Writing on the Wall: Reading, Remembrance, and Paul's Crown of Righteousness in Egyptian Monastic Visual Culture
7pm; wine and cheese reception to follow
On the white-plastered walls of two mud-brick monastic dwellings at the Egyptian sites of Kellia and Pherme, one finds a total of nine dipinti (painted inscriptions) containing quotations from 2 Timothy 4:7–8 ("I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on is reserved for me the crown of righteousness..."). These dipinti were monastic epitaphs commemorating the lives of monks who had completed life’s race and were understood to have received the “crown of righteousness” as a result of persevering in their ascetic struggles. In this lecture, I will "excavate" this example of scriptural interpretation in situ, situating these wall writings (1) in relation to wider practices of reading and remembrance within late ancient monastic communities, (2) in relation to this passage’s history of interpretation in the early church, and (3) in relation to recent archaeological discoveries of wall paintings depicting crowned saints and martyrs connected with the work of the Yale Monastic Archaeology Project (YMAP).
Stephen Davis is Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, specializing in the history of ancient and medieval Christianity. Prior to coming to Yale, he lived in Egypt and taught at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) for four years. Davis has authored three books, including The Cult of St. Thecla (Oxford UP 2001), The Early Coptic Papacy (AUC Press 2004), and Coptic Christology in Practice (Oxford UP 2008), and has published two book-length editions of Arabic Christian texts--The Arabic Life of John the Little (Coptica 7, 2008), and A Disputation over a Fragment of the Cross: A Medieval Arabic Text from the History of Christian-Jewish-Muslim Relations in Egypt (Dar al-Machreq 2012). He has also just completed the manuscript for a new book on the so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas and its history of interpretation: it is forthcoming from Yale University Press under the title, Christ Child: Cultural Memories of a Young Jesus. His next (co-authored) project, under contract with Harvard University Press, will be a book on the history of Christianity in the Arabic-speaking world. Finally, as executive director of the Yale Monastic Archaeology Project (YMAP), Davis oversees the excavation and conservation of two early Christian monastic sites in Egypt--the White Monastery near Sohag and the Monastery of St. John the Little in Wadi al-Natrun. In his lecture, he will be discussing recent discoveries from both of these locations.