Pahor Labib

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Dr Pahor Labib باهور لبيب was a renowned Egyptologist and Coptologist. He was the Director of the Coptic Museum, Old Cairo, from 1951 to his retirement in 1965. He was heavily involved with the translations of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Papyri. He was the son of the renowned Coptologist Cladius Bey Labib, author of the extensive Coptic-Arabic dictionary and teacher of the Coptic language in the Theological College at Cairo. Cladius was the second Egyptian to learn Hieroglyphs, after the famous Ahmad Kamal. His son Pahor was the first Egyptian to obtain a Ph.D. in Egyptology, in 1934.

The Copts

The Copts are the descendents of the ancient Egyptians, and they constitute between 10-15% of the Egyptian population. It is an official policy of the authorities in Egypt not to announce the number and percentage of the Copts after the army officer's coup of 1952.

The vast majority of the Copts belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church, a member of the Eastern (Oriental) Orthodox Churches that also includes the Syrian, Armenian and the Ethiopian churches. They acknowledge the first three ecumenical councils, namely those of Nicea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD), and Ephesus (431 AD), but not that of Chalcedon (451 AD).

The Coptic language

This is the fourth and last version of the Ancient Egyptian language; the earlier ones are the Hieroglyph, Hieratic, and Demotic. It borrowed the Greek alphabet and added seven from the demotic that had no corresponding phonetics in Greek. It was the dominant language in Egypt well after the Arab invasion of the country in 641 AD. The Coptic language was brutally suppressed but was and still is being used in the liturgical services of the Coptic Church.

The young Pahor

One of the missions of Cladius Labib was to resurrect and popularise Coptic as a living language. For this aim he produced books for teaching Coptic and insisted that Coptic would be the language of everyday use at his home in Ain Shams, a suburb of Cairo. Thus Pahor grow up speaking Coptic fluently. He entered the Higher Coptic School in Cairo and used to excel in Coptic and receive prizes. When his father passed away suddenly, Pahor was not yet 14 years old; the young Pahor thanked those attending the church funeral service in Coptic. He joined Ghaddevia Secondary School, the most renowned in the country at that time.

When he graduated, he joined both the Faculty of Law and that of Archeology. He used to pass the year-end exams in both. The final exams of both faculties were at the same time so he choose to sit that of Archeology. He graduated with honours and was sent to Germany to study for his Ph.D. degree.

Young Pahor and Pope Cyril V

Pahor's father, Cladius, was a good friend of Pope Cyril V. Cladius accompanied the Pope on his tour in Upper Egypt on his way to attend the opening ceremony of the Aswan Dam in 1903. The Pope also visited Cladius at his home in Ain Shams. It was through the recommendation of the Pope that Cladius obtained his "Bey" from the Ghedevie.

Pahor was one of the few who were allowed to visit and be received by the Pope when the latter was confined to bed at the end of his life. The Pope advised young Pahor to follow in his father's footsteps.

Director of the Coptic Museum

The Coptic Museum houses the greatest collection of Coptic antiquities in the world.

Dr Labib managed to turn the Coptic Museum into a Mecca for Coptic studies. A great momentum that helped in this direction was the formation of an international committee of the most renowned Coptologists in the world to translate and study the Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic Papyri. This library is considered one of the two major discoveries in the 20th century that contributed to Biblical studies, the other being the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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