Biblical Archaeology Review 41:6, November/December 2015

Coptic: Egypt’s Christian Language

By Leo Depuydt

The Coptic language has been in the news recently. Loudly. And everywhere; also in BAR.a Perhaps more than is good for it. Remember the Coptic “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” whose claim to authenticity trumpeted worldwide by elevated authorities was promptly pulverized into subatomic particles and laughed off the stage? But about that, not here. Not now. Not again. About consequences, more later. A total, formal and unconditional retraction of articles and statements claiming authenticity would be a great start, from a professional perspective. And we’ll get to the ethics when we get there. Also, should competence be an issue, as has been suggested? Now, let’s all think about that.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note: What is Coptic? And who are the Copts? How do Coptic and the Copts fit into world history, all 5,000 years of it? The matter is of some complexity, and clear and succinct definitions are not easy to fashion. BAR readers may find the following short story of the Copts and their origins, spanning thousands of years, useful for general orientation in an arcane subject. Coptic is the language of Egypt when Egypt was largely Christian. The fascinating story begins 5,000 years ago.1

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