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August 29, 2012

Walter Ewing Crum, photo by Walter Stoneman in 1932, aged 67 (at the National Portrait Gallery, London).


He could be expansive or highly strung, but was always courteous, modest, and kind. His appearance was tall and strikingly handsome, and some of his friends dubbed him ‘our Coptic Apollo’.

R. S. Simpson

Walter Ewing Crum (1865 – 1944) was an British Coptologist of Scottish origin, and the Copts, Coptologists and academia must be grateful for his monumental work, A Coptic Dictionary, a Coptic-English dictionary, which he published in 1939 (Oxford, The Clarendon Press).

I copy the entry (CE: 663a-663b) about Crum in The Coptic Encyclopedia, which was written by Martin Krause, below:

CRUM, WALTER EWING (1865-1944), English Coptologist. He studied Egyptology in Paris under Gaston MASPERO and in Berlin under Adolf ERMAN, specializing in Coptic. He held no public office, but devoted all his life to Coptic studies. Crum worked in nearly all branches of Coptology, published thousands of papyri and ostraca, and in 1939 completed almost single-handedly the standard Coptic Dictionary (Oxford, 1939; reprinted 1962). He was elected fellow of the British Academy in 1931 and was awarded honorary degrees by the universities of Oxford and Berlin. His festschrift, Coptic Studies in Honor of Walter Ewing Crum (1950, pp. vii-xi), contains his complete bibliography. His notebooks and papers are kept in the Griffith Institute at Oxford, and his correspondence is in the British Museum (Add. MSS 45 681-90). He died in Bath.

A bibliography of Crum:

Available works by Crum on Internet Archive:

A Coptic Dictionary:[1]

The genesis of A Coptic Dictionary:

Since Crum’s A Coptic Dictionary is his magnus opus, in the words of R. S. Simpson, and since it is the reference book in Coptic language of so many Coptologists, it is important to know how it came into being. Information about its development is scarce in the internet; and although the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has a good entry on Crum, access to it is restricted.

Crum’s attention turned to Egyptology shortly after graduation from Oxford, gaining a degree in modern history. He visited many European capitals to study under eminent Egyptologists of the time, including Gaston Maspero, William Groff, F. LI. Griffith, Adolf Erman and Georg Steindorff. It was the latter, Georg Steindorff (1861 – 1951), German Egyptologist and Coptologist who introduced Crum to Coptic.

Between 1893 until 1910, Crum assisted Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942), the famous English Egyptologist and Coptologist, with teaching Ancient Egyptian and Coptic at University College London. “During this period Crum came to feel the acute need for a new Coptic dictionary that would take account of the advances made in Coptic studies since the previous dictionary (Peyron’s Lexicon Copticum of 1835), and especially of the quantities of new texts being found in Egypt at the time, which were mostly unpublished. He was beginning to make systematic preparations for this project when a major upheaval occurred in his domestic affairs.”[2]

The upheaval was his estrangement from his wife Ella, whom he married in 1896, and his falling in love with Margaret Hart-Davis (1876 – 1953), who was studying Egyptology at the time. This resulted in his loss of his post at the college in 1910, and his departure, with Hart-Davis, to Austria.

“In Austria the couple devoted themselves to the first stages of work on the dictionary. Crum travelled to museums and libraries all over Europe collecting material, while still finding time to edit the texts from the Theban monastery of Epiphanius brought to him in 1911 by the American Egyptologist H. E. Winlock.[3] When war broke out in 1914 the Crums were still in Austria, but Winlock persuaded the American state department to take up their case, and they were eventually allowed to leave.

During the war Crum gave up half his income to charities and volunteered for work in the War Office. Afterwards he settled in Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol, moving to Bath in 1927, where he was later joined by Thompson,[4] who came to assist with the dictionary. This was eventually compiled from more than 240,000 slips. An earlier contract with the Berlin Academy having lapsed in the war, Crum reached an agreement with Oxford University Press in 1927 to share the cost of publication. It appeared in six parts (1929–39) and at once took rank as the definitive dictionary of the Coptic language.”[5]

Note: On the meaning of ‘philocopt’ and ‘philocoptism’, which the writer has coined, see: The Philocopts and Philocoptism (16 January 2012):

[1] Thanks to Tyndale Archive of Biblical Studies.

[2] R. S. Simpson, ‘Crum, Walter Ewing (1865–1944)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[3] Herbert Eustis Winlock (1884 – 1950), American Egyptologist.

[4] Sir Herbert Thompson (1859 – 1944), British Egyptologist and Coptologist.

[5] R. S. Simpson, ‘Crum, Walter Ewing (1865–1944)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


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