Tools for studying Coptic

A pause in my thoughts about memory to return to something more closely relevant to my PhD…Coptic resources

AULA Coptica Barcinonensis has just put up links to a range of tools for studying Coptic. The site is in Spanish, but the links are reasonably self-explanatory, I think. There are links to dictionaries, grammars and crestomathies and while some of the information is just about books that are in print, in other cases they provide links to the text of the books online. Most are directly to .pdf versions of the text.

In the Sahidic dictionary section, there are links to Richard Smith’s very useful Coptic-English Lexicon and Pierre Cherix’s Lexique copte (dialecte sahidique) with which I am not familiar because I don’t work directly between Coptic and French. What is missing is the on-line version of Crum’s Coptic Dictionary which can also be accessed as software that creates a searchable version on your own computer via the Marcion page.

In the English teaching/learning grammar category, there are links not only to Plumley’s 1948 Introductory Coptic Grammar (Sahidic Dialect) which has been available for a long time, but also to Lambdin’s Introduction to Sahidic Coptic and Layton’s Coptic in 20 Lessons.  In German, there is a very old grammar but also Einführung in die koptische Sprache. Sahidischer Dialekt by Uwe-Karsten Plisch.

Definitely worth a visit!

Gospel of Thomas Online Videos and Podcasts

Mike Grondin has added some Gospel of Thomas Online Videos and Podcasts to his site. As well as providing interviews with and talks by some contemporary scholars (Gagné, Gathercole, Goodacre, Martin and Pagels) there are links to a 2006 BBCFour TV programme on the Lost Gospels and to a 1987 BBC programme about the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library that features Elaine Pagels, Hans Jonas, Giles Quispel, James Robinson and Mohammed Ali el Saman (the discoverer of the jar). Although the quality of this last is not good, I really enjoy seeing some of the early giants in the field talking about the importance of the discovery.

While I am talking about it, Mike’s site also has a range of other very useful tools as well as some op-ed pieces and links to other useful places on the net. The tool includes his extremely useful Coptic/English interlinear version of Thomas and his new-this-year concordance for Coptic Thomas. To use the concordance, you will need to install the Coptic fonts used, but they are available for download from the site. Well worth a bookmark!

Review of Johanna Brankaer’s “Coptic – A Learning Grammar”

Brice Jones has reviewed Johanna Brankaer’s Coptic – A Learning Grammar (Sahidic) (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2010) here.

I own a copy of the book and have dipped into it in places, but not worked through it systematically. I found the tables of verb conjugation bases and the concordance of grammatical terms at the back helpful for getting my head around the differences between the older naming conventions used by Lambdin and the newer ones used by Layton, but I had not looked at it carefully enough to notice the errors that Brice points out.

I used the tables to produce a table of Sahidic Coptic verb paradigms with their alternative names which others might also find useful.

Update – 23 November 2013

Mike Grondin helpfully pointed out that I had managed to replicate the verb forms for the focalising present/present II in the verb paradigms table instead of presenting the correct forms for the relative present /relative of present I. Thanks, Mike!! I have now fixed this and made a few minor changes to the presentation which should make it easier for people who are not me to follow. :-)

Gathercole on the composition of Thomas (4)

Chapter 4 is entitled “Positive evidence for a Greek-language origin” and in it, Gathercole addresses six areas:

  1. The material evidence of the manuscripts: Here, Gathercole says that we have no manuscript evidence of a Semitic version of Thomas but there are three fragments of  Greek copies. Although he notes that an argument from silence needs to be viewed with caution, he suggests that the material evidence is sufficient to suggest that a Greek composition should be the default position.
  2. Level of correspondence between items of Greek vocabulary in Greek and Coptic Thomas: Gathercole looks at those sections of Coptic Thomas where there is also an existing Greek version in the P. Oxy fragments and  lists 27 Greek loanwords in the Coptic text. In only three cases is there a different word used in the extant Greek text and two of these are particles, which (as was noted previously) are least predictably rendered in other Greek-to-Coptic translations.  He ends this section with “This is a fairly remarkable statistic, making a Greek Vorlage – and one which is fairly similar to our extant Greek fragments – almost certain (p 108).” Again, I feel that he overstates the case, for three reasons. First, as he says himself in the next section, it is quite common for texts that we are sure were originally composed in Coptic to have many Greek loanwords.  Second, the presence of Greek loanwords could simply indicate that the translator spoke  Greek more fluently than Coptic. Third, loanwords usually enter a language because the target language doesn’t already have a word that expresses the concept effectively and this is likely to be the case with at least some of the words cited eg sabbaton, sarx.
  3. Additional features of Greek loanwords in Coptic Thomas: Gathercole draws attention to Stephen Emmel’s index to the Coptic Gnostic Library, which contains 372 instances of “words borrowed from Greek” that are not proper nouns. This, as he says, does not in itself support a Greek original or Vorlage since it was quite common for “native Coptic works” to contain a high proportion of Greek vocabulary. He provides  examples, however, where the Greek is unusual, and also points to the survival of inflected Greek forms. Again, however, this kind of oddity could result from the translator being more fluent in Greek than in Coptic.
  4. Greek Gospels: Here, Gathercole argues that the genre of Thomas is “overwhelmingly” Greek: because of its designation as a gospel; because it is referred to as a gospel in the patristic references; and because it “was intended as a collection of saving words. Even if it is not a Gospel in the canonical sense, it is probably a Gospel when considered on its own terms (p 110).” He then goes on to demonstrate that, although the area is “messy and difficult to penetrate” the majority of scholarly opinion is that the original language of the gospels that we have is Greek – that “the Gospel genre is overwhelmingly a Greek-language genre (p 115)” and thus that the original language for a gospel is most likely to be Greek. This hinges on the assertion that Thomas  is a typical Greek gospel. In fact, however, if we are to accept Richard Burridge’s argument (and most scholars do) that the canonical gospels are a sub-genre of the Graeco-Roman genre bios (Burridge, R.A. What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), Thomas simply doesn’t make the cut. Most obviously lacking of Burridge’s criteria is the narrative about Jesus’ life and, in particular, the account of his death. Thomas may fit into the genre of Greek sayings-source, but these are not exactly thick on the ground to provide comparisons.
  5. Greek originals of Nag Hammadi tractates: Gathercole shows that the weight of scholarly opinion is that the majority, if not all, of the texts in the Nag Hammadi library were originally composed in Greek. He concludes “if the scholarly consensus on the rest of Codex II is right, this is at least circumstantial evidence in favour of a Greek original for Thomas. It is strong evidence for a Greek Vorlage to the present Coptic translation, and the more evidence for Greek one finds in all this, the higher the burden of proof on Semitic theories (p121).” This seems to me to be an overstatement of the strength of circumstantial evidence.
  6. Close similarity to early Greek parallels: Here, Gathercole points to the similarity between the Greek text of Thomas and the Greek texts of a number of other Gospels, both canonincal and non-canonical. The major problem with the case he presents is that there is no example where the level of correspondence that he reports is adequate to satisfy the criteria of copying rather than familiarity developed by McIver and Carroll. Even in their earlier, less stringent work (McIver, Robert K., and Marie Carroll. “Experiments to Develop Criteria for Determining the Existence of Written Sources, and Their Potential Implications for the Synoptic Problem.” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 4 (2002): 667-87), they conclude that there needs to be verbatim correspondence in a string of at least 16 words. Gathercole’s longest example is 13 words and most are much shorter, so he can really only suggest that the author of one text was familiar with the other at the level of oral transmission.  Thus, his conclusion: “Unless one regards a Greek Thomas as the ultimate source of the canonical versions, we are left with the strong likelihood that Thomas incorporated known Greek tradition” again overstates the case, since the evidence could again be accounted for by the development of parallel eyewitness traditions (see previous post). A second problem is that it is quite clear that the P. Oxy fragments which which he is working are not the original source of Coptic Thomas. P. Oxy 655 contains the prologue and sayings 1-7, then saying 24, which could be explained if it were a collection of someone’s favourite sayings from Thomas.P. Oxy 1, however, contains sayings 26-33 with lines 2-3 of saying 77 interpolated between saying 30 and saying 31, which suggests that there was a Greek version of Thomas in which the sayings appeared in a different order to that of Coptic Thomas. Thus it seems to me that one cannot assume that the conclusions about similarity with the canon reached from the Greek text necessarily apply to the Coptic text.

Gathercole concludes that the evidence provided means “that a Greek Vorlage to the Coptic version of Thomas is a virtual certainty, with proposals for a translation into Coptic from another language being highly speculative (p 125).”  As is obvious from my various comments, I do not think the case he makes is a strong as he suggests.

He continues “Moreover, the close parallels in phraseology between the Greek texts of Thomas and other Gospels are perhaps the strongest evidence for the incorporation of Greek tradition at the stage of Thomas’s composition (p 125).” The psychological research literature on human memory suggests, however, that the parallels he mentions are not particularly close. This will, I think, have significant implications for what follows, since he indicates that this will be an important factor in the case he will build “that Thomas is likely to be dependent upon Mathew and Luke, as well as upon some other early Christian literature.”

Gathercole on the composition of Thomas (3)

In Chapter 3, Gathercole works through 77 areas in the Coptic text of Thomas that have been proposed by various authors as Semitisms. He looks at those identified by Quispel and Guillaumont and listed by DeConick in her The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation but adds a number of others presented elsewhere in the scholarly literature. He quite rightly says that problematising the proposal of a Semitic background requires a large sample size.  He does not, however, attempt to include all the 502 Syrian catchwords proposed by Perrin. Of the aim of the chapter, he says:

It is hoped that the present chapter will show that in almost every instance, alternative explanations are readily available, and to suggest that, as a result, the case for a Semitic Vorlage underlying our Greek and Coptic texts has been greatly exaggerated and is in fact very vulnerable. In addition to the immediate concern with the original language, this chapter is also significant for the question (which will loom large later, in Part II) of Thomas’ s independence, since we will treat here a number of alleged cases of Aramaic Vorlagen translated differently (and thus independently) by Thomas and the Synoptics. (pp 43-4)

As can be seen from the previous post, Gathercole’s argument about the Semitisms in Thomas looks at three main areas: the identification and classification of Semitisms in the text; the identification of mistranslations or wooden translations which could are explained by an underlying Semitic text; and the identification of divergent translations that occur in either the Greek and Coptic Thomas or  in canonical parallels to Thomas and which could be explained by a common Semitic Vorlage.

I think he demonstrates quite credibly that quite a few of the pieces of text identified by other scholars as Semitisms are either acceptable Greek or acceptable Coptic idiom and that others, while clearly arising as a result of translation from a Semitic language can be classified as Septuagintisms, rather than what might be termed de novo Semitisms. He also demonstrates that a significant number of those passages which have previously been considered to be the result of mistranslation are actually the result of problematic exegesis and are acceptable was they stand; and that in a number of situations where real problems exist with the text, there are Greek explanations that are equally as likely as the Semitic ones that have been proposed, or they could be explained by textual corruption. Thus, he raises significant doubt in the first two areas.

In looking at the third area, that of divergent translations, he notes that in a number of situations the parallel texts are so different that they could only be considered to be loose translations at best, so do not provide convincing evidence that they are translations of a common Semitic Vorlage. In other situations, the divergences are translations of conjunctions and prepositions which are acknowledged by scholars  to be translated unpredictably between other languages and Coptic. Finally, there are places where the explanations offered by other scholars require a translation directly from a Semitic language to Coptic, which he finds untenable.

He finishes with: “These conclusions do not, of course, mean that it is impossible that various sayings in Thomas go back to Semitic originals  . . . The analysis in this chapter does emphasise, however, how difficult it is to conjure up evidence which can only be explained on the basis of a Western Aramaic or Syriac Vorlage.” (p 104)

Again, however, while the evidence he provides is well researched, it seems to me that the conclusions he draws from it are an overstatement of the case, for several reasons. First, even though it may be possible to provide an individual explanation of every Semitism proposed that does not require that it comes from a Semitic language original, the people who are proposing a Semitic original are saying, in effect, that when you put all these pieces together the overwhelming ‘feel’ of the text is that there is a Semitic language underlying it. To provide a modernt parallel: When I read the English translation of Uwe-Karsten Plisch’s commentary on Thomas, there is nothing in it that is incorrect, but there are definitely segments which someone who speaks English as their first language would have worded differently. The fact that I can provide perfectly acceptable explanations for each one of them in English does not take away the “germanic” feel which is caused by their presence in numerous places in the text. Of course, as Gathercole himself notes once or twice, it is difficult to identify the source of this Semitic feel. Given that Jesus did most, if not all, of his teaching in Aramaic and Thomas consists almost entirely of  Jesus’ words, it may come from Jesus. If the person who translated the text into Coptic spoke a Semitic language as his/her first language s/he may have introduced Semitisms that did not exist in the original text, and the notion of LXXisms of course makes sense, too. Thus, while a Semitic Vorlage may not be the only explanation for many of the Semitisms detected in the text, it must one of the possible explanations remain at this stage and I don’t think it is necessary that it be the only possible explanation in order for it to be the best one.

From my perspective, however, there is a more significant gap in Gathercole’s treatment when he deals with the divergent translations. While I concur that we are on shaky ground trying to demonstrate a common Vorlage for material that appears only to be a loose translation of the original, much of the problematic material seems to me to have an explanation which Gathercole does not explore. The more I read about eyewitness testimony and human memory, the more likely I think it that divergences such as those between Thomas and the canon come from the accounts of different eyewitnesses to the same events, exacerbated by the fact that the transmission for the first decade or two was oral. Most of the divergence theories were proposed several decades ago, before much research had been done about eyewitness testimony and when biblical scholars were largely unaware of research on human memory and oral transmission that was being done in other fields. The variations seem to me to be better explained as gist transmissions by several eyewitnesses through different trajectories than by loose translations of one underlying text. Whether they became stable as part of community tradition (see eg Bailey) or as a result of Jesus teaching his disciples in the manner of the rabbis of his time (see eg Gerhardsson) is unclear.

In chapter 4, which will be the subject of the next post, Gathercole moves on to positive evidence for a Greek-language origin. This may build a case which outweighs the difficulties that I’ve raised above.

Gathercole on the composition of Thomas (2)

The first section in Gathercole’s book deals with the original language of Thomas and consists of four chapters. This post will deal with the first two.

In chapter 1, which is very short, he outlines the various theories that have been advanced about the language in which Thomas was originally written. When Puech announced the discovery of the gospel in 1957, he was sure that the original had been in Greek. In 1958, Guillaumont noted a significant number of mistranslations and argued that the sayings had been translated from Aramaic. In 1960, Garitte proposed a Coptic original. The notion of a Coptic original has not persisted, but both other options are still argued by scholars today, while other scholars have added arguments for a Syriac original. A significant factor in the various arguments for an Aramaic or Syriac original is the presence of many Semitisms in the text, but Gathercole indicates that he plans to present a criticism of the proposal for an Aramaic or Syriac original and demonstrate that a Greek original is ‘much more likely’. This he will do in three parts – first looking at problems with gathering evidence for a Semitic original; second examining all the proposed Semitisms systematically; and third providing positive evidence for a Greek original. ‘This conclusion in favour of a Greek original will pave the way for seeing a closer relationship to the New Testament Gospels than is often seen in current scholarship’ (p 23).

Chapter 2 looks at methodological problems with Semitic theories under a number of headings.

  1. The need to eliminate Greek and Coptic explanations before arguing for a Semitism: this is the basic, common sense idea that even though a particular turn of phrase might be common in Semitic languages, if an explanation for it can be found in Greek or Coptic, it should not be claimed as a Semitism. Gathercole offers five possible scenarios where this might be the case: (a) where a particular turn of phrase which is common in Semitic languages is also acceptable Greek or Coptic; (b) where the original text is corrupt (c) where there was a scribal error in copying; (d) where the phraseology in question has been misunderstood (e) in Thomas, it may simply be that the author’s intention is to be obscure.
  2. The need to establish the linguistic base for identification of Semitisms: here, he draws on the work of Wilcox and Davila on the need to be comparing the text with Syriac, Hebrew and Aramaic texts from the same period rather than from a century or two afterwards.
  3. The difficulty of classifying Semitisms: some Semitisms come from Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures and make good sense in the text as it stands – they are examples of ‘biblical expression’. Gathercole cites two other similar cases where, he argues, the Semitic origin of an expression does not indicate any particular linguistic background and distinguishes between these and those cases where the Greek makes little or no sense because it appears to be a literal translation of a specific Semitic idiom.
  4. The difficulty of assessing the significance of Semitisms for the original language of composition: texts such as the Didache provide examples of texts written in Greek but with a huge number of Semitisms. Gathercole quotes Davila’s argument that the presence of such Semitisms cannot be taken as decisive proof of translation from a Semitic Vorlage. He also argues that the fact that part of a composition might have a Semitic origin does not indicate that the whole has a Semitic origin – citing as an example the parts of the Gospels that can be traced back to the OT.

Gathercole then proposes that there are two principle ways to identify a Semitic Vorlage to Thomas – identification of mistranslations which make little or no sense in Coptic or are very wooden, but which make sense as idiom in a Semitic Vorlage;  and of divergent translations of parallel passages in Thomas and the canonical gospels or in Greek and Coptic Thomas which might be accounted for by a common Semitic Vorlage, although these also are not without problem, the possibility of bilingual interference being one that is common to both possible explanations.

Gathercole then lists four additional problems associated with therories of a specifically Syriac original.

  1. The paucity of Syriac literature in the relevant period- we have virtually no evidence of Syriac being used as a literary language in the first two centuries CE, so the earlier Thomas is dated, the more surprising it would be for it to have originally been written in Syriac.
  2. The rarity of translation of Syriac works into Greek
  3. The possibility of bilingual composition – A late Syrian origin might well have resulted in two versions, one in each language, having been written mor or less simultaneously, as Klijn has suggested for the Acts of Thomas
  4. The difficulty of the ‘catchword’ theory – here, Gathercole criques Nicholas Perrin’s identification of catchwords as being too uncontrolled to be convincing.

I think that Gathercole has successfully made a case for need not to be too hasty in identifying Semitisms in Thomas; and in reminding us that there are other explanations for the presence of Semitisms in the text than that the text was originally written in a Semitic language. I am rather surprised, however, that he hasn’t suggested what to me is an obvious possibility – that the author spoke a Semitic language as his/her first language and was not sufficiently fluent in Greek to eliminate entirely the traces of that language from the text ie that the author was not, in fact, truely bilingual – although perhaps he uses a looser sense of  ‘bilingual’.

I am not sure, however, that he makes a strong enough case to justify his conclusion to the chapter:

In sum, these caveats may lead us to wonder whether an Aramaic or Syriac original is identifiable; at the very least they should mean that the burden of proof lies heavily on those who would argue for such a Semitic Vorlage.  It is surely such factors as the above which led even such an enthusiast as Ménard to compare the terrain of the study of Semetisms to quicksand ( L’évangile Selon Thomas, 1973, p 23). As we proceed to investigate the particular instances, we will see that the terrain is uncertain indeed. (p 42)

I continue to be uneasy when dealing with early Christian material when people start talking about ‘proof’ and ‘burden of  proof’. I simply don’t think that the material we are working with enables us to be more confident that anything is more than ‘highly likely’ – empirical proof is beyond us.

Marcion (on-line Crum) update

Coming out from a deep lurk caused by my taking on a new short term research contract at the same time as I have had marking commitments for the Earliest Christianity subject I taught into this semester…

Milan Konvicka recently emailed me to let me know that he has updated the Marcion database which includes an on-line searchable version of Crum’s Coptic Dictionary – see these previous posts for details.

Milan says:

the main improvements are in:

  • text highlighting
  • upgraded searching in all databases
  • more coptic words (Crum still not finished yet, prepositions and adverbs following many verbs still missing – I think in 1-2 months crum will be finished completely if hectolitres of cofee do not kill me) ,
  • and many others graphical details  (virtual keyboard for example).

To download the application, go to:

To read the documentation, go to:

I finished marking what I think should be the last paper this morning, although there will still be some work related to the plagiarism I detected in one of the others that I marked. I am hoping to have some time and mental space to get back to both Perrin on Thomas and my doctoral texts in the next little while.

Typing Coptic – 2

Some months ago, I posted some information about typing Coptic on a PC (using Unicode fonts) but recently Andy Finke has done some further investigation and has been posting his results in the comments section of that post. This post pulls out the relevant information about  getting a functional Coptic keyboard in whatever version of Windows you are using. You can even build your own Coptic keyboard if you don’t like the mapping on the ones that are generally available. In order to do any of these things, you will need to download and install Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, which may mean you also need to download and install Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0 or above (I have 4.0 installed because that’s the version that works with Win7)

Making a Coptic keyboard from one you already have

This is the easier way, but you need access to a keyboard layout that is installed and working properly on a computer. The Logos Coptic keyboard is the one I have been using for years, but you may have another one. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

  1. Open Keyboard Layout Creator and click on File, the Load Existing Keyboard
  2. Click on Project and then properties and choose an 8 letter name for the keyboard, plus a description. Also decide what language you want it to be associated with. Andy (see below) has managed to get his to associate with US English and be offered a # on his language bar. Doesn’t seem to work with Win7, so I randomly chose Gallician which is a left-to-right language that I don’t know and don’t plan to learn. Click on OK.
  3. Click on Project again and Build DLL and Setup Package. You will get a message that tells you that the project has been completed but with some errors and asks if you would like to see them. The errors tell you that some of the mappings are going to cause problems with non-Unicode systems, but this is just fine because you are using Unicode fonts.
  4. It will then tell you that it has built the setup package in a particular folder and asks if you would like to open the folder. Say yes and pay attention to where it is on your computer and what it has been called. You will see that it has created three .msi files, two of which have a 64 in them and are for 64 bit systems and one of which is for 32 bit systems.
  5. Copy the whole folder onto a flash drive or similar, plug it into your new computer, run setup.exe and your new keyboard should install happily, associated with the language you chose. If you have a 32 bit system, double clicking on the .msi file with 32 in its name will also work. I tried using the .msi with amd64 in its name and that worked for my Win7, but I don’t understand the differences.

Making a Coptic keyboard from scratch

These are Andy’s instructions:

  1. What you need is a printout of the Greek-Coptic page from the Unicode charts – that’s 0370-03ff and a printout of the Coptic – 2c80-2cff.
  2. You then open Keyboard Creator and select File and New. You select each key and enter the Unicode code in the format “u+03e3″ for small shei and Enter. Then go to the next key.
  3. When you’re all done with all the keys you select Project and Validate Layout. It will say, “You’re Ok but you’ve got some warnings. Do you want to see them?’ You say yes, read the warnings and close.
  4. Then you go to Project and Test Keyboard Layout. Type in all your keys to make sure the assignments are correct. Hit OK.
  5. Then go to Project and Build DLL and Setup Package. That it does, giving you 3 installer packages – two in 64 bit format, which don’t work on the 32-bit machine. Select the i386 format and run it (double click).
  6. When it’s done, go to Project and Properties. You’ll see the name of your keyboard and where it’s located. Mine piggybacks English-United States. i.e. to get the keyboard, from English select it via the small square in the language bar at the top of your screen “EN #” where # stands for the rectangular icon that selects subkeyboards. Don’t have to mess with Regional and Language. (Note that my computer doesn’t seem to offer this option in the language bar)

He adds:

You, Judy, can create the Coptic keyboard of your dreams without curling the fingers. What Logos has at ALT-GR I put at Shift, since several keys acted oddly in ALT-GR, bringing up the Google keyboard and an email I had sent through Outlook Express. Since I don’t need capital Coptic, I’m happy to have the specifically Coptic letters at the Shift state.

Adjusting a Coptic keyboard

Having opened the Creator, load your existing keyboard (or a source file). If you hover over a key, you see what the unicode code for the current assignment is. If you click on it, you can type in a new Unicode assignment. Like Andy, I have changed the four Coptic characters that are currently assigned as Alt-Gr to Shift-state keys.  Shift-T is the TI (dei) character, shift-F (fei) is the Coptic F, shift-H is the Coptic H (horeh) and shift-J is the Coptic CH (shima). I then put the upper case versions of the Coptic letters onto the Alt-Gr keys, just in case I might happen to need them.

Note that you can create images of the keyboard maps by chosing the “save as image” option, but you will need to save a different image for each state (ie unshifted and shifted states, with and without Alt-Gr).

Marcion resource 3

More tips from Milan, moved up from the comments:

  • in any opened text you can use the popup menu for easier searching in dictionaries
  • in the tree view of coptic dictionary you can raise a popup menu and use the resolve function to create all possible morphs of a word
  • look at this new video which provides information about the Book Reader function and demonstrates the above features. This allows you to search for the occurence of particular words in specific libraries, and also to look up meansings of words in Crum.

He also promises that in the next release it will be possible to do other tasks whilst waiting for long processes to finish. :-) He also says that if you find any next errors, bugs, or if you have any wishes and ideas concerning functionality, you should inform him at the Marcion site.

More on commentaries – Kasser

Back in January, I began a series of reviews of commentaries on GosThom and managed to do two.  Here is a third and I hope to do the rest over the next few weeks.

Rodolphe Kasser’s L’Evangile selon Thomas

Rodolphe Kasser, L’Evangile selon Thomas: présentation et commentaire théologique: Bibliothèque théologique; (Neuchatel: Editions Delachaux & Niestlé, 1961).

As you can see from the date, this French commentary is one of the earliest written on GosThom (perhaps the earliest?) and as such is very interesting.

Assessment of Thomas

Kasser argues that GosThom is clearly Gnostic and that it reflects Gnostic thought that was current in the second century CE. He does not commit to a date for composition, but does provide a summary of the thought current at the time of origins etc.

Positive Aspects

  • Has a significant amount of detailed comment on sayings with canonical parallels.
  • Provides a detailed overview of the current understanding of Gnosticism to justify his assessment of the text as Gnostic.
  • Provides a French translation and a Greek “retroversion” together with an index to the French vocabularly with Greek and Coptic equivalents.
  • Provides a table at the back that shows how the sayings numbering in the different editions of GosThom correspond with one another – Kasser uses the numbering of the Guillaumont-Puech-Quispel-Till-Yassah abd al Masih and Queck-(Garitte) edition which is currently in use.
  • For those for whom French is not their first language, the French used is not particularly complex.

Negative Aspects

  • does not address the Coptic text directly in the commentary (hence the index of French-Coptic-Greek equivalents).
  • transliterates Coptic and (because, I assume, there was no Coptic font available at the time) does not have a table that shows what the equivalent Coptic character is for each transliteration, just a list of transliterations in Coptic alphabetical order.
  • The layout is not easy to follow. Each saying number is in superscript, whereas the line numbers for each saying are much larger and in parentheses, so they are the ones that stand out. Kasser uses sequential line numbering throughout, rather than the page and line numbering which is now more usual. However, Grondin’s interlinear provides all three numbering systems, which is helpful. (Download the page-by-page version)
  • References are in footnotes without a bibliography, so one needs to hunt back to the first mention of any item to find its full bibliographical details.
  • Out of print, so must be purchased second-hand or borrowed from a library.


This provides a very interesting insight into early scholarship on GosThom, so very useful for anyone who is working seriously in the area. It provides some detailed background information that newer commentaries tend to skim over on the assumption that it is well known, but obviously lacks treatment of current thinking.