At Lund for the Nordic Coptic Network

I just came back from Lund, Sweden, where the annual conference of the Nordic Coptic Network was organized excellently on Thursday the 19th and Friday the 20th of May 2016 by Paul Linjamaa, PhD student at the University of Lund. Some of our colleagues from last year were absent, some new came along, so both traditional traits of these conferences and new aspects were combined, a healthy dynamism for such periodic academic venues. You may find the program of this year’s conference HERE.

Generally speaking, the aim of the meeting is to give a forum to master and PhD students to discuss their ongoing projects with their peers. It happens that also post-docs, researchers, permanent university staff, and professors can make short presentations on selected topics. The high-quality of the work presented attracts persons from all the levels of the academic hierarchy. The group also reads from the original texts related with these ongoing projects, traditionally focusing on some Nag Hammadi text, since quite often the research projects have been revolving around the material from this unique ancient collection.

Indeed, this year again two presentations were concerned with Nag Hammadi texts directly, and one more with the reception of gnosticism. Our host discussed whether the Tripartite Tractate can be understood as a Christian Deterministic Treatise; and Associate Professor Jörgen Magnusson presented some new ideas on gender based on three sections of The Hypostasis of the Archons. An “outsider” to our group, Alberto Winterberg from the Frei Universität in Berlin, talked about “The Reception of Ancient Gnostic Motifs within Neo-Gnostic Communities”. His talk attracted especially local researchers working on Western occultism in the 19th century. Even for this exchange, Paul should be proud, since it showed the potential of expanding the invitation to scholars outside the Nordic world, especially if there are students and scholars based in the Nordic world to gain from their presence.

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However, at Lund the focus was – perhaps for the first time – not Nag Hammadi. Rather, a master thesis from Helsinki (Kenneth Lai) and a PhD thesis from Bergen (Håkon Teigen), dealing with the Manicheans, turned the attention to Manicheism, and gave us the opportunity to read closely and apprehend profoundly some very interesting issues arising from the work Kephalaia, a sort of doctrinal compendium for the Manicheans. Interestingly, the largest portion of the Coptic codex that preserved for us this work of pivotal importance for the Manicheans was purchased by Carl Schmidt from the dealer Maurice Nahman and sent to Berlin, where it is still kept; a collection of papyri that Schmidt purchased from Nahman again constitutes also the core of the largest collection of papyri in Sweden, kept at the University library at Lund. It is not impossible that some of the very small scraps of papyri might have belonged to the Manichean collection that Schmidt bought. But such a codicological rarity will have to remain a mystery…

In any case, codicology and paleography seem to have become preferred topics of research in the Nordic Coptic Network. Major role for this plays the attention that our colleagues from the University of Helsinki have given to the Ilves collection of papyri from Finland. Ivan Miroshnikov presented another letter from this collection after the one of last year, which is by now published. But also in Norway, there seems to be interest in paleographical and papyrological issues, and this not only because of my studies with the Nubian material – I talked on “Paleographical and Codicological Issues of the Coptic Manuscripts from Nubia” with a focus on the textual record from Qasr el Wizz, which gives the opportunity for very insightful contextualizations. Also, Ágnes Mihálykó presented her exhaustive survey of “The materiality of liturgical manuscripts”, inevitably bringing into the discussion not only Coptic but also Greek material, and naturally offering me a most thought-provoking set of comparanda for similar manuscript evidence from the Nubian world. It is certain that there is much space for collaboration here and both Ágnes and myself wish to explore these possible pists of exchange of data and ideas. A final thing on paleography: it shows the perspicacy of Paul’s planing that on Thursday the participants of the Nordic Coptic Network could follow in a nearby to our venue room a workshop introducing to Greek paleography, digital tools and the Virtual Manuscript Room by Tommy Wasserman.

There were two more colleagues from Oslo that had papers at Lund: Victor Ghica presented his most interesting fieldwork at the Eastern Desert focusing on the “Anchoretic and semi-anchoretic settlements in Wadi ‘Araba and the Gallala mountains: Results of IFAO’s surveys and excavations”. His paper was of special interest to me, given both some paleographic similarities with Nubian material that I think are worthy of further investigation, and the possibility to see parallels in the reuse of ancient sites (especially quarries, see HERE) for medieval epigraphic activities; as well as to professor Samuel Rubenson who announced the publication of the recent excavations at Saint Anthony’s monastery, an announcement which caused excitement to all, but especially to Victor!

Note: Victor Ghica is from Romania and he was not the only one originating from that country: Dan Batovici also came to Lund to attend our conference and it was a pleasure meeting him! A third Romanian should be mentioned here: Alin Suciu, who is very well known to both circles of Coptologists, manuscript specialists and fans of the blog world, was mentioned at least twice these two days, because he has been very helpful both for my work and for the work of Christian Bull with which I will close the present entry and announce one of the coming blog posts to appear here. Before that, let me just add that the reference in my talk on Thursday to his contribution to the identification of the texts in the Coptic manuscripts from Wizz gave me also the opportunity to wish him publicly for his birthday on the 19th of May!

So to conclude, Christian Bull presented his ongoing research on “The Anchoratus of Epiphanius of Salamis in Coptic Translation” underlining the importance of revisiting the Coptic traditions of patristic works for gaining insights into the works’ significance for both the Nile Valley and Eastern Christianity. Christian also referred to our collaboration on the republishing of the Coptic Vita Epiphanii, for which we will be traveling on Sunday to Turin, where the manuscript is kept. For insights from that visit, that will be followed by a seminar of the Phanes network in Rome on “Hagiographies and Biographies”, just stay tuned…

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