Forbidden Gospels Blog
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Reli 309/593: Reading Coptic Texts
This is the third semester of the Coptic language. It has three goals: to read Coptic texts; to become familiar with Coptic dialects; and to review immediate grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This seminar is meant to be as flexible as possible, recognizing that students will be at various levels of competency. Our goal is to bring everyone to reading fluency with some ability to deal with different dialects by the end of the semester. Each student will be responsible for at least one Coptic text, creating a complete chrestomathy of that text.Reli 483/583: Mysticism Before Mysticism Seminar
Looking forward to spring, there will be the Codex Judas Congress, March 13-16. I am receiving abstracts from the participants now. I will get those posted mid-January. I am in the process of preparing my own contribution to the Congress on issues of authority in the Gospel of Judas, the First Apocalypse of James, and other early Christian literature. I am particularly interested on how appeals to the Twelve were being used by the Christian leaders of the second century. After the Congress, full length papers will be collected and edited into a conference volume. So keep your eyes out for that book.
Over the summer, I have several articles to prepare for various projects. One will be about sexual practices among Gnostics. This is for an edited volume that Paul Foster is putting together. I also am preparing a paper on angels in Valentinian traditions for a conference in Tours which will take place in September. I will likely focus on the Jesus Aeon-Angel as the microPleroma descending to earth and incarnating.
Also in September is the Coptic Association's meeting - this year in Cairo. I hope to be part of a session on (re)defining Gnosticism.
As for the Boston SBL in November, that is too far ahead for me to know exactly what I will be preparing for, although I know that the New Testament Mysticism Project will be continuing. So I will at least be preparing an entry for that.
I am also going to begin writing my second book for the general audience. I'm trying to decide - should it be a book on the Gospel of Thomas, making my scholarly work more accessible to a broader audience, or should I begin work on a book about how I think the early Christians (as Jews) began to worship Jesus?
In terms of teaching, this semester Coptic continues. We will finish the last five chapters of Layton's book and then move on to read the Tchacos Codex to prepare for the Congress in March. I also have a lecture class, Christian Controversies and Creeds, that covers the growth of Christian thought from the bible to Chalcedon.
So in the upcoming year, this blog will probably continue to feature the newest and latest on the Tchacos Codex, the Gospel of Judas, the Valentinian literature, and the controversies between various factions of Christians in the second and third centuries. I also want your suggestions as my readers. Is there anything that you would like to see me address in the coming year? Let me know via comments or e-mail.
On chapter 6, there are some problems. First, students don't understand what a "specifier" is. This word is not descriptive enough for them. Second, the actual information given on specifiers is scanty, and it is divided. Some of the material comes later in chapter 8. This is okay except that one of the exercises (B.j.) required the students know about the NIM sentence constructions which aren't covered until chapter 8. So my advice is to do chapter 6 and chapter 8 in the same week. And the instructor is probably going to have to give quite a bit of lecture information on what specifiers are. I call them "Quantity Expressions" for lack of a better term, and teach them in this way: What are the pronouns used to express quantity? Interrogative (ash, ou, nim, ouâr) and Indefinite (laau, ouon, hah); How do you construct quantity phrases? with linking particle en; How do you construct quantity sentences with ou, ash, laau, nim (=chapter 8)?; What are the fixed expressions of quantity? use of ash en he and ash em mine. Layton does not cover this material well, so anticipate giving students more examples along with more explanation.
The cardinal numbers are covered well in chapter 6, although the students get hung up in section 46 with the singular definite article with plural numbers.
In the exercises for chapter 6, I think there are two typos: (44) occurs twice interrupting the sentences, and these need to be removed.
Lesson 7 is all about prepositions, and Layton is very thorough here. On page 53, in the large box, enchi should be removed. It is not a preposition, but a subject marker.
Lesson 8 is filler. Perhaps Layton needed "20" chapters. As I said earlier, chapter 8 really belongs in chapter 6 (at least the first half of section 57). The rest of the chapter is about possessive pronouns and an overview of what students have learned about articles and pronouns. So nothing really "new" except the possessive pronouns which could be easily combined with Lesson 7 which is about prepositions and how they suffix pronouns.
I am looking forward to learning our first verb in chapter 9. The beauty of the way that Layton has laid out this grammar is that students are taught everything except verbs first. They can read any nominal sentence; any pronoun; any prepositional phrase. So when the verb comes, they can concentrate on it exclusively. By the way, my students were able to sight read a long portion of Thunder: Perfect Mind on their exam (after only 5 chapters!):
I am the first and the last,
I am the honored and the scorned,
I am the whore and the holy,
I am the wife and the virgin,
I am the mother and the daughter,
I am the limbs of my mother,
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my birth.
I am the Lord.
1. In section 36, the meaning of the inverted word order is not explained. Layton believes that when the adjective precedes the noun, the adjective "expresses a special nuance." I never learned this previously, having been taught that the word order was arbitary in terms of position of the adjective. But this is not Layton's opinion. He doesn't say what the nuance is, although it pops up in the exercises since he asks students to write from English into Coptic: The big house (Ba.): pêi ennoch; The huge house (Bb.): pnoch emêi. So when orally covering section 36, the instructor may want to note that the inverted order according to Layton is for rhetorical effect and tends to emphasize the adjective ("big" becomes "huge"; "wicked" becomes "vile"; "large" becomes "gigantic" or "great"; "beautiful" becomes "gorgeous"; and so forth).
4. In section 36, an example of a full sentence using the attributive construction modifying a single article phrase should be added. If not, the students get very mixed up in the exercises where they are asked to put from English into Coptic: Ea. I am impious and wicked (aneg-ouponêros enacebês). Students missed this construction (with linking en) because it wasn't clearly stated by Layton in section 36 (last paragraph and 2 examples). See also exercises Ef., Eh., and El. which all want this construction. The only time he gives an example of this construction in a sentence is in the next chapter's exercises (chapter 5, An.): entoou hendikaios neenoch (As for them, they are big and righteous).
2. In section 37, as (old), ouôt (single), ouôbesh (white) need to be added to adjectives that can be placed immediately after the noun with no linking en.
3. I would add a "37.5 section" to cover adjectives that like to proceed the word they are modifying. Not only is this needed to cover the adjective completely, but Layton has a series of exercises where the adjective proceeds the noun in the next chapter (chapter 5), yet he has not explained this in chapter 4 (or 5). So I'd put these words under 37.5 heading "Adjectives that can proceed the noun being modified":
noch (big), koui (small), shêm (small), shorep (first), hae (last), merit (beloved).
4. The box on p. 33 is not useful at all. It confuses the students because they do not know yet the verb "to be," er. I'm not at all sure that the material presented in the boxes is wholly appropriate for the level that the students are at. The boxed materials seem to always cause confusion and discomfort on the part of the students. Since the boxed materials have not yet been included in the exercises, I wonder what the purpose of the boxed material is?
Chapter 5: a breeze. Layton does a fine job laying out three member nominal sentences (I've always called these pe sentences).
The students will take their first Coptic exam on Wednesday, covering 1-5. So I'll return with my diary entry after a few more chapters. I have a lot to say about lesson 6 which struggles to explain what Layton calls "specifiers" but which I know of as Quantity Expressions. Until then...
It is good. There are many features that I can tell I already prefer to Lambdin. The best in terms of learning are the exercises that ask the students to compose Coptic sentences in each chapter. They are all fairly simple so far, but what they do is REALLY teach students under what conditions certain consonants shift (N to M), what types of variations in sentences we can expect, and how sentences are structured. So this is a boon.
I also like the sequence of learning so far. Layton breaks the nominal sentence down into a couple of easily digestible chapters, and explains the order of the subject and the predicate in very simple terms.
I did find myself creating a handout for the alphabet with a bit different sounds of J and CH, and an easier explanation of the dipthongs and semivowels, which Layton covers in Chapter 1.
Chapter 2 required some easier explanation, especially in terms of the zero article conditions which Layton seems fond of discussing and marking. I found this a bit cumbersome, and something that interests a linguist, but not necessarily a first semester student.
Chapter 3. There is a mistake on p. 26: line 28, propophetes is incorrect: should read prophetes. I also wondered why the box on p. 28 wasn't introduced with the personal subject pronouns on p. 26 #32 heading.
PS: As for pacing, I am doing one chapter a week. This can probably be increased to two a week after Chapters 1 and 2. But I would suggest having two 2-hour meeting times per week to do this. I'm meeting only once a week for 3 hours. We are usually done in 2 hours. So it is a bit leisurely I think.
I was worried that his introductory grammar would be written so that the language was inaccessible for undergraduates. I expected something similar to his extraordinary grammar, A Coptic Grammar, a book not for the linguistically-challenged!
Not only are my worries set aside, but I have decided to embrace Coptic in 20 Lessons and use it this fall as my introductory grammar instead of Lambdin, even though this does mean that I will have to work through all the vocabulary and exercises anew, and replace my old ways of talking about grammatical points with Layton's verbage.
The grammar is laid out well with complete paradigms in each lesson. The exercises (once you get going) are taken from the literature (yeah!), so no nonsense sentences to deal with. And the best part of the book is that all those little things that you encounter and try to figure out once you start reading, are explained by Layton as he goes. So he talks about things like reading from a manuscript and scribal practices - where superlinear strokes are placed, when scribes don't write certain letters, and so forth. So the book is a nice combination between seasoned information and beginning grammar.
It looks like students will only be able to get through one chapter a week though. So if you are used to getting through Lambdin's grammar in a semester, I don't think that is going to happen with Layton's grammar, unless there are a few chapters that can be doubled up in a week. The last part of the book contains three chapters from Coptic Mark. Layton suggests that students can finish the grammar and read the entire Gospel of Mark in two semesters.
So here I go, changing my book order, and hoping I don't live to regret it!
Okay. But so what. Learn Coptic.
I have been a strong advocate that Coptic become a regular language in any Christian Origins curriculum. It should not be considered an additional language to Greek and Hebrew. Over fifty early Christian texts are written in Coptic, and this doesn't even begin to include the early monastic literature, although the early monastic literature is farther removed from the study of Christian Origins than the second and third century literature from NH and the Tchacos Codex.
If a scholar doesn't learn Coptic, he or she can only include the Greek literature in any discussion of early Christianity and Christian Origins. This means that his or her study of the period is lopsided, including only the NT texts and the early fathers. Not knowing how to read Coptic is not an excuse for excluding almost half the literature from full consideration in our reconstruction of early Christianity.
If you want to learn Coptic, it is taught at many major universities. The International Association of Coptic Studies keeps a web page of all places where Coptic is taught. There is one very good learning grammar by Thomas Lambdin. There is another that has just been published by Bentley Layton, although I have not received my desk copy yet to comment on its usefulness as a learning grammar. Crum has been reprinted. There are also online resources available. I have all of these links here. Click and scroll down to Coptic History, Literature, and Art - General Resources/Coptic Language Resources.
Update: July 30, 2007
Mark Goodacre here also recommends that all graduate students in Christian Origins learn Coptic early in their career.
I don't know much more than this. As more information comes my way about this event, I'll post on it. Right now, the proposed dates for the conference are May 15-17, 2008.
So 2008 is going to be a big year for Coptic studies, with three major conferences. This is highly unusual, but let's make hay while the sun shines. These are the dates for your calendars:
Codex Judas Congress, March 13-16, 2008, Rice University, Houston, Texas
Coptic Culture: Past, Present, and Future, May 15-17, 2008, Shepalbury Manor, Stevenage, UK
Ninth International Congress of Coptic Studies, September 14-20, 2008, Sonesta Hotel, Cairo
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III will be the host of the congress. He has put the Saint Mark Foundation for Coptic History Studies in charge of the local organization. The president of that Foundation is Dr. Fawzy Estafanous. To open the congress, on Sunday 14th, there will be an all day public event at the Coptic Patriarchate with lectures and discussions.
The congress will function with morning plenary sessions followed in the afternoon with panels, workshops, and papers.
If you are interested in attending (even if you are not a member of IACS), you can request an electronic pre-registration form at email@example.com. Put in the header of your e-mail, "please send me iccopts9.rtf".
1. Christianity in Medieval Egypt. Panel Coordinator: Johannes den Heijer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2. Coptic Language and Linguistics. Panel Coordinators: Ariel Shisha-Halevy, with Eitan Grossman (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org)
3. Coptic Versions of the Gospel of Mark. Panel Coordinator: Anne Boud'hors (email@example.com)
4. Early Coptic Codices: Typological Criteria. Panel Coordinator: Sofia Torallas Tovar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
5. From Coptic to Arabic. Panel Coordinator: Mark N. Swanson (email@example.com)
6. Gnosticism and Manichaeism in Egypt. Panel Coordinator: Gregor Wurst (firstname.lastname@example.org)
7. Monastic and Liturgical Vestments in Egypt: From Late Antiquity to Medieval Times. Panel Coordinators: Sabine Schrenk with Maria Mossakowska-Gaubert (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)
8. Shenoute of Atripe. Panel Coordinator: Andrew Crislip (email@example.com)
9. The Visual Culture of Egyptian Monasticism. Panel Coordinator: Elizabeth S. Bolman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
These are the panels with calls for paper; there are other panels without calls for papers too. So this is going to be a huge conference - Ninth International Congress of Coptic Studies - Cairo, September 14-20, 2008.