Digital Edition and Critical Evaluation of the Coptic Holy Week Lectionary

Easter is the most important religious feast in the liturgical calendar of Egyptian Christians, who belong, in their vast majority, to the Coptic Orthodox Church. In their liturgical tradition the Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends on the following Sunday with the Easter celebration. The liturgical events taking place during the Holy Week are reflected in the Holy Week lectionary, one of the fundamental liturgical books of the Copts.

Despite its significance, the Coptic Holy Week lectionary in Sahidic, Bohairic and Arabic is still scarcely investigated. The text of the oldest Sahidic Holy Week lectionaries (10th to 14th c.) has been only sporadically used for comparison in the analysis of the younger Bohairic tradition but has otherwise remained completely unexplored. What is more, the Arabic texts in the Coptic Holy Week lectionaries have been studied only superficially or not at all. The hitherto existing editions of the Bohairic Holy Week lectionaries do not longer correspond to the current scholarly standards. In contrast to the research undertaken before, which can only be described as sporadic, selective, and incomplete, the project aims at a comprehensive and systematic investigation of the Holy Week lectionary in Egypt.

The first principal objective of the project is to provide a digital edition of the oldest extant Holy Week lectionary of the Egyptian Christians. The digital edition will generate both a semi-diplomatic edition of the individual textual witnesses and a critical redaction of the Holy Week lectionary, in which Sahidic, Bohairic and Arabic texts in parchment and paper manuscripts will be compared with each other. The digital edition will use and further develop the infrastructure of the Virtual Manuscript Room ( of the Göttingen Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament.

The second principal objective is the exhaustive analysis of the Holy Week lectionary and of its development as a lectionary type in Egypt. The project will tackle two core questions: a) How did the Copts celebrate the Holy Week before and after the reform by Patriarch Gabriel II. ibn Turaik (1131–1146); b) Was there a liturgical version of the biblical text proper to Egypt? To answer these questions, it is necessary to proceed to a text historical classification of the biblical transmission in the lectionaries in comparison to the overall transmission in the biblical manuscript tradition. The Göttingen Virtual Manuscript Room will be of great help in achieving the second principal objective too.

By applying innovative editorial tools and methods the digital coverage of the Holy Week lectionary will fill the above described research gaps. The project is therefore of the greatest significance both for Coptic and for Liturgical Studies and will enable a deeper understanding of the religious life of the Coptic Church, one of the largest and most important Eastern Orthodox Churches.

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