Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Manichaean Manuscripts

I realize that if Manichaeanism is not exactly at the top of everyone’s interests, then Manichaean manuscripts and codices (fourth–fifth centuries) are perhaps even lower down the list. But a book I am just finishing editing is a fascinating read: James M. Robinson, The Manichaean Codices of Medinet Madi.

You may know Robinson’s work as a New Testament scholar (especially for his studies on Mark and Q), or as an existentialist theologian (he did his doctorate under Karl Barth at Basel and became part of Rudolf Bultmann’s inner circle), or the one who pulled together an international team to quickly excavate the Pachomian monastery at Nag Hammadi and get out quickly the Nag Hammadi codices in facsimilie edition as well as English translation (projects that had languished since the 1940s). But he has also been heavily involved in Manichaean studies.

This most recent work from his hand has had its own long history. After having written most of it, Robinson had set the work aside when his Nag Hammadi and Q work intensified. When he turned back to it after his retirement, the hard drive on his computer had been damaged, and all he had left was a print-out of a draft. So this has been a real labor for him (and me, as well as Patrick, one of our typesetters) to get into final form.

The book chronicles the purchases of these manuscripts in Egypt, primarily by the famous entrepreneur, Sir Chester Beatty, and Carl Schmidt, a German church historian, Coptologist, and papyrologist. It then follows the movement of these manuscripts to various libraries and collections around Europe: Ireland, England, Germany, and Poland. And it covers the extensive work it took by papyrologists to peal the pages apart, figure out which pages went together in which codices, and how best to preserve them. Some of them were in a bunker during World War II, and getting them back to their rightful places was also a chore. All in all, quite an odyssey! This volume includes correspondece between the parties, and when in German, the English translation is provided in a parallel column. The correspondence allows the reader to peak behind the curtain of the money and politics involved.

This is a story that Robinson was in a unique position to tell since he was invited by the Egyptian Museum in Berlin to investigate and make sense of the Manichaean papyrus holdings in Berlin in relation to those in the Chester Beatty Library and those at Warsaw University.

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