More on Shenouda and the “Two Ways”

The Arabic life of Shenouda is briefly discussed in van de Sandt and Flusser’s The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity(Fortress, 2002), chapter 2, pp. 66-67.  Their note is so useful that I think we had better see it, as we start to look at this text:


Shenoute (Sinuthius) was an abbot of the famous White Monastery of Atripe in Upper Egypt.43 When he died around 466 at the age of 118, his life was written by his successor, the abba Besa. In the form of a memorial speech, Besa idolizes the personality of his great teacher and idealizes his achievements. The account, which was thus a hagiography rather than an ordinary biography, was written in Sahidic Coptic and served as a source for translations into Syriac, Arabic and the Bohairic dialect. The text in the Bohairic dialect dates from the Middle Ages and was first published by Emile Amelineau 44 in the late nineteenth century and again by Iohannes Leipoldt in 1906.45 For our present study, the Arabic text of the Life of Shenoute is of significance because only this translation includes a version of the Two Ways. After the publication of the Arabic text as a whole by E. Amelineau 46 in 1888, it was L.E. Iselin who identified the very beginning of this hagiography as a form of the Two Ways instruction.47

The Two Ways form in the Arabic Life of Shenoute, like the Apostolic Church Order, leaves out the materials which are presented in Doctr./Did 4:9-14. This does not mean, however, that the Arabic version was indebted in this respect to ACO. For ACO (and the Epitome for that matter) omits the Way of Death passage as well, which in an abbreviated shape is present in the Arabic version. Another outstanding feature in this design of the Two Ways is that the “te/kvov” sayings are not limited to the passage that corresponds with Doctr./Did 3.1-6. In the Life of Shenoute, the hearers/readers are addressed as “my son” from the phrase which runs parallel to Doct./Did 2:6 and this stylistic device (with exceptions in the parallel passages to3:9-10; 4 :7) is maintained as far as the saying analoguous to 4:8. However, the distinctive repetitive pattern which characterizes all five literary units in Doctr./Did 3:1-6 is lacking here. Finally, the present form of the writing, referring to “Jesus Christ” (cf. the parallel item in Doctr./Did 2:5 and, possibly, in 4:14c) and “Jesus'” (cf. id., 4:7), shows some obvious instances of Christian editing.

Amelineau supposed that the Arabic text of the Life of Shenoute is a faithful translation from the Sahidic Coptic original. Modern scholarship, however, no longer accepts thus view and believes that the Arabic Life represents an adaptation and elaboration of the Sahidic Coptic archetype.48 The revision may date from the late seventh century. Besa (or “Visa” in the Arabic version), on the other hand, composed his original in the second half of the fifth century. It is clear that these data concerning the process of tradition and transmission do not inspire confidence with regard to a well-founded judgment on the earlier shape of the present text. This much is clear, however, that the monks in the White Monastery in Atripe had a Coptic version of the Two Ways at their disposal.49 This version was not a secondary elaboration of this instruction, like, for example, the Apostolic Church Order. For despite the additions, omissions, and alterations, the Arabic text has many terms in common with the Doctr./Did 1:1 -5:150 and these agreements largely occur in the same sequence. The Coptic Two Ways treatise as seen in the Arabic translation betrays a feature of its primitiviness in omitting the evangelical section of Did 1:35b-2:1. It may thus be considered a witness to a Two Ways form that circulated independently of the Didache and was closely related to the one in the Doctrina.

43 For the following, see Quasten, Patrology 3, 185-187; Altaner-Stuiber, Patrologie, 268-269; Bell, Besa: The Life of Shenoute, 1-35 (Introduction); Davis, ‘The Didache and early Monasticism’, 353-358.
44 Memoires 4.1, 1-91: ‘Vie de Schnoudi’.
45 We had only access to the following publication: Leipoldt, Sinuthii Vita Bohairice (1951). A Latin translation (completed by L.T. Lefort) is found in Wiesmann. Sinuthii Vita Bohairice (1951).
46Memoires. 4.1: Monuments, 289-478 and for the Two Ways, see esp. 291-296.
47Eine bisher unbekannte Version des ersten Teiles der “Apostellehre” (1895) with a German translation from A. Heusler. An English translation of the Life’s Two Ways section (“from the rendition of the French translation by Emile C. Amelineau”) is found in Davis, ‘The Didache and early Monasti­cism’. 365-367.
48 See Bell. Besa: The Life of Shenoute. 4. For the view of Amelineau. cf. Memoires 4.1: Monuments. I.II-LVIII.
49 Cf. also Davis. ‘The Didache and early monasticism’. 35 8.
50 Goodspeed traced seventy-seven corresponding items; cf. ‘The Didache’. 237.

It is pleasing to learn from the footnotes that even these professional academics had difficulty locating copies of Amelineau’s work!  I think that there are copies in Cambridge, and I will try to obtain a copy when I go up there in July.

The scribe Besa is called “Visa” in the Syriac life published by Nau which I have translated and will put online.  This I found slightly confusing, while I was translating, since I was also making a claim against the French National Library on my credit card at the time.

Thanks to Brandon W for letting me have a copy of this, in response to my previous post.

4 thoughts on “More on Shenouda and the “Two Ways”

  1. Wow, that was very helpful, as you promised in your freeratio post. Thanks Roger!

    I’m going to check and see if I can track down the Arabic translation at the NIU library, to which I have regular access. I’m not holding out much hope, though. If I do find it, do you suppose I will be able to find someone willing to translate it into English? There seems to be an abundance of Arabic-speaking Americans in Muslim circles, right?

    I suppose I’ll find out if and when it comes time.

  2. To Ben: You will find in the US nearly half a million Americans of Coptic persasion and origin, akin to that of St. Shenouda’s, who can speak and write Arabic – to their own disgust,I must say – and who can help with this. Try contacting Hany N Takla at the St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society (, which I think is based in California.

    Dioscorus Boles

  3. Ben,

    Amelineau published the Coptic life and an Arabic life, with French translation in [i]Memoires publies par les membres de la mission archaeologique francaise au Caire[/i], tome IV. If you look at the other Shenouda posts, you will see various reprints of this by Amelineau.

    If you could get hold of the French translation by Amelineau, and stick it through the scanner, I could take a look at it.

Leave a Reply