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A Coptic Fragment from the History of Joseph the Carpenter in the Collection of Duke University Library

  • Alin Suciu (a1)

The History of Joseph the Carpenter (BHO 532–533; CANT 60; clavis coptica 0037) is readily accessible in many collections of New Testament Apocrypha. The text is fully preserved in Arabic and Bohairic, which was the regional dialect of Lower Egypt, and fragmentarily in Sahidic (i.e., the dialect of Upper Egypt). The present paper introduces P. Duk. inv. 239, a previously unidentified Sahidic fragment of this writing, which surfaced recently among the manuscripts in the Special Collections Library of Duke University. The new textual witness supplies us with a portion of the History of Joseph the Carpenter previously unattested in Sahidic. Moreover, the Duke fragment displays at least one interesting variant reading, unrecorded in the Bohairic and Arabic versions of the text.

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1 The following conventional abbreviations are used for the claves cited in this article:

CAVT = Haelewyck, Jean-Claude, Clavis Apocryphorum Veteris Testamenti (Christianorum, Corpus; Turnhout: Brepols, 1998)

CANT = Geerard, Maurice, Clavis Apocryphorum Novi Testamenti (Christianorum, Corpus; Turnhout: Brepols, 1992);

BHO = Peeters, Paul, Bibliotheca Hagiographica Orientalis (Subsidia Hagiographica 10; Brussels: Societé des Bollandistes, 1910).

The clavis coptica is available online at

2 Aurelio de Santos Otero, Los Evangelios apócrifos (6th ed.; BAC 148; Madrid: Editorial Católica, 1988) 358–78; Erbetta, Mario, Gli Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento (4 vols.; Turin: Marietti, 1981) 1:186205; Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (ed. François Bovon, Pierre Geoltrain, and Jean-Daniel Kaestli; 2 vols.; Bibliothèque de la Pléiade; Paris: Gallimard, 1997–2005) 2:27–59; Ehrman, Bart D. and Pleše, Zlatko, The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) 157–93 (Coptic text and English translation). See also the resumé of the text in James, Montague Rhodes, The Apocryphal New Testament (8th ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1963) 8486.

3 Hagen, Joost, “The Diaries of the Apostles: ‘Manuscript Find’ and ‘Manuscript Fiction’ in Coptic Homilies and Other Literary Texts,” in Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Millennium. Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies, Leiden, 27 August–2 September 2000 (ed. Immerzeel, Mat and van der Vliet, Jacques; OLA 133; Louvain: Peeters, 2004) 349–67; idem, “Ein anderer Context für die Berliner und Straßburger ‘Evangelienfragmente.’ Das ‘Evangelium des Erlösers’ und andere ‘Apostelevangelien’ in der koptischen Literatur,” in Jesus in apokryphen Evangelienüberlieferungen. Beiträge zu außerkanonischen Jesusüberlieferungen aus verschiedenen Sprach- und Kulturtraditionen (ed. Jörg Frey and Jens Schröter; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) 339–71. These writings (about two dozen) are preserved in Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic (in the latter cases they depend on Coptic originals, which are sometimes lost or not yet identified).

4 These revelation dialogues are often embedded in homiletic texts attributed to different Fathers of the Coptic Church. See Tito Orlandi, “Gli Apocrifi copti,” Aug 23 (1983) 57–71, at 70–71.

5 On this day, the Coptic Church celebrates Saint Joseph the Carpenter; see the notice in the Coptic synaxary (Epep 26) in Jacques Forget, Synaxarium alexandrinum (2 vols. in 6; CSCO 47–49, 67, 78, 90; Scriptores arabici, 3–5, 11–13; Louvain: Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1905–1932) 1:246–47 (Arabic text), 2:241–2 (Latin translation); René Basset, Le synaxaire arabe Jacobite (rédaction copte) (PO 17; Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1923) 690–91.

6 On the comparison between Hist. Jos. Carp. 26 and the Egyptian mummification rituals, see Siegfried Morenz, Die Geschichte von Joseph dem Zimmermann (TU 56; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1951). The Egyptian provenance of the Hist. Jos. Carp. has been accepted by the majority of scholars who have studied the text. For his part, Bellarmino Bagatti postulated a Palestinian origin, but his arguments are not convincing. See his “Il culto di S. Giuseppe in Palestina,” in Cahiers de Joséphologie 19 (1971) 564–75.

7 As I already said above, these details are in fact common themes taken from the Protevangelium of James and other similar infancy narratives.

8 Lefort, Louis-Théophile, “À propos de ‘L’Histoire de Joseph le Charpentier’,” Mus 66 (1953) 201–23, at 204–6.

9 For a comparison of the Sahidic versions, see Lefort, “L’Histoire de Joseph,” 207–10.

10 Wallin, Georg, Qissat Yusuf an-naggar, sive historia Josephi fabri lignarii (Leipzig: Andrea Zeidler, 1722). Today the manuscript bears the call number Par. ar. 177 (described in Gérard Troupeau, Manuscrits chrétiens [Part 1 of Catalogue des manuscrits arabes; 2 vols.; Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 1972] 1:152–53).

11 Wallin's Latin translation was republished in Fabricius, Johann Albert, Codicis pseudepigraphi Veteris Testamenti (2 vols.; Hamburg: T. C. Felginer, 17131723) 2: 313–36, while Johann Karl Thilo (Codex apocryphus Novi Testamenti [2 vols.; Leipzig: F. C. G. Vogel, 1832] 1:1–61) printed both the Arabic text and the Latin translation prepared by Wallin (with Emil Rödiger's revision of the Arabic); Tischendorf, Constantin, Evangelia apocrypha (Leipzig: Avenarius & Mendelssohn, 1853) 115–33 (only the Latin translation); Migne, Jacques-Paul, Dictionnaire des apocryphes (2 vols.; Paris: J.-P. Migne, 18561858) 1:1027–44 (French translation from Latin); Peeters, Paul and Michel, Charles, Évangiles apocryphes (2 vols.; Textes et documents pour l’étude historique du christianisme 13, 18; Paris: Picard, 19111914) 1:192–245 (new French translation of the Arabic and Bohairic versions by Paul Peeters).

12 Battista, Antonio and Bagatti, Bellarmino, Edizione critica del testo arabo della Historia Iosephi fabri lignarii e ricerce sulla sua origine (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Collectio Minor 20; Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1975). A list of the Arabic codices that contain the Hist. Jos. Carp. was prepared by Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur (5 vols.; Studi e testi 118, 133, 146, 147, 172; Vatican: Biblioteca Apostolica, 1944–1953) 1:236.

13 Borg. copt. 66 belongs to the lot of Bohairic manuscripts acquired by Joseph Assemani from the monasteries of Scetis for the cardinal Stefano Borgia. Description of the manuscript in Hebbelynck, Adolphe and Lantschoot, Arnold van, Codices coptici Vaticani (vol. 1 of Codices coptici Vaticani, Barberiniani, Borgiani, Rossiani; Rome: Bibliotheca Vaticana, 1937) 487–88. As it stands now, Borg. copt. 66 brings together various Bohairic parchment leaves taken from different codices, which belonged to the Monastery of St. Macarius in Scetis. They were bound together at the end of the eighteenth century, after they arrived in the Borgia collection. The Hist. Jos. Carp. is the eleventh piece of this miscellany and it is dated A.M. 783 (= 1065 c.e.).

14 Étienne Quatremère, Recherches critiques et historiques sur la langue et la littérature de l’Égypte (Paris: Imprimérie Imperiale, 1808) 128.

15 Zoega, Georg, Catalogus codicum Copticorum manu scriptorium qui in museo Borgiano Velitris adservantur (Rome, 1810; repr., Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1973) 33 (= no. 25).

16 Revillout, Eugène, Apocryphes coptes du Nouveau Testament (Études Égyptologiques 7; Paris: F. Vieweg, 1876) 4371. Revillout's transcription was translated into German by Stern, Ludwig, “Das Lebens Josephs des Zimmermanns aus dem Koptischen übersetzt,” ZWT 26 (1883) 267–94 (with corrections to Revillout's text).

17 Robinson, Forbes, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels (TS 4; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896) xxviii; see also Crum, Walter Ewing, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1909) 219 (= no. 440).

18 Lagarde, Paul de, Aegyptiaca (Gottingen: D. A. Hoter, 1883; repr., Osnabrück: Otto Zeller, 1972) 137. De Lagarde also gave, on the bottom of the pages, the Arabic version and the Sahidic fragments that he knew. De Lagarde's edition of the Bohairic text served as a basis for virtually all the other translations in modern languages that followed. Beside the works quoted above in n. 2, we must mention Morenz, Geschichte von Joseph, 1–26; Klameth, Gustav, “Über die Herkunft der apokryphen Geschichte Josephs des Zimmermanns,” Angelos 3 (1928) 631 (partial translation of the Sahidic and Bohairic texts published by de Lagarde).

19 Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels, 130–47, and the notes on 220–29.

20 Ehrman and Pleše, Apocryphal Gospels, 159.

21 Zoega, Catalogus, 225 (= no. 121). A French translation of Zoega 121 was made in 1835 by Édouard Dulaurier, Fragment des révélations apocryphes de Saint Barthélemy, et de l’histoire des communautés religieuses fondées par Saint Pakhome (Paris: Imprimérie Royale, 1835) 23–29. This translation was reworked and published again by Eugène Revillout, “Les Affres de la mort chez les Égyptiens,” Revue égyptologique 2 (1882) 64–71, at 65–66.

22 Thilo, Codex apocryphus, xxvi, referring to Zoega, Catalogus, 223 (= no. 116); see also Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha, xxxvii n. 1. The fragment was published for the first time by Revillout, Apocryphes coptes, 28–29 and reedited by Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels, 146–49.

23 Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels, 148–51 (only the English translation, without the Coptic text). Description of the fragment in Walter Ewing Crum, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1905) 130 (= no. 296). The fragment's call number used to be Or. 3581B(11), but after the reorganization of the Sahidic fragments in the British Library, it became Or. 3581B, fol. 14.

24 Lefort, “L’Histoire de Joseph.” BnF Copte 12917, foll. 13–16 belong to Codex A according to Lefort's classification, whereas BnF Copte 12917, fol. 12 is the only known fragment of Lefort's Codex B. See below.

25 Suciu, Alin, “New Fragments from the Sahidic Version of the Historia Josephi Fabri Lignarii,” Mus 122 (2009) 279–89.

26 On the White Monastery library, see Orlandi, Tito, “The Library of the Monastery of St. Shenute at Atripe,” in Perspectives on Panopolis: An Egyptian Town from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest (ed. Egberts, Arno, Muhs, Brian P., and Vliet, Jacques van der; Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava 31; Leiden: Brill, 2002) 211–31.

27 This codex can be dated with some accuracy since we have another manuscript copied in the same scribe's hand and dated 962 c.e. See Suciu, “New Fragments from Historia Josephi,” 282–84. This is the only codex from those mentioned above that has received a siglum (i.e., MONB.DI) in the Corpus dei manoscritti copti letterari (= CMCL) database. CMCL is a project led by Tito Orlandi (Rome/Hamburg), whose main purpose is the reconstruction of the dismembered White Monastery codices ( To each reconstructed manuscript are ascribed two letters of the Latin alphabet, which are preceded by the abbreviation MONB (= “Monastero Bianco”).

28 (accessed October 2012). See also Leslie S. B. MacCoull, “Coptic Papyri in Duke University Collection,” in Coptic Studies: Acts of the Third International Congress of Coptic Studies, Warsaw, 20–25 August 1984 (ed. Wlodzimierz Godlewski; Warsaw: PWN - Editions scientifiques de Pologne, 1990) 225–26.

29 This text is preserved in Coptic (both Sahidic and Bohairic dialects), Arabic, and Ethiopic. For the Sahidic text see Kuhn, Karl Heinz, “The Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac,” JTS 8 (1957) 225–39 (edition of the Coptic text); idem, “An English Translation of the Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac,” JTS 18 (1967) 325–36. Two previously unidentified fragments of the Testament of Isaac belonged once to the Catholic University in Louvain. They perished together with other ancient manuscripts in a fire that devastated the library in Louvain in May 1940. Luckily, the fragments were published in Lefort, Louis-Théophile, “Coptica Lovaniensia,” Mus 51 (1938) 132, at 59–60 (= nos. 52–53); republished in idem, Les manuscrits coptes de l’Université de Louvain 1. Textes littéraires (Louvain: Bibliothèque de l’Université, 1940) 139–40 (= nos. 52–53) and once more in idem, “Fragments coptes,” Mus 48 (1945) 97–120, at 114–15 (Coptic text), 120 (French translation). The Bohairic version is available in Ignazio Guidi, “Il Testamento di Isacco e il Testamento di Giacobbe,” Rendiconti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei, Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche ser. 5, vol. 9 (1900) 223–64. For the Arabic and Ethiopic texts, see Heide, Martin, Die Testamente Isaaks und Jakobs. Edition und Übersetzung der arabischen und äthiopischen Versionen (Aethiopistische Forschungen 56; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000).

30 Coptic text in Kuhn, “The Sahidic Version,” 235.

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