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September 7, 2014

Mary & Jesus

In a previous article, I have written of a serious encroachment of Arabisation on the Coptic name of God: Ephnuti[i] (or Abnouda[ii]). As Copts got Arabised in the Middle Period of their history[iii], they abandoned Ephnouti for Allah (اللّه), the Arabic name for God. I explained the devastating effect on that on Coptic culture, and I would say, even to Coptic Christianity. The reader can consult the article for detail.

Today, I would like to point to a similar matter: the loss of the names of Jesus and Mary in Coptic. In Coptic, Jesus is isoas                                                                                                                                 (pronounced, Isous)

and Mary is maria                                                                                                                                (pronounced, Maria)

: these beautiful names have been mouthed by Copts throughout their history before Arabisation with reverence: millions upon millions of Copts found them most sweet, most comforting, most uplifting as they chanted them, whether they were gathering at homes, harvesting their fields, sailing the Nile, praying the liturgy in churches, or performing their ascetic practices at monasteries and deserts across Egypt. They were innate and intimate names to Coptic Christianity. But, with the language shift in the Coptic Middle Period, Copts abandoned Isoas and Maria to their Arabic equivalents, ‘يسوع’ (pronounce, Yasoa) and ‘مريم’ (pronounced, Mariam), respectively.

Of course Jesus and Mary are the same whatever language you use; however, it seems to me there is no good reason to change the names of the holiest of your holies as you adopt another language, in the same way you don’t change your proper name from, for example, Angaelos[iv] to Angel or Agia[v] to Saint, if you adopt the English language.

I look at it as completely bizarre as much as damaging to our culture.


[i] Neo-Bohairic.

[ii] In Old Bohairic.

[iii] This period corresponds roughly to the 12th and 13th centuries.

[iv] Meaning ‘angel’ in Coptic.

[v] Meaning ‘Saint’ in Coptic (f.).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. nmichaelross permalink
    September 7, 2014 2:27 pm

    I agree with your assessment. I am also amazed that, because I have some knowledge of Cyrillic alphabet, I was able to read this Coptic writing. For me, this connection hints at the Hellenic roots of the Coptic people. Also the original pronunciation of the names is closer to Greek, while the Arabised names are clearly Semitic. Remember that the term ‘Semite’ technically refers to Arabs, as well as Jews. The differences are small, but they have been magnified over centuries by despots and sometimes, incendiary hatred.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      September 7, 2014 2:31 pm

      Very much agree!

  2. cirlu permalink
    March 15, 2015 2:56 pm

    You don’t stop. Hotep

  3. Monika permalink
    May 13, 2015 9:02 pm

    Maria is actually Greek. The Coptic for St. Mary is in fact also Mariam, and if you look through Coptic writings you will find Mariam commonly used 🙂

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      May 13, 2015 9:57 pm

      Throughout the liturgy in Coptic churches, using whatever version, St Mary is called Maria and not Mariam or Miriam. Of course Maria is Greek version as Isous is but the Copts took these names to heart and in their prayers and supplications they cried out for Isous and Maria.

  4. January 27, 2016 10:07 am

    Cyrillic alphabet that is not Greek but Bulgarian Language. Cyril and Methodius who created the alphabet are Bulgarians and Greek alphabet is borrowed from the Cyrillic alphabet is not back !. Follow the history of kingdoms. When there was a Greater Bulgaria, Greece did not exist yet. Bulgarians also pronounce Jesus and Mary as Copts.

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