Egyptian Christianity : an historical examination of the belief systems prevalent in Alexandria c.100 B.C.E. - 400 C.E. and their role in the shaping of early Christianity

Fogarty, Margaret Elizabeth (2004-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2004.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis sets out to examine, as far as possible within the constraints of a limited study, the nature of the Christianity professed in the first centuries of the Common Era, by means of an historical examination of Egyptian Christianity. The thesis contends that the believers in Christ's teachings, in the first century, were predominantly Jewish, that "Christianity" did not exist as a developed separate religion until its first formal systematizations commenced in the second century, through the prolific writings of the Alexandrians, Clement and Origen. It is noted that the name "Christianity" itself was coined for the first time in the second century by Ignatius of Antioch; and that until the fourth century it is more accurate to speak of many Christianities in view of regional-cultural and interpretative differences where the religion took root. The study examines the main religions of the world in which the new religion began to establish itself, and against which it had to contend for its very survival. Many elements of these religions influenced the rituals and formulation of the new religion and are traced through ancient Egyptian religion, the Isis and Serapis cults, Judaism, Gnosticism and Hermeticism. Alexandria, as the intellectual matrix of the Graeco-Roman world, was the key centre in which the new religion was formally developed. The thesis argues, therefore, that despite the obscurity of earliest Christianity in view of the dearth of extant sources, the emergent religion was significantly Egyptian in formulation, legacy and influence in the world of Late Antiquity. It is argued, in conclusion, that the politics of the West in making Christianity the official religion of the empire, thus centring it henceforth in Rome, effectively effaced the Egyptian roots. In line with current major research into the earliest centuries of Christianity, the thesis contends that while Jerusalem was the spring of the new religion Alexandria, and Egypt as a whole, formed a vital tributary of the river of Christianity which was to flow through the whole world. It is argued that without the Egyptian branch, Christianity would have been a different phenomenon to what it later became. The legacy of Egyptian Christianity is not only of singular importance in the development of Christianity but, attracting as it does the continued interest of current researchers in the historical, papyrological and archaeological fields, it holds also considerable significance for the study of the history of religions in general, and Christianity in particular.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die proefskrif poog om, insover moontlik binne beperkte skopus, die aard van die vroeë Christendom gedurende die eerste eeue V.C. te ondersoek, deur middel van 'n historiese ondersoek van die Egiptiese Christendom. Die tesis voer aan dat die vroegste Christelike gelowiges in die eerste eeu N.C. grootendeels Joods was, en dat die Christendom as afsonderlike godsdiens nie ontstaan het nie voor die formele sistematiseringe wat deur die Aleksandryne Clemens en Origines aangebring is nie. Selfs die term Christendom is vir die eerste keer in die tweede eeu n.C. deur Ignatius van Antiochië versin; daar word verder opgemerk dat voor die vierde eeu dit meer akkuraat is om van veelvuldige Christelike groepe te praat. Die studie ondersoek die vernaamste godsdienste van die milieu waarin die nuwe godsdiens wortel geskied het, en waarteen dit om sy oorlewing moes stry. Baie invloede van die godsdienste is uitgeoefen op die rites en die daarstelling van die nuwe godsdiens, en kan herlei word na die antieke Egiptiese godsdiens, die kultusse van Isis en Serapis, Judaïsme, Gnostisisme en Hermetisme. Aleksandrië, die intellektuele matriks van die Grieks-Romeinse wêreld, was die hoof-sentrum waarin die nuwe godsdiens formeelontwikkel het. Die tesis toon daarom aan dat ten spyte van die onbekendheid van die vroegste Christendom, wat te wyte is aan die tekort aan bronne, die opkomende godsdiens in die Laat Antieke wêreld opvallend Egipties van aard was in formulering, invloed en erfenis. Ten slotte word daar aangevoer dat die politiek van die Weste wat die Christendom as amptelike godsdiens van die ryk gemaak het, en wat dit vervolgens dus in Rome laat konsentreer het, die Egiptiese oorspronge van die godsdiens feitlik uitgewis het. In samehang met kontemporêre belangrike navorsing op die gebied van die Christendom se vroegste eeue, argumenteer die tesis dat terwyl Jerusalem wel die bron van die nuwe godsdiens was, Aleksandrië, en Egipte as geheel, 'n deurslaggewende sytak was van die rivier van die Christendom wat uiteindelik deur die ganse wêreld sou vloei. Daar word aangetoon dat sonder die Egiptiese tak, die Christendom 'n heel ander verskynsel sou gewees het in vergelyking met sy latere formaat. Die erfenis van die Egiptiese Christendom is nie alleen van die grootste belang vir die ontwikkeling van die Christendom nie, maar 'n nalatenskap wat die voortgesette aandag van navorsers op historiese, papirologiese en argeologiese gebiede vra, en is daarom van groot belang vir die studie van die geskiedenis van godsdienste in die algemeen, en die Christendom in die besonder.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/49941
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