Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Julien Delhez: The Bible, the Monastic Fathers, and the Road towards Wisdom: Transmission and organisation of knowledge in Shenoute’s Canons

Shenoute, abbot of the White Monastery (†465), ruled a monastic federation of Upper Egypt for most of his life. His Canons, collections of works written for an internal audience, contain numerous hints on the attitudes encouraged or discouraged among his monks, especially when it comes to the attitudes deemed appropriate for receiving the knowledge offered by Shenoute. In this paper, passages of the Canons are first used to show the nature of the knowledge provided by Shenoute to the monks, a knowledge which came from the Bible, from the Monastic Fathers, and from Shenoute himself. Secondly, a lexicographical analysis based on co-occurrences shows more precisely what attitudes are associated, in Shenoute’s view, with knowledge (ⲙⲛⲧⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ) or with ignorance (ⲙⲛⲧⲁⲧⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ). Thirdly, using quantitative methods makes it possible to better assess the distribution and context of biblical quotations related to knowledge. The paper ends by discussing Shenoute’s epistemological paradigm, which emphasised both the necessity of distinguishing real knowledge from “false” knowledge (that of Shenoute’s opponents), and the necessity, for the monks, of realising their limitations, as when he points out: “we are not wiser than those who set the rules for us” (Canon 9). It is likely that Shenoute wanted to encourage them to pay attention to the teachings of the Scriptures and to accept him as their only interpreter, instead of relying on themselves and being “wise for themselves alone” (Is 5:21).

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