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Tuesday, 05 May 2015
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The Land of Egypt in the Holy Scriptures
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The Book of Acts tells us about an Egyptian convert from Judaism called Apollos. Acts 18 describes him as an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in the spirit, who spoke boldly in the synagogues and mightily convinced the Jews , shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ. (Act 18: 24-28) He was so good, that when he went to Corinth, he caused a problem, for it seems that the intelligentsia of that city who liked his sophistication took him as their champion. That unfortunately led to a division in that church. When Apollos learned of this he withdrew from the scene as we are told by St. Paul in 1 C0 16:12. We hear nothing more about Apollos in the Book of Acts. Some believe that, when he heard about Saint Mark’s successful preaching in Alexandria, Apollos’ native city, he returned to that city to work with Saint Mark.

Coxe tells us that “The genius of Apollos was revived in his native city, A succession of doctors was there to arise, like him, ‘eloquent men and mighty in the scriptures.'” He was speaking about the great school of Alexandria that he very strongly believes was founded by Apollos.[14]

The school of Alexandria is described by Eusebius as ancient, and St. Jerome dates its origin to the time of the Apostles. A school that, for the next 4 centuries, will make Alexandria “The brain of Christendom.”[15] “All the learning of Christendom may be traced to this source,” declares Coxe.[16]

We know very little about the men who taught in the school until 175 A.D., when we hear of Pantaenus as the head of that school. It was this Pantaenus that was sent on a missionary journey to India by Archbishop Demetrius of Egypt. Pantaenus was a stoic philosopher, who embraced Christianity when his mind discovered that true philosophy was only to be found in Nazareth, in Gesthemane, in Gabbatha and in Golgotha; and he set himself to make it known to the world.[17]

Clement of Alexandria who was a pupil of Pantaenus, succeeded him as dean of the School at the close of the second century. Saint Jerome pronounces him “the most learned of all the ancients” while Eusebius calls him, “an incomparable master of Christian Philosophy.” But Clement pales when compared to his pupil Origen, who succeded him as dean of the school of Alexandria at age 18. Dr. F. H. Scrivner, one of the best Biblical Scholars writes this about him,

“Origen is the most celebrated biblical critic of antiquity. His is the highest name among the critics and the expositors of the early church. He is perpetually engaged in the discussion of various reading of the New Testament … seldom have such warmth of fancy and so bold a grasp of mind been united with the life-long , patient industry which procured for this famous man the honourable appellation of ‘Adamantius.'”[18]

Origen wrote more than 6000 tracts mostly about the Bible, and it is said that the average man cannot finish reading what he wrote in a lifetime.[19] He did that by doing what Master chess players do when they match wits with several players at the same time. He would be working on several books in the same time, dictating a paragraph to this scribe then moving on to dictate a paragraph of a different book to another scribe and so on. Origen’s crowning achievement is his Hexapla, a collation of texts of the Bible in six columns from Greek and Hebrew sources, which he compared and annotated diligently. His labours in exegesis went beyond those of any other expositor, for he wrote most detailed commentaries on every book of the Old Testament and the New.[20]

Origen introduced the allegorical method of interpreting the Bible, a method that suggests that besides the literal meaning of the Biblical text, there is a hidden spiritual meaning. A brilliant example of this is his assertion that the Song of Songs is a book about the love between Christ and the Church or Christ and the human soul, and not only about the love between Solomon and one of his one thousand wives!

Origen was succeeded as dean by his pupil Heraclas , who later became Archbishop of Alexandria around the middle of the 3rd century and became the first Church leader in history to receive the title “Pope” six centuries before the bishops of Rome started to claim that dignity.[21]

St. Dionysius the Great, another pupil of Origen, succeeded Heraclas as Dean of the school of Alexandria, in the year 232 A.D. and upon Heraclas’ repose in the year 246 A.D., he became the Pope of Alexandria and the 14th head of the Egyptian Church, counting Saint Mark as its first head.

We are told that “His pen was never idle; his learning and knowledge of the scriptures are apparent even in the fragments that have come down to us, and his fidelity to the tradition received from Origen and Heraclas are not less conspicuous.”[22]

In an age where anathemas were hurled right left and centre, this brilliant Biblical scholar dared to call to question the attribution of the Book of Revelation to the writer of the fourth Gospel and the three Johanine Epistles. He admits that the Book of Revelation is divinely inspired, he often quotes from it. He is filled with awe by it as he tells us here, “Having formed an idea of it as a composition exceeding my capacity of understanding … I do not reject what I do not understand, but I am only the more filled with wonder at it, in that I have not been able to discern its import.”[23]

He admits that its author of Revelation is called John, but whether this John is the Son of Zebedee that wrote the Gospel and the three Epistles, he has his reservations, that are summarized as follows:

The author of Revelation tells us that his name is John more than once, while the Evangelist never proclaims himself either in the Gospel or in the Epistles.

The character, the form of expression, the whole disposition and execution of the Book of Revelation is different from the others.

The ideas, expressions and collocations of the author of Revelation are different from those of the author of the Gospel and Epistles.

The Gospel and the Epistles agree with each other. He lists 21 words or phrases that are commonly used in both the gospel and the Epistles but are not found in Revelation.

The Gospel and the Epistles are not only without actual errors as regards the Greek language, but were also written with the greatest elegance both in their expressions and their reasoning and in the whole structure of their style, while the writer of Revelation on the other hand uses a dialect and a language that is not of the exact Greek type, and often uses barbarous idioms and solecisms.

Neither the Gospel nor the Epistles make any mention of Revelation, and Revelation makes no mention of the Gospel or the Epistles.

He then tells us that he writes this not to deny the value of the Book of Revelation but rather to set right this matter of dissimilarity subsisting between these writings.

Today, some people claim that literary criticism is the brain-child of German Biblical scholars of the 19th century. I beg to disagree. For what we have summarized above is an example of literary criticism in its purest form, already in use by an Egyptian Biblical scholar in the 3rd century. Literary criticism is only one of the tools of Biblical and Theological scholarship that were forged in the School of Alexandria, as we are told by the Editors of the Ante-Nicene Fathers,

“It was in this school that the technical formulas of the Church were naturally wrought out. The process is like that of the artist who has first to make his own tools. He does many things, and resorts to many contrivances, never afterwards necessary when once the tools are complete and his laboratory furnished with all he wants for his work.”[24]

But the finest product of the school of Alexandria is no doubt saint Athanasius. This is what The editors of the Ante-Nicene Fathers say about him,

“Athanasius is the grandest figure of the primitive ages since the Apostles fell asleep. Raised up to complete their testimony to the eternal Logos, and to suffer like them. … He is the perpetual gnomon of the Alexandrian School. Its testimony, its prescription, its harmony and unity are all summed up in him.”[25]

As an 18 year old deacon at Alexandria, he could foresee the danger to the faith which was once delivered unto the saints, posed by a Lybian priest called Arius. Arius propagated an innocent sounding hymn among the people of Alexandria. The hymn said, “There was a time when the Father was and the Son was not.”

Athanasius could see the enormous implications. If the Son came into being later than the Father, then he was created and cannot be equal to the father in His divinity, and the whole belief in the Holy Trinity would be destroyed. He started to fight, what would become the battle of his whole life, to uphold the biblical truth of the divinity of the Son. Declaring that the Logos is Co-eternal and Co-Essential with the Father. Before he was 20, he had already written his masterpiece, “Concerning the incarnation of the Word of God,” A classic that is relevant today as it was relevant 16 centuries ago.[26]

We here about him at Nicea, the first Ecumenical council that was held to discuss this heresy that divided the whole church, as a deacon standing beside the blessed Alexander 19th Pope of Alexandria, refuting Arius until the heresy was condemned by the 318 bishops assembled there. The greatest trophy that Athanasius and Alexander brought back with them from Nicea was the Creed.

When Alexander reposed in the Lord, Athanasius was chosen to succeed him as the 20th Pope of Alexandria, while yet to reach 30 years of age. For the next 40 years, he made his life mission the eradication of the error of Arianism.

When Constantine, the Roman Emperor then offered to mediate between him and Arius, he firmly but politely told him, “Matters of the state are adjudicated by Emperors, matters of faith are adjudicated by bishops of the Church, thus becoming the first in history to uphold the doctrine of separation between Church and state. Five Times exiled from his seat in Alexandria, he spent many years as a fugitive from one emperor or another. 16 Roman Emperors in all, he had to contend with, but in the end, he outlived them all.

There came a time, during his life long struggle to uphold the Biblical truth, when it seemed that all was lost; when even his friends would look at him with pity saying, alas, the world is against Athanasius. But he was never shaken, “and Athanasius is against the world,” he would answer.

Here is a man that proved that the whole world can be wrong! A man that took on the whole world and won it back to Christ.

His victory was in the end complete, and the last 7 years of his life were spent in peace, being consulted by other bishops around the world, who revered him and considered him “the bishop of the world.”[27]

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