Monday, February 16, 2015


I started drafting this while Hosni Mubarak was still President, before the uprising in Tahrir Square that overthrew him, before the Muslim Brotherhood declared that they had no interest in power and would not stand in any elections, before the Muslim Brotherhood took power under Mohammed Morsi, before the year of tyrannical imposition of strict Sharia on Egypt that threatened the eradication of the ancient Coptic community, and the not much less antique Jewish one as well, before General Sisi stepped in and assumed power, destroying the Muslim Brotherhood (hopefully) for ever, stopping the free access of guns and rockets to Hamas through the Sinai tunnels to their Muslim Brothers (note that it is a Brotherhood; by implication, women are not included), before General Sisi turned out to be as tyrannical and autocratic a ruler as Mubarak was before; so that, as I write this now, most of Egypt is wishing they had just left Mubarak in power, because, as bad as things were, what followed has been worse, and what is going to follow is going to be worse still.

And even as I am completing this draft, some weeks later, Egyptian airplanes are bombing Libya (click here for more), a revenge attack for the beheading of "21 Egyptian Christians" by Islamic State in Libya over the weekend (I have placed "21 Egyptian Christians"in quotation marks, because yes they were Christians, which is a generic, a universal term; but quite specifically they were Coptic Christians, and this needs a more specific description; for which, if you are interested, read on below; and if you are seriously interested, go to their own website for a much fuller picture.

First there was Hiktapah, which was the indigenous name for the country's capital before the Greeks renamed it Memphis, and mis-pronounced Hiktapah as Aigyptos, which became Egypt, so that the concept of an Egyptian Copt is tautological, but then so is the name Jesus Christ, both parts of which mean Saviour, and again the Greek is the problem. Christianity reached Egypt before any other country, not because Jesus spent much of his childhood there - which is generally forgotten - but because Mark, who wrote the first Gospel, brought the teachings of Jesus to Egypt about a dozen years after the Crucifixion, during the reign of Emperor Nero. 

Some of the earliest surviving Christian texts, including a very early Gospel of St John, are in the Coptic language, and though the Copts have their own Pope, they have also provided Popes in Rome, as well as St Athanasius, one of the principle creators of the Nicene Creed, on which Christianity as we know it today is largely based; though even this is ironical, because the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, which divided Christendom between Rome and Byzantium, specifically left the Copts out on their own. This may have been because there are significant differences between Coptic Christian beliefs and the theology of Rome, Byzantium or the Protestant world later on, of which the concept of monophysitism is the most significant; but as I cannot begin to understand or explain what seems to me the complete absurdity of monophysitism, you will have to look elsewhere for this - it has something to do with Christ having more than one nature at the same time, or separately, being human, but also divine, whatever that may mean in your personal theological dictionary. The separation may also have had something to do with residual Gnostic ideas within the Coptic branch of Christianity - Gnostic ideas were declared heretical in the 2nd century, when Irenaeus of Lyon gathered all the known Gospels together, and declared any that rejected the Incarnation, and quite a few others besides, as heresies, leaving only the four that you can find in the New Testament as Christian orthodoxy, and about thirty-seven others on the Index of Prohibited Literature in the vaults of the Vatican, or burned on sacred fires. Most Coptic Christian literature was on that fire. What is left is detailed in my Biblenet, insofar as it can be.

The centre of the Coptic faith has always been Alexandria (read Lawrence Durrell's wonderful "Alexandria Quartet", in which Coptic politics features largely), the city that provided the ancient world with its greatest library, until that barbarian Julius Caesar burned it to the ground; the same city that brought the Jewish Bible to the rest of the world, through the Septuagint, the translation into Greek carried out there by Jewish scholars; a city of many great scholars and men of medicine and culture down the ages, including multitudes of Jewish and Moslem as well as Coptic. If any city in the world can claim first place in the list of cities of serious intellectual life, unbroken since time immemorial, Alexandria will rank higher than any European city, and compete with any others that might come to mind (not that many really, or not unbroken anyway). But sadly, few Copts are left in Alexandria today, though between ten and sixty million are believed to live worldwide.

Marks For: 8

Marks Against: 8

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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