by Lina Elhage-Mensching

The new project hosted at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities[1] aims at a comprehensive and systematic investigation of the development of the Holy Week lectionary in Egypt. Using the environment of the Göttingen Virtual Manuscript Room (VMR),[2] its first main objective is to provide a digital edition of the oldest extant Holy Week lectionary of the Egyptian Christians. By this, we will generate both a semi-diplomatic edition of the individual textual witnesses and a critical edition of the Holy Week lectionary, in which texts in Sahidic (primary sources), Bohairic (secondary sources), and Arabic (primary and secondary sources) from parchment and paper manuscripts will be compared to each other. The second main objective of the project is the in-depth study of the Holy Week lectionary and its emergence as a lectionary type in Egypt.

The primary sources of the project are the five extant Sahidic and Sahidic–Arabic Holy Week lectionaries. The two oldest ones, sa 298L and sa 299L are parchment manuscripts produced roughly between the 10th and the beginning of the 12th century. Both have Sahidic text only. The third is the Sahidic paper manuscript sa 292L, which can be dated approximately to the 13th century.

In manuscript sa 292L, the pericopes are in Sahidic and there are short Arabic liturgical rubrics. The remaining two lectionaries sa 16L and sa 349L are both bilingual Sahidic–Arabic paper manuscripts written towards the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th century. All five manuscripts belonged to the library of the White Monastery. The three Sahidic Arabic manuscripts sa 292L, sa 16L, and sa 349L illustrate two different stages in the development of the Coptic Arabic tradition regarding liturgical texts. One of the most important impulses for this project has been the extremely haphazard and unsatisfactory investigation of the Arabic texts in the Coptic manuscripts, which have been ignored by previous research.

The Arabic texts in the oldest Sahidic–Arabic Holy Week lectionary sa 292L have only been briefly mentioned in the catalogue descriptions of Coptic manuscripts until now.[3] As mentioned above, there are no biblical pericopes in Arabic in sa 292L. The short Arabic texts are references to the hours at which the readings are recited. There is also an extended Arabic instruction to the congregation and a highly interesting Arabic marginal note added at a later date. That note turned out to be the unique example of an elaborate Arabic probatio pennae (pen trial) in a Coptic manuscript.[4] 

The study of the Arabic pericopes in the more complete Holy Week lectionary sa 16L has not received any attention in research so far. The manuscript features Coptic and Arabic pericopes and rubrics in two columns in a ratio of 2:1. It also features four homilies in Arabic without Coptic pendants. An important advance concerning the Arabic marginalia and homilies was made in 2018.[5] This preliminary work is planned to be continued in this project.

The Arabic passages of the extremely fragmentary (only 5 leaves) Holy Week lectionary sa 349L were only briefly mentioned in previous studies and have remained unedited.[6] In 2018, I provided some evidence that the New Testament pericopes in this manuscript correspond to the Arabic translation of the so-called Egyptian Vulgate (see Biblioteca Vaticana, Borg. copt. 109. Cass. XXIII, fasc. 98, f. 002v on the right). This hypothesis will be pursued further within the project.

The Sahidic primary sources contain pericopes from a total of 25 books of the Old Testament and 12 books of the New Testament. The critical edition that will be delivered by the project will present the oldest Sahidic language version together with the parallel Arabic text version. Both versions will have a rich critical apparatus with Sahidic, Bohairic and Arabic biblical readings.

As to the second main objective of the project, i.e. the in-depth study of the Holy Week lectionary, special emphasis will be placed on:

  • the inventory of the biblical readings including texts of unknown origin, such as the Pashhur pericope (Jeremiah 20) for the 1st hour of the day on Holy Saturday,
  • the order of the pericopes with tabulation of all transcribed textual witnesses,
  • the relationship between the Sahidic and Bohairic pericopes on the one hand and the relationship between the Coptic and Arabic pericopes on the other,
  • the question of provenance in relation to all three linguistic redactions of the Holy Week lectionary,
  • the question of the existence of a liturgical and a non-liturgical version of the biblical text in both Coptic and Arabic.

In conclusion, the deliverables of the DFG project “Digital Edition and Critical Evaluation of the Coptic Holy Week Lectionary” will enhance our knowledge on a lesser-known genre of Coptic liturgical literature and will be of value not only to Coptologists but also to scholars of liturgy and Biblical studies in general. It also aspires at contributing to our knowledge of the history of the Arabic Bible translation and bilingual Coptic–Arabic texts.

Lina Elhage-Mensching (M.A. in Egyptology and Coptic Studies, 2018, University of Göttingen) is currently a Research Associate at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in the DFG-funded project Digital Edition and Critical Evaluation of the Coptic Holy Week Lectionary. At the same time, she is working on her PhD thesis on Coptic Holy Week lectionaries. She has a special focus on bilingual Coptic–Arabic texts. She has also published on the 18th century interactions between the Herrnhuter brethren and the Coptic Church.


[1] For further information on this project, see and my blog article New DFG Project at the Göttingen Academy: ‘Digital Edition and Critical Evaluation of the Coptic Holy Week Lectionary’ (01.04.2022 – 31.03.2025), in: Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament,


[3] Schmitz, F.-J./Mink, G. (1991). Liste der Koptischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, I, Die sahidischen Hand­schriften der Evangelien. Teil 2,2 (ANTF 15). Berlin/New York, 741; Schüssler, K. (2012–2015). Biblia Coptica. Die koptischen Bibeltexte. Das sahidische Alte und Neue Testament, Bde 2,1–2 (2012, 2015). Wiesbaden, 67.

[4] For more details, see Elhage-Mensching, L. (2020). The Arabic Pen Trial in the Sahidic Holy Week Lectionary of the Bodleian Library, in: JCoptS 22, 69–93.

[5] Elhage-Mensching, L. (2018). Arabic Homilies, Glosses, and Marginalia in the Sahidic Holy Week Lectionaries, M.A. Thesis, Georg-August Universität Göttingen.

[6] Most recently Atanassova, D. (2018). Neue Erkentnisse bei der Erforschung der sahidischen Quellen für die Paschawoche, in: Ägypten und der Christliche Orient. Peter Nagel zum 80. Geburtstag, edited by H. Behlmer, U. Pietruschka, and F. Feder (2018). Wiesbaden, 1–37, 12.

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