The Coptic Codex find at Qurna.

Over a year later, we finally have some details on this find of two codices and some papers at Qurna by a Polish team led by Tomasz Górecki. 

The mss are:

Also there are endleaves supporting the wooden binding made of reused parchment; part of the apocryphal "The passion of St. Peter", an unspecified religious text, and some tax bills.

The mss were found at the site of a Coptic Hermitage, abandoned in the 8th century.

From a Polish site:

The Book of Isaiah under the sands of Egypt

The archaeological mystery has been solved! The latest research shows that the manuscript found by Polish archaeologists in the village of Gourna (Sheikh abd el-Gourna) near Luxor in Upper Egypt contains the entire biblical book of Isaiah in the Coptic translation. "This is the first complete translation of this book in Coptic" -- says Prof. Ewa Wipszycka-Bravo of the Institute of Archaeology at Warsaw University.

In February last year, Tomasz Górecki heading the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the Warsaw University mission in Gourna, made a unique find in the rubbish heap of a monastery. It consisted of two papyrus books in leather covers and a collection of parchment sheets bound by two bits of wood. 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.

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.

The wooden planks binding the books were supported by parchment from old texts, one a known apocrypha -- "The suffering of St. Peter", another religious text and tax bills -- the professor explains.

It is still not known how these books reached the hermitage. According to specialists, they must have been written in distant scriptoriums. Moreover, an Italian expert dates the book from the 9th-10th centuries, which makes them more recent than the other books.

"The hermitage was abandoned at the beginning of the 8th century, so the parchment could not have belonged to the monks in Gourna. Who brought them there if no Christians were there anymore remains a mystery" -- says Prof. Wipszycka-Bravo.

On being transported to Gourna, the books were dumped on the rubbish heap, presumably by the Arabs after chasing out the Christians.

Szymon Łucyk, tr. ajfb

A report appeared in Al-Ahram of a find of two codices and some papers at Qurna by a Polish team led by Tomasz Górecki.  As yet the contents are unknown.  Here are the details we have.  More as I find out about it.

From "Egypt Today" (March 2005, Vol. 26, No. 3):


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.

I enquired about the find at the Polish Centre [] in Cairo.  They said (Feb 2005) that:

The books are treated by restorers and were not opened yet, so I cannot say anything about the contents. The comparison with Nag Hamadi is just an enthusiastic guesswork of journalists.

I hope we shall be able to release more information in the coming weeks, incomplete as it would be. It is quite possible, of course, that we shall have some parts of Scripture and no unknown texts. But besides the two books there is a bundle of documents on loose sheets and these can prove informative.

Coptic trove

Luxor's west bank was the site of a significant find, reports Nevine El-Aref.

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 Naga 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.

Hawass said the scrolls were originally found in a large sealed stone jar by a murderer while hiding from the police. But when the renowned writer Taha Hussein was the minister of education, he bought the scrolls in a marketplace and offered them to the Coptic Museum.

Hawass added that the scrolls include 13 religious and philosophic codices translated into Coptic by fourth-century Gnostic Christians and translated into English by dozens of highly reputable experts.

The Naga Hammadi scrolls is a diverse collection of texts that the Gnostics considered to be related to their heretical philosophy. There are 45 separate titles, including a Coptic translation from the Greek of two well-known works: the Gospel of Thomas, attributed to Jesus's brother Judas, and Plato's Republic. The word "gnosis" is defined as "the immediate knowledge of spiritual truth".

Archaeologist Mustafa Waziri said the codices are believed to be a library hidden by monks from a monastery in the area where these writings were banned by the Orthodox Church. The contents of the codices were written in Coptic though the works were mostly translations from Greek. The most famous of these is probably the Gospel of Thomas, of which the Naga Hammadi codices contain the only complete copy. After the discovery it was recognised that fragments of these sayings of Jesus appeared in manuscripts that had been discovered in Oxyrhynchus in 1898, and quotations were recognised in other early Christian sources. The manuscripts themselves are from the third and fourth centuries.

Early examinations and studies carried out in situ revealed that the newly discovered books could include more information about how early Christians performed their rituals.


Al-Ahram Online. No. 730 (17-23 February 2005).

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 9th April 2005

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