The Coptic Bible: (ⲃ̅) Historical Books

This is the second of a series of articles surveying the published editions of the Bible, or ⲛⲓⲅⲣⲁⲫⲏ ⲉ̀ⲑⲟⲩⲁⲃ, in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic.

The first article dealt with the Pentateuch. This article will focus on the Historical Books, with further parts planned for the Poetic Books, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, and later the New Testament.


The Historical Books of the Old Testament survive in Bohairic only in a very fragmentary state, preserved in pericopae (or selected readings) incorporated into the liturgy of the Church. 1 There is no surviving biblical manuscript of any of the Historical Books, which suggests that they were never translated into Bohairic. 2.

Only pericopae containing sections from the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I-IV Kingdoms, and I-II Chronicles survive, which may all have been translated from Sahidic for liturgical purposes. However, no portion of the Books of Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, Judith, Tobit, or the Maccabees is known to survive in Bohairic.

Pericopae from the Historical Books exist in hundreds, if not thousands, of liturgical Bohairic manuscripts in collections all over the world, some dating as far back as the 13th century. 3 In this article, I will focus on publications that aim specifically to extract and collect those pericopae.

If you notice any mistakes, or omissions, or know of a digital copy of any edition not linked, then please let me know by commenting below or by contacting me.

Names of the Historical Books

Since no Bible manuscripts of the Historical Books exist, their titles in Coptic must be sought elsewhere. The main sources are pericope titles, references in works such as the Canons of the Apostles or Pope Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter, and lists of biblical book titles in documentary texts.

The designation of the group as τῶν ἱστορικῶν βιβλίων “The Historical Books” is recorded in the works of the Early Church Fathers. 4 In Coptic, though unattested as far as I know, it might reasonably have been ⲛⲓϫⲱⲙ ⲛ̀ⲓⲥⲧⲟⲣⲓⲕⲟⲛ. 5

The following is a list of the names of the Historical Books collected from several sources. Where I have made inferences, I have noted these:

  • Joshua — ⲓⲏⲥⲟⲩ ⲛ̀ⲛⲁⲩⲏ̀ 6
  • Judges — ⲛⲓⲕⲣⲓⲧⲏⲥ
  • Ruth — ⲣⲟⲩⲑ 7
  • I-IV Kingdoms — ϯⲇ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ or ⲛⲓⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ 8
    • I Kingdoms (= 1 Samuel) — ϯϣⲟⲣⲡⲓ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ
    • II Kingdoms (= 2 Samuel) — ϯⲙⲁϩⲃ̅ϯ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ
    • III Kingdoms (= 1 Kings) — ϯⲙⲁϩⲅ̅ϯ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ
    • IV Kingdoms (= 2 Kings) — ϯⲙⲁϩⲇ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ
  • I-II Chronicles — ϯⲃ̅ϯ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲟⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ or ⲛⲓⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲟⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ 9
    • ϯϣⲟⲣⲡⲓ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲟⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲟⲩⲱⲣⲟⲩ
    • ϯⲙⲁϩⲃ̅ϯ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲟⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲟⲩⲱⲣⲟⲩ
  • Ezra and Nehemiah — ⲛⲓⲉⲥⲇⲣⲁ 10
    • ⲡⲓϣⲟⲣⲡ ⲛ̀ⲉⲥⲇⲣⲁ
    • ⲡⲓⲙⲁϩⲃ̅ ⲛ̀ⲉⲥⲇⲣⲁ
  • Esther — ⲉⲥⲑⲏⲣ
  • Judith and Tobit — ⲓⲟⲩⲇⲓⲑ and ⲇⲱⲃⲓⲧ 11
  • I-III Maccabees — ⲡⲓⲅ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ or ⲛⲓⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ 12
    • ⲡⲓϣⲟⲣⲡ ⲙ̀ⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ
    • ⲡⲓⲙⲁϩⲃ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ
    • ⲡⲓⲙⲁϩⲅ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ

Editions of the Historical Books

In 1877, Heinrich Brugsch (1827-1894) published most of the contents of a manuscript, which he was given by Pope Cyril IV (reigned 1853-1862) from the Patriarchal Library. He acquired it during a stay in Egypt (1852-53) and brought it back to the then Royal Library in Berlin. In allowing him access to the Patriarchal Library, Brugsch quotes the Pope as saying the following words that reflect the state of the collection at the time:

“You won’t find much. The best has already disappeared; only the chaff remains. Search at your leisure; perhaps there is still a good grain in the heap of the tattered and torn manuscripts.”

Pope Cyril IV, quoted in Brugsch (1877, 1)

The manuscript, which is held in what is now the Berlin State Library (Ms. or. fol. 446), contains sections of II Kingdoms, III Kingdoms, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, and Ezekiel, which Brugsch identified as all being related to the topic of the building of the Temple of Solomon. He published all these sections, bar the pericope from Ezekiel, since Brugsch believed they were unpublished. The manuscript is not dated but is described as carelessly written and modern, probably dating to the late 18th or early 19th century. 13 The pericopae he published were:

  • II Kingdoms 6:1-20a
  • III Kingdoms 8:1-21
  • I Chronicles 15:2-16:37, 28:2-29:22a
  • II Chronicles 2:1-6:30a

Brugsch learned after completing his edition that the pericopae had all been extracted from the service for the consecration of a new church (ⲡϫⲓⲛⲉ̀ⲣⲁⲅⲓⲁⲍⲓⲛ ⲛ̀ϯⲉⲕⲕⲗⲏⲥⲓⲁ̀ ⲙ̀ⲃⲉⲣⲓ), which had been published by Raphael Tuki in 1761 (463ff). 14 In an appendix, he compares his text with that of Tuki.

In fact, Ludwig Christian Stern (1846-1911) had already begun to publish this manuscript, having published the first section containing II Kingdoms 6:1-20a in 1876. On the appearance of Brugsch’s publication the following year, Stern suspended plans to publish the remaining sections. 15

In 1879, Paul Anton de Lagarde (formerly Paul Bötticher; 1827-1891) republished the same texts from the same manuscript that Brugsch had acquired from the Patriarchal Library. In addition, he included several other pericopae from the Historical Books contained in liturgical manuscripts held at Göttingen University Library (Ms or. 125, 15 and Ms or. 125, 9) and two publications of the liturgy by Raphael Tuki (1761-2, 1763). 16

  • Joshua 3:7-4:9, 23:1-14;
  • Judges 11:30-40;
  • I Kingdoms 2:1-10, 16:1-13, 17:16-54, 18:6-9, 23:26-24:23;
  • II Kingdoms 1:17-27, 6:1-20;
  • III Kingdoms 2:1-4:10, 8:1-9:3, 17:2-24;
  • IV Kingdoms 4:8-25a;
  • I Chronicles 15:2-16:37 (16:12 om.), 28:2-29:22;
  • II Chronicles 3:1-7:16 (3:12, 4:18, 6:13 om.).

Soon after, Urbain Bouriant (1849-1903) published a fragment of Joshua, among other texts, from a manuscript of the Holy Week lectionary copied in Khartoum in 1875-6. 17 The portion from Joshua is very short and is in reality a paraphrase of Joshua 3:7-4:9, which is known in full from the service for the consecration of a new church and altar.

Finally, Oswald Hugh Ewart Burmester (1897-1977) published another pericope from III Kingdoms 18:36-39, which had not previously been published. He extracted the pericope from a manuscript of the Psalms and Odes, the same manuscript that Claudius Labib used (with some significant alterations to the Odes) in his 1897 publication of the same (Cairo Orth. Pat. Lib. Bible 7, dated 1742-3). 18

  • III Kingdoms 18:36-39

Addendum: Unedited pericopae

Burmester also included a list of all pericopae related to the Historical Books known to him, not limited only to those published. The value of this list is that it goes beyond the lists given by Hyvernat (1896, 48-9) and Vascalde (1930, 416-7); to those lists and the pericope he published, though without locating them in the liturgy, he adds: 19

  • Joshua 5:10-12;
  • Ruth 2:11-14;
  • III Kingdoms 19:9-14;
  • IV Kingdoms 4:8-37 (not only 4:8-25a).

Of these, IV Kingdoms 4:8-37 simply refers to a longer section than that published by Lagarde (namely, 4:8-25a), which appears in the Lenten lectionary for the Thursday of the 6th week in the 1st hour. 20

The remainder, however, are found in only a minority of Holy Week lectionaries. Where they occur, Joshua 5:10-12 and Ruth 2:11-14 are both read on Friday in the 9th hour of the day, and III Kingdoms 19:9-14 is read on Tuesday in the 3rd hour of the day. 21

Together with two pericopae from the Poetic Books, these pericopae share with each other evidence of having been taken from a Sahidic exemplar and having a connection with Akhmim and the White Monastery. I plan to write more about this collection of pericopae soon.

Featured image

The featured image is one of a series of frescos depicting David (ⲇⲁⲩⲉⲓ̈ⲧ) and Goliath (ⲕⲟⲗⲓ̈ⲁⲑ) from the Monastery of Apa Apollo (ⲧⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲛ̄ⲁⲡⲁ ⲁⲡⲟⲗⲗⲱ) at Bawit (ⲡⲁⲩⲏⲧ). The frescos date to the 6-7th century and relate to I Kingdoms (1 Samuel) chapters 17-18, which survives in a pericope for Friday of the 2nd week of Lent.

Source: Clédat, J., Le monastère et la nécropole de Baouît. MIFAO 12 (Cairo, 1904), plate XVIII.



  1. For an introduction to Coptic lectionaries, see Zanetti (1995), especially pp. 73-7. ↩︎
  2. See Takla (2007, 63) and Burmester (1935). ↩︎
  3. For instance, the Holy Week lectionary dating to 1273 edited by Burmester (1933; 1943). ↩︎
  4. For example, in Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechesis iv. 35 (c. 350 AD) (Swete, 1914, 203). ↩︎
  5. This would be the Bohairic form; in Sahidic, ⲛ̄ϫⲱⲱⲙⲉ ⲛ̄ϩⲓⲥⲧⲟⲣⲓⲕⲟⲛ. ↩︎
  6. Horner (1902, 150) has the pericope heading ⲓⲏⲥⲟⲩ ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲛⲁⲩⲏ̀. Other spellings include ⲓⲏⲥ·ⲥⲟⲩ ⲛ̀ⲛⲁⲩⲏ̀ in the pericope heading of Vat. Copt. 98 f. 387r. ↩︎
  7. The Sahidic spelling ϩⲣⲟⲩⲑ occurs in the pericope of two Bohairic lectionaries (Paris Inst. Cath. 7 f. 296v and Vat. Copt 98 f. 387v), which were certainly taken from a Sahidic exemplar and retained the Sahidic spelling. ↩︎
  8. In the Canons of the Apostles in Bohairic, the books are referred to as ⲡⲇ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ ⲡϣⲟⲣⲡ ⲛⲉⲙⲫⲙⲁϩⲃ̅ [ⲉ̀]ⲟⲩϫⲱⲙ ⲛ̀ⲟⲩⲱⲧ ⲫⲙⲁϩⲅ̅ ⲛⲉⲙⲫⲙⲁϩⲇ̅ ⲉ̀ⲕⲉϫⲱⲙ “The four Kingdom (Books); the first and second [being] one book, the third and fourth being another book” (Lagarde, 1883, 235). In the older Sahidic translation, we read ⲧⲉϥⲧⲟⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲉⲣⲟ ⲧϣⲟⲣⲡⲉ ⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲙⲉϩⲥⲛ̄ⲧⲉ ⲉⲩϫⲱⲱⲙⲉ ⲛ̄ⲟⲩⲱⲧ ⲧⲙⲉϩϣⲟⲙⲧⲉ ⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲙⲉϩϥⲧⲟⲉ ⲉⲕⲉϫⲱⲱⲙⲉ (ibid). The masculine article in the Bohairic version implies an unwritten ϫⲱⲙ “book,” which is grammatically masculine; hence, in Bohairic “The 4 Kingdoms,” as it is in the Sahidic version, it would be ϯⲇ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ (or possibly ⲧⲇ̅ ⲙ̀ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ) to reflect the feminine grammatical gender of ⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ “kingdom”. In a list of Biblical titles in a late manuscript (Cairo Orth. Pat. Lib. Bible 3 f. 2r), they are called ⲛⲓⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲱⲛ ⲁ̅, ⲃ̅, ⲅ̅, and ⲇ̅. The use of the Greek loanword is paralleled by a Sahidic attestation ⲧⲉϥⲧⲟⲉ ⲛ̀ⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲓⲁ in a documentary text (Mazy, 2019, 154). In another Sahidic documentary text, they are referred to as ⲛ̄ⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲣⲣⲱⲟⲩ (Mazy, 2019, 158); on this basis, I have given the Bohairic equivalent. In Vat. Copt. 98 f. 115r there is the pericope heading ⲉⲑⲙⲉⲧⲟⲩⲣⲟ ⲛ̀ⲇⲁⲩⲓⲇ (for III Kingdoms 19:9-14), which shows evidence of having been taken from a Sahidic exemplar such as ⲧⲙ︤ⲛ︦ⲧ︥ⲉⲣⲟ ⲛ̄ⲇⲁⲩⲉⲓ̈ⲇ (Vat. Borg. Copt. 109 fasc. 99 f. 18v) and imperfectly Bohairicised. ↩︎
  9. The name for Chronicles appears in the Canons of the Apostles as ϯⲃ̅ϯ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲟⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ “The Two Paralipomenon of the Kings” in the Bohairic (Lagarde, 1883, 235). However, in the older Sahidic version, it is ⲧⲥⲛ̄ⲧⲉ ⲙ̄ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲟⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̄ⲙ̄ⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲉⲣⲱⲟⲩ “The Two Paralipomenon of the Kingdoms” (ibid). Among the Ealy Church Fathers, it was simply known as παραλειπομένων “Omissions” but the Coptic designation does recall the variant παραλειπομένων τῶν βασιλειῶν Ἰούδα “Omissions of the Kingdoms of Judah” (Swete, 1914, 216). In the list of Bible titles in a late manuscript in Cairo (Orth. Pat. Lib. Bible 3 f. 2r) the name is similarly given as ⲛⲓⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲉⲓⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ ⲁ̅ and ⲃ̅. Similar forms are found in several pericopae with only minor spelling variations. Notable is a liturgical manuscript dated 1307-8 where we also find ⲛⲓⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲓⲡⲟⲩⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲛⲓⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ, demonstrating that the designation “of the Kings” in Bohairic is not a recent innovation (Horner, 1902, 183 & 201). In a Sahidic documentary text, they are collectively referred to once as ⲙ̄ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲗⲉⲡⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ (Mazy, 2019, 154). The spelling I have given is the form found in the Canons of the Apostles and the individual books I have designated by ordinal numbers, by analogy with the nomenclature of other biblical books with multiple parts. ↩︎
  10. The two were considered together, as they are in the 39th Festal Letter of Pope Athanasius (Lefort, 1955, 19) and also the Canons of the Apostles (Lagarde, 1883, 235): ⲡϣⲟⲣⲡ ⲛ̀ⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ ⲛ̀ⲉⲥⲇⲣⲁ ⲛⲉⲙⲡⲉϥⲙⲁϩⲃ̅ [ⲉ̀]ⲟⲩϫⲱⲙ ⲛ̀ⲟⲩⲱⲧ in Bohairic and ⲡϣⲟⲣⲡ ⲛ̄ⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ ⲛ̄ⲉⲥⲇⲣⲁ ⲙⲛ̄ⲡⲉϥⲙⲉϩⲥⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲩϫⲱⲱⲙⲉ ⲛ̄ⲟⲩⲱⲧ in Sahidic “The first discourse of Ezra and his second being a single book.” In a Sahidic documentary text, ⲛ̄ⲉⲥⲇⲣⲁ likely refers to both books collectively (Mazy, 2019, 154). It is unclear to me what the significance of the designation ⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ “word, discourse” is here. I have omitted the word for consistency and by analogy with how I’ve treated ϫⲱⲙ “book,” where it occurs in titles of other books. In a list of Biblical titles in a late manuscript in Cairo (Cairo Orth. Pat. Lib. Bible 3 f. 2r) Nehemiah is given as ⲛⲉⲉ̀ⲙⲓⲁ̀, corresponding to the Greek title. This is not found elsewhere and is likely to have been listed based on the more recent separation of the book into Ezra and Nehemiah. ↩︎
  11. The Canons of the Apostles consider these two books together (Lagarde, 1883, 235). In both the Bohairic and Sahidic versions, Tobit is written ⲇⲱⲃⲓⲧ; the spelling ⲧⲱⲃⲓⲧ occurring in the list of Bible titles in a late manuscript in Cairo (Orth. Pat. Lib. Bible 3 f. 2r) and ⲧⲱⲃⲓⲁⲥ in a Sahidic translation of Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter (Lefort, 1955, 19). ↩︎
  12. The Books of the Maccabees do not feature in canon in Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter but appear, counted as three, in the Cannons of the Apostles (Lagarde, 1883, 235): ⲡⲅ̅ ⲛ̀ϫⲱⲙ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲙⲁⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ in Bohairic and ⲡϣⲟⲙⲛ̄ⲧ ⲛ̄ϫⲱⲱⲙⲉ ⲛ̄ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ in Sahidic “The Three Books of the Maccabees”. In the list of Biblical titles in a late manuscript in Cairo (Cairo Orth. Pat. Lib. Bible 3 f. 2r), ⲛⲓⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲉⲩⲥ is given with no indication as to their number. I leave aside the question of the canonicity of III Maccabees. The spelling ⲙⲁⲕⲕⲁⲃⲁⲓⲟⲥ also occurs in Sahidic and Akhmimic (Miroshnikov, 2019). I’ve given the so-called ‘strong’ rather than ‘weak’ definite article and named the individual books by ordinals by analogy with the nomenclature of other biblical books with multiple parts. ↩︎
  13. Hyvernat (1896, 542) dates it to the end of the 18th century and Lagarde (1879, 64) to the 19th century, making it younger than 100 years when seen by Brugsch. Hyvernat also suspects that given its unique contents, it was written especially for a European scholar. ↩︎
  14. This liturgical text was later also published by Horner (1902) from a manuscript dating to the early 14th century. ↩︎
  15. See the note appended to the notice of Brugsch’s publication in the same journal edition, namely, ZÄS 14 (1876): 148. The publication itself does not name Stern as the author but his authorship is confirmed by Lagarde (1879, 99) as well as Hyvernat (1986, 49) and Vaschalde (1930, 4; see Stern 3 in the list). ↩︎
  16. In addition to these pericopae from the Historical Books, he also published pericopae from Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus. Lagarde does not state which manuscripts from Göttingen University Library he used, but Hyvernat (1896, 48-9) and Vaschalde (1930, 416-7) identify them as Ms or. 125, 15 and Ms or. 125, 9. ↩︎
  17. The whereabouts of this manuscript are unknown to me. ↩︎
  18. Burmester (1935, 158) is critical of Labib’s edition of the Psalms and Odes, which shows widespread evidence of having been altered to conform to the Hebrew text. The alterations are evident in the manuscript source (see f. 300r for the text of the pericope in question) and according to Yassā ʿAbd al-Masīḥ, the librarian of the Coptic Museum, were made by Bishop Macarius of Asyut (the future Pope Macarius III, 1944-5), who collaborated with Labib in the edition. ↩︎
  19. Burmester (1935, 156) also lists Joshua 3:17 and notes it is a paraphrase. He does not explicitly state whether he is referring to a specific publication or not but the likelihood is that he is referring to Bouriant. ↩︎
  20. Lagarde likely took this pericope from Göttingen Library Ms or. 125, 9, which his catalogue (1897, 14) indicates is a Lenten lectionary. The pericope occurs in the same place on Thursday of the 6th week in the 1st hour but stops at 4:25a. However, Baumstark (1930, 41) in his study of the Lenten lectionaries indicates that some manuscripts feature the longer passage from IV Kingdoms. The longer passage occurs in the lectionary edited by Hegomen Bāḫūm al-Baramūsī (1922, 479ff), though it is unclear to me whether the longer or shorter pericope is typical. ↩︎
  21. Burmester (1943, 427ff) provides a very useful concordance of pericopae of the twenty Holy Week lectionary manuscripts he inspected. Of those, the relevant pericopae from Joshua and Ruth occur in St Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscript (formerly, Leningrad Asia Museum) 283 [sic: 238] (dated 1711), Paris Institut Catholique Copte-Arabe 6-7 (1777), Vat. Copt. 98 (1384) and the Sahidic lectionary Vat. Borg. Copt. 109 fasc. 99 (13-14th century). The pericope from III Kingdoms occurs in these four manuscripts and Vat. Copt. 90 (1724). It is known from the Arabic colophon that Paris Institut Catholique Copte-Arabe 6-7 was used in the White Monastery in Upper Egypt (Missael, 2023). In addition to the clearly Sahidic origin of these pericopae, this raises the possibility that these readings were a local liturgical practice of the White Monastery. Further research is needed to establish this. ↩︎
Cite this page:
Boles, A. “The Coptic Bible: (ⲃ̅) Historical Books” The Coptist, 25 March 2024; Available at: (Accessed: 13 July 2024).

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