Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Erik Kolb - "It Is With God's Words That Burn Like a Fire": Monastic Discipline and Biblical Hermeneutics in Shenoute's Monastery

The writings of Shenoute, the long-serving leader of the White Monastery in late antique Egypt, provide a wealth of evidence documenting various disciplinary problems that arose among the monks as well as the responses that perceived offenses provoked among those in positions of power. In addition to describing the characteristics of the punishments themselves – rebukes, penance, excommunication, demotion, beatings, and expulsion – Shenoute’s writings highlight the conflict and discord that the administration of these punishments engendered. In several texts from Shenoute’s Canons, the abbot employs biblical citations and allusions in order to justify his decision to remove disobedient monks from the monastery. Not all of Shenoute’s subordinates, however, agreed with his interpretations of biblical passages as applied to monastic discipline. In this paper, I examine the hermeneutic battles that occurred under Shenoute’s leadership – in particular, the divergent interpretations of the parable of the fig tree in Luke 16, the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13, and the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22, all of which were contested texts utilized both by proponents of Shenoute’s expulsion policy and by those who advocated a more lenient approach to monastic punishment.

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