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Call the Copts

The artistic and religious treasures of the Copts, Egypt’s native Christian population, will now “get the home they deserve,” according to Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line. The Coptic Museum, which houses some of the masterworks of Christian antiquity, is once again open to the public.

After a three-year restoration project the Coptic Museum was officially reopened by President Hosni Mubarak on Monday… The museum’s displays have been reordered, and are now arranged according to provenance, chronologically ordered or grouped according to material.

Among the most impressive of the exhibits are the frescoes from the Monastery of Bawait, showing Christ enthroned in the upper part, supported by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and in the lower section the Virgin and Child flanked by apostles and two local saints. Alongside the frescoes the gallery exhibits objects carved with biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including Abraham and Isaac with the sacrificial lamb and three men in a fiery furnace with a fourth, probably a saint….

Metal and glass liturgical vessels, incense burners and gospel caskets, pottery, metalwork and glass lamps dating from the sixth century are also on show.

Perhaps the most prized exhibit, though, is a copy of The Psalms of David, given a gallery to itself. Philip Halim, director general of the Coptic Museum, told the Weekly that the copy is the only complete version of the psalms ever found. It includes 151 psalms written by David, and the psalms of other Old Testament Prophets, including Solomon and Essaf. Written in Coptic, on very fine vellum, the copy dates back to the fifth century and was found in 1987, buried in sand beneath the head of a child mummy in a tomb in the upper Egyptian city of Beni Sueif.

Along with the psalms is an ankh-shaped piece of ivory which was used as a book marker.

While you’re in a Coptic state of mind, look up “Treasures Pulled from a Briny Tomb,” published in the Washington Times earlier this week. Suzanne Fields reports on the artifacts pulled from Alexandria’s harbor and now on exhibit in Berlin, Germany.

Spectacular artifacts from two lost cities of ancient Egypt, rescued from the sea after more than 1,300 years, have taken the breath away from more than 1 million visitors to the Martin-Gropius Building in Berlin. They have even ignited religious debate — nonviolent so far — in Egypt.

French archaeological adventurer Franck Goddio and his team of divers, armed with robotic equipment, swim masks and flippers, pulled the treasures from the depths at the ancient Egyptian harbor of Alexandria and the two lost neighboring cities of Herakleion and Canopus in 1999 and 2000…

[S]ome Egyptians are not happy about it. Sheik Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying statuary in the human form is forbidden in Egyptian homes. He didn’t specifically include museums in the fatwa, but cited an Islamic text that “sculptors would be tormented most on Judgment Day.”