The Project

The Coptic Magical Papyri: Vernacular Religion in Late Roman and Early Islamic Egypt is a five-year research project (2018-2023) based at the Chair of Egyptology of the Julius Maximilian University Würzburg and funded by the Excellent Ideas programme. The team consists of Korshi Dosoo (research group leader), Markéta Preininger, and Julia Schwarzer.

Our goal is to advance the study of the corpus of Coptic “magical texts” – manuscripts written on papyrus, as well as parchment, paper, ostraca and other materials, and attesting to private religious practices designed to cope with the crises of daily life in Egypt. There are about six hundred of these texts which survive, dating to between the third and twelfth centuries of the common era. The largest published collection to-date, Ancient Christian Magic (Marvin Meyer & Richard Smith, 1994), contains only about one hundred of these texts – about a sixth of the total number – while the remainder of those published are scattered in over a hundred books and articles, accessible to and known by only a few specialists.

These documents serve as vital pieces of information for vernacular religion – the realities rather than the ideal of religious practices and beliefs as they were experienced and carried out in daily life. They provide rich information about the experiences of people from the periods they document – the transitions from traditional Egyptian religion to Christianity and Islam, the diffusion and interaction of different forms of Christianity (“gnostic” and orthodox, Miaphysiste and Dyophysite, cults of saints and angels), and conceptions of the human and divine worlds – how human experiences such as happiness and success, suffering and sickness, love and conflict were understood and negotiated.

Our project has five key components:

  •    The creation of a continually-updated, publicly-available online corpus of Coptic magical texts, stored within the Kyprianos database.
  •    The edition of new texts, and the re-edition and correction of older manuscripts, made possible by the comparative material within the corpus.
  •    The publication of these editions, both online and in print.
  •    Specific studies on different aspects of the magical texts – their language, their cosmologies, their ritual practices, and so on. These will respond to questions generated in the compilation of the corpus and the edition of texts.
  •    The communication of these results through regular blog posts and our podcast.

Please contact us if you would like to collaborate, receive regular updates, or correct information online or in the Kyprianos database.