Monday, July 30, 2007

(3) Is Coptic a hindrance to serious study of NH texts?

My second point was that the Nag Hammadi texts are in Coptic, a language not as accessible to NT scholars as the language of the DSS.

Okay. But so what. Learn Coptic.

I have been a strong advocate that Coptic become a regular language in any Christian Origins curriculum. It should not be considered an additional language to Greek and Hebrew. Over fifty early Christian texts are written in Coptic, and this doesn't even begin to include the early monastic literature, although the early monastic literature is farther removed from the study of Christian Origins than the second and third century literature from NH and the Tchacos Codex.

If a scholar doesn't learn Coptic, he or she can only include the Greek literature in any discussion of early Christianity and Christian Origins. This means that his or her study of the period is lopsided, including only the NT texts and the early fathers. Not knowing how to read Coptic is not an excuse for excluding almost half the literature from full consideration in our reconstruction of early Christianity.

If you want to learn Coptic, it is taught at many major universities. The International Association of Coptic Studies keeps a web page of all places where Coptic is taught. There is one very good learning grammar by Thomas Lambdin. There is another that has just been published by Bentley Layton, although I have not received my desk copy yet to comment on its usefulness as a learning grammar. Crum has been reprinted. There are also online resources available. I have all of these links here. Click and scroll down to Coptic History, Literature, and Art - General Resources/Coptic Language Resources.

Update: July 30, 2007
Mark Goodacre here also recommends that all graduate students in Christian Origins learn Coptic early in their career.

14 comments:

Jared said...

Unfortunately, not all even major universities teach Coptic. At Columbia, you can learn Armenian more readily than Coptic. There are people around, however, who know it, so you just have to be proactive.

April DeConick said...

Alas, my point proven!

James F. McGrath said...

Coptic is no more different from Greek and Hebrew than they are from each other, and at least a fair number of letters in the Coptic alphabet are familiar to those who know Greek. There is a definite need for more New Testament scholars to learn Coptic, Aramaic/Syriac, and perhaps other languages as well. In the end, our field is full of polyglots and linguaphiles, and so if it matters to us, we'll do it - which means the key point is for more people to do what April is doing and remind us that this is important, indeed essential!

Now if they only had a set of Pimsleur Coptic courses I could put on in my car...

Rebecca said...

April, you're starting to convince me that I should get down to learning Coptic too - it's one of the languages (like Ethiopic) that I have thought would be very useful for my own work but which I haven't had the time to learn. Do you think it's possible to get a decent understanding of the language by studying Lamdin, or is it necessary to take a course in Coptic?

Rebecca said...

Another thing that just occurred to me as a reason some people don't learn Coptic is that perhaps they are more interested in what they perceive to be the more ancient Jewish roots of Christianity, and hence would choose to learn Ethiopic instead of Coptic, since the Enoch literature is available in Ethiopic.

Jared said...

Interestingly, Union Theological Seminary worked through Lambdin's Ge'ez grammar last year...I wish I had known about it when it had started, but, alas, I missed it.

Luckily, UTS is one place in my pleromatic realm where interest in studying Coptic is steadily on the rise. There are lots of students and a few faculty here who want to read Thomas, Mary, Philip, etc. And there is one faculty member (one of Layton's former students) who likes to study Greek martyrologies translated into Coptic (I think he wrote his diss on Coptic Polycarp or something of the sort).

g. wesley said...

for what it's worth, i was able to work through lamdin in a month or so and then (slowly and with a dictionary) read apocryphon of john with little trouble.

Jared said...

I think _Thunder: Perfect Mind_ is a good place to start out with regard to getting used to reading a text. While it heavily relies upon the copula for long sections, it also has a wide variety of sentence structures and has some fun sections of back and forth play between perfect, habitual, and future tenses. So, it is an good read grammatically and it has it all. It is a very lively text, in my opinion, in the Coptic...something I think is lost in the standard translations of it. Trying to fully understand it is a different issue.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for the info. on working through Lamdin. It's not going to happen this summer, but perhaps next year.

Daniel Foster said...

As I mentioned in the comments on Mark's post, the Logos Blog has also offered a Coptic Apologetic with some specific examples of how the Sahidic Coptic texts can inform the NT exegete. Logos also hopes to digitize Crum's and Sahidica.

Hopefully electronic editions of these texts will encourage dabbling in Coptic and thus ignite a desire to learn the language!

Daniel Foster
Logos Bible Software

Judy Redman said...

A point about teaching yourself Coptic: Lambin has 30 chapters, so Lambdin in a month means a chapter a day. The first few chapters aren't all that hard, but they get quite challenging by the end. IMHO you would need a month where you had little else to do. It would also help if you had previously learned a language with a non-Latin alphabet.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I suppose that already knowing Greek would give one a head start since the alphabets are fairly similar and, for the vocabulary, there are quite a few Greek loan words in Coptic.

Nicky said...

Hey, could you please give me a link to an online site where I can learn Coptic the fast and easy way? I really wanna learn Coptic and I've tried going to many sites but I can't really find any. Whatever help you can give would be very much appreciated.

Thanks!

sbnmalik@yahoo.com said...

On youtube my friend did a deatailed breakdown of the COPTIC LANGUAGE. I ll post the Link for you. You ll see only 6 letters seperate the Greek and Coptic Language... Happy learning

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgwItgLJnlM