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THE OLDEST COMPLETE COPTIC PSALTER EVER FROM THE FOURTH CENTURY: THE MUDIL CODEX: IN THE MIDDLE EGYPT (OXYRHYNCHITIC) DIALECT

February 27, 2013

mudil codix

 Figure 1: The Mudil Codex (The Coptic Psalter in the dialect of Middle Egypt) – the oldest Coptic psalter ever discovered. It is kept in the Coptic Museum in Old (Coptic) Cairo.

In a previous article, we have seen the oldest complete Coptic psalter in the Upper Egypt (Sahidic) dialect, which was edited by E. A. Wallis Budge, and published in London in 1898. It formed part of the Edfû Manuscript (or Edfû Codices), and goes back to the end of the sixth or seventh century. Now, it is time to speak about the oldest Coptic psalter ever – what is called the Mudil Codex, which is written in Middle Egypt (Oxyrhychitic) dialect, and dates from the fourth century. Budge’s Coptic Psalter is kept in the British Library in London – the Mudil Codex is, however, kept in the Coptic Museum (MS. 6614), in Old Cairo, or what is called Coptic Cairo, in Egypt.

 map bahnasaFigure 2: Map showing the location of Oxyrhynchos and Al-Madil (from Emmenegger’s book).

This priceless manuscript, as described by the Coptic Coptologist, Gawdat Gabra, is “The only biblical text discovered in an Egyptian tomb, it was found in the large, poor [Coptic] cemetery of Al-Mudil,[1] 40 kilometres north-east of Oxyrhynchos,[2] a city famous on Graeco-Roman times, in a shallow grave under a [Coptic] young girl’s head. Her parents must have been relatively rich to have owned such a valuable volume. The practice of burying religious texts with the dead dates back to Ancient Egyptian burial customs… the small peg used to lock the book is shaped like the ancient Egyptian symbol of life.”[3]

Unfortunately, no study of this gem has been done in English. Recently, in 2007, the German Coptologist Gregor Emmenegger wrote Der Text des koptischen Psalters aus al-Mudil. Ein Beitrag zur Textgeschichte der Septuaginta und zur Textkritik koptischer Bibelhandschriften, mit der kritischen Neuausgabe des Papyrus 37 der British Library London (U) und des Papyrus 39 der Leipziger Universitätsbibliothek (2013), which an extensive study of it. The publisher[4] writes:

The Mudil Codex from the late 4th century contains the Biblical Psalms in Coptic. However, the text differs significantly from familiar versions of the Psalms, giving rise to the question of whether we are dealing with an original form of the text. The comprehensive analysis presented here demonstrates the tradition in which this fascinating text is located, how it arose, and what significance it has for research into the Psalms generally and the Coptic Bible manuscripts in particular.

An good English review of the German book by Thomas J. Kraus in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2008.01.37), can be found here.


[1] Al-Madil is a small town in the eastern side of the Nile between Beni Suef and al-Bahnasa, Egypt.

[2]  Oxyrhynchos, or Oxyrhynchus, is the Greek name (Coptic, Pemdje; modern town, el-Bahnasa or al-Bahnasa). It is a city in Upper Egypt in the governorate of Minya – some 100 miles southwest of Cairo. It is a rich archaeological site of Greek and Coptic papyri.

[3] Cairo: The Coptic Museum & Old Churches by Gawdat Gabra with contributions by Anthony Alcock (Cairo, Egyptian International Publishing Company – Longman, 1993); pp. 110-111.

[4] Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2013 10:34 am

    Wonderful! Just one detail: the Sahidic Psalms codex in the British Library, and the papyrus manuscript of the homilies published by Budge, were not part of the Edfu discovery, which is formed of 10th-11th century parchment and paper codices.

    As you said, it’s a pity that no serious study of the Mudil codex has been done in English. Academia needs more Coptologists.

  2. Dioscorus Boles permalink*
    February 28, 2013 4:12 pm

    Thank you, Alin for your comment, which I appreciate very much.

    What led me to think the Sahidic Psalms codex which Budge published in 1898 is that he says in his book “The Earliest Known Coptic Psalter: The text, in the dialect of Upper Egypt” that it was found in ruins of an ancient Coptic church and monastery in Upper Egypt with ten homilies, which he gives details of (pp. vii, viii, xiii, xiv). And then he publishes in 1910 these same homilies in his book “Coptic Homilies in the Dialect of Upper Egypt”.

    Then in 1915, in the Preface to his book “Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt”, he says that that volume, with the previous four volumes (one of them, and the first, is Coptic Homilies), constitute five volumes that contain all the principal texts from the series of parchment and paper volumes that originally formed part of the libraries of the monasteries and churches of Edfu and Asna, and are now [then] in the British Library, and he calls them the Edfu Manuscripts (pp. xxiii, xxiv).

    Regards.

    Dioscorus

  3. March 2, 2013 12:52 pm

    True, Budge was not very accurate and his statement is misleading. In fact, only the paper and parchment codices are from Edfu. As to the Psalms and Homilies codices, their provenance is unknown.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      March 2, 2013 2:02 pm

      Thank you, Alin, very much. This is very interesting.

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