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The Second Gift of The Nile, Monks and Monasteries in Late Antique Egypt

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Default Title
ISBN: 978-83-946848-3-9
Description: hardback, XVI+565 pp. (24x17cm)
Condition: new
Weight: 1445g.

Ewa Wipszycka, The Second Gift of The Nile, Monks and Monasteries in Late Antique Egypt, JJP Supplement, vol. 33, Warsaw 2018

The book presents the results of my in-depth researches on late antique Egyptian monasticism. In fact, it is my third book dealing with this fascinating phenomenon. Here, like in my two earlier books on the subject, I have reworked some of the previously published ideas or texts of mine and in effect my own understanding of the topic has evolved and changed owing to the discoveries of both textual and archaeo­logical sources and to new interpretations of the already known data.
The first book, Moines et communautés monastiques en Égypte (ive–viiie siècles), was published in 2009 and focused primarily on the physical aspects of monastic life, the geographical conditions of monastic communities and on their economic activity. In it, I dedicated ample space to the questions of terminology, particularly to the terms referred to monastic groupings, their leaders and members responsible for performing specific duties. While writing that book, I perused a vast number of literary texts available in various languages, but pride of place was given to documentary evidence preserved in the form of papyri, ostraca, and limestone or wooden writing tablets. My intention was also to provide readers with information on places with surviving remnants of monasteries or hermitages and thus expand the ‘database’ (for want of a better word) of Egyptian monasticism by taking into account this particular category of archaeological evidence.
The second book owes its origin to the request I received from the publishing house of the Benedictine Abbey of Tyniec to write a volume on Egyptian monasticism in Polish. It was partly based on chapters contained in the French book, but a substantial portion of the Polish book consisted of new material dealing in a greater detail with the foundational monastic texts such as the apophthegms, the Life of Antony by Athanasius of Alexandria, Historia Lausiaca by Palladius, the writings of John Cassian, the invaluable and extensive dossier of the Pachomian congregation, and the works written by Shenoute. The book includes a presentation of ascetic doctrines, a topic which was only tangentially addressed in Moines et communautés monastiques. Heedful of the usual rigours of research work, I nevertheless reduced the reference apparatus (the footnotes specifically) so as not to discourage the non-specialist readers interested in the topic. It was released in 2014 with the title Drugi dar Nilu, czyli o mnichach i klasztorach w późno­antycznym Egipcie (‘The Second Gift of the Nile: Monks and Monasteries in Late Antique Egypt’; the first part of the title was proposed by the Benedictines, while the other was added, slightly pedantically, by myself). Once the work on that book was completed, I was more happy with the result than was the case with its predecessor: it seemed to me that the Polish book provided the reader with a greater wealth of information interpreted in a much more mature manner, even in spite of the fact that I had to leave out some material (especially my discussions of archaeological sources, as this time I could not include any illustrations).
This particular book has emanated from the Tyniec book, much in the same way as the Tyniec one did from the volume written in French. It is largely composed of English translations of rearranged, reworked, revised and enriched individual chapters of its Polish predecessor. More attention is given here to the first congregation of Pachomian monasteries and the federation of three monastic establishments governed by Shenoute. The part on monastic economy has been expanded, which reflects my belief that this aspect of the phenomenon in question can usher us into the ‘real reality’ of the communities as opposed to the reality depicted in monastic literature or in theoretical writings on asceticism. It goes without saying that I have also added references to newly published studies on the subject, all the while respecting the principle of keeping the biblio­graphy selective and resisting the temptation of excessively expanding the footnotes. The chronological scope of the book extends to the mid-eighth century or thereabouts. The Arab conquest had an immense impact on life in Egypt in a multitude of aspects, but on the whole its monastic circles were not significantly affected. One cannot escape this impression while reading the letters written in Coptic in the first half of the eighth century found in Western Thebes, particularly the dossier of Frange. In my view at least, the image of life in Egyptian monasteries which emerges from those documents is not significantly different from what can be inferred from texts written a hundred years earlier. (from the Author’s Foreword)