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The Manichaean Coptic Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library. Psalm Book. Part II. Fasc. I. Die Bema-Psalmen.

The Manichaean Coptic Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library. Psalm Book. Part II, Fasc. I. Die Bema-Psalmen. By Gregor' Wurst. Pp. xii +140. 8 plates. (Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum, Series Coptica, I.) Turnhout: Brepols, 1996. ISBN 2 503 50526 0. BF 2750.

The book under review is the first volume to be published in a new series, Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum. In a Foreword, written in English by A. van Tongerloo, the scope of this important project is described and the scholars directing the various sections are named. The participants have set themselves an onerous task: primary and secondary sources are to be included in this mammoth edition, and the list of languages involved is impressive, for Manichaeism was, of course, a world religion. Much of the material has been published before but, as the study of the languages involved has progressed as well as the study of the Manichaean religion, a re-edition of these texts is bound to be fruitful. The Corpus will include the recently excavated Coptic Manichaean documents found in the oasis of Dakhleh. Also planned are volumes on Manichaean art and archaeology and on Manichaean technical terms and concepts. This is an ambitious project which surely will have a great impact on the study of Manichaeism and is therefore warmly to be welcomed.

The Psalms of the Bema are the first group of psalms contained in Part II of the Manichaean Psalm-Book which was first published by C. R. C. Allberry in 1938. The psalms are numbered 218-41; of Psalm 218 only the final doxology has survived. Part I has remained unpublished except for the Facsimile Edition by S. Giversen (Cahiers d'Orientalisme 16, 1988). Martin Krause, in the Vorwort to this book, pays tribute to Allberry's achievement in producing his pioneering edition, and Wurst's re-edition of the Psalms of the Bema is fittingly dedicated to Allberry's memory. In the Coptic series of the Corpus four further volumes are planned which will complete the re-edition of Part II of the Psalm-Book.

The editor, in collaboration with Siegfried Richter, describes in some detail the manuscript, which is one of the Manichaean codices found at Medinet Madi in 1929. The formation of the collection of psalms is traced and three scribes involved in the production of the Psalm-Book are distinguished. A short section deals with the punctuation and other diacritical signs. But special attention is paid to the structure of the papyrus codex which is in a poor state of preservation. On the basis of a new autopsy of the manuscript, a detailed reconstruction of the codex is offered. It is interesting to note that the codex is not furnished with the customary pagination and that only traces of quire numbers have survived. Some introductory problems, as for instance the date of the manuscript, the Coptic dialect used in the psalms, as well as their original language, are not included in the discussion. Wurst draws attention to this lack (p. 1, n. 5), but does not indicate whether their inclusion is planned in a later volume.

The Bema-Psalms played a central role in the celebration of the Bema feast, the commemoration of Mani's death. His memory was invoked with psalms of petition, praise, and thanksgiving. The psalms also contain references to Mani's life, imprisonment, and death, as well as to Manichaean mythology and ethics. That the psalms belong to the literary genre of poetry is now generally accepted, thanks to the studies of T. Save-Soderbergh. While Allberry's edition reproduced the text following its arrangement in the manuscript, line by line, Wurst presents the text following its poetic structure, which he describes briefly on pp. 3-4. This adds significantly to our understanding of these psalms. In the new edition, the strophes and verses are numbered, while the page and line numbers of Allberry's edition are also recorded, thus making easy a comparison of the two editions, as well as a comparison with the Facsimile Edition of Part II of the Psalm-Book (Cahiers d'Orientalisme 17, 1988). The critical apparatus to the Coptic text is divided into two parts. The first gives references to New Testament passages and to Manichaean writings which contain related material; the second indicates whenever the new edition differs from Allberry's and also explains conjectural readings and other editorial technicalities. The notes to the German translation are designed to justify it and, when necessary, to elaborate it. The book has a useful bibliography and excellent indexes.

In the transcription of the Coptic text I have noticed only one mistake: p. 70 (25, 16), read [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. In the German translation, p. 49 (15, 29), read `nach meinem Hirten'; p. 105 (42, 20), read `dem Weg des Friedens'. Perhaps these are printing errors.

On the whole, the level of precision both in the edition of the Coptic text and in the German translation is remarkably high. Given the poor state of preservation of the manuscript which any reader can see for himself on the eight plates supplied in the book, Wurst's re-edition is a very considerable achievement. Although the basis of the new edition is the text established by Allberry, the editor collated this text with the original manuscript in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, as well as with the photographs underlying the Facsimile Edition. The editor, wherever this was possible, also consulted some earlier photographs, which proved useful, as the state of preservation of the manuscript has deteriorated over the years. His translation has benefited from the recognition that these psalms are poetry, and, by adopting a somewhat freer style of translation than that of Allberry, he has succeeded in many instances in bringing out the meaning of the psalms more clearly. His scholarship is impeccable, and the book is a worthy successor of Allberry's first edition of these psalms. The next volumes in this series will be eagerly awaited.
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Author:Kuhn, K.H.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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