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TRANSPLANTING MONASTIC LITERATURE: THE CASE STUDY OF A COPTO-ARABIC VERSION OF THE APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM

With this PhD project, I take an interest in the medieval reception, tradition and translation of the late antique monastic sayings collection popularly known as the apophthegmata patrum into a Copto-Arabic language and setting. Initially a 5th or 6th century Greek written composition, the apophthegmata patrum was soon translated and accommodated to be used by various Christian communities. Ever since, this collection has maintained its popularity as a source for early Christian monastic life.

Following the Arab conquests and the translation movement, a majority of the Oriental Christians subsequently wrote in Arabic – the new lingua franca. Although Arabic became one of the most important Christian languages during the middle ages, Arabic Christian monastic sources have, thus far, received less scholarly attention than their European counterparts.

As a case study of the medieval Copto-Arabic monastic sayings tradition, I use, as primary source, a recently published Copto-Arabic edition of a monastic florilegium within which a substantial amount of apophthegmata figurate (the bustān al-ruhbān). In order to study the transmission characteristics of the Copto-Arabic apophthegmata patrum tradition the source represents, I also use a multitude of apophthegmata patrum comparanda, made available through a newly constructed digital tool (the Apophthegmata Patrum DataBase (APDB)).

The project aims to answer the following research questions:

1) What is the provenance of the Copto-Arabic apophthegmata patrum tradition (that the primary source represents)?

2) What are the transmission characteristics of the Copto-Arabic apophthegmata patrum tradition?

3) Are these transmission characteristics different or similar to the apophthegmata patrum comparanda to which I refer?

4) What historical circumstances explain the transmission characteristics of the Copto-Arabic apophthegmata patrum tradition?

Connected with the historical process of “transplanting” Christian literature into Arabic during the middle ages is the question of Christian-Muslim literary encounters. The first scribes who translated Christian works into Arabic faced a situation where, scholars have argued, the language in question was appropriated by Islamic discourse(s). Therefore, this project will also address and study possible intertextual relationships between Arabic Christian and Muslim literary traditions.

Theoretical notions employed are, firstly, those of textual fluidity and new philology. Accordingly, I do not see the Copto-Arabic apophthegmata patrum tradition as a later corruption of an earlier apophthegmata patrum standard, but rather as an interesting case of a variegated reception. Secondly, I use perspectives from reader-response theory, seeing the apophthegmata patrum tradition as a literary composition which is created somewhere between readers and writers/scribes. As concerns methodology, I will mainly focus on conducting textual comparisons between the primary source and the comparanda. I will additionally make use of the digital tools available in APDB.