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Translational and theological negotiation – the Coptic Nag Hammadi texts and their Greek equivalents

Project by Marie-Christin Barleben

How did translation work in antiquity? The consideration of this question, in the context of the translation of Greek texts from the first centuries AD into Coptic, is the aim of this subproject.

The so-called Nag Hammadi Codices offer a variety of texts, both in terms of content and genre. It is likely that most of them are translations of originally Greek texts. For seven of these texts, Greek fragments are known to us.

The project examines the transfer of knowledge within translations based on these texts. Two exemplary questions that the project is going to investigate are as follows:

How does the translation influence the transferred knowledge? Especially within Christianity in the first centuries, when many beliefs were not yet canonized and it still had to be shown which teachings would gain recognition and which would be rejected as heretical, the concept of "negotiation" according to Umberto Eco offers a good starting point not only in translational processes but also from a theological point of view. Translators had to consider not only how they wanted to render certain words and contents, but also to what extent they wanted to subscribe to certain teachings or not.

What is the relationship between source and target language? Put another way, are there any reciprocal interactions that have had an influence on language and culture? In this regard, Copticism in relation to Greek offers an exciting field of research, since the long bilingualism and the proven influence of loan words etc. stand in a surprisingly tense relationship to the fact that with the Arab conquest, Coptic did not undergo a process of adaptation to this language, but simply became extinct.