Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Piwowarczyk Przemysław: Modes of knowing among Coptic monks of Western Thebes
The Theban dossier, consisting of thousands of letters and documents preserved on ostraca (and more rarely on papyri) registers the daily lives of monks living in numerous hermitages and a few larger monasteries in a limited area. My paper aims to describe modes of collecting, ordering, and accessing knowledge within these monastic communities. Undoubtedly, it was memorised Scripture that was the fundamental repository of knowledge and mode of thinking for Theban Christians. We do not deal in this case with a sheer textual knowledge. Although written biblical texts were read, we know that their memorisation was expected. The adaptations of biblical phrases not only provide an evidence for being quoted from memory but also for the Scriptures being modified in a line with demands of a current situation. Specific knowledge about the life of monks was contained within monastic rules that were a constant point of reference. Predominately, the rules referred to ritual knowledge of behaviour patterns enabling monastic resocialization and strengthening monastic identity. Whenever it was impossible to refer to the above-mentioned repositories of knowledge, there was still a possibility to seek an advice from an elder and more experienced monk who had an exceptional access to God’s will and was familiar with its appropriate spiritual remedies. All the three modes of knowledge have in common a performative or even ritualistic character, ultimate rooting in supernatural authority, oral transfer, and capability for very local or even individual actualisations.