Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Iain Gardner, Anthony Alcock, Wolf-Peter Funk, Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis, Volume 2: P. Kellis VII (P. Kellis Copt. 57–131). Dakhleh Oasis project Monograph 16. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2014. Pp. 366 p.; 18 p. of plates, 1 CD-ROM. ISBN 9781782976516. $130.00.

Reviewed by Malcolm Choat, Macquarie University (

Version at BMCR home site

When Mani's disciple Koustaios looked into the future soon after the apostle's death, he foresaw a great war, after which a new generation would arise, and find the scriptures and books of Mani (Homilies 7.8–42.8, see esp. 28–29). Even though Koustaios's hope that this would herald the final triumph of the Manichaean Church has not come to pass, his vision was partly fulfilled by the rediscovery of original Manichaean texts over the past century. In Egypt, in addition to the Medinet Madi codices in Berlin and Dublin and the 'Cologne Mani Codex', the last 25 years have witnessed the unearthing of the papers of a Manichaean community in the village of Kellis, modern Ismant el-Kharab in the Dakhleh Oasis, deep in the Western Desert.

This volume, which publishes 75 Coptic documentary texts, brings to a close the publication of Coptic texts from the site. It forms a companion to the first volume of Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis (P.Kell. V, 1999, by the same editors), and should also be read alongside the two volumes of Kellis Literary Texts (P.Kell. II & VI, ed. Gardner 1996, 2007), and the Greek papyri from the site (especially P.Kell. I., ed. K.A. Worp, 1995). This long-awaited volume sheds light on (among other matters) the textile trade, Coptic epistolography, women's literacy, book copying, travel between valley and the Oasis, religion, and above all, the life of an extended family over several decades. It provides both a new perspective on previously published material and a major addition to the dossier of fourth-century Coptic documentary material.

Exactly 200 Coptic letters were found in Kellis, of which 117 have been published: this is nearly four times the amount of fourth-century Coptic letters known from elsewhere. The majority of the latter come from monastic contexts, so the Coptic texts from Kellis provide an important window into a more domestic (and decidedly non-monastic) context. Though the question naturally arises whether this pronounced concentration of Coptic texts has anything to do with the Manichaean adherence of many of the writers, there is more than sufficient indication of Christian use of Coptic elsewhere, and indeed within the Kellis corpus (see here 123–124), to allay this suggestion. It might be thought that the Oasite provenance has something to do with the concentration of Coptic. Yet excavations at Trimithis (modern Amheida) in Dakhleh have found virtually no Coptic texts, and those at Kysis in the neighbouring Khargeh Oasis only a small number. Nor is it simply because the find-spot in Kellis is domestic space, because houses were excavated in Trimithis, and in Karanis in the (admittedly heavily Hellenised) Fayum, where only a very few Coptic texts were found. The answer should probably be sought in further consideration of social factors, which the present volume now makes more possible.

The texts are overwhelmingly letters: only 125 (an inventory), 126, an invocation, and 131 (some kind of literary text) are not (see also 123, a deed of security in epistolary form). They are grouped according to the site within Kellis where they were found. The vast majority (nos 57–121) come from House 3, which mirrors the general pattern of papyrus recovery at Kellis. There are four texts from House 4, which lay to the west, closer to the Temple compound, from which there are five texts.

The texts from House 3 are divided into rough groups. First come a miscellany of texts: A letter on a board whose main interest are the (unreadable) traces of an earlier Syriac text; three letters that belong, certainly or arguably, with texts published in earlier volumes, 58 with P.Kell. V 15–18, and 59 and 60 perhaps with P.Kell. V 35–37 and 38–41 respectively; 61–63 publish letters featuring distinctively Manichaean content. The most important of these is undoubtedly an unfortunately fragmentary letter from 'the Teacher' (ⲡⲥⲁϩ) himself, who should be understood, with the editors (p. 30), as the leader of the Manichaean community in Egypt. The 'neutral' religious character of this is notable: the greetings 'in the Lord' and prayer to Jesus Christ might not be recognized as Manichaean were it not for the context. The opening of the letter is also unlike most of the Coptic letters from Kellis, following a pattern that resembles rather Greek letters, and especially (as the editors note) the Coptic translation of the letters of Mani (found at Kellis, see P.Kell. VI).

64–72, and 73–79 comprise two important series of documents which link the Greek and Coptic texts found in House 3. 64–72 are sent by Pamour (Pamour III in the family tree at P.Kell. I Gr., p. 51) and his wife Maria, with the latter routinely adding what is effectively her own letter as a post-script. Three of Pamour's letters (66, 67, 69, see also 65) are sent to his (biological) brother Pegosh, whose own letters are preserved in 73–79. Several of the letters are sent to Pegosh's wife Parthene, who was apparently not (at least when these letters were sent) in Aphrodite in the Antaiopolite nome where Pegosh was based. According to the editors, this family should be placed in the 360s-370s, a short time after Makarios and his son Matthaios, well known from Coptic letters in P.Kell. V (though Makarios' wife Maria apparently continued to live in the house). While the letters published here are less explicit about their Manichaean beliefs than those of Makarios and Matthaios, characteristic elements can be seen, especially the tripartite prayer to the Father God of Truth (65 and 71; see the editors' comments at pp. 50–51).

Two further sets relate to this group: 80–82 are from Philamon to Theognostos (also known as Loui Shai). Ision, who Apa Lysimachos (see here 82) told Theognostos in P.Kell. I Gr 67 had become a user of Greek and a Syriac reader, features here in 80 (see Gardner, ZPE 159 [2007] 223–228). 83–84 are letters from Theognostos, while 85–91 are letters to and from a Ploutogenes (probably but not certainly the same man in all). Less clearly connected, but seemingly related by prosopography, are 92–93.

Beyond this are 28 letters (94–121) from House 3 that cannot all be securely related to the 'core' archive(s) found there. Many are poorly preserved, but some are of considerable interest, among which I mention here only 116, in which Tepsais tells another woman to come out to the Oasis, 'if not on our account, at least because of the boy, for he is uttering your name'; and 120, in which Pekos (perhaps Pegosh, though the editors are uncertain) tells Pamour, 'This book that Lamon has: Let the Acts be copied. But the Gospel, let them bring it to me from father Pabo'.

Five texts (122–126) are published from House 4, a domestic structure several hundred metres from (and thus not directly connected with) Houses 1–3 (where the vast majority of the Kellis papyri were found). Notwithstanding the finding of a Manichaean literary text (T. Kell. II Copt. 7) near the surface of House 4, the editors detect here clear evidence of Christianity, especially in 123, which mentions "my father Shoei of the monastery" (ⲑⲁⲛⲁⲧⲁ, i.e. ⲧϩⲉⲛⲉⲧⲉ), and 124, sent by Apa Besas and Agathmeros, both presbyteroi, with a postscript by Hor the hypodiakonos: the writers look forward to the visit of their addressee Stephanos 'just as parched earth looks forward to rain, and like an angel who is [close] to God looks forward to him' (ll. 24–29). 126, a presumably Christian invocation, was written on a re-used Latin text.

123, 124, and 126 are written in a 'southern regional Sahidic', contrasting noticeably with the Lycopolitan koine (L* in the designation of the editors) used in the House 3 texts. 122, while clearly in a 'southern' dialect, shows interesting differences from the variety of Lycopolitan apparent in the House 2–3 texts (see the discussion on pp. 265–266). Despite their physical and linguistic separation, there remain links to the House 3 letters: Pshai and Mari tell their father Sarapa that 'his name is sweet in my mouth', a very common feature of the Manichaean letters. Is it a feature of 'Manichaeanism', or common local phrase?

Five (for the most part poorly preserved) texts found in the Temple enclosure to the West of House 4 complete the edition. 127 requests a book, the Apostolos, be sent. 128 mentions that 'the bishop himself wrote to her' (a third party who the letter concerns). 127–128 are again both in forms of Sahidic, underlining the dialectal variation across the site. 129 republishes the famous 'Old Coptic Ostracon' from the late third century; 130–131 are fragmentary and uncertain.

Extensive connections between the Greek and Coptic papyri assemblages can now be seen. Both Pamour and Pagosh send letters in both Greek and Coptic, and feature in other Greek papyri from the site (e.g. P.Kell. I Gr. 33, 44, 76). The reason for the variation in linguistic choice in their letters is not clear: P.Kell. I Gr. 71, from Pamour to Psais (Pshai), does not differ noticeably in content or tone from the Coptic letters between the same brothers (P. Kell. VII 64, 65, 70 (probably), and 72). The same lack of differentiation in content can be witnessed when comparing P.Kell. I Gr. 72, from Pekysis (Pegosh) to Pamour, to the Coptic letters of Pagosh in P. Kell. VII. Not all the Coptic letters of Pamour and Pegosh are by the same scribe, and so perhaps the difference is one of scribal availability or preference. Yet this explanation is undercut by the ease with which many scribes in the corpus switch between languages in the letters.

The archive offers new possibilities for studying bilingualism in fourth century Egypt. As well as the similarity (though not actual identity, as far as I have seen) between the handwriting employed for Greek and Coptic, a considerable number of the Coptic letters (59, 72, 77, 78, 84, 94, 95, 103, 106, 107,118, 123) feature an introductory formula ('X to Y, greetings') in Greek, before continuing in Coptic. Many more (e.g. 75, 84, 92, 94, 95, 102, 103, 105, 106, 107, 108, 112, 113, 116) feature closing formula in Greek; often this is no more than the abbreviations ερ/ or ερρ/ for ἐρρῶσθαι, but sometimes (e.g. 116) it is more substantial. At times, it seems ἐρρ(ῶσθαι) was written at the bottom right of the sheet before the letter itself was written (see the editors' notes at pp. 24–25 and 93–94). More commonly still, the address on the back of the papyrus was in Greek (e.g. 97, 99, 102, 103, 105, 106, 109, 110, 111, 113, 115, 116, 120, 123). Most extraordinary is 118, which begins with a Greek introductory formula, before switching to Coptic to begin the body of the letter: but when the scribe comes to greet 'the brothers with you, all of them', instead of the expected Coptic ⲧⲏⲣⲟⲩ ('all of them'), he writes the Greek ⲡⲁⲛⲧⲱⲛ (i.e. πάντων). The frequency of the employment of Greek for these 'framing' elements raises the suspicion that some composers, or their scribes, felt that these parts of a letter were properly in Greek: yet many letters are fully in Coptic, including some by letter-writers who elsewhere employ Greek introductions: the matter is in need of further research.

18 black and white plates follow the text, and a CD included with the volume provides colour images of all papyri. Commentaries, which are sometimes extensive, follow each text, and a comprehensive set of indices by Funk finishes the volume. The volume is produced with great care, and publication mistakes are virtually absent. If one may express disappointment that the introduction is not longer, one can only be grateful to the editors that they have produced such an excellent edition of this most important corpus.

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