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September 19, 2017

Saint Macarius

Saint Macarius the Great by the Russian painter, Oleg Shurkus

The Apophthegmata Patrum (The sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of the words and anecdotes mainly of the Egyptian desert fathers and mothers in the 4th and 5th centuries, and represents their spiritual practices and wisdom. It contains many lovely stories. One of the interesting stories is about Saint Macarius the Great (300 – 391), Father of the Monks of the Valley of Scetis in Egypt.[1] It is included in the Arabic version preserved by the Coptic Church, and titled, ‘Bustan al-Ruhban’ (Garden of the Monks). It tells of the strong-heart Saint Macarius, who wasn’t afraid to visit cemeteries, often seen as being haunted by the devil, and was courageous enough to lie down in one, and use an old Greek skull to rest his head on. This audacity amazed the demons and provoked them into trying to scare the hell out of Macarius; but the saint was a man not to be easily scared. Here is the story, which I give its English translation:

Once upon a time, Father Macarius went from Scetis to the wilderness, and came to a cemetery where old, Greek skeletons were. And the saint took a skull and placed it under his head. When the demons saw his boldness they envied him and wished to disturb his peace; so, they shouted in a loud voice, calling a certain woman by name: “O [name], we have taken the soap, comb and the bath towels; and we are waiting for you to join us.” And a voice came out from the skull under [Macarius’] head, saying: “I have a guest, and he is a stranger, who is lying over me; I can’t come. Go on your own.” But the saint was not in the least disturbed. He lifted his head up off the skull, and moving it, he addressed it: “Now, I have got off you; if you can go, go with them to the darkness.” And he once again laid his head on it. And when the demons saw that from him, they left him greatly embarrassed, and shouted out loud: “Go away from us Macarius.” And the devils ran away.[2]


[1] The Scetis Valley in Egypt (Wadi al-Natrun, as it is known now) is located in the Libyan desert, west of the Nile. The word is Greek and is derived from the Coptic, ‘Shi-heet’, which means “the weighing of the heart”.

[2] See: Bustan al-Ruhban, 2nd edition (Shobra, Mar Mina Bookshop, 1956), p. 17.



September 7, 2017

Mikhail Nesterov, The Hermit - The Culturium

The Hermit by the Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov, 1889

In the interesting Coptic Apocalypse of Paul, which E. A. Wallis Budge published in his huge volume, Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt,[1] in London, 1915,[2] there is a lovely section about those Christians who are simple-minded and illiterate, and regarded by the world as fools, inept and useless. To the Coptic mind these have a special position with God.

The Apocalypse of Paul forms part of the Coptic manuscript, Oriental, No. 7023, which is kept at the British Library.[3] The copy was made in the second half of the tenth century. It describes a journey made by Saint Paul the Apostle through heaven and hell, guided by an angel.[4] At the end of the journey, St. Paul was brought by the angel down to Mount Olives, in Jerusalem, where the Apostles gathered together. St. Paul tells the Apostles of his journey, and the Apostles command St. Mark[5] and St. Timothy[6] to write down the story for the benefit of others.

When the angel took St. Paul to the Third Heaven, the city of Christ, the latter found that it was built of gold, and had 12 walls made of precious stones, each wall is more beautiful than the previous one. At the twelfth wall, the most beautiful of all, in the City of Christ, the angel showed him certain thrones of gold at that wall, and on top of the thrones were crowns of glory. St. Paul asked the angel about those who would sit on these thrones and wear these crowns, and the angel explained. In the tongue of St. Paul as in the Coptic text, and as translated by Budge, the story goes as follows:

“And, …, I saw certain thrones of gold which were set about in divers places, and there were crowns of glory lying on the top of the thrones. And I looked and I saw the Twelfth Wall, and I saw the thrones, the magnificence of which I cannot possibly describe. And I said unto the angel, ‘My lord, who are they who shall sit in this place on these thrones?’ And the angel said unto me, ‘They are the inept and useless men, and the simple-minded, who make themselves to be foolish for God’s sake. They are those who know very little indeed of the Scriptures and the Psalms, in fact nothing except the passages which they hear from the Scriptures through men of God; nevertheless they perform many religious labours, their hearts being right with God.’

And the righteous who are within the city of the Christ marvel, saying, ‘Look and see these ignorant folk who have no knowledge of the Scriptures, and how they have received this great honour from God because of their foolishness!’”[7]

The Saintly Fool has always been venerated in Coptic culture, and Coptic literature gives evidence of this. The Apocalypse of Paul is only one example of the many literature works that talks about the saintly fools of Christ. These Christians, often living a life of a hermit, and although illiterate and could not read or write, and therefore have limited knowledge of the Scriptures, are simple in mind, strong in faith and pure in heart. And although the world despises them, and passes them as fools, inept and useless, they are highly regarded by God.

The fascination with these Fools of Christ is not confined to the Copts.[8] The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, wrote, in 1885,[9] a lovely short story about this type of fools, The Three Hermits. I would strongly recommend to my readers that they read Tolstoy’s story, which you can find here.


[1] Budge talks about The Apocalypse of Paul in his Preface, pp. xxi-xxiv; Description of the Manuscript, pp. lix-lxi; Summary, pp. clxii-clxxiii; Coptic Text, pp. 534-574; English Translation, pp. 1043-1084.

[2] A previous version, in two volumes, was printed in the previous year.

[3] The manuscript contains also, The Discourse which was pronounced on the holy Archangel Raphael by Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the day of the Commemoration of the Saint. This Discourse is also published by Budge in the same volume.

[4] The Apocalypse of Paul, a work of romance genre, must have been the work of the Coptic writer’s imagination, having been triggered by the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “I know a man in Christ [Paul himself] who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:2–4)

[5] St. Mark, the disciple of Peter, and the founder of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.

[6] St. Timothy, the disciple of St. Paul.

[7] Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, pp. 1055-6.

[8] The Apocalypse of Paul, in addition to the Coptic text (Sahidic), it exists in Greek, Syriac and Latin versions. The Coptic version seems to be the original.

[9] It was published though in 1886.


September 4, 2017

Mythical hound

The drawing above comes at the end of the Coptic manuscript Oriental No. 7022, on Fol 60a. You can find about the contents of this manuscript here. It was published by E. A. Wallis Budge in 1914 in his book, Coptic Martyrdoms, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt.

The drawing shows a creature that is composed of parts taken from different animals. The head is probably of a hound that has a collar around its neck, and is fire-breathing from his mouth; the body is probably that of a lion with curious spots on its legs; and the tail seems to be of a dragon. This mythical animal is a chimera in the fact that it is made of different parts of animals but not the known Chimera of Greek mythology that is also fire-breathing but with a head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent or dragon.  It does not look also like a werewolf[1] or a hellhound[2] – both mythical and fictional animals with different shapes. I cannot find any creature in the Bible that can fit this chimera drawn by the Coptic artist.

Who is the artist? At the end of the text of MSS Oriental No. 7022 there is colophon written by a certain Joseph, the son of Sisinnios, the archdeacon of the Catholic Church of Saint John the Baptist in the city of Snû (I cannot identify this city, but most probably in the region of Edfu). This Joseph is the copyist of the Coptic text from an older manuscript, which happened in 951 AD. He most probably drew the above picture, and most probably he just copied it from the older manuscript. The original artist remains unknown.


[1] A werewolf or lycanthrope in Greek mythology is a person who changes for periods of time into a wolf, typically when there is a full moon.

[2] A demon in the form of a dog, being a guardian of the underworld in Greek mythology.


September 2, 2017


Detail from The Martyrdom of Saint Paul by the Italian painter Tintoretto (1518 – 1594), dated c. 1556

Note. Some readers may find parts of the article graphic and disturbing

In 1914, E. A. Wallis Budge published the manuscript kept in the British Museum the, but now in the British Library, and given the designation Oriental No. 7022, in his Coptic Martyrs, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. He gave the Coptic text and an English translation. The manuscript contained four books:

  1. The martyrdom of Saint Victor the General, who suffered martyrdom under the Emperor Diocletian, on the twenty-seventh day of the month of Pharmouthi (April 22).
  2. The Second Martyrdom of Saint Victor.
  3. The Third Martyrdom of Saint Victor.
  4. The Fourth Martyrdom of Saint Victor.
  5. The Ecomium which the Patriarch Celestinus, Archbishop of Rome,[1] pronounced on Saint victor in the Martyrium in Rome which had been built in honour of the saint by the ‘God-loving Emperor’[2].[3]

The manuscript was taken by Budge from a find in Edfu; and its copying was finished in AD 951, obviously from an earlier copy.[4]

The four martyrdoms of Saint Victor are not four stories of the saint’s life and death, but four parts of his passion:

  • The first martyrdom starts from the issuing of the Diocletian Edict and ends with the order to banish Saint Victor to Alexandria from Antioch, Bisidia.[5]
  • The Second Martyrdom starts from the arrival in Alexandria, his passion in the city under the Governor Armenius, and ends with his banishment to the Thebaid under its count, Eutychianus.[6]
  • The Third Martyrdom starts with the passion of Saint Victor in the Thebais and his banishment to Hierakonpolis, between Luxor and Aswan, in the deeper parts of Upper Egypt.[7]
  • The Fourth Martyrdom tells us about the stay of Saint Victor in the Fort of Hierakonpolis until his beheading on the orders of Sebastianus, the governor.[8]

The whole martyrdom is very interesting. Saint Victor of Bisidia, often called Saint Victor Son of Romanus, and in the Coptic martyrdom called Saint Victor the General, is a great saint. His martyrdom at the age of twenty years old tells of extraordinary courage and perseverance in his faith despite all the odds. I guess his attraction to the Copts is, inter alia, that he was beheaded in Egypt. The martyrdom contains some exaggeration, but I have no doubt that it was based on a genuine story.

The Fourth Martyrdom contains towards its end a description of the beheading of the saint, and the last moments of his life. It was a horrible death due to an intentional botched beheading by an enemy of St. Victor – a “wicked man of Sioot [Asyut in Upper Egypt]” as the Martyrdom describes him. In response to Sebastianus’ order to the soldiers to cut off the head of Saint Victor:

“[…] straightway they tied a gag in his mouth. And Apa Victor said unto the executioner, ‘Dismiss me speedily, for the sake of the angels who have hold upon me.’ Now the executioner was not pleased to do so, for he only struck his neck with the sword, and his head hung by the skin of the neck. And Apa Victor was in torture, and his spirit was sorely distressed in him. And he looked up and saw Horion the Kourson,[9] and he said unto him, ‘Take the sword out of the hand of this lawless man, and do thou make an end of me, for this wicked man of Sioout hath already done very many evil things to me during my lifetime, and now also at my death he does grievously afflict my spirit. May the Lord reward him according to what he hath done unto me.’ And Horion the Kourson said unto Apa Victor, ‘My lord, do not think in thy heart concerning me that I would lift up my hand against my brother soldier. I swear by thy health,[10] O my brother Apa Victor, and by the dire need which is on thee, that I have never stretched out my hand even against a bird, to shed its blood, and it is impossible for me to lay my hand upon thee [with violence]. But I pray thee to remember me in the place whereunto thou departest.’ And Apa Victor answered and said, ‘The Lord Jesus the Christ shall shew mercy upon thee, for in this very same year thou shalt die, and the Lord shall forgive thee thy sins. The enemy and the martyr shall come forth to thee, [and] I shall follow after them and shall sing hymns with them.’

And Horion placed his napkin before his face. And [Apa Victor] said unto him, ‘O my beloved brother, I entreat thee most earnestly’; and [Horion] girded on the sword. And the camp was shaken three times. Then he cut off his head, he consummated his martyrdom.”[11]


There is no doubt as to the savagery of Saint Victor’s beheading which was intended by the wicked man of Asyut to cause maximum horror and pain, and a slow death. But, can we believe it? Despite the obvious exaggerations in other parts of the martyrdom, this beheading story seems too gory but also so undignified for the saint that I think it is a genuine piece. However, there is some hesitation to accept it as it shows Saint Victor being conscious and able to talk for some time after the partial beheading by the Asyuti man and before his head was finally completely cut off by Horion the Kourson, the soldier who was a friend of the saint. Can that be possible?

After a clear decapitation, such as by a guillotine or a sharp sword or axe strike by a skilled headsman, consciousness is said to be retained for up to a thirty seconds or so. The 1905[12] story of the French doctor, Gabriel Beaurieux, who attended the guillotine execution of a murderer by the name of Henri Languille is often quoted. He writes what he notes immediately after the decapitation:

“[T]he eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds … I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible, exactly as in the dying whom we have occasion to see every day in the exercise of our profession, or as in those just dead. It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: ‘Languille!’ I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions … Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves … After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had had before I called out. It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.

I have just recounted to you with rigorous exactness what I was able to observe. The whole thing had lasted twenty-five to thirty seconds.”[13]

The completely decapitated head retains its consciousness, awareness of identity and surroundings, and feelings for at least some seconds. During that time, the cut off head may even try to speak.  It is reported that Queen Anne Boleyn, who was executed in 1536[14], and King Charles I, who was executed in 1649[15], were both decapitated by a clean single sword stroke, and both showed signs of trying to speak following their beheading.

The retention of consciousness, and even intention to talk, by the head, for some seconds that may extend to thirty, after a clean and complete decapitation, is not in doubt from various observations. The final death – the loss of consciousness – of the decapitated head occurs because blood gets drained off the brain after the severing of the carotid arteries and jugular veins that supply blood to it and then drain it from it. The loss of blood, and drop of it in the brain, starves the brain of oxygen, which is the direct cause for the death of the brain cells and the loss of consciousness.

So, how was Saint Victor able to talk and continued conscious for a longer time after the botched attempt by the headman from Asyut? It is exactly because of the intentional clumsy attempt that Saint Victor was not dead for a lengthy time; and did not depart from the world until his head was eventually cut off by the word of Horion the Kourson. That was exactly the intention of the wicked executioner: to hurt Saint Victor too much by severing part of his neck and keeping him alive to experience the pain and the horror. This I think has happened because most probably the blotched attempt severed the muscles at the back of the neck and the spine (with the vertebra that surrounded the spine at the site of the blow) but not the structures that lie a bit to the front of the neck, including the carotid arteries and jugular veins. When the Martyrdom of the saint says “his head hung by the skin of the neck”, this must not be thought as the head being attached simply by the skin at the front of the neck. Having severed the bony vertebral column which keeps the head firmly connected to the body, the rest of the neck structures that are soft will not hold the neck resolutely. But, to speak, one must have retain the functions of two important nerves: the vagus nerve, which is the tenth cranial nerve and the phrenic nerve. The vagus nerve, which is essential for the voice box,  runs emerges from the head and runs in the neck along the carotid arteries; and if the cartotids are saved, then it would be expected to be spared too. The phrenic nerve, that innervates the diaphragm which is essential for breathing, arises from the 3rd, 4th and 5th cervical sections of the spinal cord. These are based above the 6rg and 7rg neck vertebrae that are located at the bottom of the neck in its connection with the chest. A sword or axe strike that hits at the 6rd and 7th vertebra will then preserve the the phrenic nerve, if the strike does not involve the structures at the front of the vertebral column in the neck. This will allow the partially decapitated head to be able to speak. I guess that, then, that the botched partial decapitation attempt of Saint Victor struck at his lower neck.

The two sentences that Saint Victor spoke, “Take the sword out of the hand of this lawless man, and do thou make an end of me, for this wicked man of Sioout hath already done very many evil things to me during my lifetime, and now also at my death he does grievously afflict my spirit. May the Lord reward him according to what he hath done unto me,” and “The Lord Jesus the Christ shall shew mercy upon thee, for in this very same year thou shalt die, and the Lord shall forgive thee thy sins. The enemy and the martyr shall come forth to thee, [and] I shall follow after them and shall sing hymns with them,” and Horion’s reply to the saint’s request, “My lord, do not think in thy heart concerning me that I would lift up my hand against my brother soldier. I swear by thy heath, O my brother Apa Victor, and by the dire need which is on thee, that I have never stretched out my hand even against a bird, to shed its blood, and it is impossible for me to lay my hand upon thee [with violence]. But I pray thee to remember me in the place whereunto thou departest,” would have taken less than one and a half minutes, as you can also test. This duration is not beyond reasonable.

May the brave and manly Saint Victor rest in the peace of the Lord. Amen.


[1] Pope Celestine I (422 – 432).

[2] The Martyrium was built by Constantine the Great (Caesar in the West [[306 – 312]; Undisputed Augustus in the West and Senior Augustus in the Empire [312 – 324]; Emperor of the whole Empire [324 – 337].); but the Ecomium was delivered in the presence of Valentinian III (Caesar in the West [423 – 525]; Emperor in the West [425 – 455].

[3] Coptic Martyrs, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, p. xviii.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, pp. 253-271.

[6] Ibid, pp. 272-278.

[7] Ibid, pp. 279-286.

[8] Ibid, pp. 287-298.

[9] Budge does not explain the word “The Kourson”, which is in Coptic given as pkourcwn [you will need to have the Coptic font ‘antonios’ installed to be able to read the Coptic text]. I think the word refers to cursus honorum, the succession of offices of increasing importance required for a Roman of senatorial rank seeking advancement [See, Merriam Webster Dictionary]. The aspirant to be a senator starts at an early age in a military post and then after a few years he moves on to successive administration posts. Horion the Kourson must have been in his thirties and posted in Upper Egypt as a military man.

[10] Budge uses ‘salvation’ instead of ‘health’. I believe the right translation is “By thy health,” a frequent oath taken by Copts in Coptic literature. The word “oujai (ougai)” does mean health and salvation, but the meaning of salvation here is wrong. I have left the rest of Budge’s translation as it is.

[11] Coptic Martyrs, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, , pp. 297-8.

[12] The execution took place at 5:30am on 28 June 1905.

[13] The experiment is told in Archives d’Anthropologie Criminelle. The passage is quoted in A History of the Guillotine by Alister Kershaw (London, John Calder, 1958).

[14] In the morning of 19 May 1536.

[15] At 2 pm on 30 January 1649.


September 2, 2017

For Coptic (and here I am talking about the Bohairic dialect) to be revived, we must have a solid, vast and rich Coptic literature. It is, therefore, incumbent upon all who want to revive Coptic to work to create a respectable collection of Coptic literature, and make it available for the public. There are four tasks here:

  1. Re-publication of all Coptic literature in Bohairic previously published, using easy reading Coptic fonts and modern methods of printing. Those manuscripts in Bohairic that have not yet been published must be made available publicly, whether they are kept in Egypt or in the various universities and libraries across the world.
  2. All Sahidic documents/manuscripts must be rendered into Bohairic, and get published.
  3. Fine works of literature of the world should be translated into Bohairic.
  4. Creation of new and modern Coptic literature.


September 1, 2017

Detail of Shenoute

Detail of a secco painting of St. Shenoute discovered at the north lobe of the sanctuary in the church of the Red Monastery, near Sohag, Upper Egypt. Note the name form used here on the right side

As this article contains Coptic and Greek script which your computer may not support, I have included below a link to a PDF, which will show all scripts.



‘Shenouda شِنُودَه’ is a common name for boys in Coptic communities. It has always been popular. The much-loved late Pope Shenouda (1971 – 2012), the 117th Patriarch of Alexandria, made it even more popular.  In Coptic language, the name is written as ‘senou]’, sometimes as ‘senote’ or ‘cenouyiou’, but never as ‘sanoda’. The etymology of the name shows that it is originally Egyptian and means “Son of God” [‘se’ meaning ‘son’, and ‘nou]’ meaning ‘God’].

Even though the orthography of the name in Coptic is agreed on, there is a dispute between two camps on how it should be pronounced. What is the right way to say the word? Recently, there has been a debate on the right phonology of the name between two Coptologists on Wikipedia: the American Stephen Emmel and the Coptic American Hany N. Takla. Emmel is an expert on the famous archimandrite of Atripe, in Upper Egypt, who is the most famous of all Copts who have carried the name in dispute, and who lived in the 4th/5th centuries (c. 347 – 465).[1] Emmel published in 2004 a reconstruction of the literary corpus of the archimandrite in two volumes titled “Shenoute‘s Literary Corpus”.[2] Takla is also an eminent Coptologist with an interest in the archimandrite of Atripe; and, in 1987, he published a book, titled “St. Shenouda the Archimandrite – His Life and Times”.[3]

Even from the title of their publications, one can detect that Emmel and Takla use different pronunciation of thename of the Atripe archimandrite, based on how each interpret its correct pronunciation: Emmel uses ‘Shenoute’ while Takla uses ‘Shenouda’.

The debate was public, and arose round the Wikipedia article, “Shenoute”.[4] Takla commented on the orthographic form used in the English Wiki article, which is meant to be pronounced as it is:

“The name ‘Shenouda’ reflects what I understand to be the proper pronunciation of the name Shenoute in Coptic, where the ]=d and the e=a. There is ample evidence in manuscripts from the past several centuries in Coptic that substantiate this pronunciation scheme. However there was a change in the pronunciation to bring it in line, incorrectly as it may be, with the Modern Greek. In such a new system, the ‘]’ is a ‘t’ and the ‘e’ is an ‘e’.”[5]

Takla, in effect, is suggesting changing the headword of the Wikipedia article from Shenoute to Shenouda. To Takla, the Coptic ‘senou]’ should be written in a way that reflects how it should be pronounced: that is, ‘Shenouda’ and not ‘Shenoute’. Takla is a staunch supporter of what is known as the Old Bohairic Pronunciation System of Coptic. This system was strongly promulgated by Emile Maher Ishak in a 1975 Oxford University PhD thesis.[6] In his thesis, Ishak studied several medieval and modern manuscripts,[7] and phonetic representations of Coptic sounds from the same periods, and concluded that the pronunciation system of Coptic that had been adopted by the Coptic Church since the 1850s, under Pope Cyril IV (1854 – 1861) – a system termed ‘Reformed’ (or ‘Greco-Coptic or Neo-Bohairic or just Modern) – is inaccurate. Before the 1850s, there were differences within the Coptic Church on the sound values of some Coptic letters, particularly its vowels. Pope Cyril IV wanted to standardise their phonology; and he resorted to the help of a prominent expert in Coptic language, Iryan Affendi Jirjis Muftah,[8] who assigned the Coptic letters in dispute the same sound values of Modern Greek. In the Reformed System, ‘e’ is pronounced as ‘e’, and ‘]’ as ‘ti’, and therefore ‘senou]’ should sound as ‘Shenouti’ in English script, and ‘شِنُوتِي’ in Arabic script (there seem to be no dispute about the rest of the letters in the name). This is, of course, different from what it should be spelled in the Old Bohairic system: ‘Shanouda’ in English, and ‘شَنُودَا’ or ‘شَنُودَى’ or ‘شَنُودَه’ in Arabic.

Emmel disagreed with Takla’s comment, and writes in response:

“The spelling ‘Shenouda’ (or ‘Shinūdah’ etc.) represents the medieval and modern Egyptian Arabic pronunciation of Shenoute’s name. In the oldest sources (in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic), his name is spelled either senoute = ‘Shenoute’ (which is the spelling that English-speaking scholars mostly use, although one finds also ‘Shenute’) or cinouyioc = ‘Sinouthios’ (which was the Greek form of Shenoute’s name and a form that he himself sometimes used; in earlier scholarship this Greek form was often Latinized as ‘Sinuthius’). Later Coptic sources (in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic) spell his name senou] = ‘Shenouti’. The headword of this article should certainly remain ‘Shenoute’.”[9]

Emmel, in a way, says that ‘Shenouda’, rather than being an original pronunciation of ‘senoute’ or ‘senou]’ is a corruption of the original pronunciation found in “the oldest sources” – a corruption introduced into the Coptic tongue in the Middle Ages and carried out into modern times. It wasn’t so in the classical period of Coptic history in which the archimandrite of Atripe lived. He gives three orthographic forms of the archimandrite’s name, one in Coptic, ‘senoute’, which sounds as ‘Shenoute’; one in Greek, ‘cinouyioc’, which sounds ‘Sinouthios’ ; and one in Latin, which sounds as ‘Sinuthius’. None of these forms sounded anything close to ‘Shenouda’.

Who is right? In the following articles, I shall try to study the matter further; and as I am doing this, I shall into the matter of the authentic sound value of Coptic letters in the classic period. The conflict created by the camps on either side that fought over the proper phonology of Coptic letters has caused a lot of confusion; and, in my opinion, has slowed the speed with which we can revive Coptic.


[1] His leadership of the monastic congregation started in c. 385 until his death at the age of 119 years. To get to know the Atripe archimandrite better, click here.

[2] The two volumes were published by Peters Publishers: Emmel S., Shenoute’s Literary Corpus. Volume One

Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Subsidia ; Corpus Scriptorum Christ, 599; and Emmel S., Shenoute’s Literary Corpus. Volume Two. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Subsidia ; Corpus Scriptorum Christ, 600.

[3] Hany N Takla, St. Shenouda the Archimandrite: His life and times (Los Angeles, 1987).

[4] See the debate in Wikiwand here.

[5] Takla says his opinion is based on his findings which he explained in his book, St. Shenouda the Archimandrite – His Life and Times. I have not been able to find a copy of his book to study this further. His comment was made under the user name Htakla 22 October 2009, at 15:31 h (UTC).

[6] The title of Ishak’s thesis is, ‘The phonetics and phonology of the Bohairic dialect of Coptic and the survival of Coptic words in the colloquial and Classical Arabic of Egypt and of Coptic grammatical constructions in colloquial Egyptian Arabic’. To access its four volumes, go here. Even though, Ishak is seen as the leader of this group, a few people preceded him in writing about it, including George Sobhy and W. H. Worrell.

[7] Manuscripts in which Arabic text is transcripted in Coptic orthography, or the other way round.

[8] See the article about Muftah in the Clermont Coptic Encyclopedia here.

[9] It seems that Emmel was the author of the Wikipedia article on Shenoute. He added his comment on 3 September 2011.


August 30, 2017

We have seen in a previous article that certain people in Alexandria believed a heresy that arose from Arabia and spread to it that the soul died with the body but that they both would be raised and united to each other at resurrection. That heresy was refuted by the Coptic church at a synod that was held in Alexandria in the second year of the patriarchate of Dionysius of Alexandria, Now, I shall talk about the existence in Egypt of some people who believed that both body and soul would extinguish at death, and that there would be no resurrection of body or soul. The story occurs at the times of St. Macarius the Great (300 – 390), who is known as Father of the Monks, for his role in establishing monasticism in Scetis,[1] in Egypt. The story is of a hermit, called Nofe,[2] who lived in the area of Ausim[3] and taught that there was no resurrection; and, thus, he misled many in the area, something which prompted the bishop to approach St. Macarius to help him in putting an end to the new teaching. It seems that the hermit did not believe in the possibility of the dead being resurrected. How he came to this conclusion, no one knows. And he challenges St. Macarius to raise anybody from its grave; and St. Macarius obliged: he raises an ancient Egyptian from the dead. This convinced the hermit of the possibility of the resurrection of the dead at the end of times.

The story comes in the Coptic Synaxarium under the date 27 Baramhat:

There was in the works of Ausim a solitary hermit who misled people by telling them that there will be no resurrection from the dead; and they listened to him. And the bishop of Ausim went to the saint [St. Macarius the Great], and complained to him about the situation of the people with the hermit; and he pleaded with him for help.

When [St. Macarius] went with him to the hermit, the [saint] saw an unclean spirit, Satan, dwelling in him. And when he conversed with him about the matter, the hermit said to him: “I do not believe the dead will rise; and I desire that you raise a man for me from the graveyard.” And the saint prayed and beseeched with the Lord; and, lo, a man from the infidels of the olden days, rose up from the dead. And the hermit believed.

As for the man who had been raised by the saint, he requested that the saint baptised him; and the saint baptised him. And he remained with the saint for six years before he died in peace.[4]


[1] Now, Wadi el Natrun.

[2] The name is mentioned in the Synaxaire Arabe-Jacobite by Basset. See n. 3.

[3] The old Letopolis, and now in the Governorate of Giza, on the western bank of the Nile, opposite Cairo.

[4] Réne Basset. Synaxaire Arabe-Jacobite: Les mois de Baramhat, Barmoudah et Bacans (Paris, Patrologia Orientalis, Tome 16, 1922); pp. 261-2.

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