The Hay Archive of Coptic Spells on Leather: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Materiality of Magical Practice [Paperback]

Elisabeth O'Connell(Editor)

ISBN: 9780861592333 | Published by: British Museum | Series: British Museum Research Publications | Volume: 233 | Year of Publication: 2022 | 1 | 192p, H11.7 x W8.2, 90
Status: Not Yet Published - Available for pre-order

The Hay Archive of Coptic Spells on Leather


The Hay manuscripts are an assemblage of seven leather sheets bearing Coptic ‘magical’ texts and illustrations produced in the 8th/9th century AD. They contain a handbook, sometimes referred to as the ‘Hay cookbook’, and other formularies for protection, healing, competition and cursing, some with an especially aggressive sexual character. Although they were created within a Christian context with sometimes surprising biblical and extra-biblical references, the makers continued to use motifs from and the mechanics of earlier Greek and Egyptian magical practice. Acquired by the British Museum in 1868, the texts themselves were published in a cursory manner in separate publications in the 1930s. These hasty editions have been the basis for English translations, which have entered the academic discourse on ancient Christian ‘magic’ uncritically. This volume presents a completely new edition and translation of the Coptic texts and analysis of their illustrations.

An extended discussion of the cultural context of production of the manuscripts is made possible by the integration of recent conservation and scientific analysis undertaken at the British Museum. This research has revealed new insights into when the texts were produced as well as about the people who made and used them. Unlike previous publications on the subject, this book represents a multidisciplinary approach by focusing not only on the content of the texts, but presenting the manuscripts as archaeological objects in their own right.

Table of Contents

1. Magic in Late Antique Egypt: An introduction
2. Provenance and collection history
3. Producing texts on leather: Scientific analyses
4. Preserving texts on leather: Conservation and mounting
5. Catalogue
6. Manuscripts, texts and ancient context
7. Conclusion
End matter

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