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Reviewed by:
  • The Monastic School of Gaza
  • Cornelia Horn
Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony and Aryeh Kofsky The Monastic School of Gaza Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 78 Boston: Brill, 2006 Pp. 249. €95/$129.

In eleven chapters this study offers a discussion of highlights of ascetic spirituality and practices in the region of Gaza in Palestine from the fourth through the end of the sixth century. The core of the book consists of chapters 3 through 10, which deal with matters of the life of the monk in mind and body. Chapter 1 offers a chronological overview of important figures while chapters 2 and 11 attempt to provide an anti-Chalcedonian or "Monophysite" historical framework for Gazan monasticism.

In chapter 1 the authors revisit their earlier discussion of the stages of the development of monastic life in the region (see Proche-Orient Chrétien 50 [2000]: 14–62). Two maps of monasteries in the Gaza and the Negev are a helpful addition to this material (figs. 1 and 2, following 46). Chapter 2 presents a discussion of the Life of Peter the Iberian and his role in the anti-Chalcedonian movement in Palestine. Chapter 3 combines a discussion of Peter the Iberian as a pilgrim to the Holy Land with the characterization his biographer John Rufus offers of him as a "Second Moses." The chapter's quite exclusive emphasis on the Old Testament characterization of Peter as the new Moses misses Rufus's more comprehensive and all-pervasive use of biblical typology across the board of Old and New Testament figures (e.g., also the apostle Peter) in the service of constructing a claim to authority for Peter. Chapters 2 and 3 summarize what is already discussed elsewhere (see Horn, 2001, 2003, and 2004; Bitton-Ashkelony 2005). Chapter 4 tests the characterization of Barsanuphius and John against the well-known pattern of the late antique holy man and shows them to be pedagogues [End Page 437] teaching their followers without face-to-face contact. The comparison to 21st century on-line instructors easily comes to mind.

The written word of these two monks as found in their Questions and Answers, Abba Isaiah's Asceticon, Dorotheus's Instructions, readings from the Apophthegmata Patrum, and occasionally references to the Life of Dositheus provide the backbone for the description of ascetic spirituality offered in the next six chapters. These deal with forms of encoded counseling, the roles of sin and penitence, spiritual exercises that might lead to union with God or even theosis, daily life in the monastery, and social interactions of the monks with one another, with their families of origin, and with the larger outside world. The argument for Abba Isaiah's presumed "Monophysite" leanings (132–33, repeated on 216) is not convincing.

These chapters try to tease out the points of correspondence and difference between texts of Gazan provenance and the ascetic instructions and spirituality offered mainly in the works of Evagrius of Pontus and Basil of Caesarea. Given that the study itself refers to Barsanuphius's advice to listen to what "is to be found in the sayings of the Fathers and in their Vitae" (176), the reader wonders why the rich material that illustrates ascetic life and spirituality offered in the works of John Rufus, namely the Life of Peter the Iberian as well as Peter's sayings and those of other ascetics in the Plerophoriae, is hardly ever consulted for the discussion of chapters 5 through 10. The polemically charged sayings featured in the Plerophoriae as much as the encouragement to imitate the life of a model ascetic and leader, namely Peter, were as instrumental as pedagogical tools in the formation of monks in the Gaza area as were ascetic handbooks and letters. When Barsanuphius is quoted as saying that "The Son of God became a man for you; be you also a god for him" (4.94), it is clear that from among Egyptian authorities not only speculative theologians but also dogmatically sober patristic authorities like Athanasius had their share of influence on the circle in Gaza. This influence needs to be explained.

Resuming a discussion already offered in print (Kofsky, 2004), the authors argue in their final...


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