Saving History? Egyptian Hagiography in Its Space and Time

In: Church History and Religious Culture
Peter van Minnen
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Egyptian hagiography, just as other kinds of hagiography, originates in a certain time and place. The problem is that we can rarely pin down what part of the evidence is early and what evidence derives from later developments. We also often do not know where exactly the evidence comes from. In this paper, I will first discuss some of the problems this poses in dealing with Egyptian hagiography as a source of history, then I will argue that it is a kind of history after all: from about 400, when Egyptian hagiography takes off, it consistently provides a totalizing explanation for what had happened in the course of the fourth century: people had turned from paganism to Christianity, but no one had taken much notice while it happened. Egyptian hagiography does not build on authentic memory of what had happened in the fourth century, but amounts to an imaginative explanation-after-the-fact, largely inspired by the Bible and other literature.

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