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Coptic Museum Unveils Restored Oldest Complete Coptic Psalter

The book is the oldest Coptic translation of the Psalms from the Septuagint text, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Cairo Scene

Coptic Museum Unveils Restored Oldest Complete Coptic Psalter

The Coptic Museum in Old Cairo has unveiled one of its most treasured artifacts – the oldest complete Coptic Psalter ever discovered – following a meticulous five-year restoration process.

Dating back to the late fourth century AD, this Psalms book, attributed to King David, holds immense significance. It is not only the earliest complete Psalter found in Egypt, but experts have found no evidence of an earlier genuine book of its kind anywhere else.

Unearthed from a tomb belonging to the early Christian period, the Psalter is considered highly valuable for its historical context. It represents the oldest Coptic translation of the Psalms from the Septuagint text, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

After nearly four years of restoration, the Psalter is now on display in a special hall within the museum.

The book is made up of 498 parchment sheets bound between wooden covers laced with leather. The text is written in a dialect of Coptic, inscribed by hand with brown iron ink. Notably, Director Gihan Atef highlights the presence of Greek terms alongside previously unrecorded Coptic vocabulary within the text. Black carbon ink was used in areas where the original brown ink had suffered damage.

Upon discovery, most pages were fused together, with the final two blank pages attached using leather cords adorned with a small bone ankh symbol. A collaborative effort by the Coptic Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art addressed the various forms of damage sustained by the Psalter over time. These included page detachment, chemical decomposition of the materials, and degradation of the ink.

The restoration process was extensive, involving the complete dismantling of the book, the use of UV and infrared digital imaging, and thorough photographic documentation.

The Coptic Museum houses a collection of approximately 16,000 artifacts spread across 12 departments.

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