The letter of Dioscorus to Shenouda about heretical books

Following on from Hugo Lundhaug’s paper on  Origenism in 5th century Upper Egypt: Shenoute of Atripe and the Nag Hammadi codices, delivered at the Oxford Patristics Conference, I wrote to him, asking about the sources: the letter of Archbishop Dioscorus of Alexandria, and a text by Shenoute himself.  Today I received an email from Dr Lundhaug, who wrote as follows:

Dioscorus’ letter to Shenoute is preserved in Coptic translation (from the original Greek, now lost) in four leaves of White Monastery Codex XZ. The first three of these were published by Herbert Thompson in his article “Dioscorus and Shenoute,” in Recueil d’études égyptologiques dédiées à la mémoire de Jean-François Champollion (BEHE 234; Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1922), 367–76. The last leaf was published by Henri Munier, Manuscrits coptes (CGAE 9201–9304; Cairo: Imprimerie de l’IFAO, 1916), 147–49. Thompson’s article contains an English translation of all four leaves. I use my own translation from the Coptic.

The Thompson article is online at Gallica here.  But better yet, if you download the PDF of the whole volume of the journal, you get a PDF which has been OCR’d, and bookmarks added to each article within it.  That is new, and well done Gallica!

I will scan and upload this text to the Fathers collection when I get a moment!

Meanwhile Dr. Lundhaug added a couple of extra snippets of wider interest:

By the way, if you are interested in the Gospel of Philip, I would like to direct you to my book, Images of Rebirth: Cognitive Poetics and Transformational Soteriology in the Gospel of Philip and the Exegesis on the Soul (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 73; Leiden: Brill, 2010), which contains a detailed analysis of this text.

It may perhaps also interest you to know that starting January next year I have funding from the European Research Council for a five-year research project along the lines indicated in my Oxford paper – looking at the Nag Hammadi Codices and their texts in the context of fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian monasticism.

I think this line of research must be promising, and will tell us a lot more about where the Nag Hammadi codices really appear from.

UPDATE: The letter of Dioscorus to Shenoute, concerning the Origenist monk, is here.

UPDATE2: Dr. H. adds:

In my paper I referred specifically to Shenoute’s “I Am Amazed” and “Who Speaks Through the Prophet”. The best edition of “I Am Amazed” is now Hans-Joachim Cristea, Schenute von Atripe. Contra Origenistas: Edition des koptischen Textes mit annotierter Übersetzung und Indizes einschliesslich einer Übersetzung des 16. Osterfestbriefs des Theophilus in der Fassung des Hieronymus (ep. 96) (STAC 60; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011).  There’s an English translation of most of “I Am Amazed” in Michael Eugene Foat’s 1996 doctoral dissertation from Brown University, “I Myself Have Seen: The Representation of Humanity in the writings of apa Shenoute of Atripe.” It is not complete, however, as it is based on Tito Orlandi’s edition of the text. There are also English translations of excerpts from “I Am Amazed” in Stephen J. Davis, Coptic Christology in Practice: Incarnation and Divine Participation in Late Antique and Medieval Europe (Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
By the way, I also treat “I Am Amazed” and other texts by Shenoute in the recently published article “Baptism in the Monasteries of Upper Egypt: The Pachomian Corpus and the Writings of Shenoute,” in Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism in Early Judaism, Graeco-Roman Religion, and Early Christianity (ed. David Hellholm et al.; 3 vols.; BZNW 176; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), 1347-80, as well as in several forthcoming articles.

As for “Who Speaks Through the Prophet”, it has not been edited and no reliable English translation exists. I rely on photographs of the manuscript evidence.

I have my own working edition of “Who Speaks Through the Prophet”, but since an international editorial team lead by Professor Stephen Emmel at the University Münster is currently hard at work editing the entire Shenoutean corpus there should be no need for me to publish an edition of it. I might publish a translation of it though. We’ll see.

By the way, if you need a link to info on my book, you can use this:
I will set up a website dedicated to my project in the not too distant future.

This is all very useful.  I confess that I’ve never had that clear an idea of what existed by Shenoute, but I shall look at this with more interest.

UPDATE: A Google search reveals that the new German edition of “I am amazed” — Contra Origenistas — runs to 387 pages, and includes the Coptic text and a German edition, as well as the Letter of Theophilus included in the treatise, which was also preserved in a Latin translation by Jerome.  Apparently comparison of the two version is interesting!


9 thoughts on “The letter of Dioscorus to Shenouda about heretical books

  1. I can not stress the importance of your blog. Thank you for the interests you have developed.

  2. There are a few references in Coptic literature to an independent biography of Dioscorus I (444-458 AD) but it doesn’t seem to exist now. The History of the Patriarch has a very shory inadequate biography of this very central patriarch in Coptic history:

    I still hope, just hope, that the full biography of Dioscorus might be found somewhere in Egypt, Ethiopia or perhaps even hidden in one of the 19th/20th journals!

  3. He was the Coptic patriarch who attended the Council of Calcedon in 451 AD in the days of the Byzantine emperor Marcian. That Council marked the pemanent split between the Coptic Church and the rest of Christendom except the other ‘Mono-physites’. The year and event are very significant and in my assessment affected the hstory of the Copts like no other event did except the event of the Arab invasion of Egypt in 640 AD.

  4. A hagiographic account of Diocorus’ life is given by a text allegedly written by Theopistus, one of his disciples. This vita is fully preserved only in Syriac and it was translated by F. Nau (Journal Asiatique [1903]). In Coptic only a few fragments have survived.

  5. I was just reading some of your responses, and I have just one correction to make about one of the comments. Dioscorus did NOT attend the council of Chalcedon and that is one of the reasons the Coptic church does not accept the council because it was not adequately represented. Dioscorus was exiled prior to the convening of Chalcedon in 451. I am actually developing a thesis on the orthodoxy of dioscorus but like you cannot find many primary sources as none of the coptic sources survived to my knowledge.

  6. Thank you for your note. Now you say it, it does ring a bell that Dioscorus had already been exiled – thank you.

    What are the primary sources for Dioscorus, may I ask?

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