Biblical Themes and the Founding of the White Monastery Federation

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Janet Timbie



In his edition and translation of the monastic rules of Shenoute (Canons of Our Fathers: Monastic Rules of Shenoute, 2014), Bentley Layton included chapters summarizing evidence for the organization of the communities that comprised the White Monastery Federation. The federation included a central men’s monastery (White Monastery), a smaller men’s community to the north (Red Monastery), and a women’s community near Atripe. In this book, Layton also published a translation of the Naples fragment, which narrates the founding of the Red Monastery by Pshoi, who was guided by rules formulated by Pcol for the use of the White Monastery. Biblical language and themes in the Naples fragment, including vocabulary from Sirach and imagery from Exodus, shape a master narrative of the monastery as the “encampment of God.” Greek loanwords such as parembole and cynapope, and Old Testament passages in which they are used, appear in some of the works of Shenoute and in the Naples fragment. The White Monastery Federation as a camp that must be kept pure, comparable to the camp of the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land, thus contrasts with the Pachomian Federation, in which koinonia (fellowship or communion) expresses group identity.


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