Sahidic Coptic. Why?

We’ve recently pre-pubbed a collection called the Sahidic Coptic Collection. I can hear the questions already:

  • Why worry about a language like Coptic?
  • What is Coptic, anyway?
  • How could that ever be useful?

I’m sure there are other questions along those lines. The short answer to them all is that the Sahidic Coptic editions of New Testament writings are very valuable for text-critical purposes.
Yes, I can see the eyes rolling now, but please, keep up with me. For at least a little longer.

You see, the Sahidic Coptic editions of the New Testament were some of the first translations from the Greek New Testament into another language. And because Coptic has much affinity with Greek (sharing the most of the same alphabet and even sharing many Greek words) those who know a little Greek (like me) can muddle through Coptic after spending time to learn the alphabet and some basic vocabulary.

The resources in the Sahidic Coptic Collection make this a little easier for the Coptic neophyte (that’s where I am) and the folks who are big-time into Coptic.

Because the Sahidic Coptic editions we have are likely very early, they provide an early glimpse into the texts they are translations of. And because most editions are extremely (almost woodenly) literal, they can provide insight into the underlying text — helping in the quest to “establish the text” which is one of the first steps in any serious exegete’s process.

So let’s take an easy example from John 1.28 and see what we can find.


First, we’ll look at the text in English, to get us all on the same page. Here is John 1.28 in the ESV:

These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (Jn 1.28, ESV)

Now let’s look at the NA27:

ταῦτα ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐγένετο πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, ὅπου ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων. (Jn 1.28, NA27)

We want to look at Βηθανίᾳ (Bethany). If we look at the NA27 apparatus (available in the SESB package from the German Bible Society) we see that there is a variant here; some manuscripts use Βηθαβαρα (Bethabara) instead of Βηθανίᾳ (Bethany).

Βηθαβαρα C‎2 K T Ψc 083 f1.13 33 pm sys.c sa; Or

What does that gobbledy-gook say? It says that the reading Βηθαβαρα is supported by the following:

  • Uncials: C (second hand), K T Ψc 083
  • minuscules: family 1 and family 13, along with 33.
  • pm: The permulti abbreviation occurs when the Byzantine tradition is split fairly evenly between two or three options.
  • Editions: Syriac (Curetonian and Sinaitic) and, here’s our interest: Sahidic Coptic (“sa”).
  • Fathers: Origen also has citations that support this reading.

So the apparatus tells us that there is a difference in the Sahidic Coptic tradition. What do the resources in the Sahidic Coptic Collection have to say to help us with this verse?

There are two resources that will come in handy. These are:

  • Sahidica: New Testament According to the Egyptian Greek Text
  • Sahidica: The Sahidic Coptic New Testament

The first text, Sahidica: New Testament According to the Egyptian Greek Text (NTAEG) is a version of the Greek New Testament presented in uncial form (all upper-case letters) that attempts to recreate the Sahidic Coptic unterlage, or underlying text it was translated from. Here’s Jn 1.28 in the NTAEG:

ταυτα εν [βηθαβαρα] εγενετο περαν του ιορδανου οπου ην ο ιωαννης βαπτιζων. (Jn 1.28, NTAEG).

[Note: the Uncials may not show up on your browser, we assume the font Sinaiticus is installed on your machine. If you have Logos 3.0a, then this font should be installed]

You’ll note βηθαβαρα in brackets. This indicates that it is supplied to the text as a suggestion that it was in the text that the Sahidic Coptic editions were translated from. If you’re used to reading the Greek of modern editions, the uncials are a little jarring, though you will get used to them.

So what does the Sahidic Coptic say? Here’s John 1.28 in Sahidica: The Sahidic Coptic New Testament:

ⲚⲀⲒ ⲀⲨϢⲰⲠⲈ ϨⲚ ⲂⲎⲐⲀⲢⲀⲂⲀ ⲘⲠⲒⲔⲢⲞ ⲘⲠⲒⲞⲢⲆⲀⲚⲎⲤ ⲘⲠⲘⲀ ⲈⲚⲈⲢⲈ ⲒⲰϨⲀⲚⲚⲎⲤ ⲂⲀⲠⲦⲒⲌⲈ ⲚϨⲎⲦϤ. (Jn 1.28, Sahidica)

[Note: the Coptic may not show up on your browser, we assume the font New Athena Unicode is installed on your machine. If you have Logos 3.0a, then this font should be installed]
A screen capture with all of these texts is available. Click on the image for a larger version of the graphic.

Now, you may not be able to read Coptic, but if you know the Greek alphabet then several letters and even words will be familiar to you. Here are three:

English Greek Greek Uncial Coptic
John Ἰωάννης ιωαννης ⲒⲰϨⲀⲚⲚⲎⲤ
was baptizing βαπτίζων βαπτιζων ⲂⲀⲠⲦⲒⲌⲈ
Bethabara βηθαβαρα βηθαβαρα ⲂⲎⲐⲀⲢⲀⲂⲀ

Missing fonts? Click here for image.

Note that the Coptic actually supplies a slightly different form (the equivalent Greek would be Βηθαραβα).

So, if information like this is in the apparatus, what good is the Sahidic Coptic Collection? Well, it will allow you to scroll both the Sahidic Coptic and the NTAEG along with the Greek New Testament so you can check things directly instead of indirectly through the apparatus. There’s no need to guess what “sa” or “co” in the apparatus might mean, you can glance over and start to work through the text yourself, perhaps assisting yourself using the NTAEG.

What does this mean for John 1.28? Well, based on the Greek MS evidence, I’d be inclined to go with the editors of the NA/UBS edition. But the point is that we can now check out some of the citations and work through the issues, building up our own knowledge of texts and manuscripts. This sort of exercise will only sharpen our textual judgement as we approach textual issues in our own studies in the future.

Interested in more Coptic? Well, there are more Coptic resources on pre-pub. If you’re interested in the Sahidic Coptic Collection, you may also be interested in the following (particularly the dictionaries):

We also have a Unicode Coptic Keyboard solution available. Check out it and our other keyboards for ancient languages.

Comments

  1. That was substantive and the kind of blogging that will help me grow in my studies (as well as knowledge of Logos resources). Thank you.

  2. I wish great success for this Sahidica Coptic collection by Mr. Wells. It is a fine thing to see the Sahidic versions get the respect they deserve as contemporaries of the more well-known Old Latin and Syriac versions.
    I am already working in the Coptic text and find it to be a great source of text-critical information.

  3. i am not good at greek not to talk of coptic! The above resources will not be useful to me. why not include an english translation of the coptic bible? i have placed a pre-pub in the hope that it might be useful to me but an english translation will be of much help. Thanks