The Coptic Church of Egypt traces its origins to St. Mark, who, according to legend, converted the Egyptians. This Coptic manuscript contains, quite aptly, the Gospel of Mark. Around the time this manuscript was produced, the East was heavily embroiled in the controversy over the relation of the incarnate Christ and the eternal pre-existence of the Logos. The debate culminated in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon (a city on the Bosporus, now a district of Istanbul). Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 444), a forceful, even ruthless theologian, emphasized the unity of the two natures in the person of Christ and opposed the teaching of Nestorius ( 451), sometime Patriarch of Constantinople, who taught that the human and divine natures in Christ remained unaltered and distinct. Cyril believed that Nestoriuss articulation implied two persons and he considered this view heretical. In the end, however, the Coptic Church rejected the creed drawn up at Chalcedon.
In addition to the theological battles, political strife and religious civil war over the possession of the throne of St. Mark so weakened the Egyptian church that the Muslim invasion of 642 nearly destroyed it. Nevertheless, it survived even when Arabic replaced Coptic as the common language about 1100.
Of the older versions of the New Testament the most important is Coptic. It was the literary form of the vernacular language used in Egypt and other parts of North Africa in the early centuries of the Christian era. It owed its origin to the Greek settlement in Egypt, for not only were Greek characters adopted with some additional symbols for the script, but a number of Greek words were taken into the language. Coptic came into general use in the second century A.D., and the New Testament was translated into that language at the close of that century or the beginning of the third. Two principal forms of Coptic are known, the Sahidic or Thebaic, and the Boharic, also called the Alexandrian and Memphitic. The Sahidic, the version used in this leaf, is the version of Upper Egypt and is less polished than Boharic, the version of Lower Egypt.
The page on display is from Mark 6 and has been dated ca. A.D. 500 by Theodore C. Petersen of St. Pauls College, Washington, D.C.
Literature: Atiya 1963; Butcher 1897; Fleming 1973; Horner 1911-24; Shisha-Halevy 1991.