Minnesota in Egypt


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From the Greek meaning "hidden." Christian writers of these early centuries sometimes used this word to characterize books that took the form of Gospels, Acts of Apostles, Epistles, or Apocalypses, but were not regarded as "canonical," and were ultimately not accepted in the New Trestament (q.v.). Use of the word to designate a large group of such works became common only in the sixteenth century (Schneemelcher, "Introduction" in Schneemelcher 1991).




Churchmen such as St. Athanasius condemned apocryphal writings. Many have disappeared completely. Others have been rediscovered in Egypt.

Some apocryphal texts could be regarded as harmless, or even as sympathetic stories, and so survived.

Term used in various eastern Christian churches to denote an abbot (the head of a monastery). The word comes from the Greek for ruler of a flock (manddra).   Usage differs in different places and periods, but usually this term denotes an abbot of particular importance, sometimes the superior of several monasteries.

Monastic life is usually divided into two types, cenobitic and eremitic, although many combinations of the two exist.

St. Pachomius (d. 379) is often considered to have founded cenobitic monasticism: He advocated that monks and nuns live in communities surrounded by a wall, under a single head, and following a common rule of behavior.

  This way of life is called cenobitic from the Greek word koinobion or common life (on the words koinobion and koinonia in Pachomius' thinking, see Fry 1982: 25). Koinobion was originally used for the buildings, later called monasteries (q.v.).
Chalcedon, council of

Ancient city in Asia Minor, present day Turkey. In 451 church leaders gathered in Chalcedon to work out commonly acceptable descriptions of the Trinity and of Christ. They suceeded in writing texts that won assent from the majority, healing an impending rift between the East and the West.

Some Easterners, however, including most



Egyptians, found the phrasing unacceptable. The majority at the council condemned these dissenters as "monophysites," or one-nature-ites in their approach to Christ. Their spiritual descendants, the Coptic Church (q.v.) deny that they ever took a monophysite position, and see political motives behind the condemnation: seeFrend 1972; Monophysitism 1991; www.coptic.net.


plural is codices

The form of book that became increasingly popular in the Early Christian centuries, eventually all but replacing the earlier form, the roll (q.v.)

Individual sheets are folded and fastened together in groups (called quires) of varying sizes. Both sides of the sheets, i.e., the recto and the verso, are written on. Sheets may be made of papyrus, but increasingly animal skin became the prevalent material.

Early codices are often roughly square, or about twice as high as they are wide.

The codex is always used for Christian writings in preference to the roll. Possible reasons include cheapness, since both sides of a sheet are used, ease of transportation, and ease of finding a particular place in the text (Reynolds and Wilson 1991: 35; Roberts 1979, Roberts and Skeat 1987: 44-61.).


Copt, Coptic.

These words originate from the Arabic term for Egyptians, Kibt or Kubti, probably derived from Greek Aegyptoi.

In time, the term "Copt" came to be applied specifically to those Egyptians who remained Christian.


Then it extended to the language they spoke and wrote, to their church, and then still more broadly to art, and to a historical period.

These not entirely compatible uses are further described in the next three entries.

Coptic Language.
The Coptic language is the final development of ancient Egyptian. It came into being aboutthe third century of our era, incorporating many loan words from Greek and written in an alphabet combining the 24 Greek letters with 6 or 7 new letters for Coptic sounds. There were various dialects, of which two principle ones were Sahidic and Bohairic.   As use of Arabic increased in Egypt, Coptic died out. It probably ceased to be written by the fourteenth century. It may still have been widely spoken in the fifteenth century, but seventeenth century European visitors encountered only a few elderly people who could speak it. Today it survives as the language for parts of the Coptic Church Services. Bosson 1999.
Coptic Church.
The name used today to denote the indigenous Christian Church in Egypt. It separated from other branches of Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon (q.v.) and was branded by those others as "Monophysite," a term it vehemently rejects. It now has about nine million members in Egypt and over one million abroad, including many in the United States.  

Many web sites give information about the activities of the present day Coptic Christian communites. See especially three web pages , representing (1) the church, (2) its current Pope, Shenouda III, and (3) the Coptic society in North America.

Today, it is also possible to speak of Copts, i.e., Christians, who belong to Catholic or Protestant churches, but these groups are small ,and represent comparatively recent developments.


Coptic Art and culture.

In 1884, Butler published The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, using the word in its religious connotation. It was Alphonse Gayet who established this adjective as designating a broad range of artifacts. His 1902 book, L'Art copte, was followed in 1904 by Stryzgowski’s Koptische Kunst. These scholars were applying the term to works made in Egypt from approximately the third to the seventh century or a little later, and seen to show native sensibility as distinct from Greek influence.   Today scholars also speak of a Coptic period from the third century to the seventh century Arab conquest. In Egypt, as elsewhere around the Mediterranean, these centuries can also be called Late Antique, late Roman, or early Byzantine. The term "Coptic"serves to emphasize Egypt's strong local peculiarities. Discussions of Coptic art or culture embrace both Christian and pagan manifestations.
St. Anhtony (d.ca. 356) and other men and women went out into the desert to live alone. They were called anchorites or hermits, words drawn from the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew (14: 13):" [Jesus] withdrew [anachorein] into a desert place [eremos topos] by himself."   An anchorite is one who withdraws; a hermit is one who lives in the desert--later, often a symbolic desert--and his or her way of life is called eremitic (Fry et al. 1981: 17).

From the Greek gnosis, knowledge. Modern scholars use this term to designate a religious movement current in the early centuries of our era, and characterized in part by reliance on knowledge as a means of salvation. Gnosticism takes a number of forms. Among the salient characteristcs are 1. belief in salvation through esoteric knowledge reserved for a few, 2. emphasis on spiritual rather than physical reality, 3. complex concepts of the divine and its relationship to humanity.


Knowledge of Gnosticism long depended on surviving attacks by Early Christian churchmen. Our understanding of the teachings entered a new phase when a group of Gnostic texts in Coptic were found at Nag Hammadi (q .v.) (Layton 1980; Layton 1987; Robinson 2000)


For the current popularity of ideas drawn from or inspired by these writings, see the abundant web sites using this word.

Monasteria at first referred to any dwelling of a monk, including a hermitage, and only later came to be the preferred word for communal dwellings (Patrich 1995: 13).   The word "monastery" applies to habitations of either monks or nuns, In English, convent or nunnery are often used for houses of nuns, and in Roman Catholicism monastery has acquired a narrow legal meaning.

Nag Hammadi



Modern town near which farmers found the texts now known as the Nag Hammadi Library (see fourth century). Nag Hammadi is on the east side of the Nile about 50 miles south of Sohag.   This site lies in an area of great activity in the Early Christian period, near the birthplace of Pachomius (see fourth century) and the sites of several of his monastic foundations.
New Testament

The New Testament consists of twenty-seven books. They are four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles (Letters) ascribed to St. Paul and others, and the Apocalypse or Book of Revelations.

This name derives from a phrase used in three Gospels, Mat.26.28, Mark 14.24, and Luke 22.20, and repeated in Epistles. The fourth century writer Eusebius uses it to refer to the group of texts then accepted as orthodox.

Definition of this group of texts began in the second century. As written texts concerning Jesus and his associates multiplied, authorities began to use the terms Canon and Canonical for those they found reliable. The basic list


remains much the same from the second century on, but there was disagreement about a few texts.

By the fourth century the list was fixed except for one debated book, the Apocalypse. The fourth century Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, was one of those who listed a Canon similar to the present New Testament, and who fought for a clearly established grouping.

For one account of these terms and the process of their development, see Schneemelcher 1991, 10-33.



An early book form, gradually replaced by the codex (q.v.) during the Early Christian period.

A book roll is often made of papyrus reeds. Stalks are pounded to fom sheets. Sizes vary, but individual sheets are often about 25 cm high. Up to 20 sheets may be glued together to form a roll of up to 6 meters in length.


The side of the roll with horizontal fibers, called the recto, is best for writing.

Rolls may also be made of vellum, i.e., calfskin or parchment, i.e., sheep or goat skin.

Rolls have continued to be the form of book used for some Jewish Scriptures, the Torah Scrolls.