Discovering the manuscripts of the Coptic Old Testament

About the author

Daniela Forero-Nunez is a student at the University of Regensburg. She is studying for a bachelor’s degree in history and political science.

This entry was written as a work assignment for the tutorial Hands-on History: Historical Written Sources in the Digital Age in the summer term of 2020 at the University of Regensburg.

Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament

Description of the project and objectives

The Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament bases on an idea that has not been materialized until now. It is an innovative project that:

Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament.
  • collects and catalogs the Coptic-Sahidic manuscripts of the Old Testament in an online database
  • transcribes and analyzes the manuscript texts to create a digital edition of the Sahidic Old Testament
  • compares the textual tradition for a diplomatic and critical edition and translation of the Sahidic Old Testament
  • translates the Coptic text of the edition into English or German.

Taking into account that the totality of the manuscripts is no longer in Egypt but has been dispersed around museums and collections in Europe and North America, the project attempts to virtualize this vast amount of material – something that nobody has been able to make until today.

The manuscript collection

Since the project’s objectives are so broad, special attention is driven to the digitalization of the manuscript collection. This collection contains fragmentary manuscripts as well as rare well-preserved documents. Considering that some of them date from the V/VI century and, therefore, show an enormous degree of deterioration, the technique of multispectral imaging allows us to see the otherwise invisible or unreadable documents.

The lack of information hinders the retrieval of some details such as the exact date, language, or provenance. Nevertheless, some transcriptions are available in the original language and play an important role in decoding and understanding what is behind these fascinating materials.

Primary resources and historical background

By thoroughly studying the vast amount of material, the project enables not only academic staff but also interested users to explore the mysteries of the Coptic Bible and literature. For those who are already familiar with the subject, it allows to go deeper into the origins and development of the Coptic religion and even gather interesting information for the research on the textual history of the Bible. The manuscripts correspond to the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament, which is passed down in different Coptic dialects. According to the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, between the 3rd and 4th century the entire Old Testament was systematically translated into the Sahidic dialect of Coptic. As a result, Sahidic became the standard literary form of Coptic and remained the language of the literature and liturgy of the Egyptian Christians until the 12th century.

Project partners

This long-term project started in 2015 and is mainly carried out by the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in cooperation with both national and international institutions. A complete overview of the project partners can be found here.

A broad collection of individual manuscript folios and fragments form the primary source material of the project. In close cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) in Münster, which focuses on the Coptic versions of the New Testament, the project aims to virtually reconstruct the entire corpus of Coptic literature. In addition, this project offers scholars around the world, the chance to integrate and share their research results within a virtual research environment.

The publications of the team members, as well as a blog, serve as an example of the attempts of building a platform for academic exchange.

Functions of the project’s homepage

The project’s homepage offers different functions that allow a simple approach to the primary source material:

Access to the Workspace

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Here you find the image as well as a page transcription. By clicking at the bottoms, you can adjust the light, the contrast and activate the multispectral imaging.


Digitalization process

The digitalization process is briefly summarized in the following workflow:

The Coptic Old Testament in its classical Sahidic version will become gradually visible in the Virtual Manuscript Room (VMR). The final outcome of this digitalization project should be a complete translation based on the text of the edition (cf. From Fragments to Books 2020: 3).

The project announced the first issue of From Fragments to Books, the official newsletter of the Coptic Old Testament Project in February. Its publication takes place bi-annually in PDF format and attempts to offer reports and background information on the project and the edition of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament


Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament. URL: (09.05.2020).

Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities: Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament. URL: (09.05.2020).

Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanites: From Fragments to Books. The Newsletter of the academy project Complete Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic Sahidic Old Testament, Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2020. URL: (09.05.2020).

Register of illustrations

Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament. URL: (09.05.2020).

Tecnique of multispectral imaging. URL: (09.05.2020).

Digitalization process. URL: (09.05.2020).

Manuscript. URL :