This contribution examines how models of exile were adopted and adapted in non-Chalcedonian communities following the establishment of a parallel Severan episcopal hierarchy under Archbishop Peter IV of Alexandria (576–577) and the consolidation of the Severan non-Chalcedonian church under his successor Damian (578–c. 607). Peter's predecessor Theodosius spent most of his long episcopacy (536–566) exiled in Constantinople, where he died, and Peter himself contended with three rivals to the patriarchate of Alexandria. Drawing on literary, documentary, and archaeological sources, I explore how the memory of non-Chalcedonian heroes was mobilized partly in order to validate the uncomfortable truth that members of the new network of bishops did not always live in their capitals, but in local monasteries, just as Peter and Damian did not live in Alexandria, but in the Enaton, nine miles to the west.
After a brief survey of the role of exile in the Alexandrian Church, I concentrate on the literary representation of the appropriate places for exile in monastic literature, in particular the identification of the “deserts” and “mountains,” “caves” and “holes” of the wandering Hebrews (Heb 11.38) with the monastic landscape of Egypt in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. At this time, monastic habitation of natural caves, gallery quarries, and rock-cut tombs on the desert escarpment above the Nile Valley flood plain flourished. Finally, I survey the archaeological evidence of one region where bishops appointed by Damian settled, and how they put their models of exile into practice.
Upon the death of Benjamin, the Patriarch of Alexandria (r. 626–665), his name was added to the list of dead archbishops of Alexandria on a reused ivory diptych belonging to a church in the Hermonthite region of Upper Egypt (Fig. 1).2 Written in Greek (SB III 6087), the main visible text (hand 2) was read at the point in the liturgy where “the deacon, the diptychs” appears.3 The name of Benjamin's successor, Agathon (r. 665–680), was written over his in the first line of the diptych (hand 3). The list of the dead archbishops of Alexandria, and a second list of the bishops of Hermonthis that follows, establish their apostolic succession, stretching back to St Mark and to Jesus Christ himself. Copied after the successful revival of the Severan non-Chalcedonian church under Damian (578–c. 607), the genealogy given in the Luxor diptych smooths over the long exiles of episcopal heroes and even elides gaps between them, effectively revising the complicated and contested history of the Alexandrian Church.
What the seventh-century Church and its presentation of apostolic succession forget, monastic literature and other sources remember and celebrate. From the reign of Constantine, the model of the “orthodox exile” joined biblical figures (proto-martyrs), martyrs, and monks (new martyrs) as models for pious imitation.4 Non-Chalcedonian exiles followed the template of Nicene exiles, above all Athanasius. They are represented by a distinctively non-Chalcedonian and largely Coptic literature which flourished from the end of the sixth century, in or around the reign of Damian of Alexandria.5 Damian presided over a parallel hierarchy of newly elected bishops in Egypt, himself appointing several bishops who contributed to this literature or became the subjects of later encomia and homilies.6 These bishops were, as most clerics were at the time, also monks. Just as Damian lived not in Alexandria but at the Enaton, a complex of monasteries nine miles to the west, some or perhaps all of his known appointments to the office lived in rural monasteries.7 Since they did not live in their sees, E. Wipszycka has posited that they were in fact reigning from parallel power bases, while Chalcedonians or representatives of other schismatic movements resided in the capitals.8 I seek here to demonstrate that the long-established narrative of the “orthodox exile” validated the non-Chalcedonians’ claim to authority, since it justified why they did not necessarily occupy their titular sees.
Two or more of Damian's appointed bishops lived mainly in the Theban Mountain and not their capitals from the end of the sixth century. Due to the extraordinary survival of a rare combination of archaeological evidence, including epigraphic and papyrological sources, as well as narratives by and about the region's inhabitants transmitted through the manuscript tradition,9 these men and their contemporaries demonstrate the lived experience of “Chalcedonian power politics.”10 I argue here that the physical spaces they inhabited and the material culture they produced and used demonstrate their self-understanding as orthodox exiles.
In the following three sections, I telescope from the macro-history of the Alexandrian church from the fourth to seventh century, to a micro-history of the Theban Mountain in the Hermonthite region at the end of the sixth and seventh century in order to explore the lives of non-Chalcedonians whose remove can be characterized as a kind of self-exile. After a brief survey of the role of exile in the Alexandrian Church (I), the second section will examine the topos of exile in post-Chalcedonian monastic literature, especially as elucidated in the adaption of a passage from Hebrews 11.38 quoted in the title (II). Monastic literature makes clear that exile is not only the new martyrdom, but also the locus of legitimacy. I conclude with a survey of the material culture representing non-Chalcedonian communities in the Theban Mountain through the lens of exile.
I. THE REALITY OF EPISCOPAL EXILE: THE CHRISTOLOGICAL CONTROVERSIES
The archbishops of Alexandria played critical roles in the development of Christological doctrine at Church councils and synods. Both before and after the Council of Chalcedon (451), archbishops frequently found themselves at odds with the doctrinal stance of Constantinople.11 Exile was a punishment with which opponents were threatened, but it also contributed to the spread of ideas and expansion of networks.12 Among the 497 cases of exile documented by the “Migration of Faith” project, there are 68 cases of exile departures from Egypt (some relocating to other locations in Egypt), and 66 cases of arrival in Egypt, with 46 official exiles (Fig. 2).13 Clerics rarely travelled alone, but were sometimes escorted by guards and often supported by entourages with accompanying individuals sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Partisan companions of exiles were well-positioned to succeed them in office since their association bolstered their claim to the episcopacy.14 A brief survey of ecumenical councils and the resulting exiles of bishops and other clerics c. 325–630 serves to highlight the frequency of exile within the Alexandrian church, and how it came to be viewed as a constituent part of the role of archbishop. The reality of exile forms the backdrop of monastic literature in which exiles became models for imitation, just as martyrs and confessors had been in previous generations.
With the eventual success of Nicene bishops and their formulation of the Trinity, establishing how the fully divine Son became man and suffered as Jesus Christ preoccupied successive ecumenical councils.15 The Council of Chalcedon was convened in 451 to examine differing approaches to the identity and composition of Christ within a political context in which the churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch jockeyed for position. By the seventh century, the Severan non-Chalcedonian Church in Egypt had a well-established list of villains in these debates, foremost Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Leo I, as well as heroes, particularly Athanasius, Cyril, Dioscorus, and Severus of Antioch. Bishops on each side of successive Christological controversies were exiled. For the Severan non-Chalcedonian church, their heroes’ exile was a badge of honour confirming their suffering on the model of the Hebrews, martyrs, and monks of earlier generations. Conversely, their opponents’ exile was proof of their heresy.16
The Nicene Template for Orthodox Exile: The Fourth Century
With the adoption of Christianity by the imperial household and the aftermath of the Council of Nicaea in 325, to invite a threat of exile became an act of resistance. Emperors who favored non-Nicene bishops used exile as a means to discipline opponents.17 Drawing on Roman literature on righteous exile,18 Nicenes accused these Christian emperors of being worse than their non-Christian predecessors for their persecution of the orthodox.19 For later generations, resistance was personified by Athanasius of Alexandria.20 At Nicaea, Archbishop Alexander of Alexandria (r. c. 312–328), the predecessor of Athanasius, led the opposition against Arius (256–336), a priest in Alexandria, who denied the eternal begetting of the Son. Arius was deposed and exiled by the emperor to Illyricum (325–327),21 but what opponents identified as “Arianism” was successful at the imperial court with the support of Emperor Constantius II (r. 337–361) and Valens (r. 364–378). Athanasius, the steadfast opponent of Arius and defender of the Nicene Creed, declared that Father and Son were of the same essence (homoousios).22 Over the course of his long career as Archbishop of Alexandria (328–373), he was exiled or avoided being arrested five times under four emperors. At the Council of Tyre in 335, he was condemned to exile by the emperor and thereafter spent over 20 of the next 32 years in exile, first in Gaul (335–337), then in Rome and on the Italian peninsula (339–346), and thereafter in Upper Egypt (356–362; 362–364; 365–366). During his last exile, he was said to have fled to his family mausoleum.23 His defence of the Nicene Creed was vindicated when it was reaffirmed at a council convened in 381 in Constantinople by the Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379 to 395), and Athanasius’ status as a righteous exile proved definitive for future generations.
Before and After Chalcedon: The Fifth Century
In 403, Archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria (r. 385–412) presided over the Synod of the Oak, which deposed and exiled to Kokousos the popular Archbishop John Chrysostom of Constantinople, originally from Antioch (r. 397–404, d. 407).24 His name was struck from the liturgical diptychs after being deposed in 404, but he was rehabilitated in Athanasius’ image as an orthodox exile, and his name re-entered into the diptych of Antioch by the Archbishop Alexander, after the death of his archenemy Theophilus in 412.25 Cyril (r. 412–444), nephew and successor of Theophilus as archbishop of Alexandria, opposed Nestorius of Antioch, Archbishop of Constantinople (r. 428–431, d. 450), in Ephesus in 431. The controversy resulted from Nestorius’ denial of the title Theotokos (God-bearer) for the Virgin Mary. Cyril vehemently opposed Nestorius with the support of Archbishop Celestine of Rome (r. 422–432), and Nestorius was condemned and exiled to Antiochia/Theoupolis in Asia Minor (431), and then the Great Oasis (from 436) in Egypt, from which he was temporarily transferred to Panopolis and Syene due to desert raiders (436).26 While Nestorius continued to be anathematized in subsequent centuries, Chrysostom was rehabilitated, his works read and cited in Egypt (below, III). Exile could thus either be characterized as justly deserved (Nestorius) or as a proof of steadfastness on the model of Athanasius (Chrysostom).
Soon, the archbishops of Alexandria again lost imperial favor. In the aftermath of a synod at Constantinople in 448, which was presided over by, in turn, Flavian of Constantinople (r. 446–449), and during which the (anti-Nestorian) abbot Eutyches’ Christological formulation was rejected, the Second Council of Ephesus was organized at the initiative of Emperor Theodosius II in 449. Dioscorus of Alexandria (r. 444–454, including his exile in 451/2–454), chaired the council and reinstated Eutyches, antagonizing the archbishops of Constantinople, Antioch, and Rome. The statement of faith sent to the council by Archbishop Leo I of Rome (r. 440–461) was ignored. Two years later, upon the sudden death of the emperor Theodosius II in 450, his sister Pulcheria and her new husband Marcian (r. 450 to 457) called the Council of Chalcedon. The Second Council at Ephesus was condemned as the “Robber Council” and Archbishop Leo I's statement of faith, or “Tome of Leo,” was recognised alongside a new Christological creed which used the Roman and Antiochene language of Christ being one person “in two natures.” Dioscorus was deposed and exiled to Gangra in Asia Minor, where he died in 454. A visualization of his network shows at a glance its extent and the primary actors (Fig. 3). After the murder of the Chalcedonian replacement, Proterius (r. 451–457), the newly elected non-Chalcedonian Timothy II (Aelurus) of Alexandria (r. 457–477) was exiled to Taposiris Magna, near Alexandria (after 454–c. 457) and also to Gangra (460?). Exile was now part of the job description for non-Chalcedonian archbishops of Alexandria.
It is the definition of faith proposed by Leo of Rome, and recognised at the Council of Chalcedon, that initiated a series of crises threatening the unity of the church in the following centuries. Eventually, after the Muslim conquest of Egypt, its rejection would distinguish the Church of Alexandria and provide its self-definition. At the time, imperial attempts to reconcile opponents, represented mainly by the archbishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, faltered. Zeno (r. 474–475 and 476–491) issued the Henotikon in 482, affirming the Nicene Creed and Cyril of Alexandria's Twelve Anathemas as well as the condemnation of Nestorius and Eutyches. Zeno exiled Peter Mongus, a former companion of Dioscorus in exile and the non-Chalcedonian Archbishop of Alexandria (r. 477–490 including his exile in 477–482) to Euchaita in Asia Minor, returning him to office on the condition that he would sign the Henotikon. The union nevertheless fell apart when it was rejected by Archbishop Felix III of Rome.
The Emergence of the Severan Non-Chalcedonian Church: The Sixth Century
In the sixth century, Justin I (r. 518–527) and Justinian (r. 527–565) sought to consolidate power and reunite the schismatic sees with dire results for non-Chalcedonians.27 These emperors made the Chalcedonian creed imperial policy. Upon the ascension of Justin in 518, he reversed the position of his predecessors, accepting the demands made upon Anastasius (r. 491–518) by Archbishop Hormisdas of Rome (r. 514–523). When Hormisdas issued a libellus insisting that the Tome of Leo be accepted and various opponents be anathematized, not only familiar enemies such as Nestorius and Eutyches were condemned, but several fifth-century Alexandrian archbishops, Dioscorus, Timothy II (Aelurus), and Peter Mongus, as well. Among his demands, Hormisdas insisted that bishops erase from their liturgical diptychs the names of those held by the church at Rome to be apostates. As V. Menze has argued, Hormisdas’ order to strike names from diptychs was central to the deepening rift initiated by the Council of Chalcedon c. 70 years earlier.28 The order forced communities in the East to choose between the proof of their apostolic legitimacy and the command of an archbishop in the West.
Several dissenting bishops were deposed at this time. Non-Chalcedonian exiles from the east arrived in Egypt, where they soon came into conflict with each other and with local clerics.29 Archbishop Severus of Antioch was not exiled (r. 465–538), but escaped arrest and travelled to Egypt, where he became the foremost proponent of non-Chalcedonian doctrine. A staunch non-Chalcedonian bishop who promulgated Cyrillian Christology, Severus of Antioch spent twenty years in Egypt (518–538).30 After his death in the Delta city of Xois/Sakha in 538, his burial place at the Enaton near Alexandria became a pilgrimage destination.31 Julian, the non-Chalcedonian Bishop of Halicarnassus (c. 518–c. 527), also sought refuge in Egypt, where he clashed with his former ally Severus on the incorruptible (aphthartos) nature of Christ's body.32 Even as they challenged Chalcedonians, non-Chalcedonians in exile were divided amongst themselves.
The Severan Archbishop Theodosius of Alexandria (r. 535–566, inclusive of exile 536–566) was deposed by Justinian and sent to the fortress of Derkos in Thrace near Constantinople. Justinian had first supported Theodosius against his rivals, a Julianist non-Chalcedonian named Gaianus (a former archdeadon of Timothy III), who was himself exiled to Carthage in 536 and later Sardinia, then, the Gaianite Elpidus, who was arrested by Justinian and sent to Constantinople, but died on route.33 Theodosius travelled to Constantinople with an entourage reportedly numbering 300, but when Justinian failed to convince him to accept the outcome of the Council of Chalcedon, he was exiled to Derkos, and the Chalcedonian Paul the Tabennesiote (r. 538–540) was appointed archbishop of Alexandria.34 Theodosius later spent his time in the palace at Constantinople, where he was supported by the empress Theodora.35 He was effective in exile, consecrating bishops in Syria and Arabia, including Jacob Baradaeus, Bishop of Edessa (the founding figure of the so-called Jacobites). Theodosius had authorised his ally, the Alexandrian-born Paul of Antioch, to ordain bishops in Egypt, but, by the time of his death in 566, as P. Booth has argued, Theodosius’ own letters indicate that he was in communion with only four bishops of Egypt, suggesting the Theodosian Severan church was on the verge of extinction.36 It was nine years after the death of Theodosius that the lineage was “revived” with the election of the Severan non-Chalcedonian Peter IV (576–577).37 As a deacon, Peter had once been with Theodosius in exile, possibly thus gaining credibility as an orthodox exile. Peter contended with three rivals to the episcopacy of Alexandria, the Chalcedonian John (570–581), the apparently Julianist/Gaianite non-Chalcedonian Dorotheus (565–after 580), and the Severan non-Chalcedonian Theodore (575–after 587), a Syrian monk supported by Theodosius’ former proxy in Egypt, Paul of Antioch, who himself was deposed and exiled in part for his interference in the episcopal election (564–577, exiled to Antiochia/Theoupolis, 571–572).38 The complex relationships created by bishops exiled to and from Egypt in the sixth century, their respective actions of support and hostility, and the centrality of Theodosius of Alexandria are clarified in a visualization of their network (Fig. 4).
During his brief tenure, Peter IV made the bold move of appointing a parallel hierarchy of up to 80 Severan non-Chalcedonian bishops in Egypt.39 His action was decisive for the Severan non-Chalcedonian church. The long episcopacy of Peter's successor Damian (578–c. 607) witnessed its consolidation and, to some degrees, isolation.40 Interfering in both Constantinopolitan and Antiochene politics, the Syrian-born Damian alienated his counterparts and was himself denounced.41 But in Egypt, he was a success, appointing numerous bishops before his death c. 607. Among his bishops were John at Paralos; Nicholas and John at Hermopolis Magna/Shmun; Senuthes at Antinoupolis; Constantine at Lycopolis/Siut; Rufus at Hypselis/Shotep, just south of Lycopolis; Abraham at Diospolis Parva/Hou; Pisentius at Koptos/Keft; Joseph at Apollonopolis Parva/Sbeht; and Abraham at Hermonthis/Ermont (Fig. 5). While Julianist/Gaianite clerics are mentioned up until the eighth century, the Severans were ultimately successful.42
It is the Severan non-Chalcedonian lineage that is recorded on the Luxor diptych. As we have seen, many of their leaders were not actually in their titular capitals, but claimed or were later claimed to represent a church in exile. For the eventual “winners” after the Muslim conquest of Egypt, it is this genealogy that defined what would become the Coptic Church. In the course of the sixth century and on the ground, allegiances must have been much trickier. Whether or not the Severan non-Chalcedonian appointments to episcopal seats took up residence in their capitals must have depended on local support.43 In its absence nearby monasteries offered an attractive alternative. Bishops, surrounded by their partisans, could claim the ascetic high ground by residing in monasteries.44 The Enaton, the complex of monasteries nine miles to the west of Alexandria, and not their titular see, was home to both Peter IV and Damian.45 Many of Damian's bishops lived in rural monasteries, several of which were on or at the base of the desert escarpment, or “Mountain” (Greek oros, Coptic toou), the location of natural caves, gallery quarries, and ancient Egyptian rock-cut tombs.46 Some of these mountains were previously strongholds of schismatic factions.47
II. RHETORIC OF EXILE: MONASTIC LITERATURE
By the end of the sixth century, the crises of the later fifth and sixth centuries following the adoption of the canons of the Council of Chalcedon (451) resolved into a newly confident church under Damian. Its adherents produced a rich new literature, probably in Coptic, extolling the virtues of their non-Chalcedonian heroes.48 They drew on a long tradition of monastic literature which situated ascetics in “the desert.”49 The language used to describe this desert reflects the landscape residents of Egypt saw around them. Adopting and adapting biblical quotations, they mapped their memory of the past onto their present physical environments. One extract from Hebrews detailing the suffering of the faithful found particular resonance in monastic literature.
They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world is not worthy. They wandered in the deserts and mountains, and caves and holes in the ground (Heb 11.38).50
Tracing the use of Heb 11.38 from the end of the fourth to the seventh centuries, if selectively, demonstrates the layering of the identities martyr, monk, and exile in different socio-political contexts over time.
Making Monks Martyrs: The Fourth Century
At the end of the fourth century, when the author of the Greek Life of Pachomius (c. 390) introduced the protagonist, he deployed this passage from Hebrews to promote a lineage of succession from the prophets Elijah and Elisha, to John the Baptist, to Antony. Each character is a privileged model for the ascetic life taken up by Pachomius, with John the Baptist himself a proto-martyr.51
The life of our truly virtuous and most ascetic father Antony was like that of the great Elijah and Elisha and of John the Baptist. When the former pagans (Hellenes) saw the contests and patience of the martyrs, becoming monks, they started a new life. Of them it was said, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, wandering over deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the earth (Heb 11.38). Thus they found retreats with proper piety and a harder regimen, holding before their eyes day and night not only the crucified Christ but also the martyrs whom they had seen struggle so much.52
The concerns of the Greek Life of Pachomius are what we might expect for the end of the fourth century. The conversion of Hellenes and their adoption of “a new life” are motivated by the example of the martyrs. Here, Hellenes become not just “Christians,” but specifically “monks.” The passage effectively draws on a model of exile with biblical pedigree.
Both past and present time and place are elided. The perceived succession of holiness linking biblical prophets to martyrs to monks over time is explicit. It is set within a rubric in which biblical time and the era of the martyrs is collapsed with the present. Likewise, the location in which their ascetic regimen takes place is layered on to the biblical desert.53 Quoting Hebrews, the passage evokes a desert with a specifically Egyptian resonance to ancient readers. The physicality of such descriptions of space is not only metaphorical. In Egypt, the desert escarpment reads as “deserts” and “mountains,” and natural caves, gallery quarries, and rock-cut tombs read as the “caves” and “holes.” In this passage, these places are associated with the Hebrews of the Bible in the distant past, but also as the appropriate place of early Christian martyrs in the more recent past, and, the new martyrs—that is monks—of the present.
The passage from Hebrews maps nicely on to the natural and built landscape in Egypt where “the desert” lies in stark contrast to the cultivation fed by the Nile or subsidiary irrigation systems. At sites throughout Egypt, the desert escarpment rising above the cultivation, most dramatically in the Nile valley south of the Delta, was termed the “Mountain” (oros/toou) or “Rock” (petra) in documentary and literary sources.54 Along its length, the sometimes steep cliffs flanking the Nile are perforated by natural caves, gallery quarries, and ancient Egyptian rock-cut tombs, evoking “caves and holes in the earth.” Less dramatically, the elevations beyond the cultivation in the Delta, Wadi Natrun (ancient Scetis), Fayum, Western Desert oases, and along the Bahr Yusuf are also termed “Mountain.”
From the general location of ascetic practice in “deserts and mountains, cave and holes,” the passage from the Greek Life of Pachomius moves to what can accord with the interior decoration of these and other spaces. The images of the crucified Christ and martyrs “held before their eyes day and night” took place in physical and metaphysical contexts. Images in wall-paintings, painted wooden panels, painted and woven textile hangings, and other media served as active points of contact with the divine. While portable objects do not generally survive in context, numerous wall-paintings in monasteries, churches, and monastic dwellings do.55 Among the monastic spaces in which decoration is found are caves, quarries, and reused tombs. Reading the early monastic literature through the lens of the natural and built landscape of Egypt and, more specifically, the archaeology of monasticism, enables us to locate one kind of “desert” dwelling ascetics, said to live on “the Mountain,” in “caves,” be they natural or artificial.56
Reconfiguring the Desert: The Fifth Century
Compiled before the middle of the fifth century, The Virtues of St Macarius deploys the same extract from Hebrews in a context in which a majority population of Egypt is Christian and monasticism is well-established.
… With manual work, with vigils, with numerous prayers, with hunger and thirst, with frost and nakedness and afflictions and the acquisition of your tomb as though you had already been placed in it, placing your death near you day after day, lost in the deserts and mountains and holes in the earth (Heb 11.38).57
Practicing the ideal of apatheia by imitating the dead, as here, was a common topos in the Apophthegmata patrum, compiled in the course of the fifth century.58 Examples of monks living in or visiting caves and tombs on the Mountain abound in monastic literature.59 Pachomius himself is said to have frequented a tomb in order to contemplate death.60 Other famous monks are said to have lived in the desert or, more explicitly, caves. Apa John of Lycopolis lived in a cave on its Western Mountain, probably an ancient Egyptian tomb.61 Shenoute and his predecessors lived in the “desert” or “Mountain” near his monastery.62 The motivations for living in tombs in particular range from battling demons on the model of Antony, contemplating the dead, converting the dead, and imitating the dead.63
Non-Chalcedonian Monks as Desert Exiles: The Sixth Century
In post-Chalcedonian literature, exile or flight from exile characterises the pious, adding a further dimension to the monastic martyr. Macarius of Antaeopolis/Tkow is exceptional as a character, who, in his panegyric by Ps-Dioscorus (perhaps written in Greek after 525), meets a violent death when he rejects the Tome of Leo.64 Other non-Chalcedonian protagonists reject the council in confrontations with authorities in works on Apa Longinus by Basil, Bishop of Oxyrhynchus/Pemje, Apollo by Stephen, Bishop of Herakleopolis Magna/Hnes, Daniel of Scetis, Abraham of Farshut, Apa Moses of Abydos, and Samuel of Kalamun by Isaac the priest. Instead of the martyr's death of Macarius, they take refuge in the desert. The narratives are set in three periods of reported persecution: in the immediate aftermath of the council; in the period under Justin and Justinian; and under Heraclius and Cyrus al-Mukaukas.65
For narratives set in the reign of Justinian in particular, the flight of brothers from the monasteries is a well-established literary topos. Tortured by soldiers, Daniel of Scetis and other monks “scattered throughout the land of Egypt”; Daniel and his disciple flee and build a dwelling place near a village in the Eastern Delta.66 In the Panegyric on Apollo, monks disperse to the deserts and mountains.67 According to the Life and Letters of Severus, no one knew where he lived except for those who provisioned him; he moved often, and access was only possible through trusted officials.68 The Panegyric on St Claudius places Severus in the Monastery of Apa Moses at Abydos together with Theodosius of Alexandria as they escape arrest by Justinian's officials.69 Although the precise location of the Monastery of Moses is debated, it was situated in the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Abydos, for which archaeological and epigraphic evidence of late antique monastic habitation is abundant.70
The extant sources on Abraham of Farshut, the Pachomian archimandrite, detail his arrest by Justinian.71 Here the extract from Hebrews is used to endorse flight. In Constantinople with his entourage, he is supported by Theodosius of Alexandria, who recommends him to Theodora. While discussing the orthodox faith with the brothers in this setting, the virtues of exile are extolled with biblical parallels:
Indeed, is it not written, “If they persecute you in one city, flee to another” (Matt 10.23). Or have you not heard about those who conquered the empire through faith, wandering in the deserts and mountains and caves of the earth, those on whose behalf he bears witness that the world is not worthy (Heb 11.32–38).72
While in Constantinople, Abraham writes to his community that he would rather stay in exile than subscribe to a faith contrary to Athanasius. Upon his return to Egypt, with a Chalcedonian installed at the Pachomian monastery at Phbow, he establishes a new dwelling place near his hometown in the region of Diospolis Parva/Hou. The Synaxarion recounts his travel to Shenoute's Monastery at Atripe to copy the Rules, his journey to deposit them with Moses of Abydos and, later, to retrieve them when he expanded his own monastery.73 Abraham and two brothers from Phbow first establish their dwelling place up on the Mountain (toou), and, when others begin to join them, they build a dwelling place at the foot of the Mountain, which is gradually expanded.74
A panegyric on Apollo, Archimandrite of the Monastery of Isaac, attributed to Stephen, Bishop of Herakleopolis Magna/Hnes, describes the hero's flight from the same Pachomian foundation at Phbow in the reign of Justinian. When his Chalcedonian replacement enters the monastery at Phbow, the brothers flee. Describing his departure, the author quotes the same passage from Hebrews.
As one taught by God, thus did our father take upon himself to retreat (from the world), wandering in the deserts (jaie) and ravines (ia) and holes (škol) of the earth (Heb 11.38), being a sojourner in an alien region, in want, distressed and grieved (Heb 11.37). … And after many wanderings, he came to this very Mountain (Is 25.10). And only when he stood on it, he heard Isaiah saying: God shall give rest upon this Mountain (toou), which God desired and he lived in it (cf. Ps 68.17). As is fitting he too said, this is my dwelling place forever. I shall live in it (cf. Ps 131.14), for the Lord has chosen it as a monastery himself.75
In the context of the Coptic Panegyric on Apollo, it is explicitly the non-Chalcedonian “losers” of the Christological controversies who are the new martyrs.
Each new wave of imperial persecution resulted in literary texts in which the refugees were presented as martyrs, thus forming a new Severan non-Chalcedonian genre of saints’ Lives. Forced to flee from their monasteries by periodic imperial enforcement of the council, they sheltered in the desert where they established new communities. Some of the protagonists are explicitly said to have lived in caves (as above and, e.g., Samuel of Kalamun at both Scetis and Naqlun),76 at least some of which were actually ancient Egyptian rock-cut tombs. Whereas the motivations for living in such places in monastic literature in general are varied, post-Chalcedonian literature emphasizes the desert Mountain and its caves as a place of refuge. This theme probably coincided with periods of real retreat, which were validated in their literary representation by the suffering of earlier martyrs and exiles commemorated in Hebrews.
III. NON-CHALCEDONIAN BISHOPS IN THE THEBAN MOUNTAIN C. 600–630
Nowhere are post-Chalcedonian communities better documented than the Theban Mountain, where at least two bishops appointed by Damian lived for a time, the Bishop Pisentius of Koptos and Abraham of Hermonthis (Fig. 6). While this ancient necropolis may have been inhabited by Christians earlier, it is after the arrival of these and other bishops that a vast body of dated or datable correspondence survives. To present, over half of the body of edited Coptic documents belong to Western Thebes (up to c. 4300), representing the period c. 600–800.77 At the edge of the cultivation, the late antique town of Memnoneia/Jeme occupied the enormous mortuary complex of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.78 Rising above it, the Mountain (oros/toou) of Memnoneia/Jeme was covered with ancient Egyptian tombs and other funerary monuments adapted and reused by monks and clerics (Fig. 7).79 The contemporary Greek and Coptic vocabulary of reused tombs and temples in the ancient necropolis is known from legal texts and correspondence. Located in the desert (eremos/jaie) and on the Mountain (oros/toou), their features were carefully described in documents, and comprised of towers (purgoi), cave/tombs (bêb), and holes (šok).80
Arriving at one set of dwelling places, the topos of the anchorite Epiphanius on Sheikh abd el-Gurna, around 600, visitors would have climbed the paths of the desert escarpment, winding their way between the gaping entrances of ancient Egyptian tombs hewn into the rock.81 It was here that the Bishop of Koptos, Pisentius (r. 598/599–632),82 stayed at least periodically in the early decades of the seventh century. Pausing to catch his or her breath on the climb to the topos,83 the visitor would have gazed across the valley to see the limestone cliffs of Deir el-Bahri perforated by tomb entrances and, at the end of a monumental causeway, perched atop the ruins of the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, the Monastery of the holy martyr Phoibammon. This monastery was established by the Bishop of Hermonthis, Abraham (r. c. 590–621), the contemporary of Epiphanius and Pisentius.84 It was at the order of Damian c. 590 that Abraham moved his monastery from a more remote location, south of the Theban promontory (O.Crum Ad. 59).85 Abraham himself is named in the Luxor diptych (line 56).86 The topos of Epiphanius and the Monastery of Phoibammon are two of dozens of monastic sites that occupied the ancient Egyptian Theban Necropolis. The non-Chalcedonian position of its residents is exhibited in the material culture they produced and used.
The topos of Epiphanius was based in and around a huge Middle Kingdom saff tomb, the transverse hall of which was divided into rooms (Fig. 8). Stepping out of the bright sunlight and into cool dark antechamber lined with benches, the visitors’ eyes would adjust slowly to see that the walls were covered in text. Even if he or she could not read, the hundreds of lines could not fail to impress. Here, copied on the walls, were the words of the heroes of the non-Chalcedonian Church, Athanasius, Cyril, Severus, and Damian. Like images of saints painted elsewhere in the Theban Mountain, the textualized space of the reception room would cause residents and visitors alike to hold before their eyes the legitimate lineage of bishops and their Christology. Painted in red ochre on white plastered walls, the texts proclaimed winners and losers.
The surface of a monumental ancient Egyptian stela carved as part of the original tomb decoration bears the c. 578 synodal epistle of Damian originally addressed to Jacob Baradaeus, Bishop of Edessa, and the monks and clerics of the East (P.Mon.Epiph. Appendix I, Inscription A; Fig. 9).87 Translated into Coptic, this copy selectively omits passages perceived as irrelevant in a local context, such as the identity of the addressee and the condemnation of Paul of Antioch.88 The identity of the man who copied the text onto the stela is well-known through the documentary corpus he produced. He was Mark, the copyist and priest of the church of St Mark the Evangelist at nearby Qurnet Marai (O.Marc).89 Since Mark was a contemporary of Epiphanius, we can be assured that he copied the text in Damian's lifetime or not long after his death. The letter displays for visitors the heroes and villains of the Severan non-Chalcedonian Church, pairing Athanasius and Arius, Cyril and Nestorius, Dioscorus and Eutyches. At intervals, it catalogues the “heretics” condemned by earlier generations: Diodorus, Theodore, Nestorius, Theodoretus, Ibas, and Irenaeus (97–98); Marcion, Valentinus, Mani, and Eutyches (103–4); and Arius, Eunomius, Aetius, and Sabillius (127). It also quotes a supporting cast of church fathers such as John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa. It affirms Damian's immediate predecessors in the apostolic succession of the Church of Alexandria, Timothy, Theodosius, and Peter the IV (101), at one point specifically referring to the nine-year interval between Theodosius and Peter IV: “Theodosius and Peter, who revived the Church after him” (127–28). Severus of Antioch is given special status as “our holy Severus, in whom speak all our holy fathers.”
In addition to Damian's letter, other identifiable texts on the walls were Athanasius’ (anti-Arian) Letter to the Monks and Cyril's (anti-Nestorian) Twelve Anathemas, both in Greek, and epistles of Severus of Antioch in Coptic (P.Mon.Epiph. App. I, Inscriptions B–K). The Lord's Prayer appears in Syriac (P.Mon.Epiph. App. II). The texts attest the multi-lingual milieu of late antique Egypt, with Greek used in largely official contexts (imperial, ecclesiastical, fiscal), Coptic in unofficial contexts (private correspondence, monastic); Syriac is, however, uncommon in Upper Egypt (see below). In all, the texts on the walls form a hyper-textualized space.90 Their contents are united by the theme of Christ's incarnation and single nature, effectively providing a primer in non-Chalcedonian Christology. In invoking Athanasius, Cyril and Dioscorus, the past was shaped according to the non-Chalcedonian present with earlier bishops recast as non-Chalcedonians.91 The exile of some of these figures only served to prove their legitimacy because they stood up even against imperial authority.
Bishops and Their Networks, Real or Imagined
The Theban Mountain is usually characterised as a backwater in this period, when the capitals of Koptos/Keft to the north and Hermonthis/Ermont to the south flourished. Its networks are indeed largely regional over the period of c. 600–800, in which over 2300 documentary texts on papyri and ostraca name over 5000 individuals.92 Isolated correspondence between or about bishops beyond the neighboring sees—e.g., Damian (O.Crum Ad. 59), Constantine of Lycopolis (O.Mon.Epiph. 131), and Horame of Edfu (P.Pisentius 22)—nevertheless show connectivity at the upper levels of the church. Other isolated sources suggest trans-regional connections. The presence of Syriac epigraphic and papyrological material may in fact signal that Syriac-literates lived in or visited the topos. In addition to the Lord's Prayer painted in Syriac at the topos of Epiphanius noted above, a scrap of papyrus with Syriac numerals was found attached to a papyrus Coptic codex containing Questions and Answers (Cyril) almost certainly purchased at the topos c. 1832 (P.Bodmer 58).93 A Syriac alphabet on an ostracon purchased at Luxor is presumed to come from the region.94
The presence of Syriac-literates may point to visitors or even refugees to the region. Such an association is explicit in the commemoration of Severus of Antioch in a rock-cut tomb located a few hundred meters from the topos of Epiphanius. In the tomb evidencing late antique habitation on the south face of Sheikh abd el-Gurna, Theban Tomb (TT) 84, a Coptic graffito reads “the resting place of the Patriarch Severus. Pray for me my fathers.”95 Elsewhere in the Theban Mountain, Severus was revered, his Life and Letters surviving in codices (below), extracted on ostraca or referred to in correspondence.96 Across the river, at Karnak, within a church installed in the festival hall of Thutmosis III in the temple complex of Amun, one of the columns bearing images of saints is decorated with his likeness labelled “Saint Severus, the Archbishop of Antioch.”97 Whether or not Severus actually visited the Theban Mountain, the graffito in TT 84 suggests he was thought to have spent time there.
The Theban Mountain was demonstrably popular with local bishops after around 590. An earlier generation of bishops of Hermonthis were associated with that city's Mountain further south along the desert cliffs.98 Abraham's predecessor in the office, Andrew, lived at the topos of Apa Ezekiel, and Abraham himself moved his monastery closer to the cultivation on the order of Damian (above).99 In addition to Abraham and Pisentius, several others are documented in the extant corpus of ostraca, papyri, and inscriptions.100 Bishop Pisrael of Diokletianopolis/Kos is the sender and recipient of letters found at the topos of Epiphanius and may have lived there for a time (P.Mon.Epiph. 150, 426 and 150); other, unprovenanced letters, possibly from the same location, show him active in local synods (P.Pisentius 7, 8, 10, 11; see also O.CrumST 255).101 The Bishop Antony of Ape is also coeval with Pisentius (P.Pisentius 11). A Bishop Ananias writes to his “beloved children” on a limestone ostracon apologizing for not having come to them (O.Brit.Mus. Copt. I 48.2). This or another Bishop Ananias may be commemorated in a graffito in KV 2 in the Valley of the Kings (I.Syring. 141) and on a rock crystal stamp said to have been found at Medinet Habu.102 Some scholars have suggested that the Apa Ananias living in TT 85 and TT 87 at Sheikh abd el-Gurna may have later become Bishop Ananias.103 For other bishops we have only names with no indication of their sees. Serenianus, a contemporary of an Ananias, wrote to Epiphanius in an unpublished letter (MMA 23.3.702) found across the valley from his topos in TT 310, and a Bishop John appears as a co-author (together with a Pisentius) in a letter addressed to Epiphianus (P.Mon.Epiph. 133).104 Most of these bishops belong to the period contemporary with Epiphanius, Pisentius, and Abraham, c. 600–630. After this generation, bishops in the Theban Mountain are rare.105 In the context of section I above, we may surmise that after this period there was no longer any reason to avoid the capitals. Already with the death of Abraham in the 620s, his disciple Victor became abbot of the Monastery of Phoibammon, but he did not succeed him as bishop. Datable evidence for the occupation of the Theban Mountain suggests its settlements flourished until the end of the eighth century, but bishops no longer appear to be regular occupants of its monasteries and topoi.
The Monastic Inheritance
Residents of the Theban Mountain positioned themselves as inheritors of the monastic life established by Antony, Pachomius, and Shenoute.106 Monastic genealogies painted on walls or inscribed on portable objects linked the non-Chalcedonian residents of the Theban Mountain to their monastic heroes. A prayer written by Abraham, the Sinner, in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, KV 2 (I.Syring. 152), invokes Antony, Pachomius, and his successors.107 A lamp excavated at Medamoud, on the East Bank, distils the genealogy naming Pachomius, Shenoute, and Pisentius.108
A remarkable object, now lost, is a large cross with flared arms probably used in the liturgy, on display, or both. Originally measuring c. 62 x 42 cm, the painted inscription links Pachomius and his successors to Shenoute, Pisentius, and local abbots (Fig. 10).109 The text on the extant upper limb and cross bar begins, “Jesus Christ wins (nika)” and invokes ten saints (“O holy apa x”) before the text ends because the lower limb was broken off.110 Pachomius, his predecessor Palamon, and his successors Petronios, Theodore, and Horsiesios are named, followed by Shenoute, “the prophet,” Pisentius, “the bishop of our humble district,” Paul, “the anchorite,” Jacob, “the anchorite and proestos [i.e., superior],” a tenth holy apa, and perhaps others whose names would have appeared on the lost lower limb of the cross. Paul can be identified with the founder of the Monastery of Paul, probably at Deir el-Bakhit on Dra abu el-Naga, who was later venerated as a saint (P.KRU 106), and Jacob as its superior (P.CLT 1 [dated 698], 4, 5).111 The cross nicely encapsulates the geography and chronology of Upper Egyptian monasticism, moving chronologically from the fourth to about the eighth century (i.e., sometime after Jacob's death) and from Pachomian foundations, spanning the Panopolite to Latopolite regions, to the Shenoutean federation near Atripe, to the Koptite region of Pisentius (“the bishop of our humble district”), to the Theban Mountain and the Monastery of Paul, where the object was probably found. Like the Luxor diptych, the cross provides a legitimate succession, here of abbots, rather than bishops, from a post-Chalcedonian perspective.
Texts passed down through the manuscript tradition further validate the monastic succession recorded in Theban inscriptions and upon portable objects. In a copy of the Encomium on Pisentius (P.Lond.Copt. II 160, see below), Pisentius is explicitly compared with Pachomius,112 and, in another passage, to Pachomius and his teacher, Palamon, and successors, Petronios, Horsiesios and Theodore.113 Thus even if “the struggle between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian forces” “effectively removed the [Pachomian] movement from the plane of history,”114 its inheritance was nevertheless claimed by these Severan non-Chalcedonians.
Expressions of Non-Chalcedonian Identity
A range of other textual and visual culture attests the non-Chalcedonian faith of the residents of the region. Across the river at Karnak, the columns of the church in the festival hall of Thutmosis III in the temple complex of Amun (mentioned above) depict at least 46 fragmentary figures including biblical figures, bishops, martyrs, and monks, many familiar from the discussion in sections I and II above. Among those for which labels are extant are John the Baptist; John Chrysostom, Dioscorus of Alexandria, Severus of Antioch; St. Claudius; St. Antony, Theodore (the successor of Pachomius), and Besa (the successor of Shenoute). Here too representatives of the monastic genealogy are presented side by side with martyrs favored by non-Chalcedonian authors, such as Constantine of Lycopolis, who wrote an encomium on St. Claudius of Antioch. The representation of images of Dioscorus of Alexandria and Severus of Antioch can leave no doubt that this is a non-Chalcedonian display.115
Portable objects, foremost books, are vehicles that also communicate non-Chalcedonian identity.116 There are almost 100 Greek and Coptic codicological units from or said to be from Western Thebes. Almost 100 more are known through documentary sources such as letters and inventories. One inventory of books belonging to “the topos of Apa Elias of the Rock (petra)” contains c. 85 books (SB Kopt. I 12).117 The books are listed by title, and the material is given as either “papyrus” or “parchment,” with the former sometimes qualified as “new” or “old.” From these sources we learn that residents of the Theban Mountain read books from the Bible, above all.118 They also read lives of saints, martyrdoms, and homilies, many with a non-Chalcedonian character. Works by, about, or attributed to pre-Chalcedonian monks were read, e.g., Pachomius (SB Kopt. I 12r.39–40, 46, 50), Shenoute (SB Kopt I 12r.58–59, 61; vo 22; BM EA 71005; P.Lond.Copt. II 93),119 and the old men of Scetis (SB Kopt. I 12r.52). Church fathers are represented by Athanasius (SB Kopt. I 12r.39–40, 48–49; v7, 8, 25, 34; P.Lond.Copt. I 167), John Chrysostom (P.Lond. Copt. I 981; P.Lond.Copt. II 168), Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil of Caesarea (SB Kopt. I 12v.26 [Life of Macrina], SB Kopt I 12v.14; P.Lond.Copt. II 168; Ps-Basil, MMA 1152, Copt Ms 1), Eusebius of Caesarea (P.Mon.Epiph. 584), Cyril (SB Kopt. I 12v.23; P.Lond.Copt. I 179; P.Bodmer 58), and Dioscorus (P.Lond.Copt. II 170). Non-Chalcedonian works were read, such as a panegyric by Severus (SB Kopt. I 12v.15), a panegyric on Macarius of Tkow (P.Lond.Copt. II 170), and the Life of Hilaria (P.Lond.Copt. II 124).120
Works by and about Bishop Pisentius himself have been found in Western Thebes, demonstrating that they were read not long after his death. A leaf of his encomium is part of the same volume originally containing an oration by Pisentius, as well as texts on Collouthos the Stylite and the martyr Phoibammon, the latter being the saint to whom Abraham's monastery at Deir el-Bahri was dedicated (P.Lond.Copt. II 167). This fragmentary codex, acquired in 1846, was in fact probably part of that monastery's library.121 In 2005 another, almost complete codex containing an encomium on Pisentius was discovered in the rubbish dump outside a dwelling in and around an ancient Egyptian tomb (MMA 1152, Copt Ms 2).122 Not yet published in full,123 the preserved contents of this manuscript are close to the well-known Sahidic version, from the Esna-Edfu corpus, dated by its colophon to 1005 (P.Lond.Copt. II 160). None of these Sahidic Coptic witnesses contain the episode for which Pisentius is most famous, his conversion of a mummy in a rock-cut tomb.124
In several episodes in the Sahidic version, the Theban Mountain is characterized as a place of refuge. One anecdote early in the career of Pisentius recounts how, as an alibi to conceal his ill-health, he tells his brothers that he is travelling to “the Monastery of Abraham.”125 When the brothers, having assumed “he was in a cave/tomb (beb)” in the Theban Mountain, begin to worry, they at last find him in his usual cell (ri) with the biblical prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, “He of Mount (toou) Carmel.”126 The Monastery of Abraham in the same text is likely the topos of the holy Martyr Phoibammon at Deir el-Bahri.127 Later in the narrative, when officials sought to have him consecrated as bishop by Damian of Alexandria, Pisentius went to “a hidden place in the region (meros) of Jeme.”128 Decades later, when the Persians arrived in Egypt, Pisentius and his disciple John hid in the Mountain of Jeme.129 The motivation for his departure is given at a later point in the narrative: so that Pisentius could lead a life of peaceful meditation.130 The encomium does not refer to Chalcedonian politics, but the theme of refuge is cultivated as the prime motivation for spending time in the Theban Mountain.
Through the individuals they chose to honor, read, and depict, the inhabitants of the Theban Mountain made forceful statement of their identity as Severan non-Chalcedonians. Residents positioned themselves first as custodians of correct faith, as the rightful heirs of the first monks and orthodox exiles, especially Athanasius, Dioscorus, and Severus. In this context, the desert was redeployed as the appropriate place to undertake the monastic life and seek refuge.
The Luxor diptych is a palimpsest. In the introduction, I focussed only on its secondary use as a liturgical object. Indeed it was probably made as a presentation diptych decorated with an affixed border and an ornament on its exterior leaf.131 Traces of the under-text (hand 1) have now been revealed, demonstrating that it did not contain an earlier liturgical text. It was only in the seventh century that the diptych was repaired and reused as a liturgical object. Its list of archbishops of Alexandria comprises the names of many men who were not actually in post during their tenures (section I). They were in exile or in flight from arrest. The diptych is not simply a historical document of the succession of archbishops and bishops, but records the winners from a seventh century perspective, ignoring long exiles or even gaps between archbishops.
The metaphor of a palimpsest aptly describes the monastic literature surveyed in section II. Non-Chalcedonian monastic literature makes a virtue of exile, layering the actual or threatened exile of non-Chalcedonian heroes over Nicene exiles, monks and martyrs and ultimately the biblical exile of the Hebrews. The distinctive desert landscape of Egypt is re-imagined in accordance with descriptions of refuge in the Bible.
The Theban landscape too is a palimpsest (section III). Its ancient Egyptian monuments have been adapted and reused over the millennia. While the Theban Mountain may have been inhabited by Christians prior to the reign of Damian, it is with the arrival of the bishops he appointed that activity in the region flourished. The non-Chalcedonian character of the communities they lived in is beyond dispute. I have argued here that understanding how they may have claimed to be legitimate heirs rested, in part, on their self-understanding as orthodox exiles. They were not really exiles—that is, banished by emperors—but rather displayed the discourse of exile to legitimate their residence outside their capitals.