Lasse Løvlund Toft final member of the Apocrypha-project
It started with a passion for language learning and an interest in the Qur’an and formative Islam. Now Lasse Løvlund Toft will dive deeper into Coptic apocryphal traditions as part of the Apocrypha-project.
When Lasse Løvlund Toft started as a postdoctoral fellow at the Faculty of Theology on 1 August, the Apocrypha-project’s participant list became complete. The final addition to the project comes with a MA-degree in the Study of Religion and Classics and a PhD in Church History, both from Aarhus University.
A combination of his interests in the Qur’an and formative Islam and an “early mania” of language studies and philology made him pursue his current research.
‘As an undergraduate student I started studying more and more languages, especially Semitic ones. This quickly led me from Arabic and Hebrew to Syriac and Ethiopic,’ Toft says and explains that the literary corpora, which are preserved in these languages, were and are produced and maintained by various Eastern Christian communities, from the Horn of Africa to central and East Asia.
‘You read a lot of very fascinating literature and poetry by Eastern Christian writers in acquiring these language skills,’ Toft says.
A PhD on Christian Martyrs within Syriac churches
Even though Toft’s background was in the Study of Religion, he did his PhD-studies in Church History. Toft’s dissertation was concerned with the cults of a particular group of Christian Martyrs within the three main Syriac churches, known as the Himyarite Martyrs, or the Martyrs of Najran. Jewish overlords in South Arabia killed these Martyrs in 523 AD.
‘The dissertation was an attempt at mapping the popularity and veneration of these martyrs across denominational borders as they appear in hagiographical texts, hymns and lectionaries in Syriac manuscripts from the 6th to the 20th century’, Toft says and continues:
‘These martyrs became very important to both Miaphysite and Chalcedonian Christians, as well as to Islamic exegetes and historians.’
Widespread research interests
Besides Syriac studies, Toft has also written on the Islamic Arabic traditions on the Najranite Christians and Martyrs.
‘I find the intersection of Christian and Islamic literary, historical and exegetical traditions in the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates deeply interesting and important.’
Toft also has a research interest in the church history and theological developments of the fourth century, especially concerning canon formation, as well as in text critical work on Ethiopic Jewish manuscripts and literature.
‘As part of the dissemination of my interests, I am preparing Danish translations of different hymn collections in Syriac,’ he says.
Coptic apocryphal traditions about the creation of the human being
Now that Toft has joined the Apocrypha-project, he will be researching Coptic apocryphal traditions about the creation of the human being in Copto-Arabic literature.
‘As with the rest of the Christian communities of the Middle East, the Coptic church gradually adopted Arabic as its language of communication, literature and – to some extent – liturgy. Thus, beginning in the late 10th century onwards, a large part of the “Coptic” literature is in fact in Arabic,’ Toft says.
He further explains that some of these apocryphal traditions are also found in Arabic works by 9th and 10th century Muslim historians and exegetes.
In addition to this, Toft also hopes to be able to work on a book project that he and his former supervisor have been planning.
‘We are making a text critical edition of the Coptic translation of the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter, concerning the proper Biblical canon and renunciation of apocryphal literature. This important source for fourth century church history – and for apocrypha in Late Antique Egypt – has not been critically edited and its reception needs to be properly investigated.’
Looking forward to the time ahead
Even though Toft has just started his new life as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oslo, the Faculty of Theology is not completely new to him.
‘I have long known about the Faculty of Theology in Oslo, as it has strong relations to the Department of Theology at Aarhus University. I met good friends and colleagues here during my PhD studies, and in 2017 I was invited to Oslo to present some of my work.’
Now Toft is ready to get started as a postdoctoral fellow connected to the Apocrypha-project:
‘I look forward to resume good relations, to make new ones, and to contribute with my specific expertise to a hopefully cooperative Faculty of experts in the fields of Coptic studies, church history, liturgical studies, Islamic studies and beyond.’