Hellenism and the formation of Coptic identity : 332BCE - 200CE : a Coptic trajectory through a Hellenistic context

Evans, Annette Margeretha Henrietta (1999-11)

Thesis (M.A.) -- University of Stellenbosch, 1999.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Conflicting perceptions of the Copts exist for a variety of reasons. This dissertation seeks to examine some of the traces of their own process of interpreting and mediating the past. Hellenism facilitated this process, as did the Egyptian pharaonic cultural background. Both these influences left their mark on Coptic Christianity as evidenced for example in the Coptic language, and in the iconography of Madonna and child. In addition, examples of the presaging of Christianity in Egyptian iconography are presented. Recent discoveries, for example the Nag Hammadi Codices, have been taken into account in researching Coptic identity. Clement of Alexandria was another major force in the formation of Coptic identity. The vastly diversified area of Gnosticism is a complicating factor in understanding Coptic Christianity. Due to Clement's work in reconciling Greek philosophy with Christianity some authors associated him with Gnosticism, in spite of his making a clear but nuanced distinction between Gnosticism in general and Christianity. Several researchers have noted a similarity between the prologue of the Gospel of John and the type of Gnosticism that Clement was said to be associated with. This dissertation attempts to demonstrate that ancient Egyptian cosmology facilitated the Coptic understanding of the Incarnation of the Logos, but was misunderstood at the Council of Chalcedon. The Coptic trajectory through a Hellenistic context was found to be like that of a boomerang, in that the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt represents, in the words of the current Coptic Patriarch, "a return to the apostolic father-type of leading of the church". He stresses that they aim at renewal by expressing ancient doctrine, theology and traditions in a contemporary form that is understandable to their youth.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Botsende sienings oor die Kopte is tans in omloop. Hierdie tesis het ten doel om die spore van hulle eie proses van interpretasie en oordra van hulle verlede te ondersoek. Hellenisme, asook die diepliggende Faraoniese kulturele agtergrond, het hierdie proses vergemaklik. Beide hierdie faktore het hul merk gelaat, soos gesien kan word in die Koptiese taal en in die ikonografie van die Madonna en Kind. Voorbeelde van voortekens van die Christelike geloof in Egiptiese ikonografie word ook voorgele. Onlangse ontdekkings soos die Nag Harnmadi kodekse is in ag geneem. Nog 'n belangrike faktor in die formasie van Koptiese identiteit was die werk van Clemens van Aleksandrie, wat die Griekse filosofie met die Christel ike geloof wou vereenselwig. Sommige geleerdes het hom geassosieer met die Gnostisisme ten spyte van die feit dat hy 'n genuanseerde maar duidelike onderskeiding gemaak het tussen Gnostisisme in die algemeen en die Christelike geloof. Ander geleerdes het reeds 'n verband gesien tussen die inleiding van die Evangelie van Johannes en die tipe Gnostisisme wat Clemens volgens sommige veronderstel was om mee geassosieer te wees. Hierdie proefskrif wil aantoon dat die manier waarop die Kopte die inkamasie van die Logos verstaan, gebaseer is op ''n Faraoniese kosmologie, maar is misverstaan deur die Sinode van Chalcedon. Die Koptiese trajek deur die Hellenisme is in hierdie tesis bevind om die van 'n boemerang te wees. In die woorde van die huidige Koptiese Patriarg verteenwoordig die Koptiese Ortodokse Kerk van Egipte "a return to the apostolic father-type ofleading of the church", maar bewerkstellig vemuwing deur die oordrag van leerstellings, teologie en tradisies aan die jeug op In eietydse wyse.

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