zu Teil 7, (Stuttgart, 1996).

[45] H. Brugsch, Wanderung nach den Natronkidstern inAgypten (Berlin, 1855), 47 f. and L. Stdrk, Koptische Handschriften 4. Die Handschriften der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Teil 1: Liturgische Handschriften (Stuttgart 2002), 21 ff.

[46] A. Hebbelynck and A. Lantschoot, Codices coptici Vaticana, Barberiniani, . Borgiani, Rossiani, Bibliliotheca Vaticana, tom. I, 1937; tom. IL, 1947.

[47] M.R. Janies, Supplement to the catalogue of manuscripts in the library of Gonville and Gaius College (Cambridge, 1914).

[48] J. Leipoldt, “Verzeichnis der koptischen Handschriften der Universitats-bibliothek zu Leipzig,” in C. Vollers, Katalog der Handschriften der Universitdtsbibliothek zu Leipzig, vol. 2, (Leipzig, 1906), 383-427.

[49] See note 3.

[50] P. van Moorsei, Called to Egypt. Collected Studies on Painting in Christian Egypt (Leiden, 2000).

Martin Krause

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