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THE BRITISH ARTIST AND MUSCIAN DAVID TIBET ON HIS INTEREST IN COPTIC LANGUAGE: WHAT TOOK HIM TO LEARN COPTIC, AND WHAT IS BEHIND HIS LOVE FOR IT

August 5, 2012

 

David Tibet (b. 1960).

David Tibet (or David Michael Bunting) is an English poet, artist and musician. He was born 1960 in Malaysia but moved very early to his country. Currently, he lives in Hastings, East Sussex.

Tibet has many interests, including Christian eschatology, apocalypses, Christian mysticism and Gnosticism. His interest in the latter led him to studying Coptic, which is something one would not expect from the average artist and musician. He achieved high standards in Coptic and obtained many certificates in it, and in the process got to know many Coptologists and experts in Coptic language. I have been intrigued as to how Tibet got interested in Coptic. Fortunately, he has written, in December 2009, about this on his site, Coptic Cat, under “David’s Coptic Studies”. Here is how he explains it:

David Tibet and Stephen Emmel in the Coptic Museum, 2008 (Photo: Barbara Emmel). For more photos of that trip to Coptic Egypt, go to: http://www.copticcat.com/gallery/egypt/107

I have had many people ask me as to what took me to learn Coptic, and what is behind my love for it.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is that when I was a child growing up in Malaysia, I was fascinated by all the religions I saw in this beautiful country: Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and (the, for me, equally exotic) Christianity. I became fascinated at an early age, perhaps 8 or 9, by the Christian gospels and the Book of Revelation. When I flew over to England, at the age of 10, to start attending a school there, I was to come across three other areas which were to have a huge influence on my life: the works of Aleister Crowley, the Old Testament Apocrypha, and the ghost stories of MR James. After I had finished reading all of James’ ghost stories, I looked for other material by him to read, and I discovered his extraordinary work, The Apocryphal New Testament. Coupled with a new fascination with the mythology and beliefs of Pharaonic Egypt, MR James’ wonderful, and scholarly, collection of apocryphal works connected with Christ and his followers became an obsession with me, and led to an investigation, albeit pre-pubescent, of Gnosticism and non-canonical Christian texts. This fascination ebbed and flowed, sometimes emphasising other esoteric (and exoteric) interests, but it never left me.

Many years later, at around the age of 42, I taught myself New Testament (‘koine’) Greek in order to read the New Testament in its original language. Although I attained a fair degree of familiarity with Koine Greek, it never really set my heart on fire. I then decided I would learn Coptic, as looking at the Greek New Testament had re-ignited my love for Gnostic and non-canonical Christian texts. So, when travelling down from Glasgow in the removal van to where I presently live in Hastings, I started learning Coptic on the journey. I had bought Thomas Lambdin’s (excellent) Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, and commenced reading it in the van. I fell in love with Coptic suddenly, blindingly, beautifully and obsessively. I continued studying Lambdin’s book at home, and then, whilst doing more research on the internet, contacted Professor Lance Eccles, then head of Chinese at MacQuarie University in Australia. A superb linguist, his interests outside of Chinese were focused on Coptic and Syriac, and he was unfailingly kind and helpful when I asked for his advice. Lance, bless him, made me even more determined to become as knowledgeable in Coptic as I could be.

I contacted the head of the International Association of Coptic Studies, Professor Stephen Emmel, an American academic who is head of the internationally-renowned Institute for Coptology at Münster, Germany. He was so inspiring and so enthusiastic about my studies and my evident love of Coptic that he suggested I start an MA under Professor Heike Behlmer, a German academic then teaching at MacQuarie, like Lance Eccles, in Australia.

MacQuarie had an online MA programme which I commenced. I became close friends with Stephen Emmel (who occasionally plays with Current 93), and continued to study privately with him and in my MA course with Heike Behlmer. I was luck enough to meet many of the other great Coptic scholars—apart from Emmel and Behlmer—such as Anne Boud’hors, Sebastian Richter, Wolf-Peter Funk, Bentley Layton, David Brakke, James Goehring, Tito Orlandi, Jenny Cromwell, Malcolm Choat, as well as the new generation of Coptologists, including Hugo Lundhaug, Alin Suciu and Diliana Atanassova.

The kindness and support of all of these individuals was remarkable and, through the assistance of Anne Boud’hors, I started work on a 2-semester Special Research project to finish my MA, which consisted of a diplomatic edition of the previously unpublished Coptic text of The Enthronement of (the Archangel) Michael which is held at the IFAO in Cairo. My diplomatic edition consisted of a diplomatic transcription of the text, an edition of the Coptic text broken into prosodic units, a translation of the Coptic, a codicological description of the manuscript and a grammatical analysis and commentary of the language of the text. My edition is to be published in the IFAO’s journal.

I continue to read, research and love Coptic, with my interest now extended, by Stephen Emmel and Heike Behlmer, into also studying early Egyptian monastic texts, especially those of the 4th century monastic leader Shenoute, who lived from 348 to 466 AD. I intend to start my PhD in Coptic in 2010. The Coptic texts I read continue to be a deep and lasting influence on both my thoughts on the nature of God and Christ, as well as on the music of Current 93 and my own lyrics.

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