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BASIL THOMAS ALFRED EVETTS – A COPTOPHIL WHO IS A MYSTERY!

September 4, 2012

Basil Thomas Alfred Evetts (or simply B. T. A. Evetts) was an English historian who has done a great job for the Copts, Coptology and research in general by translating into English from Arabic, and editing two extremely important Coptic works:

1.  History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, in four parts, in three volumes of Patrologia Orientalis (PO) (Tomes I, V and X), which appeared in Paris in 1907, 1910 and 1915, respectively. The edition includes the Arabic text and its accompanying English translation on each page, and covers the lives of the patriarchs of the Coptic Church from St. Mark the Evangelist in the first century to Joseph (Yu’sab) I in the ninth century:

  • Part I appeared in PO, Tome I, 1907, pp. 99-214, and covered the Lives of Patriarchs from St. Mark to Theonas (d. 300):

http://archive.org/stream/patrologiaorient01pari#page/n125/mode/2up

  • Part II appeared also in PO, Tome I, 1907, pp. 383-518, and covered the Lives of Patriarchs from Peter I to Benjamin I (d. 661):

http://archive.org/stream/patrologiaorient01pari#page/n407/mode/2up

  • Part III appeared in PO, volume V, 1910, pp. 1-215, and covered the Lives of Patriarchs from Agathon to Michael I (d. 766):

http://archive.org/stream/patrologiaorien05pari#page/n11/mode/2up

  • Part IV appeared in PO, volume X, 1915, pp. 358-551, and covered the Lives of Patriarchs from Mennas I to Joseph I (d. 849):

http://archive.org/stream/patrologiaorien10pari#page/n371/mode/2up

2.  The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt and Some Neighbouring Countries attributed to Abu Salih, al-Armani;[1] edited and translated by B. T. A. Evetts with added notes by Alfred J. Butler (Oxford; Clarendon Press; 1895):

http://www.archive.org/stream/churchesandmona00butlgoog#page/n8/mode/2up

3.  The Rites of the Coptic Church: The Order of Baptism and The Order of Matrimony According to the Use of the Coptic Church (1888): this book has not been digitalised yet.

Evetts has also written (or translated) other important books in other areas, including:

- New Light on the Bible and the Holy land, being an account of some recent discoveries in the East (1892):

http://archive.org/stream/newlightonbibleh00evetiala#page/n9/mode/2up

- Manual of oriental antiquities; including the architecture, sculpture and industrial arts of Chaldæa, Assyria, Persia, Syria, Judæa, Phoenicia and Carthage (1889). This book was written by the French Ernest Babelon, and then got translated and enlarged by Evetts, who we learn was then of the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, British Museum:

http://archive.org/stream/manualoforiental00baberich#page/n7/mode/2up

Despite Evetts’ important works and contribution to the study of the Copts, information about him is scarce. Try to search for his biography in any British dictionary, such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and despite the fact that Evetts graduated from Oxford University, you will find nothing about him. The Coptic Encyclopedia, which is expected to include something sufficient about him is short and defective: I will reproduce below the entry by S. Kent Bown:

EVETTS, BASIL THOMAS ALFRED (1858-?), English historian. Evetts was educated at Oxford’s Trinity College, graduating in 1881. He authored several important works on Copts, including Rites of the Coptic Church (London, 1888). He edited a three-volume study entitled History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria (Paris, 1907-1915).

Evetts’ date of birth is known, 1859, and by checking the UK 1881 and 1901 censuses we learn that he was born in Prestwood Vicarage, Buckinghamshire; his father was Thomas Evetts (Rector of Monks Risboro, Master of Arts University of Oxford), who was married to Annie Evetts in 1881 (she appears to be a second wife)[2], and that his father was 60 then while Anne was 39; Basil, who was 23 in 1881, was still living with them at Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire, and he was undergraduate of Trinity College, Oxford; in 1901 he was 43, single, and lived at 109 Woodstock Road, St. Giles, Oxford, Oxfordshire.

Apart from that we know from Manual of oriental antiquities that he worked at the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, British Museum, in 1881 when the book was published.

Even the year he died is unknown!

It is a shame. But I hope this will be a nucleus for a more satisfactory biography of a man who has done good work.

I shall write to the librarian at Oxford’s Trinity College, from which he graduated in 1881, asking if they have anything about one of theirs.

Update 1:

I found that Evetts died in 1919 (England and Wales, National Probate Calendar, Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1966).

In 1911 he was still living at St. Giles, Oxford, Oxfordshire.


[1] The book was actually written by the Copt, Abu al-Makarim.

[2] I am not sure if Evetts’ mother had died or got divorced.

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