Always some Old Nubian related-discovery expecting us in Berlin…

The last days of June found me in Germany.

First, at Bad Homburg (next to Frankfurt am Main). Normally, people travel there for spa-treatments, but my visit aimed at adding my Nubia-focused contribution to the treatment of a very interesting academic topic, namely “The Transmission of Early Christian Homilies“. The conference was organized by Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin and Dr. Philip Forness at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften.

It was great to speak about Chrysostomus Nubianus – or rather the Corpus Chrysostomicum Nubianum – among the most important scholars of Chrysostomian studies, prominent researchers of homiletic works, leading figures of Coptology, good colleagues specializing on John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Shenoute of Attripe, Jacob of Serug. For the whole program see HERE.

At the end of this conference, I moved to Berlin. I was invited by the Corpus Coranicum Project to make a presentation about Christian Nubia and its religious literacy in general, and discuss a find that I made working with texts from Nubia and which relates to the project more particularly.

My hosts, Michael Marx, leader of the project, and Adrian Pirtea, research fellow, offered me the opportunity to address a knowledgeable and engaged audience at The Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and I feel that this was a most honoring concluding academic activity for this semester.

The visit to Berlin though had other interesting aspects too. Michael, Adrian and myself visited the Papyrussammlung of the Egyptian Museum and had a very interesting exchange of views on some material from Nubia that the curators of the collection had the kindness to provide us with. It was this visit that has inspired me to write the present blog-entry, which concerns the Nubian manuscripts housed in Berlin. As always, our research begins by checking the Database of Medieval Nubian Texts prepared and made available by Dr. Grzegorz Ochała from Warsaw.

So, in the DBMNT, five manuscripts are registered as having “present location: Berlin”:

  1. First and foremost, the Stauros-text (#1391) housed at the Staatsbibliotek (MS. Or. Quart. 1020) and available online HERE.
  2. Also at the Staatsbibliotek (MS Or. Quart. 1019), the so-called Griffith’s lectionary, available online HERE.
  3. Griffith published also the first land sale in Old Nubian, purchased by Borchardt in 1908 (#596). The object is in the Papyrussammlung of the Egyptian Museum. (P. 11277)
  4. In the same collection one can find another leather manuscript, this time in Arabic (#494) also purchased by Borchardt in the same lot (P. 13002). The identification of leather manuscripts as coming from the Nubian region or related to Nubia is a topic worth further study, which I am planning to undertake in collaboration with Jenny Cromwell (by the way, have you seen her great blog?). For some of the leather objects in the Berlin Papyrussammlung, see HERE.
  5. Finally, in the Papyrussammlung, there is registered #1386 as P. 13998, a leaf with two passages from the Revelation, acquired in Aswan by Schäfer in 1908 and now lost.

The last manuscript has a threefold interest:

1. Because of the history of its loss.

According to the curator of the collection of Greek manuscripts at the museum, Marius Gerhardt, parts of the collection were lost during the Second World War. Moreover, right after the war, the collection was moved to former Soviet Union and returned to Berlin in 1958. Finally, some pieces ended up in Torun and Warsaw in Poland, but the Old Nubian fragment in question seems not to be there, according to published reports (W. Appel, Drei Berliner Papyri in Toruń, APF 47, 2001, 101) and catalogues. Perhaps one day the lost fragment with the passage from the Apocalypse will resurface in one of these places or somewhere else, since one cannot even exclude the possibility that this fragment was lost before the Second World War already…

2. Because of its content.

The content of this manuscript raises questions as to its purpose. If it was used in the liturgy, it is important to underline that this is one of the very rare cases in East and Oriental Christian traditions that the Apocalypse would be read during the Mass. In fact, the only other tradition was in Coptic Egypt, something that would make perfect sense based on what we know of the liturgy in the Nubian Church. However, it should be noted that the two other manuscripts which contain the Apocalypse (IN 8 & 9) also do not come from Lectionaries, and then it becomes perhaps more plausible that these manuscripts were used for different purposes.

3. Because of some re-editions of its text by Browne.

Browne has been working in the different Old Nubian manuscripts he edited on different occasions. This particular fragment, first published by Griffith in 1913 (The Nubian Texts of the Christian Period, Berlin: 55) as fragment 1, the name by which this manuscript was later referred to in the literature, was first re-edited by Browne in 1981. There, Browne improved Griffith’s readings on the basis of the idea that the text contained passages Rev 6:8–9 and 6:15–7:1. Here is the transcription provided in that publication (“Old Nubian Fragment of Revelation,” Studia Papyrologica 20 (1981): 73–82):

Since the piece was very fragmentary, in subsequent reworkings Browne altered some points. So, in 1994 in his Bibliorum Sacrorum Versio Palaeonubiana, pp. 52-4, he changed his reconstruction creating a more complete Old Nubian version of the related passages, as well as a more plausible reconstruction of the original folio, in terms of distribution of letters per line and consequently of original breadth of folio. The points of improvement are marked in red in the following:

Finally, in his notebook retrieved in 2004 from his office at Urbana, Illinois (to be found HERE), he improved (?) his reading in the following manner:

On the basis of the textus receptus, the two changes in the recto seem indeed as improvements from the 1994 publication – especially the form ⲡⲁⲣⲧⲁⲕⲟⲗⲅⲟⲩⲛⲁ made little sense. However, the same does not apply for the changes in the verso, which are grammatical mistakes that Browne improved in the 1994 opus.

So, it appears that the 2004 notebook may either have preserved reworkings that were corrected as early as prior to 1994 or copying mistakes by G.M. Browne pulling together a “final” version of the texts that he had worked during the course of his career. It is important to keep these things in mind when examining the record of the other transcriptions in the 2004 notebook.

These observations are also important for the history of studies of Old Nubian. Recently, Vincent van Gerven Oei made a very interesting presentation during the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in the frame of a Round Table titled: “Creating the Medieval Studies We Want to Remember” with the eloquent title: “A Memorial of Michael” alluding to both the second name of G(erald) M(ichael) Browne and to the Archangel Michael, probably the most venerated figure of the Christian Nubian pantheon. Further work on the persona of G.M. Browne and his role in the development of studies of Old Nubian will follow suit and will be commented upon from here too.

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