At Coptic Pope Funeral: Hypatia & library of Alexandria remembered


“The rise of the Coptic church in ancient Alexandria coincided with the destruction of its famous library, the desecration of its amazing temples and sanctuaries, and the murder of its last philosopher, Hypatia.”

Dr. Ashraf Ezzat

Hypatia & Ancient Alexandria – Poster of Agora

Ironically, Modern day Copts are enduring through the same persecution their early patriarchs had inflicted upon the minority of devotees of the ancient Egyptian beliefs. But now, the question is not whether history repeats itself or not, for it certainly does, rather we should wonder if man ever took notice of the recurrence?

Introduction of Christianity in Egypt

Lately, the world has begun to hear of The Copts of Egypt more often after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and unleashed a deluge of islamists aiming for political power.

What most people know is that Egypt Copts are the Christian minority which has been suffering, in the last decade, from persecution by Egypt’s Muslim majority- or that how the media goes about it.

But the story of Egypt’s Copts remains largely unknown to the world and many of the Copts as well.

The history of Egypt is not just about the stories of the pharaohs and pyramids; rather it is the intro to the story of mankind.

Egypt’s history covers some five thousand years, and encompasses the origin of civilization, the rise of the Greeks and Romans, the establishment of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions and spans over the medieval ages with the crusades and conquests of the Arabs until it reaches the colonial era.

Interestingly, the origin of the name “Coptic” is derived from the word Copti.  The Arabs who invaded Egypt had problems pronouncing the term, Aegypti, which means “Egyptian citizen” in Greek.  Essentially, they changed the word to Copti.

Of course, at that time, Egypt was a Christian nation, so the term became limited to actual Egyptian Christians as the country became more and more Muslim. But Egypt, before the founding of Alexandria church had been embracing and maintaining for centuries the ancient Egyptian beliefs – far too sophisticated and influential to call it paganism.

The foundational roots of the Coptic Church are based in Egypt but it has a worldwide following. According to historical records, the church was established by Saint Mark the apostle and evangelist in the middle of the 1st century (approximately AD 42). The head of the Coptic Church is the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy See of Saint Mark.

Egyptians enjoyed one of the richest religious cultures in ancient world. In their splendid temples prayers were offered to the creator of the universe centuries before any revelation fell unto earth from heaven. The temple of Karnak was perhaps the largest place of worship in the whole ancient world.

And if the valley of the Nile was blessed by the gods, one wonders what use did Christianity possibly have for the religious Egyptians?  What were the chances of Christ to compete with the mighty Amun-ra or Osiris? How was a multi-faith environment to reconcile with a foreign religion whose followers exclusively believed in one humiliated god?  … Well, This proved to be both the challenge and the tragedy for Ptolemaic Alexandria, the cosmopolitan city that combined the wisdom of Thoth and the capriciousness of Dionysus.

Pope Cyril vs. Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda III (1923-2012) & Pope Cyril (c. 376-444)

Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, died on March 17 at age 88 after presiding over the largest Christian community in the Middle East for more than four decades. He was mainly a controversial and conservative leader, upholding the church’s rigorous dogma and refusing to bend to any reform calls.

Throughout his long patriarchy Pope Shenouda III was always keen to show the church’s loyalty to the ruling regime. That is why he was striving to keep Christian youths out of Cairo’s Tahrir Square during last year’s popular uprising — the Coptic pope knew that Mubarak regime was the barrier, may be the last one, against an Islamist takeover of the country.

As the Thousands of Christian worshippers filled the somber hall of Alexandria’s St. Mark’s Cathedral and its surrounding streets for the mourning of the charismatic Pope Shenouda III, similar crowd of devout Christians, albeit newly converted from paganism, stood in the same cathedral that used to be an ancient Egyptian/Greek temple almost two thousands years earlier, exactly In 412 A.D when the infamous Pope Cyril (later St. Cyril) became patriarch of Alexandria.

Isis and her son Horus/ Mary and Jesus

While the founding of the Alexandria church might be accredited to St. Mark the Apostle, the steadfast and inflexible orthodox doctrine of the Coptic Church is primarily attributed to pope Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444)

Before the patriarchy of Cyril, Egypt and Alexandria in particular, enjoyed a milieu of multiculturalism and tolerance as the pagans, Jews and new Christians learned to live with each others.  And just as generations of Egyptians used to revere goddess Isis and her son Horus the newly converted to Christianity didn’t find it hard to relate to the story of Mary and her son Jesus.

Of all the foreign invaders of Egypt, the Ptolemies, were perhaps the only ones to acknowledge the fact that they were taking hold of a nation that had a history and a culture of no lass stature than the Greek’s.

The last days of Hypatia & Alexandria Library

Hypatia(front to the left, amongst scholars) in school of Athens- by Raphael

So during the Hellenistic era in Egypt, The ancient Egyptian wisdom and deities continued to be hallowed in exaltation as more temples were being built for Egyptian gods.  And In Alexandria, an ambitious plan to turn the city into the hub of all the wisdom and knowledge of the ancient world was underway as the library of Alexandria was getting ever bigger and more illustrious.

The library comprised perhaps as many as 500,000 manuscripts – the whole corpus of knowledge accumulated by ancient philosophers, scientists and poets. And it was all contained in a building thought by the ancients to have been of surpassing beauty.

From the time of its creation in the third century B.C. until its destruction seven centuries later, the library of Alexandria was the House of Wisdom and the promise of pluralism in the ancient world. One of the last generations of the library’s scholars was the legendary Hypatia.

Hypatia worked in the Library as a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic School of philosophy.  At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. When empires were falling and madness prevailed she stood alone to unite the world and safeguard its sanity and wisdom.

A theological dispute in the early 5th century sparked over the nature of the Christ and whether the Virgin Mary should be called the “Mother of God” or “Mother of Jesus”.

Initiated by the unbending  fundamentalist Cyril this early theological dispute led Alexandria church under his patriarchy to separate from the Roman church and start, the defiant to any reform, Coptic church in Egypt and all Africa.

Egyptians, during long centuries of the dark ages and Arab/Muslim conquest remained loyal to the faith of their fathers and to the Cyrillian fundamentalist view of Christology. That’s why the Coptic Church still keeps its ancient rituals and thoughts and upholds the same controversial practices like exorcism to deliver the sons of the church from, believe it or not, Demonic possession. (Watch the practice of exorcism in Coptic church- Video)

Cyril is a controversial figure not only because of the anathemas he pronounced against the archbishop and patriarchs of the Constantinople and Rome and not for his endorsement of expulsion of the Jews from Alexandria but because of his involvement in the abhorrent and tragic murder of the Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia by a gang of pro-Cyril Coptic monks.

At the turn of the fourth century, the growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and trying to eradicate ancient Egyptian religion and tradition. Hypatia stood at the epicenter of that mighty turn of events. Outspoken and fully aware of the perils of an impending theocracy Hypatia fearlessly carried on with her scholarly activities.

“All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final. Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The mind of a child accepts them, and only through great pain, perhaps even tragedy, can the child be relieved of them.”

Archbishop Cyril despised her because she was a symbol of, free thinking, learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church along with paganism as a great danger.

In the year 415, on her way home Hypatia was waylaid by a fanatical mob of Cyril’s parishioners and monks. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Afterwards and in one of history’s absurd moments, Cyril was made a saint.

To whatever part of the world you travel, to whatever page of history you turn, you find the endowed and established clergy using their holy scripture in defense of whatever form of slave-driving may then be popular and profitable- watch closely now as Islamists use Sharia law as an excuse to seize power.

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory now. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia’s death which marked the end of Classical antiquity and wisdom. On the other hand the rising tide of Christian fundamentalism ushered in the long dark ages that immersed millions of clueless people in endless and needless conflict and obscurantism wasting valuable centuries of the human life on earth.

Bidding farewell to Pope Shenouda III and as the thousands of modern-day Christians walked out of St. Mark cathedral in Alexandria, Mobs of Muslim fanatics watched them with eyes filled with the same menace that had before chased and wiped out the minority of devotees of the ancient Egyptian religion, in other words, the pagans.

At the turn of the second millennium A.D, one can’t help but wonder whether man grows wiser as the thousands of years go by during his long journey on earth or does he dwell in endless cycles of evanescent hope followed by recurring long ages of darkness?

The one thing we know is that the Wheels keep on turning and we keep on returning to the same spot where the library of Alexandria once stood and Hypatia murdered.

Refrences:

- Youssef Zidan’s Book  ‘Azazel’

- Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria – Wikepedia

- Ancient Allepo Scrolls by Egyptian Monk

- Remembering Hypatia

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8 thoughts on “At Coptic Pope Funeral: Hypatia & library of Alexandria remembered

  1. Pingback: At Coptic Pope Funeral: Hypatia & Library of Alexandria Remembered – Salem | Speculative Thinker

  2. Dr. Ashraf Ezzat:

    Your article, entitled At Coptic Pope Funeral: Hypatia & Library of Alexandria Remembered, is unfortunately rather disgusting and appalling to read. It is very hilarious that an Egyptian medical doctor would base his article on a movie filled with discrepancies & plot holes, and choose to ignore actual history.

    I encourage you to rely on and research the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church first, before quickly grabbing a movie filled with errors and basing an article on it.

    The Coptic Orthodox Church has not only been under persecution in the last decade. It has been under persecution since the time of Christ, and also since the time of the Emperor Diocletion in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Coptic Orthodox Church, of all other Churches, has never stopped being persecuted throughout its nearly 2000 years of faith.

    To even mention the false portrayal of the death of Hypatia in the same article that speaks about the humanitarian and peace-loving departed Coptic Pope is indeed untimely and extremely offensive at this sensitive time in the Coptic Orthodox Church. And for the record, there is NO evidence that St. Cyril of Alexandria had anything to do with the death of the philosopher Hypatia. Mobs, as you may well know, are very uncontrollable.

    Please see these links:

    An Unbiased View of St. Cyril of Alexandria
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04592b.htm

    The Historical Inaccuracies of the Movie “AGORA” by Alejandro Amenabar
    http://www.impantokratoros.gr/D3C02F38.en.aspx

    I urge you to redraft the article and republish it reflecting the true history of the Church of Alexandria. I also ask that the departed Coptic Pope be left out of an article full of carelessness, discrepancies, and lack of respect for a person who has served the world with dignity, honor, and the utmost respect for the individual human being.

    • I make it a rule of thumb not to respond to angry comments. Nevertheless, your comment, hysterical as it is, reflect your irritation and disbelief, that in our modern time when most MSM is cuddled in the consensual comfort of exposing the worldwide Muslim fanaticism and intolerance that I myself have repeatedly condemned in my writings, you’re suddenly confronted with an article that take us back to similar days when the Christians were unforgiving, intolerant and moreover helped, through their obscurantism and ignorance, to ruin the last vestiges of the ancient and classic wisdom and knowledge.
      Finally, my article doesn’t rely on ‘Agora’ film, though it is a historical drama thoroughly researched – Justin Pollard is the historical consultant of the film.
      Besides to the historical literature of the Coptic church of Alexandria, I made use of the latest archeological discovery found around the perimeter of St. Simeon Citadel near Aleppo, Syria where Scrolls were discovered written by a monk, in Syriac language, in the fifth century AD.
      In the ancient scrolls, details were mentioned that recounted the major historical events of Alexandria and the Orthodox Church during the patriarchy of Cyril whom was explicitly blamed, in the scrolls, for fueling the Christian mob of Monks (Parabalani) into murdering the philosopher Hypatia.

      • Well said Dr Ezzat. I love your work. I get the same kind of responses from Christians when I talk about their history. They all prefer the flowery version. None of them want to face the facts. I have found your work both thoroughly researched and well written. Thank you for your time and effort. Yours is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs to read.

  3. Thank you Dr. Ezzat for your work, and reminding us of this most remarkable woman.

    But those were no ‘Christians’ who savagely killed Hypatia.

    Even Socrate’s, in his account of the murder, makes it clear that “surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.”

    Socrates mentions ‘politics’. It is often the case that religion is blamed for evil rather than worldly greed and the all-too-human desire to dominate others. Sometimes persons lie and use religion for evil, but that is sadly not true of Christians only.

    In the west Islam is invariably held responsible for a bloody ‘culture war’ – when in fact the tensions are caused largely by the west’s desire for oil and control (neo-colonialism/captalism) and the demographic surge among Muslims which leads to their ‘invasion’ of Europe. (Allowed and encouraged by European political ‘leaders’ seeking cheap labor and a divided, easily manipulated work force – capitalism again).

    Please don’t blame Christians. Let those who value justice and peace in the world be united. Please have mercy on the Copts, as mercy is an attribute of God.

    This is from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/paganism/hypatia.html

    “Of the little that is known about Hypatia, the following account by Socrates Scholasticus, which was written about AD 450, is the best and most substantial.

    “There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more. Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles [oyster shells]. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril’s episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius [AD 415].”

    Ecclesiastical History (VII.15)

  4. From Sermon XXIX of the commentary on the gospel of Luke, by Cyril of Alexandria (I do not know why it did not show up in the previous post):

    ——————————————————————————————–
    The blessed Paul speaks the truth where he says, that “if any one be in Christ, he is a new creation:” for all things have become new, both in Him and by Him, both covenant, and law, and mode of life. But look closely and see how thoroughly the mode of life here described becomes those holy teachers, who were about to proclaim the message of salvation to every quarter of the world: and yet from this very fact they must expect that their persecutors would be beyond numbering, and that they would plot against them in many different ways, if then the result had been that the disciples had become indignant at these vexations, and wished for vengeance on those that annoyed them, they would have kept silence and passed them by, no longer offering them the divine message, nor calling them to the knowledge of the truth. It was necessary therefore to restrain the mind of the holy teachers by so solemn a sense of the duty of patience, as to make them bear with fortitude whatever might befal, oven though men insulted them, yea and plotted against them impiously. And such was the conduct of Christ Himself above all others for our example: for while still hanging upon the precious cross, with the Jewish populace making Him their sport, He put up unto God the Father prayers in their behalf, saying, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Yea, and the blessed Stephen too, while the stones wore smiting him, knelt down, and prayed, saying, “Lord, lay not this sin upon them.” And the blessed Paul also says, “being reproached we bless, being reviled we entreat.”

    The exhortation of our Lord therefore was necessary for the holy apostles, and most useful for us also, to oblige us to live rightly and admirably: for it is full of all philosophy. But our mistaken preconceived ideas, and the fierce tyranny of our passions, render it a thing difficult for our minds to accomplish: and therefore knowing that the natural man does not admit of these things, regarding as folly and mere impossibilities the oracles of the Spirit, He separates such from those able to hear, and says, “I speak unto you that hear and are prepared readily to perform My words.” For the gloriousness of spiritual fortitude is displayed in temptations and labours. Imitate therefore in these things Christ, “Who when He was reviled, reviled not again, suffering He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” But perhaps thou wilt object, saying within thyself, ‘Christ was God, but I a frail man, having but a feeble mind, and one unable to resist the attack of covetousness and pain.’ Thou speakest rightly: for the mind of man easily slides into wrong doing. Nevertheless, I say, The Lord has not left thee destitute of His compassion and love: thou hast Him by thee, yea within thee, by the Holy Ghost: for we are His abode, and He lodgeth in the souls of them that love Him. He gives thee strength to bear nobly whatever befals, and to resist manfully the attacks of temptations. “Be not overcome therefore by the evil, but overcome the evil in the good.”

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