Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

E.A.Wallis Budge, On a Fragment of a Coptic Version of Saint Ephraim's Discourse on the Transfiguration of our Lord, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 9 (1886-7) pp.317-327

The following Communication has been received from E. A. Wallis Budge, M.A.

On a Fragment of a Coptic Version of Saint Ephraim's Discourse on the Transfiguration of our Lord.1

The manuscript from which the Coptic version of S. Ephraim's discourse on the Transfiguration of our Lord is taken, is in the possession of Lord Zouche, and has been already described 2 and partly published. 3 I am not able to say when the Coptic version was made, but it is very probably of a fair antiquity; and from the fact of its occupying a place of honour in the manuscript, it must have been much esteemed by the Copts. The translator from the |318 Greek contented himself with turning into Coptic only such portions of S. Ephraim's discourse as agreed generally with the views of the Copts; and having used his arguments up to the point where S. Ephraim discusses the double nature of our Lord, he interpolates without any scruple the Coptic belief that Christ has one nature only. To attribute to S. Ephraim views so different to those which he really held, is, to say the least of it, a "pious fraud." Judging from the Coptic text which we have in Lord Zouche's MS., the translator did not know his Greek very well; for besides the clerical errors which are found in it, there are some mistakes which show that he did not understand many of the passages which he tried to translate. The order, too, of the passages which he has rendered into Coptic differs in his version from that of the Greek. I suspect that the Greek text is a translation from the Syriac, for many of the sentences appear in form to be imitations of a metrical original.


The discourse of Saint Ephraim on the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, in which He appeared to His disciples with Saint Elijah the Prophet, which is read on the sixth day of the month Mechir, (4) in the peace of God, Amen. (5)

From the joy of the gladness of the field shall there be pleasure; (6) from the fruit of the vineyard shall there be joy, and from the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures of the Spirit of God shall there be light to those who believe. The fields have, however, one period (of harvest) according to their stated time;  but in the Scriptures there bubbles up at all times the knowledge of vivifying life. When the fields have been reaped into their sheaves, they dry up straightway; and when a vine has been stripped of fruit, it becomes of no account; but if the Scriptures are stripped daily the fine ears which are in it, and which abound in interpretations, never fail, and if the Scriptures are reaped daily the sweet grass of our |325 grains of hope never, never comes to an end. Let us draw near then to this field and life-giving furrow that we may enjoy them, and that we may reap therein the vivifying ears which are the words of life of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, "There are some among those who stand here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His glory." (7) And after six days He took Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up on to an exceedingly high mountain, and was changed in form before them. And His face shone like the sun, and His clothing was white as snow (8). Now the men to whom He said that they should . not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His glory, were the three apostles unto whom He showed His glory upon the mountain. (9) The prophets and those who prophesied concerning Him rejoiced, and the apostles who proclaimed Him at all times were glad when they heard the voice of the Father testifying concerning His Son, saying, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear Him." (10) And these three apostles and the two prophets, which were Moses and Elias, were thus sealed in the testimony of the Father concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord; for by the testimony of two or three witnesses shall every truth stand. (11) So these (apostles) who were standing by Him like servants looked upon this only Son of God, and knew in truth by (the words) from heaven, "Thou art My beloved Son," and from the presence of the manifestation of these two mighty prophets who spake with Him, that He was God who had changed them, and that it was He who had commanded and made them appear in glory. (12) Then Peter answered and said to the Lord, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." (13) "What sayest thou, Peter? If we stand here, who shall fulfil the things which the prophets have foretold? Who shall seal the things which the preachers have spoken? And who shall manifest or fulfil the mysteries of the saints? By whom shall the saying, 'They pierce My hands and My feet, they count all My bones,' (14) be fulfilled? To whom do (the words), ' The division of my clothes among them, they cast lots for My raiment,' (15) apply? To whom do (the words), 'They put gall into My food, and they made Me drink vinegar in My thirst,' (16) apply? And who shall establish the saying, ' Free among the dead?' (17) If we stand here, who shall tear asunder the handwriting which I have written against Adam?(18) Who shall discharge his debt? and who shall obtain |326 for him the garment of his glory? If we stand here, how shall all the things which I have spoken come to pass? How shall the Church be built upon thee? and what is the need of the keys (19) of the Kingdom of Heaven which thou hast received? Whom wilt thou bind? Whom wilt thou loose? If we stand here, all things which have been said will become of none effect." And again Peter said to the Lord, "If Thou wishest we will make three tabernacles here, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." (20) Peter had been sent to build a Church in the world, and he thought that he ought to make tabernacles upon the mountain. Hitherto he had considered Jesus after the manner of a man, and had numbered Him with Moses and Elias. But in order that He might show them that He had no need of a tabernacle, He told him that it was He that had made to his fathers of old a tabernacle in the clouds forty years in the desert. (21)

And while they were talking, behold, a cloud of light overshadowed them (22). Behold, Peter, a tabernacle built for thee without trouble! Behold a tabernacle which keeps away the heat from thee and which has no darkness in it! Behold a tabernacle which shines and throws out lightnings! And while the disciples were marvelling, behold, they heard a voice from the cloud, saying "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear Him." (23) And after this voice of the Father from heaven, which testified concerning His beloved Son, saying, "This is My Son," Moses returned to his place, and Elijah to his country, and the apostles fell upon their faces, and Jesus remained standing alone, for it was to Him that the voice alone had descended and was fulfilled in Him. The prophets fled and the apostles fell upon their faces, because the voice which said, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear Him," was (not) fulfilled in them.

By these words He taught them that the dispensation had been fulfilled by Moses and Elijah, and He commanded them to hear the Lord Jesus, and did not say, "These are the things which Moses spake," or, "these are the things which Elijah spake;" for these (prophets) were servants, and spake according to what had been commanded them, and they preached according to what had been told them. For the Lord is the only-begotten Son of God the Father, and is neither a house-born child nor a servant; but is Lord and God |327 together from the Father, and is the ruler of all things, and there is no one who is lord over Him (24), the Only Son of God. He was not two in birth neither had He two natures, but one nature of the Word that became flesh. Therefore we confess that He whom Mary the holy mother of God bore for us is God, perfect God and perfect man in this Only Son. He has not two natures according to the error of those who believe in the mere appearance of Christ, and the heretical believers in this mere physical form who say, "There are two natures in the Son of God." And if He were two natures according to their tongues, which ought to be cut out, why is it that we call her who bore Him " God bearer" and not "Man bearer?" And if He be not God who took flesh (upon Himself), why did Gabriel (25) call Him "God?" for he said, "There is born to you this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is the Lord God". We believe then according to the exhortation of the Apostles and Evangelists who preached that we should believe in One God the Father Almighty (26), and in one Lord Jesus; Christ the only begotten Son of God, and the Holy Vivifying Spirit proceeding from the Father and resting upon the Son; this is the Holy and Undividable Trinity for ever and ever. In this wise has the Catholic Church of the believers accepted the orthodox faith, being baptized in it unto everlasting life. God brought the apostles up on to a mountain (27) that He might show them who was the Son of God. When He asked them, " Who do men say that I am?" (28) They answered, "Some (say) John, and some (say) Elias, and others (say) Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." Therefore He took them up on to this mountain of Tabor that He might show them that He was neither Elias, nor John, nor Jeremiah, but that He was in truth the God of Elias, and the God of John, and the God of Jeremiah, and that He was the God Who had sanctified Jeremiah in the womb, and that He was not one of the prophets, but the God of the prophets, for whose sake He had sent them, when as yet He, God the Word, had not taken the flesh full of salvation. May we all then obtain the blessing of the holy mountain Tabor through Jesus Christ our Lord, through Whom be all glory, honour, and adoration, meet for Him with the Father and the holy, vivifying, and consubstantial Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen. God have mercy upon him that wrote (this). Amen. |328 

[All Coptic and most Greek omitted.  A few footnotes included]

1. + For the Greek text see Assemani, Ephraem Syri opera omnia qua: exstant, Romae, 1743, t. ii, p. 41, and the edition by Thwaites, printed at Oxford, p. Σμζ. A Latin version of this discourse was published by Assemani and by Gerard Voss on pp. 686-692 of his translation of S. Ephraim's works, printed at Cologne in the year 1603. The pagination of the British Museum copy of Voss's works is defective.

2. ++ See Proc. Soc. Bib. Arch., May, 1886, p. 133.

3. § See Trans. Soc. Bib. Arch., Vol. IX, pt. 1, pp. 74-111. The complete Coptic text and a translation of S. Chrysostom's encomium on Elijah will appear in Trans. Soc. Bib. Arch., Vol. IX, pt. 2.

4. (1)  This month began on the 26th of January.

5. (2)   The heading is written in red ink, and has a laced border painted in green, red, and yellow; the side of the page is filled up with a graceful design painted in the same colours, and at the bottom of the page is a bird.

6. (3)  This clause offers a good example of the mistakes which the translator makes. The Greek has ἐκ τῆς χώρας, θέροις χαρμονή.

7. (8)   S. Matt. xvi, 28; S. Mark ix, 1; S. Luke ix, 27.

8. (9)   S. Matt, xvii, 1.

9. (10) There is no Coptic for the Greek passages after ... (Assemani, p. 42, line 10) until we come to ... (Assemani, p. 44, line 13).

10. (12) S. Matt. xvii, 5.

11. (13) There is nothing like this in the Greek.

12. (14)  These lines are a very loose paraphrase. Lines 25-42 of the Greek (Assemani, p. 44) have no equivalent in the Coptic.

13. (16) S. Matt. xvii, 4.

14. (17)  Psalm xxii, 16, 17.

15. (18)  Psalm xxii, 18.

16. (19)  Psalm lxix, 21.

17. (20)  Psalm lxxxviii, 5.

18. (21)  See Coloss. ii, 14.

19. (22)  S. Matt, xvi, 18, 19.

20. (23)  S. Matt; xvii, 4.

21. (24)  Numbers ix, 18.

22. (25)  S. Matt, xvii, 5.

23. (26)  S. Matt, xvii, 5,

24. (27)  There is no Coptic equivalent for the Greek text printed by Assemani on p. 46.

25. (28)  See Assemani, p. 47, line 2. (29) S. Luke ii, 11.

26. (30)  A leaf is wanting here. The whole of S. Ephraim's arguments on the subject of Christ's divinity and double nature are omitted.

27. (31)  See Assemani, p. 42, line 10.

28. (32)  S. Matt, xvi, 13; S. Mark viii, 27; S. Luke ix, 18.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2006. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Greek text is rendered using unicode.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts