Award Finalist: Children and Family in Late Antique Egyptian Monasticism was named a finalist in the highly competitive American Academy of Religion book awards for 2021.
This monograph is the first book-length study of children in one of the birthplaces of early Christian monasticism, Egypt. Although comprised of men and women who had renounced sex and family, the monasteries of late antiquity raised children, educated them, and expected them to carry on their monastic lineage and legacies into the future. Children within monasteries existed in a liminal space, simultaneously vulnerable to the whims and abuses of adults and also cherished as potential future monastic prodigies. In this book, I examine diverse sources - letters, rules, saints' lives, art, and documentary evidence - to probe these paradoxes. The book demonstrates how early Egyptian monasteries provided an intergenerational continuity of social, cultural, and economic capital while also contesting the traditional family's claims to these forms of social continuity.
Melania the Elder and her granddaughter Melania the Younger were major figures in early Christian history, using their wealth, status, and forceful personalities to shape the development of nearly every aspect of the religion we now know as Christianity. This volume examines their influence on late antique Christianity and provides an insightful portrait of their legacies in the modern world. Departing from the traditionally patriarchal view, Melania gives a poignant and sometimes surprising account of how the rise of Christian institutions in the Roman Empire shaped our understanding of women’s roles in the larger world.
"In this tightly focused volume, Catherine Chin and Caroline Schroeder have done a splendid job giving shape to the emergent Christianity of the late Roman Empire through the lens of the Melanias. The work is of a very high caliber.”–Susanna Elm, Sidney H. Ehrman Professor of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley
"[T]he book embodies a coherent and compelling intellectual project and vision.... [I]ts multiple and distinct yet convergent perspectives offer a delightfully kaleidoscopic view of these two “small, if colorful,” figures and the strange worlds of which they were a part." -- Virginia Burrus, review in Studies in Late Antiquity
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The first monograph on the asceticism practiced by both men and women at the important early Egyptian monastery led by Shenoute. It examines Shenoute's letters, sermons, and rules.
"This is an important book....This volume offers a superb introduction to him and his writings, and in the process opens the door to rethinking the origins and development of asceticism in Egypt." -- James Goehring in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (Read entire review, pdf)
"Caroline Schroeder presents the first analysis of the ascetic ideology of one of the most important figures in early Egyptian monasticism, Shenoute of Atripe."—David Brakke, Indiana University
"... a stimulating and well-argued treatment of a neglected subject" -- Richard J. Goodrich in The Classical Review (Read entire review, pdf)
A "remarkable study" -- Pamela Bright in The Journal of Religion (Read entire review, pdf)
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Monastic Bodies has also been reviewed in Speculum, Church History, The American Benedictine Review, Religious Studies Review, and other journals.
Caroline T. Schroeder and Amir Zeldes, “A Collaborative Ecosystem for Digital Coptic Studies”, Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities special issue on “Collecting, Preserving, and Disseminating Endangered Cultural Heritage for New Understandings through Multilingual Approaches”, 2020, available free and open access online
Scholarship on underresourced languages bring with them a variety of challenges which make access to the full spectrum of source materials and their evaluation difficult. For Coptic in particular, large scale analyses and any kind of quantitative work become difficult due to the fragmentation of manuscripts, the highly fusional nature of an incorporational morphology, and the complications of dealing with influences from Hellenistic era Greek, among other concerns. Many of these challenges, however, can be addressed using Digital Humanities tools and standards. In this paper, we outline some of the latest developments in Coptic Scriptorium, a DH project dedicated to bringing Coptic resources online in uniform, machine readable, and openly available formats. Collaborative web-based tools create online 'virtual departments' in which scholars dispersed sparsely across the globe can collaborate, and natural language processing tools counterbalance the scarcity of trained editors by enabling machine processing of Coptic text to produce searchable, annotated corpora.
Amir Zeldes & Caroline T. Schroeder, "Computational Methods for Coptic: Developing and Using Part-of-Speech Tagging for Digital Scholarship in the Humanities," Digital Studies in the Humanities 30, suppl 1 (2015): i164-176; available free and open access online
This paper motivates and details the first implementation of a freely available part of speech tag set and tagger for Coptic. Coptic is the last phase of the Egyptian language family and a descendent of the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. Unlike classical Greek and Latin, few resources for digital and computational work have existed for ancient Egyptian language and literature until now. We evaluate our tag set in an inter-annotator agreement experiment and examine some of the difficulties in tagging Coptic data. Using an existing digital lexicon and a small training corpus taken from several genres of literary Sahidic Coptic in the first half of the first millennium, we evaluate the performance of a stochastic tagger applying a fine grained and coarse grained set of tags within and outside the domain of literary texts. Our results show that a relatively high accuracy of 94-95% correct automatic tag assignment can be reached for literary texts, with substantially worse performance on documentary papyrus data. We also present some preliminary applications of natural language processing to the study of genre, style and authorship attribution in Coptic and discuss future directions in applying computational linguistics methods to the analysis of Coptic texts.
“An Early Monastic Rule Fragment from the Monastery of Shenoute,” Le Muséon 127 (2014): 19-39 This article presents an edition, translation, and analysis of a previously unpublished fragment of monastic rules from the monastery of Shenoute, otherwise known as the White Monastery. The folio currently resides in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. It comes from the very first known letter written by Shenoute. Therefore, it is one of our earliest monastic rule fragments. The article publishes the rules and examines their parallels in the Pachomian rules as well as their importance for understanding the early history of Shenoute and his monastery.
"Women in Anchoritic and Semi-Anchoritic Monasticism in Egypt: Rethinking the Landscape," Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 83 (2014): 1-17. WINNER of the Jane Dempsey Douglass Prize in 2015
Outside of hagiography, the evidence for female anchorites in early Christian Egypt remains scarce. House ascetics in cities survive for us in documentary and other sources, but women monks in non-coenobitic, nonurban environments are more difficult to locate, to the point at which some scholars have begun to question their very existence. This essay seeks to change the parameters of the scholarly debate over the nature of non-coenobitic female monastic experience. It examines hagiography, monastic rules and letters, and documentary papyri to reassess the state of the field and to produce a fuller portrait of anchoritic and semi-anchoritic female asceticism. Non-coenobitic women's monasticism existed, and it crossed boundaries of geography and social status, as well as the traditional categories of lavra, eremitic, coenobitic, and house asceticism. This interdisciplinary approach provides insights not only into women ascetics’ physical locations but also into their class, education, and levels of autonomy. An intervention into the historiography of women's asceticism in late antique Egypt, this study ultimately questions the advisability of using traditional categorizations of “anchoritic,” “lavra,” and “coenobitic” to classify female monasticism, because they obscure the particularities and diversity of female ascetic history.
"Child Sacrifice in Egyptian Monastic Culture: from Familial Renunciation to Jephthah's Lost Daughter," Journal of Early Christian Studies 20 (2012): 269-30 The Apophthegmata Patrum tells the story of a man who, wishing to join a monastery, reenacts Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac by proceeding to throw his son in the Nile River on the command of the monastic father. Like Isaac, the boy is spared. This account of extreme familial renunciation in the service of the ascetic life is not the only account of a child killing or attempted killing in monastic literature. Nor does the biblical prefigurement of ascetic renunciation exhaust these narratives' significance. This essay examines accounts of child killings in Egyptian monastic culture through the lens of various textual and visual sources: the Greek Apophthegmata Patrum, paintings of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter and the averted sacrifice of Isaac at the monasteries of Saint Antony on the Red Sea and Saint Catherine at Sinai, and exegesis of the same biblical narratives in the writings of the Egyptian monk Shenoute and other ascetic authors. What we will see is that powerful moments or rituals of transition and transformation accompany these stories. Thus the textual and visual representations of these killings or attempted killings are theologically, politically, and even socially generative. They reaffirm priestly authority and theological orthodoxy in the monasteries at the same time as they invite male monks to identify with both male and female exemplars. As these paintings and texts reveal, child sacrifice in monastic culture represented not merely an ascetic injunction to abandon family, but, perhaps more radically, an ascetic reproduction of monastic community and genealogy.
“Children in Early Egyptian Monasticism,” in Children in Late Ancient Christianity, eds. Cornelia Horn and Robert Phenix (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 317-38.
"Queer Eye for the Ascetic Guy? Homoeroticism, Children, and the Making of Monks in Late Antique Egypt," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 77(2009)
A famous instruction about children in monasteries reads: "Do not bring young boys here. Four churches in Scetis are deserted because of boys." Taken from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, this apophthegm exposes the presence of homoeroticism and anxieties about the homoerotic, especially erotic encounters with children, in early Christian ascetic communities. This essay examines the construction of male sexuality in early Egyptian monasticism, focusing on the Sayings and the rules of the monastic leader Shenoute of Atripe It argues that the masculine ascetic ideal builds upon certain classical ideals of masculinity, especially the control of the passions, but purports to eschew classical models of eroticism in which the adolescent male represents the ideal sexual partner. However, these sources are designed to be recited or retold as edifying texts; despite their overt disavowal of sexual contact between men and boys, their retelling and rereading keeps homoeroticism and the representation of boys as sexually desirable objects alive in the ascetic imagination.
"The Erotic Asceticism of the Passion of Andrew: the Apocryphal Acts of Andrew, the Greek Novel, and Platonic Philosophy," in the New Testament Apocrypha volume of the Feminist Companion to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature Series, ed. Amy-Jill Levine (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield University Press; New York: Continuum)
The Apocryphal "Passion of Andrew" reworks generic elements from the Hellenistic novels using elements of‹Platonic philosophy to present a radically different consummation of love and desire. The erotic love of the novels is consummated in sexual passion, marriage, and procreation. Love in the Passion of Andrew culminates in union with the beloved, but the beloved is the figure of the divine, to whom the characters are introduced by their teacher Andrew. True love and properly oriented desire result in Platonic objectives: an understanding of the inner self, unification with the divine, and a sense of peace and rest. This text presents one of the earliest links between Platonism and strong, Christian asceticism outside of the Nag Hammadi writings and predates the Platonizing asceticism of Origenist monasticism in Egypt by centuries.
"Prophecy and Porneia in Shenoute's Letters" Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 65 (2006): 81-97
In his letters to the men and women of his monastery, Shenoute frequently draws on prophetic rhetoric taken from the Christian Old Testament to enhance his authority as an ascetic leader. In these same letters, Shenoute uses gendered and sexualized language to discuss and condemn sins he believes are being committed in the monastery. This paper will examine the relationship between Shenoute's use of prophetic discourse and his frequent condemnation of the sin of porneia in select texts. It will argue that Shenoute's references to sexual sin should not be interpreted simply as an account of the activities of the monks under his supervision. Rather, Shenoute's rhetoric reflects his vision of the monastery as a feminine space or figure comparable to Israel or Jerusalem in the Christian Old Testament, an entity whose sins are construed as faithlessness to God as the true object of Israel's, and now the monastery's, devotion.
"'A Suitable Abode for Christ': The Church Building as Symbol of Ascetic Renunciation in Early Monasticism," Church History 73:3 (2004)
A handful of early ascetic authors wrote about the theological significance they found in the building of churches. These include the wealthy Latin patron Paulinus of Nola (Italy), two anonymous members of the Pachomian monasteries in Egypt, and the Egyptian archimandrite Shenoute. The churches built for each of these late antique communities held deep theological significance. They symbolized the ascetic endeavors undertaken at those communities. Since for each writer, the ascetic struggle was constituted in slightly different terms, with different goals, practices, and interpretations of those practices, so were the church buildings imbued with different meanings. Yet, in each case, the church held meaning beyond its mere walls. Each was constructed as much by a theology and a discourse of ascetic discipline as it was by wood, brick, and stone. Shenoute’s texts on the construction of the church at the monastery he directed are the most extensive treatment of this topic, and yet Shenoute is the least well known of the surviving authors. This essay explores the ascetic significance of Shenoute’s church building in the fifth century and concludes by comparing his church as a symbol of renunciation to other late antique authors.
"Ancient Egyptian Religion on the Silver Screen: Modern Anxieties about Race, Ethnicity, and Religion," Journal of Religion and Film, October 2003
This article examines the representations of religion and race in The Mummy (1932), Stargate, the Ten Commandments, and Prince of Egypt. It originated from my experiences teaching ancient Egyptian history and religion.
"Purity and Pollution in the Asceticism of Shenute of Atripe," in vol. 35 of Studia Patristica, eds. M. F. Wiles and E. J. Yarnold (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 142-47
In his earliest letters, the fourth-century Egyptian monk Shenoute (or Shenute) of Atripe outlines a purity code in which the sins of any one monk can pollute the entire monastery, thus threatening the salvation of other members of the community. Shenoute uses this understanding of sin as pollution to critique the current leadership of the monastery.
"Francia as Christendom: The Merovingian Vita Domnae Balthildis," Medieval Encounters 4 (1998): 265-284.
Compared to its predecessors in Christian literature, the Merovingian Vita Domnae Balthildis depicts a new articulation of the Christianization of a kingdom. In this text, Francia is Christianized by its peaceful unification through the political and ecclesiastical manoeuverings of ruler consistently described as humble and pious. The hagiographer combines political rhetoric with Christian rhetoric to produce a new paradigm for the ideal ruler: a queen whose piety and humility lead to the political unification of her country and to its favor before God. This portrayal of the Christianization process does not follow the previous literary models of Clovis and Constantine who converted to Christianity in warñtime settinga and Christianized their nations through their conversions. Balthild's Christianization involves the unification of Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy, her patronage and reformation of monasteries, and her personal and royal acts of Christian charity. Scriptural allusions also depict Balthild as the heir to a line of other humble, biblical women, favored by God, who saved their people. This particular recasting of political success in the rhetoric of faith represents a new understanding of royal, female piety, as well. Balthild's transformation of Francia is her act of saintly virtue; unlike previous queens, her sanctity does not rest on private acts of faith but on public acts as a queen. Balthild, according to the author, is the linchpin in God's salvific plan for Francia, which itself is conceived of as a new Israel or an early glimmer of what would later be called Christendom.
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