Now that the Bodmer Coptic of the Acts of Paul has finally appeared in print (R. Kasser and P. Luisier, Le Muséon 117  281-384), we can attempt to verify the multitude of ingenious readings that the German scholar Carl Schmidt made in his 1936 edition of the Greek Hamburg Papyrus. The Bodmer MS beautifully preserves an elegant handwriting. The Hamburg Papyrus, by contrast, is fragmentary and was copied by a non-professional scribe, making it impossible to be certain how many letters are missing from the numerous lacunae. Today, one has to marvel at Schmidt’s incredible ability to ferret out a text from faded letters and in many cases to restore the text where there are only holes in the papyrus. Yet with the advent of the Coptic text, it is necessary to review each of Schmidt’s suggestions, because with the Bodmer MS, we stand before a more certain and complete text.
As I work on my translation of the text into English, I’ve decided to use the following princple:
The Greek text is very lacunose, but constitutes the original language of the text. The Bodmer Coptic is, however, beautifully preserved, but it is a translation of the original. Therefore, it seems best to prefer the Greek text when the reading clear and to reconstitute the Greek text from the Coptic where it is deficient. However, when there is a conflict between Schmidt’s reconstitution of the Greek, and the Bodmer Coptic, it seems best to prefer the latter–even when the text that Schmidt reconstitutes includes letters with under-dots, indicating that he was unable to be certain of the reading, for it seems better to prefer the Coptic which is perfectly readable over a guess based upon barely decipherable letters.
Now to our case in point, in IX, 13, Paul says to the governor and the crowd, “Make a good judgement” — λ[ά]βετε [προαίρ]εσιν ἀγαθὴν. The Coptic has . ϪΙ ϬΕ ΝΗΤΝ ΜΝ[ΤΡ]ΜΝϨΗΤ ΕΝΟΥΝC (“take therefore for yourselves good understanding”). ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ normally is translated wisdom or understanding, and is not necessarily a bad translation for προαίρεσις. ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ is a common translation for σύνεσις (“understanding”) in the Sahidic New Testament. There is however the case of the post-positive οὖν, which is the equivalent for ϬΕ. So we could leave the text as suggested by Schmidt or restore it λ[ά]βετε [οὖν σύν]εσιν, and that gives us the same number of letters as Schmidt’s suggestion. The particular combination of λαμβάνω and σύνεσις occurs in the Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. 9.2.6: ἀλλʼ ἐρώτα τὸν κύριον, ἵνα λαβὼν σύνεσιν νοήσῃς αὐτά (Holmes). It should be born in mind that προαίρεσις is probably still within the realm of possibility, though it seems better in this case to turn to the more common synonym in Greek, σύνεσις, for ΜΝΤΡΜΝϨΗΤ.