Coptic Studies on the Digital Frontier: Creative Approaches to Manuscript Publication

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)


Chicago, IL

Conference Dates

November 16-20, 2012

Date of Presentation



This paper and presentation will explore the possibilities for the publication of a digital companion edition of a manuscript in addition to a traditional print edition. For many Greek and Latin texts, critical editions, or at least simple editions in the original language are available in digital form. The editions of manuscripts in languages of some of the other Eastern Christian traditions are not as widely available. I will present a potential digital exhibition of a Coptic folio from the monastery of Shenoute (also known as the White Monastery). This folio comes from one of the most important set of early Christian monastic sources—Shenoute's letters, sermons, treatises, and rules, written in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic. This monastery was (and still is) located near the ancient city of Atripe in Egypt. It consisted of as many as four thousand male and female monks in three residences. Shenoute led the monastery from the late fourth century to the middle fifth century and was succeeded in leadership by a monk named Besa. We no longer have any direct sources from the founder of the monastery, named Pcol, but we do have a fragment of monastic rules that date to the time of Pcol's leadership. This fragment is quoted at the beginning of the first known letter of Shenoute. It is unpublished, located in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. I hold the publication rights and am working on a traditional-media journal article to publish a photograph, edition, and translation of this two-page fragment. The digital edition of the manuscript will contain the original Coptic text, a translation, an introduction to the context of the text, and a visual and textual analysis of aspects of the rules in the text. My paper will present the edition in progress and discuss the technologies necessary for such a project, the advantages of the digital format, and the challenges to such a project. The digital edition of the folio will direct the reader to other monastic rules from the fourth through sixth centuries with similar regulations using linked maps. This visualization will identify consistencies across the early monastic tradition, dependencies of one set of rules upon another, and conditions unique to children in Shenoute's monastery. The edition will also direct the reader to later sections of Shenoute's letter, which reference back to rules he quotes in this folio.

This document is currently not available here.