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The Recovery of Two Parchment Leaves Containing Portions of Genesis in Sahidic

In 1962, the Franciscan scholar Gabriele Giamberardini (1917-1978) published two Sahidic parchment folios which contain Genesis 23:18-20; 24:1-24.1  The previous year, the heirs of a “well-known Coptic scholar” (notissimo studioso copto) offered for sale to the Franciscan Center of Christian Oriental Studies in Musky, Cairo, a large casing containing 35 Coptic parchment fragments, including the Genesis leaves that Giamberardini eventually edited. The scholar to whom Giamberardini refers in his article must have been Yassā ‘Abd al-Masīḥ, who passed away in 1959.

The Franciscans were not able to purchase the manuscripts because the price requested by Yassā ‘Abd al-Masīḥ’s heirs was prohibitive, but they were nevertheless allowed to photograph them. After this, the fragments disappeared and, for several decades, Giamberardini remained the only source of information regarding to two Genesis leaves. However, while the fragments were not available for inspection anymore, Peter Nagel realized on the basis of the photos published by Giamberardini in his article that they were part of a White Monastery codex which contained the Sahidic version of Genesis.2  Other codicologically related fragments are kept today in Berlin, Paris, Vatican, Vienna, and London. In his Biblia Coptica, the late Karlheinz Schüssler assigned to this manuscript the siglum “sa 1.”3  During the reorganization of the material inventoried, often chaotically and incorrectly, by Schüssler, our Sahidic Old Testament project in Göttingen gave to the same codex the siglum “sa 2020.”

Notably, all previous publications relied exclusively upon Giamberardini’s paper, mentioning that the Genesis fragments edited by him would be kept in an unknown private collection in Cairo. However, it appears that all the fragments seen by Giamberardini in 1961, including those of Genesis, are kept today in the Vatican library under the call number Vat. copt. 111. Although the pope received them in 1972, they were finally integrated into the papal library in 1974.4  As they do not belong to the well-known Borgia collection, they have flowed under the radar of Coptologists interested in the reconstruction of the Sahidic Bible.

Color photos of Vat. copt. 111 are now available online over at the Vatican Library’s website.  They allow us to establish with certainty that the two Genesis leaves published by Giamberardini in 1962 are ff. 96-97 of this miscellaneous manuscript. The recovery of the fragments will offer us the opportunity to collate them again in the near future and, hopefully, to obtain a better edition. 

  1. G. Giamberardini, “Testo copto ṣa‘idico del Genesi 23,18-20, 24,1-24,” Studia Orientalia Christiana. Collectanea 7 (1962) 207-220.
  2. P. Nagel, “Fragmente eines sahidischen Genesiskodex der Nationalbibliothek zu Paris (BN copte 1291 fol. 8-13),” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 116 (1989) 71-90, at 72 n. 4.
  3. K. Schüssler, Biblia Coptica. Das sahidische Alte und Neue Testament vol. 1/1 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995) 20-26.
  4. D.V. Proverbio, “Additamentum Sinuthianum. Frammenti dal Monastero Bianco in un codice copto della Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana,” Rendiconti Accad. Lincei, Sc. Morali, s. 9, vol. 12 (2001) 409-417.
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