Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. He established the city of Alexandria. After his death, in 323 BC, his empire was divided among his generals. Egypt was given to Ptolemy I Soter. However, Greek did not manage to impose itself in Egypt, for Egyptian (Demotic at this point, but later called Coptic) continued to be the language of the masses. It also managed to influence Greek. Coptic language flourished in Egypt until about 1000 A.D., by which time it had been replaced by Arabic as the language of daily life in Egypt. After the Arab conquest of Egypt in the 7th century A.D., the use of Coptic survived in the administrative structure of the government for some decades. After the 11th century A.D., Arabic replaced Greek and Coptic as the principal language of Alexandria. Coptic language ceased to be widely spoken in Lower Egypt after the 10th century, and in Upper Egypt after the 15th century.
Why learn Coptic?
Almost all the best commentaries and biblical studies require a knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Arabic. The Coptic tradition states that the first Egyptian to be converted by Mark the Evangelist was Anianus. About 1/4 of the Sahidic Coptic New Testament word list is Greco-Coptic (i.e. words adopted from Greek). The liturgy of the present day Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt is written in a mixture of Arabic, Greek, and Bohairic Coptic dialect.
The process of itacism, which resulted in the eventual identification of the sounds originally represented by ι, ει, η, ηι, οι, υ, and υι in /i/, was well advanced in Egypt by the beginning of the Roman period. ει and ι are alternate representations of /i/; η and ηι are identified; οι, υ, and υι all represent /y/. Moreover, there is a very frequent interchange of η with ι and ει, indicating that η also represented /i/ at least in the speech of many writers. On the other hand, there is a frequent interchange of η with ε (and sometimes with its phonetic equivalent αι) throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods, in similar documents and sometimes in identical phonetic conditions and even in the same words in which an interchange of η with ι or ει is found. There is also an occasional interchange of ε (αι) with ι and ει. (Gignac, Francis T (1975) A Grammar Of The Greek Papyri Of The Roman & Byzantine Periods – Volume 1 – Phonology (1975), page 235)
501 years ago (March 1, 1516), Desiderius Erasmus, one of the most influential figures of the Reformation, published Novum Instrumentum Omne, the first published New Testament in Greek, in Basel. Complutensian Polyglot was printed in 1514, but was not issued to the public till 1522. In his 1516 edition of the Greek and Latin New Testament, Erasmus printed the Euthalian ὑποθέσεις of the Pauline letters. Erasmus followed the ancient practice (found in the manuscripts of many ancient authors) of prefixing the ὑπόθεσις to each biblical book.
Prof. Daniel B. Wallace on Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. Desiderius Erasmus learned Greek at the age of 32.
The first printed edition of the Greek New Testament produced by Erasmus was based on the following manuscripts:
The revision of the Latin version of Erasmus, in his edition of 1519, raised up against him yet more enemies. In his first edition, he retained, in the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, the expression of the Vulgate, “In principio erat Verbum”: in 1519, however, he followed the phraseology of the early Latin fathers, substituting “Sermo” for “Verbum.” This was deemed almost, if not quite, a heresy; and he had to defend himself, in consequence, against many attacks,*
* Erasmus gives a curious account of the effect which this change of a word produced in England among some. A bishop (whose name he suppresses) was preaching at “Paul’s Cross,” when he went out of his way to attack Erasmus’s new translation. It was a shameful thing for those who had been so long doctors of divinity, to have to go to school again, — for such to receive instruction from any mere Greekling. At length his zeal waxed so warm (he said) that he called on the lord mayor of London, who was present, and on the citizens for aid, that they would show themselves men, and not suffer such new translations, which subvert the authority of Holy Scripture, to obtain farther currency !
Excerpt from page 25 to 26 of “An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament: With Remarks on Its Revision Upon Critical Principles” by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles,
The British Library has a collection of over a thousand Greek manuscript volumes. Thanks to a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the British Library has made the digitized version of its Greek manuscripts freely available online at www.bl.uk/manuscripts .
The division of the New Testament into chapters, now in use, was made in the dark ages, after the selection of portions for ecclesiastical readings, which frequently therefore run on from one chapter into another. That division frequently separates things which are closely connected, and joins together things which are really distinct. (Johann Albrecht Bengel)
All these were Khaldhaye, that is to say Ancient Syrians, according to the tradition of the early writers. And because the greater number of [these] writers were Greeks, they changed the sounds of the Chaldean names and did not pronounce them as they were pronounced in Chaldean fashion. For behold, also, in the case of ‘NOH’ (NOAH), which is a pure Syrian name, and is derived from nawha, yet they (i.e. the Greeks) call it ‘NOACHOS’. And it is not only the ancient [writers] who do this, but people who are living in our own days are in the habit of changing the pronunciation [of words], thus YA’KOB, which [is derived] from ‘Ekbha is called ‘AIAKOBHOS’, and BAR-SAWMA they call ‘SOMOS’; and many others.
(Chronography by Bar Hebraeus, translated from Syriac by Ernest A. Wallis Budge)