Coptic Manuscripts are the written records left to us by our forefathers, the Christians of Egypt. Each provides a unique picture as well as a window to view the past. No published text of such manuscripts can reflect that by its mere transcription of the texts included in them. Along with their all-important textual content, one can also observe art, life, history, and even the thoughts of our forefathers. Much of these cultural treasures made their way outside of Egypt. Several manuscripts became prey at times to fire, world wars, and the oblivion of the vaults of the private collectors.

 

Form:

 

Manuscripts have come to us in two forms:

  • Codex: This is the book-format, which was probably invented by the early Christians to distinguish their writings from the scroll format of the Jews. Keep in mind that both the Jews and the Christians in the early centuries wrote their works in Greek.
  • Scroll: This format was rare among the Copts or the Christian in General. However, some small scrolls survived, containing Coptic Material. They are written records that can be read horizontally across or vertically down a rolled sheet.

 

Writing Material:

 

The Copts used a variety of material to record their writings. Such choice depended on the availability of such material to the writer. The material that survived the test of time was of the following types:

  • Papyrus: As an Ancient Egyptian invention, it took the Ancient World by storm. It became the material of choice by the scribes of the past. It continued in use till sometimes in the 10th century. This material was used in Codex format.
  • Parchment (vellum): The skin of gazelle has long been used for writing manuscripts. However it did not gain popularity until the twilight of the papyrus age around the 8th - 9th century, and continued in use until the early 13th century.
  • Oriental Paper: In the 13th century, the writing world was endowed with the appearance of linen paper in the Middle East. Its manufacture flourished especially in Egypt, and due to its cheaper production cost, it quickly replaced the parchment as the paper of choice but not for too long.
  • European Paper: In the 14th century, the Italian mills began to produce a similar but less expensive paper. This was characterized by the introduction of watermarks to distinguish the different manufacturers. Eventually this replaced the Oriental linen paper around the 14th -15th centuries.
  • Limestone tablets: Many written records, literary and nonliterary, were recorded on limestone tablets in ink. Many of these have been discovered in the different excavations of ancient monastic sites in Egypt.
  • Wooden Tablets: Some writings have been preserved on small wooden boards. Such practice was one of the ancient forms of writing, but rarely used in Egypt.
  • Pottery Shreds: It was more common and economical writing material which was used to record short literary texts or excerpts as well as letters and legal texts. Thousands of these pieces, commonly referred to as “Ostraca”, are preserved in the museums and libraries of Europe and North America.
  • Animal Bones: They were sometimes used for writings in the earlier centuries. The texts preserved on bones are usually of lesser importance than those recorded on the other writing materials.