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Tuesday, 05 May 2015
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The Land of Egypt in the Holy Scriptures
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EGYPT IN THE INTER-TESTAMENTAL PERIOD

Two-hundred years before the advent of our Lord, something monumental happened in Egypt, when Ptolemy, king of Egypt ordered the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek. We cannot possibly over-estimate this historical feat, which made possible to the Gentile world to get to know the Old Testament in the lingua franca of the time; Greek. The translation was done by 70 Jewish Scholars and thus the Translation became known As the Septuagint. This translation was a necessary step for the propagation of the Greek New Testament which was to take place 200 years later. Allow me to quote what Cleveland Coxe wrote about this important milestone:


“The translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to the dialect of the Hellenes, and the creation of a new terminology in the language of the Greeks, by which ideas of faith and of truth might find access to the mind of a heathen world, were preliminaries to the preaching of the Gospel to mankind and to the composition of the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour.”[2]

St Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons in France , who lived between 120 -201 A.D. wrote this about the Septuagint Translation,


“For the Apostles agree with the afore-said translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, John, Matthew, and Paul and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical announcements just as the interpretation of the elders contains them.”[3]

It is a pity that the translators of the King James Bible chose to translate from a Hebrew manuscript of the 13th century, rather than the time honoured Egyptian translation of the Old Testament dating to 200 B.C. Today, the Old Testament that was known to the Apostles survives only in the Coptic version used by the Egyptian Church. To justify this bold assertion, allow me give you one example.

Justin Martyr, a Christian Apologist, who lived 110-165 AD., and died as a martyr, writes under the heading THE CRUCIFIXION PREDICTED,

“And again in another prophecy, the Spirit of Prophecy, through David, intimated that Christ, after he had been crucified , should reign again, and spoke as follows: ‘Let all the earth fear before His face, let it be established and not shaken. Let them rejoice among the nations, The Lord hath reigned from the tree.'”[4]

Justin Martyr is here quoting Psalm 96 as it was known in his days. Since the Apology is written to Jews, then the psalm must have been known in this form to both Jews and Christians. To Justin, as well as to the other ancients, the words “The Lord hath reigned from the tree” were a prophetic utterance about the tree of the cross. Now if you look up this Psalm in any Bible published by the Bible society, or indeed any other Bible, you will find the last verse reading “declare among the heathens that the Lord reigneth” the words “from the tree,” which to the ancients were a prophecy about the Cross are missing. They are missing even from the currently available Septuagint, which has been harmonized with the Hebrew. They survive only in the Egyptian Psalter which is used by the Egyptians in their every day devotion.

To conclude this part of my address, allow me to share with you the words of Irenaeus, that he wrote 18 centuries ago,

“God has preserved for us the unadulterated Scriptures in Egypt, where the house of Jacob flourished, fleeing from the famine in Canaan, where also our Lord was preserved when He fled from the persecution which was set on foot by Herod.”[5]

 EGYPT AND THE NEW TESTAMENT

The Good News of the New Testament were preached in Egypt at a very early time. The Book of Acts tells us that on the day of Pentecost, among those converted by the Apostles were, “devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) We are later told that those included people from Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene.

These newly converted Christians must have started spreading the Good News as soon as they were back into their own countries. The Church historian Eusebius speaks of small communities of these new converts already forming around Lake Mareotis in Lower Egypt. They were called Therapeutae, or healers, because people brought the sick to them to be healed, and those who were afflicted by unclean spirits to be cleansed.

Not only did these Therapeutae heal the people’s physical illnesses, but they also healed them from their spiritual illnesses by turning them back from the worship of idols to the knowledge of the true God.[6] The oldest Biblical papyri were found in Egypt. Some of these, in the Coptic language were found buried in the sands of remote regions in Upper Egypt, a testimony to the rapid spread of Christianity into Egypt. Most of these predate the oldest authoritative Greek versions of the Scripture in the fourth and fifth centuries including the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus, the Vaticanus, and the Codex Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus. … Fragments of those papyri dating from the second century, in both Coptic and Greek, are to be found in numerous manuscript repositories in the world. The most monumental collection is the Chester Beatty Papyri, now in Dublin, Ireland.[7]

According to our tradition, Egypt was the place where the first Epistle of St. Peter was written. It was also the place where the Gospel according to St. Mark was written.

Some commentators believe that the Epistle to the Hebrews was also written in Egypt and that its author was Apollos.

How and when did St. Peter visit Egypt where he wrote his first Epistle is the subject of great speculation. According to Dr. Samir Girgis, the visit must have followed St. Peter’s miraculous release from prison reported in Acts 12, which is dated A.D. 43[8]

Acts 12 tells us that after his release by the Angel, Peter came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. (Acts 12:12) Peter told those gathered how the Lord had brought him out of the prison, asked them to bring the good news to James and the brethren, then he departed and went to another place. Acts 12:19 tells us that the next morning, Herod, looked for peter everywhere but could not find him. It is very safe to assume that Peter left the country, knowing that Herod intended to kill him after the Passover (Acts 12:4)

It is possible that, following the example of his Master, he fled into Egypt, accompanied by John Mark. Mark who was raised up in Lybia, must have taken the trip to Jerusalem, once a year, passing through Egypt, and would make an excellent travel companion to Saint Peter. Coming to Egypt, there were two places where they might take refuge among the Jewish community, one of them was Alexandria, with its large Greek speaking Jewish community, and the other was Babylon, an ancient city, the ruins of which are still visible on the outskirts of modern day Cairo. Babylon had a sizeable Jewish minority and a large Synagogues, and it was there that they must have remained until the death of king Herod in A.D. 44. It was there that St. Peter must have written his first Epistle.

This date also agrees with the assertions of Josephus, Eusebius and others that St. Mark’s first entry into Egypt was in the year 43 A.D.[9]

There is internal evidence for this in the Epistle. First, it is addressed to “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythinya.” This means Jewish Christians dispersed among gentiles.

In his letter to the Galatians written in the year 50 A.D., St. Paul addresses “the churches of Galatia.” This means that by 50 A.D. there were already established churches in Galatia, and had First peter been written after that, Saint peter would have never addressed his letter to “strangers scattered throughout Galatia” but rather to the churches of Galatia. Actually churches in the areas mentioned in First Peter were founded by St. Paul in his first missionary Journey which started in 47 A.D. which makes the date of First Peter earlier than 47 A.D. and makes the proposed date of 43 A.D. very plausible

The ending of the Epistle, says, “The church which is at Babylon, elected together with you salutes you, and so doth Mark my son.” The suggestion that Babylon is a code name for Rome is without merit, since there is no Biblical evidence that Saint Peter preached in Rome at such an early date. The Book of Acts which ends with St. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome 61-63 does not mention anything about St. Peter being there. And to suggest a date of writing later than 63 is inconceivable for the reasons we mentioned earlier

The content of the Epistle, also reinforces the argument that St. Peter wrote it after fleeing Jerusalem. The Theme is one of encouragement of early Christians dispersed because of persecution (like St. Peter himself, who fled Jerusalem because of the persecution.)

If we accept this chronology, then First Peter would be the first of all New Testament writings, and Egypt would be the place where it was written.

Saint Mark came to Egypt once again 18 years later, this time to Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, entering there in the year 61 A.D. It was there that he founded the Coptic Church of Egypt, established an ecclesiastical hierarchy that would remain un-interrupted until the present time, wrote his Gospel, and it was there that he died as a martyr on Easter day of the year 68 A.D.

Because of this early evangelization of Egypt and the speed with which Christianity spread throughout the land, the Egyptians were among the first to spread the message of the Bible in lands far and near.

As early as the second century, we hear of Saint Demetrius, the 12th patriarch of Alexandria sending Pantaenus, the dean of the School of Alexandria to convert the Hindus. on the way back, he visits Yemen.[10] Towards the end of the 3rd Century, the sojourn and later martyrdom of the Egyptian Theban legion was the catalyst to the conversion of the pagans in Switzerland, southern Germany and Northern Italy.[11] By the 4th century, Nubia, Ethiopia , Libya and Pentapolis have already been converted by Egyptian missionaries. The Irish tell us that they have 7 Egyptian monks buried in Ireland. They came to preach to the Irish long before St. Patrick set foot on Irish soil.[12]

The British tell us about Egyptian missionary enterprises in Britain especially around Glastonbury. I will conclude this part by quoting the eminent British historian Stanley Lane-Poole, who wrote,

“We do not yet know how much we in the British Isles owe to these remote hermits. It is more than probable that to them we are indebted for the first preaching of the Gospel in England, where, till the coming of Augustine, the Egyptian monastic rule prevailed. But more important is the belief that Irish Christianity, the great civilizing agent of the early Middle Ages among the northern nations, was the child of the Egyptian Church.”[13]



 
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