"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Life of Bishoi in Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic

I have long watched the history and development of the Coptic tradition with great affection and interest. Tim Vivian, editor of this new book, is well known for his work in this area and in patristics more generally. I published some of his work in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies over the years. He and his co-workers have just released The Life of Bishoi: The Greek, Arabic, Syriac, and Ethiopic Lives, eds. Tim Vivian and Maged S.A. Mikhail.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Four translations of major accounts of the life of the fourth-century Egyptian desert father St. Bishoi, in one volume

Saint Bishoi of Scetis (d. ca. 417) enjoys tremendous popularity throughout the Christian east, particularly among the Copts. He lived during a remarkable era in which a litany of larger-than-life monastics lived and interacted with one another. Even then, Bishoi stood out as the founder of one of the four great monasteries of Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun): those of Macarius, John the Little, Bishoi, and the Baramus. Yet in spite of Bishoi’s prominence, the various recensions of his hagio-biography have received sporadic, scattered attention.

The Life of Bishoi joins other Lives of eminent monastics of early-Egyptian monasticism: the Lives of Antony, Daniel, John the Little, Macarius, Paphnutius, Shenoute, and Syncletica. These Lives are vital for what they tell us about monastic politeia (way of life), spirituality, and theology, both of the early monastics and of those who later wrote, translated, and revised the Lives. They appeared first in Greek and Coptic, and later generations translated and revised them into Syriac, Arabic and Ge‘ez (Ethiopic).

This definitive volume contains the first English translation of the Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic Lives of Bishoi, each translation accompanied by an introduction that focuses on certain aspects of the source text. It also has the first transcription and English translation of an important early Greek text. The General Introduction provides rich context about the texts and textual traditions in the various languages, and thoroughly revises our knowledge about the Syriac tradition, the translation of the Syriac text here now consequently providing what is the best translation in any modern language.


Tim Vivian, California State University, Bakersfield

Maged S.A. Mikhail, California State University, Fullerton

Rowan Allen Greer III (1935–2014), an Episcopal priest and Walter H. Gray Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School, was author of Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church and Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present.

Robert Kitchen is a retired minister of the United Church of Canada, living in Regina, Saskatchewan. He read for the D.Phil. (Oxford) in Syriac Language and Literature and has taught Syriac studies in Sweden and Austria.

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