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The Festal Letters of Athanasius: Their Text and Contexts

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


Annual Nordic Coptic Network Meeting in Aarhus:

The Nordic Coptic Network Meeting will consist of lectures and seminars. The lectures should provide background knowledge for the seminars. At the seminars the participants will together translate selected parts of Athanasius’ Festal Letters in Sahidic Coptic. During the seminars, there will also be opportunity to compare between the Sahidic and the Syriac translations and the fragments of the Greek original (this will also be relevant for participants not working with Syriac). The PhD students will also get the opportunity to present and discuss their PhD projects.

The Sahidic version of Athanasius’ Festal Letters throws light on a very important ancient Christian author; at the same time it should be, through comparisons with fragments of the Greek originals and with a translation into Syriac, valuable for discussions about translation strategies and techniques.

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria 328-373, was a central figure in the 4th century of Christianity. Though this century formed the crucial epoch in which Christianity took over and permeated society and culture of the Roman Empire, it was also a period marked by deep conflicts about power and faith. Athanasius met the Roman Emperors, the new anchorites and cenobites, the Bishop of Rome and the Roman aristocracy; he had contacts with bishops all over the Empire, and besides Alexandria and Egypt he was during his long life also personally present e.g. in Trier, Rome, and Antioch. As a fervent theologian, a power-seeking ecclesiastical and a great spiritual adviser he left a large oeuvre of theological, polemical, and edifying literature which also included a large collection of Festal Letters, issued to the Egyptian congregations every year at Easter.

These Festal Letters are, except for fragments, lost in their Greek originals, but many of them are preserved in translations into Coptic and Syriac which to some degree overlap. The 39th Festal Letter from 367 is famous as being the first one which precisely determines the extent of the New Testament as is still valid, but the Festal Letters throw also light on many other interesting issues like the ancient Christian Paschal feast, the emerging martyr cult, the relation to heresies, and the use of Apocrypha in Egypt.

Tentative programme:

Monday 12 August

9.00–9.30      Welcome

9.30–9.45      René Falkenberg: The Nordic Coptic Network Meeting

9.45–10.45    N.A. Pedersen: Introduction: The many aspects of Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter

(Athanasius, his time and authorship, festal letters, the transmission of the 39th

Letter, Arians and Melitians, canon formation and apocrypha).

10.45–11.00  Coffee break

11.00–12.00  Reading

12.00–13.30  Lunch

13.30–14.30  Reading

14.30–15.00  Coffee

15.00–16.00  PhD student 1

16.00–17.00  PhD student 2

Tuesday 13 August

9.00–12.00    Reading (with coffee break)

12.00–13.30  Lunch

13.30–14.30  Reading

14.30–15.00  Coffee

15.00–16.00  PhD student 3

16.00–17.00  PhD student 4

Wednesday 14 August

9.00–12.00    Reading (with coffee break)

12.00–13.30  Lunch

13.30–14.30  Reading

14.30–15.00  Coffee

15.00–17.00  Reading

19.00             Dinner

Thursday 15 August

9.00–12.00    Reading (with coffee break)

12.00–13.30  Lunch

13.30–14.30  Reading

14.30–15.00  Coffee

15.00–17.00  Concluding discussion. Future meeting


  • Experience in translating Coptic
  • Knowledge of translation strategies in Christian Oriental texts
  • A profound understanding of the complex history of the Alexandrian episcopate under Athanasius


A list of selected bibliography will be sent to the participants.

Target group:

All PhD students vested in Coptic.

Course participants must be expect a considerable amount of time spent in preparing the Coptic translations.

This is an opportunity for PhD students to earn ECTS by actively participating in the Nordic Coptic Network Meeting.




Lectures and seminars




Nils Arne Pedersen,

Dates and time:

12-15 August 2019



Campus Aarhus, Finlandsgade 21, 8200 Aarhus N, building 5335, room 091.

Other information:

Refreshments available during course hours:

Coffee, tea, water and a light lunch is provided and paid for by the university on courses that run from the morning until mid or late afternoon. Lunch consists of sandwiches and bottled water at midday, and tea and coffee is served in the morning and mid-afternoon. Fruit or cake is served once a day during one of the coffee breaks. If you have any special dietary requirements, please ensure to inform us in order for us to provide a suitable alternative. There are also cafes/canteens on campus with hot food, sandwiches, snacks and drinks on sale.

Course certificates:

PhD students will receive course certificates after each course has ended and any written assignments have been submitted. The certificates are sent to the PhD students by email.

Course evaluations:

Course evaluations are conducted at the end of each course. Occasionally, the course teacher will conduct a paper-based evaluation immediately at the end of the course, and gather the information from you themselves. However, evaluations are usually sent electronically to candidates after the course has finished, and are completed and submitted online.


Participations is free of charge, but particpants must pay for own travel, accommodation and food/beverages not provided by the university.

Travel to and within Aarhus:

Campus map/locations

Course information often provides the building number and classroom or auditorium number but not a road name. The link below will take you to a map of the Aarhus University campus. Just enter the building number, with or without the classroom/auditorium number, and the location will be shown on a Google map, which provides road names. This map is also useful when planning bus and tram journeys.

Budget hotels

The three hotels below are budget hotels. Prices start at around 600 Danish Kroner (i.e. 80 Euros) per night.

Simplebed Hostel / Vandrehjem -  Åboulevarden 86, 8000 Aarhus C (0,7 km til Centrum)

Telefon: +45 53 23 21 89



Hallo Hostel Aarhus - Fiskergade 2, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark (0,8 km til Centrum)

Telefon: +45 86101020


Cabinn Aarhus - Kannikegade 14, 8000 Aarhus C (0,9 km til Centrum)

Telefon: +45 86 75 70 00



Airport bus:

The link below will take you to information about buses from Billund and Aarhus airports.

Tram (letbane)

The link below will take you to information about the tram which runs from the north side of Aarhus to the harbour in the south of the city.

Buses in Aarhus

This link takes you directly to midttrafik’s website with information about bus travel in Aarhus, prices and journeys, and information about student rates. 


Not always a first choice for students, but budget allowing, the following taxi companies are two of those available in Aarhus:

Aarhus taxa

Telephone number: 89 48 48 48


Telephone number: 48 48 48 48 / 70 25 25 25

Application / registration deadline:

Please apply for for a spot on the course/meeting via no later than 27 June 2019.


Course dates
12 August 2019 - 15 August 2019
Nils Arne Pedersen
Campus Aarhus
Finlandsgade 21, building 5335, room 091
Aarhus N
5 points

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