Discovery of Coptic Books in Egypt: The Al-Gurna Library
I had the opportunity to ask Marvin Meyer, one of the top translators of Gnostic texts from Egypt, about this discovery. It almost sounded like he had an arrangement with a publisher and couldn’t go into much detail, but said these books are not Gnostic. The Al-Gurna Library is not a kind of “sequel” to the Nag Hammadi Library. He described them as being a collection of more Orthodox texts, but quite interesting nevertheless. The spirituality of Seventh Century Coptic Christianity in Egypt would not be all that radically different from the earlier Gnostic movements. I look forward to reading them when the English translation gets published.
Due to the extremely dry climate, there have been many discoveries of ancient texts made in Egypt.
Photos and News Articles about the Al-Gurna Books
Below I’ve tried to gather together most of the available information and links to photographs pertaining to this discovery. When I asked Marvin Meyer about the Al-Gurna books awhile back, he said they were not Gnostic scriptures but are nevertheless quite interesting. They are books studied by monks during the 6th or 7th centuries and may have some spiritual content. There may also be writings not mentioned in the media thus far that are part of this collection. From the initial reports, plus what Marvin Meyer mentioned, it sounds like there might be many more books than the ones listed thus far: “The Code of Pseudo-Basili”, “Life of St. Pistentios”, a Coptic edition of the “Book of Isaiah”, and, “The Passion of St. Peter”. Those are mentioned below. Some day soon the books of the The Al-Gurna Library will hopefully be published. — James, Spiritual Awakening Radio
The Al-Gurna Library in the News
In Al-Gurna where several excavation missions are probing for more Ancient Egyptian treasures under the sand, a team from the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology has stumbled on a major Coptic trove buried under the remains of a sixth-century monastery located in front of a Middle Kingdom tomb.
Excavators unearthed two papyri books with Coptic text along with a set of parchments placed between two wooden labels as well as Coptic ostraca, pottery fragments and textiles.
The head of the team, Tomaz Gorecki, said the books were well preserved except for the papyri papers which were exceptionally dry.
The first book has a hard plain cover embellished with Roman text from the inside while the second includes no less than 50 papers coated with a partly deteriorated leather cover bearing geometrical drawings. In the middle, a squared cross 32cm long and 26cm wide is found.
As for the set of parchments, Gorecki said it included 60 papers with a damaged leather cover and an embellished wooden locker.
Immediately after the discovery, restoration was carried out in order to preserve the books which will be the subject of extensive restoration by two Polish experts.
"It is a very important discovery, equal to the Nag Hammadi scrolls" found in 1945 in an Ancient Egyptian cave inhabited by Copts during the Roman era, said Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/730/he1.htm
COPTIC TIME CAPSULE
The Supreme for Antiquities (SCA) announced that the Polish mission excavation in the Qurna has made one of the biggest Coptic finds in Egyptian history. While working in one of the tombs in Luxor’s Barr Gharbi (west bank), the Polish group discovered three papyrus books including important Coptic writings, dating back to the sixth century AD.
Although the tomb where the books were found dates to a much earlier era, Dr. Zahi Hawass, director of the SCA, explained that the early Copts, who suffered from persecution, had probably hidden the important books in an ancient tomb for fear of discovery. Hawass further added that the finds are equal in importance to the Naga Hammadi manuscripts, which were discovered inside some clay urns.
This find is likely to shed light on the practices of the early Egyptian Copts and includes a book with a decorated wooden cover (22.5cm by 17cm) and another book comprising 50 pages and bound in a leather cover. The third book has both wooden and leather covers, but is in very bad condition. Theologists cannot wait for the restoration processes to begin, so as to start deciphering the information to be found inside the books.
This was the first discovery of Coptic manuscripts in Egypt since 1952, which are well preserved and supported by a well-researched archaeological context.
One of the books is the “Code of Pseudo-Basili” — the only preserved full text in Coptic, which is a collection of rules regulating Church life. The other contains the Life of St. Pistentios, one of the Coptic bishops. Both texts date back to the 7th/8th centuries.
Also mentioned: “part of the apocryphal ‘The passion of St. Peter’”.
The books are under conservation in the National Museum in Alexandria and only then will the full text be known, says Górecki. However, their character and content are already known.
Identifying the third manuscript was much harder. An untitled collection of 50 richly decorated parchment sheets written in Coptic, bound by two pieces of wood. The Polish archaeologists turned to researchers from the University of Rome to help decipher the texts. Prof. Wipszycka-Bravo says that Tito Orlandi, who reads Coptic documents like most people read a newspaper, has pronounced them to be the book of Isaiah. Many fragments of this book have already been found, but never the whole book.
A provisional classification of written documents, which was established, has distinguished a few basic groups: letters, official documents, receipts, prayers and exercises. Examination of ostraka content has confirmed the results of archaeological and ceramological research, indicating two phases of occupation for the hermitage, the first from the middle of the 6th to the middle of the 7th century and the second in the first half of the 8th century.
Photos: The Sheikh Abd El-Gurna Papyrus Book Conservation Project (Egypt):
COPTIC MANUSCRIPTS FROM A RUBBISH DUMP
Intensive explorations started on the rubbish dump spreading to the south and east of Tower B. It yielded huge quantities of pottery and organic material, as well as fragmentarily preserved baskets, ropes and textiles. Many Coptic ostraca were preserved as well, including about 20 on limestone chips [Fig. 10] frequently written on both sides. In the southern part of the hermitage, on the outer edges of a dump of ashes and rubbish from an oven or kitchen, three books were discovered [Fig. 3]. Two of these were books bound in leather, containing a Coptic text written on papyrus. The last was a collection of parchment cards set between two leather-bound wooden boards……
Read more and see many great photos: