Shenoute the Archimandrite: The Extraordinary Scope (and Difficulties) of His Writings

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Stephen Emmel

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Abstract

The late-antique Egyptian monastic leader Shenoute (ca. 348–465) left behind an extraordinarily large corpus of writings in seventeen (or more) volumes of collected works. Although multiple copies of this remarkable body of Coptic literature existed in the library of Shenoute’s monastery in the medieval period, those copies survived into the modern era only in tatters, which along with the remains of the monastery’s many other books became scattered among more than thirty museums, libraries, and private collections on three continents. During two centuries of work among these remains, Coptologists have identified 4,350 pages from about one hundred parchment codices containing works of Shenoute. A project to publish a complete edition of this corpus began formally in 2000. From the fragmentary but nonetheless extensive remains of his corpus, it has become possible to recover remarkable biographical information about Shenoute, as well as to gain insight into his thought and leadership. His writings are a mine of information not only about the internal life and discipline of Shenoute’s monastic institution, but also with regard to religious and other societal circumstances in the region around the nearby district capital, Panopolis.

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