The Corpus Coranicum is a long-standing research project at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, under the direction of Prof. Angelika Neuwirth, established in 2007 and currently funded through 2025. Its ultimate goal is the production of a comprehensive commentary on the Qur’an, based on both the textual tradition, especially early manuscripts, and literary passages, including biblical traditions, which shed light on the context of its production. A beta version of the online commentary is now available. One can browse by sura and verse (displayed with a special font, “Coranica”), exploring a facsimile of the associated page(s) in the 1924 Cairo print edition; scanned black-and-white photographs of the associated page(s) in early manuscripts from the archive of G. Bergsträßer, assembled in the 1920s, lost, and sensationally rediscovered in 2008; variant readings; “Texte aus der Umwelt des Korans,” most frequently from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (the latter given in Greek, not Syriac); and an associated commentary. Of course, this magisterial project is also a massive undertaking, and the final two sections are only available for certain verses. The “Texte aus der Umwelt,” in particular, is a wide-open field, and is currently the subject of intensive research, as evidenced especially by the recent creation of IQSA. As Qur’anic studies rapidly develops, there is no question that Corpus Coranicum will be an essential resource.
The British Library, which labels itself “The World’s Knowledge” with some justification, has a large collection of ancient manuscripts in diverse languages and media, probably the most impressive in the world. Less well known, perhaps, is its outstanding blog, which includes both reflections on collection items as well as entries on newly digitized texts, including the Egerton Gospel and Codex Alexandrinus. The latter has a great entry on the conservation process, as does the entry on “Some Syriac Manichaean Treasures in the British Library.” Ephrem’s otherwise lost Prose Refutations of Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan, preserved as a palimpsest on Add. 14623 was recovered by Charles Mitchell, with the help of a certain “re-agent” at the turn of the century. The nature of this unidentified chemical is discussed, along with the eminent possibilities for reading the earlier text with the help of advanced digital photography. This wonderful post explores other significant holdings on Manichaeism, such as the Chinese Compendium on the Teachings of Mani, the Buddha of Light.
This very popular Spanish blog, entitled “El Blog de Antonio Piñero,” contains posts by its namesake, a Professor of Greek Philosophy at la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, as well as weekly contributions by Gonzalo Del Cerro and Fernando Bermejo-Rubio. These are helpfully written for a general audience, with an overall focus on the historical Jesus and the New Testament. However, Piñero and Bermejo were both involved in the Spanish translation of the Nag Hammadi Library, and the blog does reflect this broader reach. Bermejo-Rubio in particular has a number of interesting posts on varied topics in Late Antique religions, such as Apollonius of Tyana and Manichaeism.
The Mandaeans are a contemporary religion with communities in Iraq and Iran, as well as an expanding Diaspora in Europe, North America, and Australia; their heritage reaches back to Late-Antique Mesopotamia. Most scholars of religion in Late Antiquity have ignored them, especially after earlier attempts to interpret key Gospel passages through Mandaean literature fell sharply, and deservedly, out of favor. In more recent scholarship, their importance for understanding pre-Islamic religion in Sasanian Iran is slowly being recognized. Yet major texts, such as the Mandaic Book of John, are not available in English translation. Professors Charles Häberl of Rutgers University and James McGrath of Butler University are producing a translation of this Book of John; their work-in-progress is helpfully posted on the project blog. Continue reading
This database of magical gems, named after Campbell-Bonner’s famous collection of 1954, is in fact far more extensive, containing over 1,000 items. These are drawn from over 30 collections, including the British Museum, and the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, which is curating the website with the University of Fribourg, under the direction of an international editorial board. According to the site, the database, which is currently expanding, contains “a fourth of the known corpus of magical gems.” Its search functions allow the user to browse the gems by collection, material, place of discovery (only a few of which are known), iconographical schemes and elements, vocabulary (gem inscriptions in Greek and Latin), names, voces magicae, Logoi, and Characteres. The entries themselves contain this information, when available, along with digital images of the gems; these can even be sent as electronic postcards! There is a small glossary and bibliography, which has the helpful feature of noting the gems referred to in each entry. Clearly this is a major resource, which will become even more important as the site grows.
American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman’s “Turfan Fragments” (1980), a piece on the famous (East) Berlin collection now largely available online, can be listened to on YouTube, as performed by the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble, with conductor Petr Kotik:
As a connoisseur of fragmentary ancient texts, I found this agitated work unexpected and inspirational!
Elsewhere on YouTube, there is a documentary on Turfan (“A Heat Wave Called Turfan”), part of a 12-episode series on the Silk Road in English, with joint Japanese and Chinese production.
The Iranian texts discovered at the beginning of the 20th-century during the German excavations of the Turfan oasis constitute a major source for modern scholarship on Manichaeism; like the Nag Hammadi Library, they provide an important corrective to the exclusively polemical accounts that had survived the manuscript transmission. The numerous textual fragments have been patiently published over the past century by a number of scholars, and this critical project is still ongoing.
The Turfanforschung group at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften has published to the web the Digitales Turfan-Archiv, which includes a variety of literature from the Turfan oasis, including “Texte in Manichäischer Schrift,” in the Parthian and Middle Persian languages, as well as some in Old Turkic. This section contains high-resolution images of basically the entire run of texts in Manichaean script, more than 9,200 fragments, catalogued according to the more recent “M” categorization cited in contemporary scholarship (from Mary Boyce’s A Catalogue of the Iranian Manuscripts in Manichaean Script in the German Turfan Collection [Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1960]); the glass plates show the former “T” categorization:
The Middle Persian and Parthian eTexts for many of these documents is available from TITUS at the University of Frankfurt:
Prods Oktor Skjærvø, the Agha Khan Professor of Iranian Studies at Harvard University, has published online an impressive series of courses and grammars on ancient Iran (and Central Asia), from the Avestan period to the Middle Ages. Continue reading
The Syriac Studies Reference Library is a joint project of Brigham Young University and the Catholic University of America, through which a number of foundational scholarly works from the 18th to early 20th century have been scanned from CUA’s own collection and made available online; most are unavailable in Google Books or the Internet Archive. One can browse by ancient authors, such as Nestorius, and topics, such as hagiography and historiography; or search by keyword. Textual editions and translations, studies, and research tools are all well represented. Continue reading
A large percentage of Coptic literature consists of translations from the Greek, beginning with the Septuagint and the New Testament, and continuing through “gnostic,” apocryphal, and patristic texts. Walter Ewing Crum’s A Coptic Dictionary (Oxford, 1939), a major accomplishment in the field, reflects this connection by listing Greek equivalents for Coptic words in biblical and patristic texts (though not exhaustively; see “Preface,” viii). However, Crum did not include Greek loan words in the dictionary, which are numerous. Continue reading