The research projects funded by the Academy examine culture and society in a broad sense. Antti Marjanen, professor of gnostic studies at the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Theology, was one of those granted funding. The research project led by Professor Marjanen seeks to publish a selection of Coptic manuscripts.
More information about Coptic Christians
Professor Marjanen has received a collection of Coptic texts, which its owner has dubbed the “Lynx collection".
“A collector of old Finnish manuscripts contacted me some years ago and showed me this collection of Coptic manuscripts in the hopes that their contents could be published and thus released to researchers. The collection includes approximately 200 manuscripts, ranging from tiny fragments to entire liturgical codices, or books.”
But why the “Lynx collection”? Professor Marjanen does not want to delve further into the name:
“I can tell you that the name does not refer to the owner, or the Finnish ice hockey or football teams bearing the animal as an insignia. The manuscripts in the collection were of course originally copied in Egypt.”
During the research project, the intention is to conserve, catalogue, edit, translate and interpret the manuscripts.
Professor Marjanen is realistic in terms of the significance of the material to the study of coptology or early Christianity.
“We are unlikely to make any sensational finds, but this resource can surely increase our understanding of the Coptic language, biblical Coptic manuscripts, the history of early Christianity as well as religious beliefs and practices. The collection also sheds light on early and Mediaeval Egyptian Christianity and culture.”
The Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, a large ethno-religious group which hails from antiquity. Copts were the Egyptians who adopted the Christian faith during its first centuries. The Coptic language is the final form of the Egyptian language, formerly written in hieroglyphics, which was largely transcribed into the Greek alphabet and with a vocabulary heavily influenced by Greek.
Diverse material a challenge for researchers
So far researchers have been able to determine that the collection features manuscripts written in at least two different Coptic dialects. The types of texts range from Old and New Testament texts as well as manuscripts of early Christian texts, prayers and magical texts to letters and other documentary material.
Professor Marjanen has presented two small manuscript fragments from the collection in Chicago. According to him, these fragments are probably from the oldest known manuscript of an early Christian text known as the Revelation of Paul.
As the collection features material of different ages and types, the manuscripts in it cannot be interpreted from solely one perspective.
“For this reason it is important to both date the manuscripts and the texts which they copy as well as to identify the genres they represent. They must then be placed in their original context,” Professor Marjanen explains.
And what is the situation of the Copts in the Middle East today?
As Professor Marjanen explains, “The Copts are a minority in Egypt, but they still number approximately 7–10 million. Their relationship with the government and the Muslim majority has fluctuated over the centuries. The past decades have not been easy, and as a result, many Copts have migrated to western Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, Coptic Christianity remains socially and culturally significant in Egypt.”
Topics of the University of Helsinki research projects funded by the Academy of Finland:
Professor Kimmo Alho, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences: Modulations of brain activity patterns during selective attention to speech
Professor Sarah Green, Faculty of Social Sciences: Transit, Trade and Travel in Europe’s south-eastern peripheries: how the Mediterranean’s relative position is shifting
Docent Markku Hannula, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences: MATHTRACK: Mobile gaze tracking for the study of attention and emotion in collaborative mathematical problem solving
Academy Researcher Johanna Kantola, Faculty of Arts: Gender and Power in Reconfigured Corporatist Finland (GePoCo)
Professor Lasse Lipponen, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences: Constituting Cultures of Compassion in Early Childhood Education
Professor Antti Marjanen, Faculty of Theology: The Publication of the Coptic Manuscripts of the Ilves Collection
Professor Anja Nygren, Faculty of Social Sciences: Fragile cities in the global South: Societal security, environmental vulnerability and representative justice
University Lecturer Tuulikki Pietilä, Faculty of Social Sciences: The Morality of Success among the Emerging Black Middle Class in South Africa
Docent Mikko Salmela, Faculty of Social Sciences: Interdisciplining the university – prospects for sustainable knowledge production
Academy Researcher Antu Sorainen, Faculty of Arts: Contrasting and Re-Imagining the Margins of Kinship (CoreKin)