The early canon (both Old and New Testaments) in Egypt is attested both by the statements of church fathers and by early biblical manuscripts. A festal letter of Athanasius (367) denounces the 'apocryphal writings' of heretics and lists two acceptable categories of writings: canonical/divine and others, which could be read for instruction. His canonical list generally follows the same order as Codex Vaticanus, written in Alexandria in the fifth century. His instructional list includes Wisdom, Sirach, Esther, Judith, and Tobit, on the Old Testament side, and the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas on the New Testament side.

Early church leaders in Egypt did not always distinguish the canonical from the merely instructional in their manner of citation. Shenoute of Atripe (d. 465) cites Wisdom and Didache with the same formula ('as it is written') that he uses for Isaiah and the Gospels. It is difficult to define the working canon of scripture at any particular time because complete manuscripts of either Old or New Testament are rare. By the Middle Ages, the Coptic Orthodox (with many other Eastern Churches) followed the larger Alexandrian canon of Codex Vaticanus. In the nineteenth century Patriarch Cyril V withdrew canonical status from Tobit, Judith, Greek Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, Greek Daniel and Maccabees 1-3. Many citations from these books are still an important part of the liturgy (e.g., the song of the three young men, Greek Dan. 3: 24-90).

Translation of the Bible from Greek to Coptic was decentralized; early manuscript fragments are found in various dialects of Coptic and contain a diverse selection of texts. If Christianity spread to the Coptic-speaking population by the third century, Coptic translations would be required and, in fact, the oldest Coptic Bible manuscript (Papyrus Bodmer VI) contains a third-century text of Proverbs. Other manuscripts witness to extensive translation activity in the fourth century, but only portions of this Coptic version survive. Bohairic replaced the Sahidic dialect as the literary and official church language by the eleventh century, but the Old Testament does not survive in its entirety in Bohairic, perhaps because Arabic was already the daily language of Egyptian Christians. Arabic translations of the Bible were produced in Egypt beginning in the ninth century. The Arabic versions are translated from many sources: Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Coptic, even Latin at a later date. Translation proceeded steadily, but some biblical books were circulating in several Arabic translations before other books were translated. The entire canon in Arabic was produced sometime before the sixteenth century. The first Arabic printed Bibles, the ancestors of those currently used by Copts, appeared in the seventeenth century (Biblia Sacra Arabica 1671).

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