Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.01.37

G. Emmenegger, 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). Text und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 159.   Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter, 2007.  Pp. xxviii, 391.  ISBN 978-3-11-019948-2.  €118.00.  

Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus, Hilpoltstein (
Word count: 1718 words

This is a just slightly revised version of Gregor Emmenegger's Th.D. thesis (Theological Faculty Fribourg/Suisse, 2005), enlarged by an index of biblical references. Title and subtitle of the book reveal Emmenegger's (hereafter E.) main concern: a full-scale investigation into the text and context of the so-called Coptic Mudil-Codex, which preserves the complete Psalter in the textual form of the Septuagint, and its implications for Septuagint studies. In addition, E. compares the Mudil-Codex with other codices and their relevant textual passages. In two addenda, both of them standing on their own, E. offers re-editions of Papyrus 37, a Greek codex, and Papyrus 39, a Greek roll. Of course, E.'s editorial work and studies will certainly not attract the attention of readers without (at least some) expertise in textual criticism and consequently will not find a broad readership. This is due to (a) the use of the relevant original languages Hebrew, Greek, and the Coptic dialects (without accompanying translations into German) and (b) the technical language and terminology that is necessary for editing and assessing ancient manuscripts. However, this does not mean that E. did anything wrong.On the contrary, he provides an indispensable tool for all those concerned about the text and textual history of the Septuagint and its manuscript witnesses. Scholars like E. with such a splendid expertise, i.e. scholars who possess the skills to edit manuscripts and the knowledge of ancient languages, are hard to find these days. Thus, E.'s impressively meticulous and learned work is very much welcome, and he must be thanked for taking over the sometimes enervating and tiring work of providing others with text-critical studies of the Mudil-Codex and re-editions of two other important textual witnesses.

After a detailed table of contents, the very helpful and necessary list of textual witnesses and their sigla (grouped according to their text types), and a list of signs and abbreviations (for textual variants, text families, the Hexaplaric columns, and the use of parentheses and dots for transcribing the texts), E. presents basic information about the Mudil-Codex and describes his own approach. In 1984 the codex was discovered near the Egyptian village al-Mudil in a Coptic necropolis, about 45 kilometers north of al-Bahnasa, better known as ancient Oxyrhynchos (the map on page 2 is very useful). The codex was placed under the head of a girl's mummy and is the only burial gift in the tomb. The parchment manuscript, now in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, is bound with leather between two wooden plates. It measures 16.7 and 12.2 centimeters, consists of 498 pages, of which 493 are legible, and is to be dated to the late fourth or early fifth century. The Mudil-Codex, written in the Coptic Mesokemic dialect, offers the greatest amount of text of all the old Coptic manuscripts. Its complete Psalter in the form of the Septuagint, however, differs from other Coptic Psalters from the same time and is not the same as any other known Psalter text. Although there have been brief studies of that phenomenon and the relationship with other manuscripts and their texts, a systematic investigation is still missing. Therefore, E. tries to close this gap, and he does so successfully. The Greek papyri in London (U) and Leipzig (2013), Codex Vaticanus (B) and Bodmer Papyrus XXIV (2110), the Coptic-Bohairic Psalter (Bo), and the Coptic-Sahidic Codex oriental 5000 (Sa/L; and occasionally Sa/T, Sa/W, and Sa/B) serve as major benchmark texts. E.'s aim is to identify the text form the Mudil-Codex actually belongs to, and he wants to describe its interrelation with other textual witnesses to the Psalter and with known text families. However, according to other scholars working in this field of research, such a project must tie in to Rahlfs, and it is this succession E. claims for his own approach (p. 17).

The second chapter -- the first of the four main chapters -- starts with a list of the 129 characteristic variants in the Codex Vaticanus (B) singled out by Rahlfs. These variants document the differences between Vaticanus and the Majority Text and are immediately compared with the Mudil-Codex (herafter M) and the main textual witnesses by E., who presents these in the form of lemmata. The next step is a systematic comparison between M and the Psalter text from Upper Egypt and the text families. E. comes up with three hypotheses, because he could not ultimately rule out that M and 2110 are early versions of the Upper Egyptian text, and concludes that M and/or 2110 must be recensions: (a) M is a recension and 2110 an early version of the Upper Egyptian text type; (b) 2110 is a recension and M an early form of the Upper Egyptian text; or (c) M and 2110 are both different but independent recensions of Upper and Lower Egyptian texts.

The three hypotheses and their verification/falsification determine the third chapter. Rahlfs's so-called "Fehlerarten" (types of error) and his Septuagint studies form the basis for E.'s evaluation of the corrections found in M. Rahlfs distinguishes between hearing and reading mistakes, mistakes prompted by the context, mistakes motivated by parallels in the Bible, and addenda without any parallels. The last group contains Christian interpolations, too. After meticulous and concise analyses of the "Fehlerarten," E. comes to the conclusion that the eight special readings he concentrates on are evidence enough for an editorial revision work in M. The same, however, could not be proved for the Bodmer Papyrus XXIV (2110).

Chapter four is dedicated to the extent and method of this editorial revision work in M. E. addresses further traces of editorial interference in order to retrieve the model texts of M and to identify where and how M has been revised. In addition to the "Fehlerarten," E. includes linguistic features (tenses, loan words, prepositions, foreign words etc.), looks at potential theological influences, the obliteration of nomina sacra and much more. E. points out that some of the special readings might have emerged from the copying or translating process or from the editorial work on M. According to E., the Coptic copyist already transmitted a text that was different from the original autograph. Moreover, the special readings prove that the translator worked with an individual Greek text that does not have much in common with other Psalter texts. The Greek loan words tell us that M is independent from other Coptic Psalters.

In chapter five E. looks at the remaining variants of M to seewhat they tell about the relationship between the Mudil-Codex and other textual witnesses to the Psalter and searches for traces of Origen in the texts under discussion. Consequently, E. refers to Psalms from Qumran, the Masoretic text (as attested by its main manuscripts), Papyrus Bodmer XXIV (2110), some textual witnesses from Lower and Upper Egypt, some occidental texts, Origen and his Hexapla, the Lucianic and the Majority text. E. concludes that M originates from a Sahidic Psalter and a Greek original (with some very specific special readings) and nothing more. He refrains from assigning M to any known text family because he could not any detect striking affinities. The editor of M, according to E.'s hypothesis, tried to overcome the differences between the existing versions of the Psalter so that this editor decided to produce a mixed text of the versions then available.

Chapter six is about the special position M and its text has among all the Coptic Psalters. Hence, E. compares M with relevant Coptic Psalm compilations in order to detect the translators' and/or editors' individual strategies. Of course, such an undertaking is far too large, given the number of manuscripts and textual witnesses that come into question. Therefore, E. limits his scope to the codices from Oxyrhynchos from the fourth to the sixth century (denoting the dialect correctly as Mesokemic). He addresses the 49 papyrus fragments in Milan (PB/M), parchment Codex Scheide (Mt/M1), parchment Codex Glazier (Apg/M), and papyrus Codex Schoyen (Mt/M2), and their relevant text passages parallel to M. E. correctly observes similarities and differences between M and the other codices that prompt him to assume that M forms a group together with the New Testament Mesokemic texts, and he concludes that this group might have belonged to a "mittelägyptischen Übersetzerschule" (a Middle Egyptian school of translators; p. 253). The socio-historical context E. describes for the Mudil-Codex is surprisingly vague and short in comparison with the otherwise concise and sound work. There are more and other sources and secondary titles to be consulted than just the Historia Monacorum in Aegypto.

Chapter seven is only a little bit more than three pages long and is actually, more or less, a summary of the results of the previous chapters.

The two addenda offer re-editions of Papyrus 37, British Library London (U), and Papyrus 39, University Library Leipzig (2013). Both Greek papyri -- a papyrus codex and three fragments from a rather long roll -- are described first, and then a transcription is given indicating folios, recto-verso, columns, dubious letters and doubtful readings, reconstructions, nomina sacra, dieresis, and the like (following the so-called Leiden system). The presentation is precise; the transcriptions are meticulous and very much worth being called a reliable edition.

The book comes with a comprehensive bibliography (pp. 371-83), but unfortunately only with an index of biblical references (pp. 384-91). Additional indices -- for instance, extra-biblical texts, authors, and subjects -- would help to turn the volume under review into a real and easy to handle reference work for further research.

(Re-)editing texts and discussing the text-critical value of manuscripts can be extremely strenuous at times enervating and even frustrating, but simultaneously also rewarding and profitable. Without doubt everyone who has ever been committed to such tasks know about the profit they have from the work they do. In addition, and more obviously, readers -- in the present case probably postgraduate students, scholars and researchers in the subject matter -- will benefit tremendously from E.'s fine work, his cautious conclusions and his detailed observations (often in the form of lemmata). His book will not only become the indispensable tool for assessing the Mudil-Codex in the future but will also serve as a role model of how to work on the text and context of codices, how to compare codices, and how to interrelate manuscripts, their texts, textual variants, and text types and families with each other.

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