Senior academic researcher and group leader of Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
The overview articles and individual essays of the new volume in the series Textual History of the Bible, vol. 2: The Deuterocanonical Scriptures (eds. F. Feder and M. Henze; Leiden: Brill, 2020) clearly show that in the Eastern Churches, especially those with “anti-Chalcedonian” confession (Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia), Deutero-Canonicity, as defined by Sixtus of Siena in the 16th century, was rather an alien concept. While the concept of canonicity in the western tradition was strongly influenced by the conflicts between the Catholic and the Protestant churches, and western scholarship “inherited” this concept, the Eastern Churches traditionally had a much wider and even “flexible” concept of canonicity.
Since Egypt and the Coptic Church has a key position among these churches it might serve here as example how canonicity and non-canonical writings were regarded and handled from Christianization until the medieval era, when Muslim rulers and the Islam began to dominate the Near East. Though the canon list of Athanasius of Alexandria in his 39th Festal Letter of 367 directly conditioned which books of the Bible were translated into Coptic and regarded as Coptic Bible various kinds of “apocryphal” writings kept circulating in Egypt even beyond the 5th century. The monastic leaders as representatives of the native Egyptian population took over the term “apocryphon” from Athanasius to term the non-canonical writings which should be banned. Nevertheless, the apocrypha furthermore enjoyed a certain popularity. The effects of the alienation of the Egyptian Church from the Greek Church after the schism of Chalcedon (451) and the separation of the Near East from the West by the Arabic conquest in the first half of the 6th century modified also traditions of canonicity. So, the apocryhon of “Jeremiah’s Prophecy to Pashur,” which is known in Coptic only from medieval manuscripts of the Holy Week Lectionary, entered, via a translation into Arabic, the Arabic tradition and became an integral part of the book of Jeremiah in the Arabic and Ethiopian biblical manuscripts.