Friday, April 07, 2006

The Coptic Writing System

The first image is the name 'Judas' from the third/ fourth century (?) manuscript the Gospel of Judas written in Coptic. The second is 'Judas' from the Codex Alexandrinus, a major fifth century Greek New Testament manuscript in the British Library.

Just to be clear. I am not commenting on these manuscripts other than describing the script they are written in. They are both written in Greek Uncials. To scholars studying these manuscripts, these two documents appear to be written in the same writing system, and they are. However, the Coptic script has a few more letters.

Greek letter shapes changed over the centuries and the uncials are no longer used, even for copies of the Greek New Testament. They exist in manuscripts studied in museums. Coptic, however, did not evolve in the same direction. The Coptic church still uses a system which resembles the Greek uncials. This website is posted in English and Coptic, so there it is on the web, the Coptic writing system.

The Coptic and Greek writing systems were disunified in Unicode last year. Yesterday, I linked to the two relevant Unicode blocks. Scroll to the bottom of this page for a discussion on the disunification.

I haven't tried a google search yet - some other time. You should google 'Gospel of Judas' in English, not Coptic, to read all about it. For more on Coptic with images of other manuscripts see this site.

Now, to get down to business. I am having a few of the usual problems. I did not include the diacritics in my image in yesterdays post. The three that should have been included are the combining diaeresis U+ 0308 , the combining macron U+ 0304 and the combining overline U+0305. The combining overline was perfect and I will use it sometime. But I could not get the other two in the right place. I am hoping for help on this.

I even tried to select text from the PDF file supplied by the National Geographic Society and, of course, do I need to say this. It appears to be a precomposed non-Unicode font. Then I went back to the Tenaspi Remenkimi site and it isn't Unicode either.

So the Coptic writing system appears on the net. It is visible and it is in the process of being implemented as a Unicode writing system. It will be interesting to watch.

Please comment if you can add to or correct any of this information. Or just to say "Hi".


Blogger wilsonian said...

Can I just say that I am totally impressed that your brain is wired to understand this. Wow!

2:40 PM  
Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


Just saying "hi." Sorry that I am not a Coptic scholar just Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Akkadian.


6:21 AM  
Anonymous Tom Gewecke said...

A Unicode 4.1 version of the Judas text can be found here:

7:45 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Thanks for the interesting post!

I've put together a post on my blog at

Whether the combining marks are positioned properly on the letters is an issue of the font. At the end of the above post you can see a screenshot comparing how well Coptic fonts perform.
The source file for the screenshot is available at
(You need a program like, to open the file).

If you have Coptic fonts on your system, then the post
should be readable. It is modern Greek written with the Coptic writing system.

Moheb is working on converting the Coptic Church (non-Unicode) fonts into Unicode fonts. His work is availalbe at

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for your website. Your knowledge is quite impressive.

I have a copy of my maternal gggrandfather's travel journal from 1854. He immigrated from LIverpool, England to the USA. I want to show you a scanned copy of one of the pages.

Family history says that gggrandfather "invented a kind of shorthand". I rather doubt that he invented it, but his shorthand is a kind of shorthand that the family is now unfamiliar with. Myself and my mother have had DNA tests to see who our people are ethnically. This DNA test shows stable populations for the last 500 years My mother is Egyptian, Iranian, Afghanie, Turkish and Albanian. I think that my gggrandfather in question is Turkish/Iranian/Afghanie Sephardic Jew. He made and played santoors. He was a cobbler and a stone mason. He was literate. I am zeroing in on his shorthand to get some clues. Any help would be appreciated. Please email me at
Thanks for your time,

8:32 AM  

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