Wednesday, September 17, 2008

International Coptic Conference

Greetings again from Cairo and the Evangelical Theological Seminary. We are just about to start our fall term. The new Biblical studies teacher, Willem de Wit, has arrived from the Netherlands and is settling in. He will teach a course in Isaiah while finishing his dissertation. We have three new students in Biblical studies and one in Christianity in the Middle East, the field in which I teach.

To the right is the tower and part of the administration buildings for the Coptic Cathedral where the conference sessions are being held. This building complex, close to where our seminary is located, was built with the permission of the Egypian government of President Mubarak a few decades ago. As you can see, its tower ascends sky-ward, as do the minarets of the many mosques in Cairo.
This is the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims when the devoted fast from sunup to sundown. Fasting is a discipline of the Coptic Church here in Egypt as well.

The spirirtual leader of the Egyptian Orthodox Church (the Copts) is Pope Shenouda, an aged patriarch, who traces his heritage back the the Evangelist Mark (by tradition) who founded the Christian Church here after the ascension of Jesus. By tradition, St. Mark was one of the seventy sent out, and his mission field was Egypt, one of the intellectual centers of the Roman Empire. I just reviewed a Coptic book which sets forth the long history of the church and its leaders. Another time I will write some more of this pontiff, since his reign will be one of the topics we will explore in the course I am teaching on Christianity in the Middle East from 1800 to the present. By the way, if you want to learn a little more about Egypt, there is a book recently published in the United States entitled "Mirage, Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt", by Nina Burleigh. It is very readable and gives some picture of the harsh conditions encountered by the French (and by early missionaries from the U.S. here). Nothing like today.
To the left is the sign which bears Pope Shenouda's invitation to about 250 scholars from around the world. Among the presenters and moderators is a former director of the graduate program here, Dr. Mark Swanson, who now serves on the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Il. We are also expecting a visit from Dr. David Grafton, my predecessor, who left here two years ago to teach at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He will bring a group of seminary students from his Center on Islamic Studies in January, and they will interact with the graduate students here.
The conference offered many interesting presentations, and some boring ones too. There seems to be a dramatic increase in interest about Egypt and the Coptic Church. One reason for this is the discovery or recovery and restoration of many manuscripts and sites of the ancient and medieval church. The last picture is just a sample of the beautiful art work on display and available to the visitor and pilgrim to Egypt.
More soon on the start of school. Peace and joy. Roger Rogahn

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