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Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty

Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty: Rural Patronage, Religious Conflict, and Monasticism in Late Antique Egypt

Ariel G. López
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty
    Book Description:

    Shenoute of Atripe: stern abbot, loquacious preacher, patron of the poor and scourge of pagans in fifth-century Egypt. This book studies his numerous Coptic writings and finds them to be the most important literary source for the study of society, economy and religion in late antique Egypt. The issues and concerns Shenoute grappled with on a daily basis, Ariel Lopez argues, were not local problems, unique to one small corner of the ancient world. Rather, they are crucial to interpreting late antiquity as a historical period—rural patronage, religious intolerance, the Christian care of the poor and the local impact of the late Roman state. His little known writings provide us not only with a rare opportunity to see the life of a holy man as he himself saw it, but also with a privileged window into his world. Lopez brings Shenoute to prominence as witness of and participant in the major transformations of his time.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95492-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: “Rustic Audacity”
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book studies the public life of an extraordinary Egyptian monk, Shenoute of Atripe, and the discourse on poverty that he put forward to promote and legitimize his active role in society. Shenoute was abbot of a group of three monasteries located near the city of Panopolis, in southern Egypt, during the first half of the fifth century.¹ By this time, monasticism in Egypt already had a long and vigorous tradition behind it. Pachomius had founded coenobitic monasticism in the early fourth century. Saint Antony’s instantly famous biography was written not long after, around 360. Even before the end of...

  6. 1 Loyal Opposition
    (pp. 19-45)

    One of the basic difficulties any study of Shenoute must face is the lack of context. Even for the fifth century, a particularly ill-documented period, his is an unusual case. He is not mentioned in any contemporary sources, from Egypt or anywhere else. Although he has a relatively important place in later Coptic tradition, Greek hagiographers and historians of the church pass him over in silence. With few exceptions, his works cannot be dated and do not name people known otherwise. The only datable “event” in his life would be his much-vaunted participation at the council(s) in Ephesus, yet council...

  7. 2 A Miraculous Economy
    (pp. 46-72)

    “Everything that God did with Moses on the mountain of Sinai, God has granted it to me on the mountain of Atripe.”¹ These are the proud words attributed to Shenoute by the Arabic version of his biography. Whatever else one may say about his character, understatement was never his style. Reading his biography and his own writings, one is indeed struck by his recurring claim to have performed economic miracles at his monastery. Whether it is repeatedly feeding crowds during times of famine or scarcity, caring for twenty thousand refugees for three months, building magnificent churches, or ransoming prisoners of...

  8. 3 Rural Patronage: Holy and Unholy
    (pp. 73-101)

    Criticizing the rich, their dishonest exploitation of the poor, and their uncharitable behavior was for Shenoute, as for many bishops in the later Roman Empire, part and parcel of the care of the poor. The exemplary activities of his own monastery—as described in the previous chapter—were clearly not enough to spur the wealthy to action. These scoundrels needed to be presented, face to face, with vivid and irrefutable evidence of the social injustice prevailing in the world. In the agrarian economy of late antique Egypt, this meant that Shenoute had to remind the wealthy landowners of Panopolis, time...

  9. 4 The Limits of Intolerance
    (pp. 102-126)

    No study of intolerance and religious violence in late antiquity is complete without a reference to Shenoute’s notorious attacks against pagans and paganism. This is the one aspect of his public role that has received keen attention in modern scholarship. Shenoute has been held to personify the ugliest face of the late Roman Near East: the wild activities of bands of fanatical monks who uproot idolatry by brute force. “These forces,” writes David Frankfurter, echoing the hostile language of Libanius, “cared little for the nuances or even the existence of the imperial codes, instead rampaging freely and homicidally throughout the...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 127-130)

    One of the fundamental characteristics of Shenoute’s life as a monk was his extensive involvement in the world outside his monastery. Such an active and, for moments, confrontational role was neither common nor traditional among Egyptian monks, either before or after Shenoute’s time. The contrast with the stars of the Egyptian monastic tradition—Antony, Pachomius, the monks of Nitria and Scetis—is clear. Notwithstanding their reputation and prestige, most of these monks were, in comparison with Shenoute, relatively harmless. Neither Antony nor Pachomius is known to have been involved in economic and religious struggles with the surrounding countryside. Neither seems...

  11. APPENDIX A: The Chronology of Shenoute’s Life and Activities
    (pp. 131-134)
  12. APPENDIX B: The Sources
    (pp. 135-138)
  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 139-142)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 143-206)
    (pp. 207-226)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 227-238)