SOURCES, CONTEXT, AND DISSEMINATION OF
THE HAGIOGRAPHY OF MARY THE EGYPTIAN
Paul B. Harvey Jr.
The late antique landscape of religious praxis and historical geography exhibits significant, prominent personalities and institutions in lower and upper Egypt. Christian ascetic activities, communities, and personalities were in the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. the topics of many an hagiographic, pilgrimage, and theological treatise studied with renewed interest during the recent scholarly rediscovery of “late antiquity”.1 Contemporary scholarship has been particularly concerned to identify the various roles women played in the eastern Mediterranean Christian ascetic landscape, from the influential communal (cenobetic) foundations in upper Egypt of “nunneries”—parallel to the male monastic institutions established by Pachomius2—to the women in village associations and women living apart or in continent marriage in Egypt and Syria.3 But however significant in their own time
1 For example (and this is a very selective list): P. Rousseau, Ascetics, Authority and
the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978);
Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early
Christian Monasticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); James E. Goehring,
Ascetics, Society, and the Desert: Studies in Early Egyptian Monasticism (Harrisburg, PA:
Trinity Press International, 1999); Georgia Franks, The Memory of the Eyes: Pilgrims to
Living Saints in Christian Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000);
Marilyn Dunn, The Emergence of Monasticism: from the Desert Fathers to the Early Middle Ages
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2001). See especially the collection of primary sources translated
in Vincent L. Wimbush (ed.), Ascetic Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990) and the magisterial summary discussions by
Peter Brown, “Asceticism: Pagan and Christian 601 -31,” Cambridge Ancient History n.
13 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 601–31; P. Rousseau and Peter
Brown, “Monasticism” and “Holy Men,” CAH 14 (2000) 745–810.
2 See especially Philip Rousseau, Pachomius: The Making of a Community in Fourth-
Century Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) 57–118, with Susanna
Elm, 'Virgins of God': The Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1994) 283–310, and Rebecca Krawiec, Shenoute and the Women of the White
Monastery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
3 Susanna Elm, 'Virgins of God' (1994) 311–30; David Brakke, Athanasius and The
Politics of Asceticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) 17–79; see also Goehring,
Ascetics, Society, and the Desert (1999) 110–33.