Early Christianity in Egypt
Shenoute of Atripe (ca. 348-466)
Shenoute was born in the mid-fourth century, and around 371 he joined the so-called White Monastery, located on the Upper Nile north of Thebes, just outside the town of Atripe-now the modern city of Sohag. Eventually, he succeeded his uncle as Abbot, remaining as such until his death in 466. As the spiritual leader of a monastic community comprising probably thousands of monks and nuns, he wrote numerous speeches and letters that express his views on monastic life and what he considered theological orthodoxy. His two major works, Canon and Discourses, place Shenoute as the most important Coptic writer of Late Antiquity. The Special Collections Library holds 20 parchment leaves containing works by Shenoute. At a certain point in its history, the White Monastery library mostly held the works of Shenoute as copied in the eighth and ninth centuries.
From the end of the eighteenth century onwards, Europeans, and the monks themselves, started dismembering the codices and taking away gatherings and single leaves. Thus, fragments of Shenoute's works ended up in numerous museums and libraries of Europe and North America. Our leaves were purchased by Francis Kelsey, professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Michigan, in Cairo in May 1926.
For the exhibit we have displayed two conjugated leaves containing part of a homily. You can see the page numbers on the upper corners, CKH (228) and CXZ (237). These two pages, from a bifolium marked with pencil as 20 c/d and 20 e/f, would have been part of a gathering of sixteen pages or eight leaves. Since the nineteenth century, scholars have tried to reconstruct the works of Shenoute by assigning leaves to their original codices. Recently, Coptologist Stephen Emmel has pieced together Shenoute's entire corpus, and he is currently leading an international team of editors working on the first edition and English translation of Shenoute's works.