Rediscovering Shenoute of Atripe (ca. 348-465), a Digital Project


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 became the leader of the monastery, remaining as such until his death in 465.  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 the orthodox principles Christians should follow.  His two major works, Canon and Discourses, place Shenoute as the most important Coptic writer of Late Antiquity. 

The Special Collections Research Center 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 1924. 

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 the  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. 

The Leaves

For the organization and nomenclature of these leaves, I have closely followed Emmel's methodology. MS. 158 is the generic call number the University of Michigan librarians originally assigned to these 20 leaves as well as to other Coptic fragments that were  wrongly attributed to Shenoute. Then, the inscriptions in pencil on each page, consisting of a number followed by a letter, were designed  to organize single leaves, bifolia (conjugated leaves) and larger gatherings, into a logical sequence. For instance, 17 a-d designates a bifolium (two conjugated leaves), a/b and c/d signifying recto/verso for each of these two leaves. While Emmel keeps the generic call number of the University of Michigan Library, and of other libraries and museums, he adds a system describing where these leaves were located in their respective codices.  Furthermore, Emmel names each of these codices by using a system of two-letter alphabetic sigla established by the Corpus dei Manoscritti Copti Letterari (CMCL). Thus, a call number like "White Monastery Codex BZ 233/234; White Monastery Codex BZ 241/242" refers to the codex page numbers of US- MU 158. 17 a/b and US-MU 158. 17 c/d respectively. Obviously, the page numbers of these bifolia will indicate  their position within a gathering, which normally included 8 leaves.  Lastly, and again following the editorial principles described in Emmel's Shenoute's Literary Corpus,  I have provided references to previous editions of these manuscript fragments as well as to their content.

BZ 233/234; BZ 241/242
GG 163-166; GG 171-174
HB 225-228; HB 237-240
HD 299/300
TY 3/4; TY 13/14

XS 275/276
YD 197/198
XI 79/80
YZ 273/274; YZ 279/280
ZA 223/224; ZA 233/234

This Collection of Leaves is also available through the Digital Library Platform & Services (DLPS)


Photos by Randal Stegmeyer


Abbreviations & Bibliography

Emmel 2004: Stephen Emmel. Shenoute's Literary Corpus. 2 vols. Lovanii: Peters, 2004.

Leipoldt, Johannes. Sinuthii Archimandritae Vita et Opera Omnia. With the assistance of W.E. Crum. 3 vols. (numbered 1, 3, and 4). 
Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium.; Scriptores Coptici  ser. 2, vols. 41, 42. 73 (Cop.1 [=II.2.T], 2 [II.4.T], 5 [=II.5.T]). Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1906-1913.

Young 1981b: Dwight Wayne Young.  "A Monastic Invenctive against Egyptians Hieroglyphs". In Studies Presented to Hans Jakob Polotsky. 2 vols. Ed. Dwight Wayne Young. 348-60.  East Gloucester: Pirtle and Polson, 1981.

Young 1993b: ________. Coptic Manuscripts from the White Monastery: Works of Shenoute. Mitteilungen aus der Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, vol. 22.  Vienna: Verlag Brüder Hollinek, 1993.


Pablo Alvarez
Outreach Librarian & Curator

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Last modified: 11/12/2018