Evangelical Textual Criticism

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Christianization of Egypt

Roger Bagnall evaluated name occurrences in documentary texts to tentatively estimate the rate of Christianization of Egypt. His results challenged the notion that Egyptian Christianization was a gradual process (per Roger Rémondon, 1952).

Roger S. Bagnall, 'Religious Conversion and Onomastic Change' BASP 19 (1982): 105–124.


274___2.4%
275__13.5%
278__10.5%
310__18.0%
313__18.0%
318__50.0%
353__78.0%

Bagnall's data have come under fire for various reasons, but are still very much defensible. Two matters bear consideration with regard to the low 3rd century numbers. First, Earlier Christianity was probably centered in the metropolitan areas. Second, Christian names may have been avoided during and after the persecutions affecting the data.

Ewa Wipszycka, 'La valeur de l'onomastique pour l'histoire de la christianisation de l'Egypte' ZPE 62 (1986): 173–181.
Roger Bagnall, ‘Conversion and Onomastics: a Reply’
ZPE 69 (1987): 243–250 (reprinted in Later Roman Egypt, 2003).
Ewa Wipszycka, 'La christianisation de l'Egypte aux IVe–VIe siecles: Aspects sociaux et ethniques'
Aegyptus 68 (1988): 117–165.

Research Group: Mark Depauw (Coordinator), "Names and Identities in Christian Egypt" (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) funded for 2009–2012.

8 comments:

  1. Another factor would be that some pagan names become popular among Christians because early martyrs had pagan names.

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  2. PH: Bargnall takes this issue with pagan martyr names into account to the degree which he believes himself able. Thus names such as Shenoute and derivatives from Christian emperors are considered Christian.

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  3. Just to be sure, am I understanding your chart correctly:

    274___2.4%
    275__13.5%
    278__10.5%
    310__18.0%
    313__18.0%
    318__50.0%
    353__78.0%


    In AD 274, 2.4% of Egypt's population is estimated to be Christians. And the following year (275) the Christian population jumped to 13.5%. Is this correct?

    And if this is correct, what specific kind of documents were consulted that could be this precise?

    Mitch L.

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  4. Mitch: As you noted, these numbers are "estimated" based upon appearance of names in various documentary texts. Very likely, the real percentage lay between 2.4-13.5% for those years. Note that by 278, the number is down to 10.5%.

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  5. How far back does he go? I am curious what he has to say about the presence of Christianity in Egypt in the 2nd century.

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  6. CA wrote: Bagnall's data have come under fire for various reasons, but are still very much defensible.

    I find these numbers just absolutely if not intuitively false. My question however deals with this: What are the two or three MAIN reasons his data have come under fire?

    Mitch L.

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  7. Wipszycka thinks that Bagnall is too optimistic in his handling of "theological names" and "saints names". Furthermore, she does not think that his extrapolations from 6th-8th century data into the 3rd/4th century are helpful. Bagnall uses these extrapolations to postulate how many persons with neutral or pagan names would in fact have been Christians.

    I am sorry that you are not convinced. I would suggest that before you proceed to form any strong opinions, you should read Bagnall's article. He is perhaps the most respected papyrologist active today (at least in North America). In particular, keep in mind that his statistics are not intended to be exact indicators of precise measurements, but rather intend to show trends. Even his detractors agree that the trends which he has shown are correct; Christianity dominated Egypt by the end of the 4th century.

    My weekend begins now. Take care!

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  8. Eric: I am sorry that I missed your comment on Friday. With respect to the papyrological data relevant to Christianization, Bagnall notes that there is "little of substance before the middle of the third century." (1982, 106) His earliest dates are those cited above, if I have read the article correctly.

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