[BL] Coptic: Time and its arrival

John 13:1 (KJV, 1611): “Now before the feast of the Passeouer, when Iesus knew that his houre was come, that he should depart out of this world vnto the Father, hauing loued his owne which were in the world, he loued them vnto the end.”

How do you know when your hour has come? In the original King James Version of the Book of John above, you see the preservation of archaic (to us) spellings like “houre” and “vnto” alongside archaic verb forms like “was come” (“had come” would sound more right-er to our modern ears).

While flipping through Layton’s Coptic in 20 Lessons, I happened to see the phrase from John above and decided I’d write about that. Who says you have to start with Lesson 1? (This is a terrible idea. Don’t do it.)

Here’s the Coptic version of the verse in question:

New Testament, John 13:1, ed. Caroline T. Schroeder, Amir Zeldes, trans. World English Bible (WEB). urn:cts:copticLit:nt.john.sahidica:13. version 4.1.0, 2021-03-31. http://data.copticscriptorium.org/urn:cts:copticLit:nt.john.sahidica:13.
NT John 13:1 (analytic version), urn:cts:copticLit:nt.john.sahidica:13.

I can’t tell you how long I spent downloading Coptic keyboard layouts, Coptic fonts, other computer-y things to type in Coptic. Let’s just say that did not go as planned. The painstaking task of pecking out the right letters with the correct marks was too much. Many kind thanks to the hard-working team at the Coptic Scriptorium. The citation guidelines are…complex. I’m sure I’ve made a mistake or two in the citations (culpissima mea); at least everything is hyperlinked so that you can find the original. It’s worth checking out the site for yourself to see the wealth of material available.

Back to the verse: We’re interested only in the phrase underlined in the KJV (“Iesus knew that his houre was come”). We’re starting with the epsilon in the first line marked as “CCIRC” (circumstantial converter, I think). In Layton’s text it’s an alpha and combined with the following fai (this symbol looks like an <b> that’s been turned 180 degrees and then had a crew cut). The analytic version breaks up the morphemes so that you can identify them more easily; compare Layton’s text where some elements are grouped together. In a Coptic manuscript, there aren’t even spaces. Thank goodness for edited texts.

I’m realizing I need to go back to Lesson 1. Starting randomly is dangerous with Coptic grammar; this particular example from the chapter is on (in)direct discourse. Let me some it up. This verse has Jesus speaking through indirect discourse. (Defeatedly realizing that starting at the end was a bad idea, I’m going back to Lesson 1. See you there.)

Well, before we go, have a look at the whole verse–you’ll see some fairly familiar Greek words in the verse: Passover (ⲡⲁⲥⲭⲁ), Jesus (ⲓⲏⲥⲟⲩⲥ), and cosmos (ⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ). At least we got to see these words. 🙂

There was a non-linguistic reason why I wanted to write about this verse though. So, in addition to being an amateur philocopt, I wanted to talk a bit about biblical exegesis and time. Jesus knew the time when he was to be crucified. It made me think of the plans we make in our lives. We plan a coffee date (online), we go to class (online), we enjoy cocktail hour (online), we go to religious services (online) [clearly this is being written during the global pandemic]. We appoint certain aspects of our lives to transpire at a given time. We join others sometimes in appointing these events while others we keep to ourselves. What is a reader to learn from this verse? God’s omniscience? Homoousion (a theological term that explains the Christian notion of the Trinity)? Jesus’s determination to be sacrified?

Perhaps. What I see in this verse is that unto an appointed time, Jesus kept on loving. And that’s something all of us can do regardless of creed. Whether it’s an event as seemingly innocuous as a concert or a momentous occasion like a wedding, we can continue to love.