- Rufus of Shotep: Homilies on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary
Rufus, Bishop of Shotep, a town that lies five miles south of Lycopolis (now Assiut) in Upper Egypt, has been practically unknown prior to the publication of this book. There is no entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, nor the Coptic Encyclopedia. The Coptic synaxarion does not mention him. Building on the work of G. Garritte, Tito Orlandi and others, Sheridan introduces him to the English-speaking world.
The book has five sections. First is a long introduction in 50 pages that deals with Rufus, his career and his homilies. Rufus received the monastic habit together with Constantine of Assiut and was consecrated bishop of Shotep in the last quarter of the sixth century, probably by Damian the 35th Patriarch of Alexandria (c. 569–605 AD). Sheridan describes this period as ‘a particularly fruitful one for the Church of Egypt.’ The homilies transcribed, translated and discussed in this book were discovered in the White Monastery, established in the fifth century by St. Shenute of Atripe. Rufus delivered them in Sahidic Coptic. However, he knew enough Greek to be able to cite from the Greek Scripture, and to read the Greek patristic literature. Some of these homilies were delivered during the Saturday-Sunday liturgical celebration; others were preached on the evenings of Wednesdays and Fridays after the conclusion of the fast.
The surviving work of Rufus consists of 126 pages that are the remains of two sets of homilies on the Gospels of Matthew (on Matt. 1–5) and Luke (Lk. 1: 1–46), which may have extended to more than two thousand pages. The manuscripts belong to eighteen or nineteen homilies and are presently located in eight different libraries in the US, Europe and Cairo. Most of them are fragments except for the eighth homily on Matthew and the fifth on Luke which are almost complete.
Sheridan observes that Rufus mentioned the gospels of Marcion and that of the Manichaeans to condemn them. In his Christology, he followed the position of Dioscorus of Alexandria and Severus of Antioch that ‘excluded the positions of Nestorius and Chalcedon on the one hand and those of Eutyches on the other.’
Section 2 and 3 include the homilies on Matthew and those on Luke. For each the Coptic text is provided, followed by the English translation. Sections 4 and 5 [End Page 322] form a commentary on the homilies in which Sheridan examines the text, its philology and terminology and its exegetical techniques with specific examples from the two gospels in order to find Rufus’ place in the Christian exegetical tradition. Sheridan concludes in Section 4 that Rufus belongs to the Alexandrian exegetical tradition and that he is directly influenced by the writings of Origen. This is based on his use of the same terminology and the same exegetical principles and techniques. Examples of the former are the use of the tripartite anthropology of soma (body), psuchi (soul) and pneuma (spirit); and of similar exegetical terminology like allegoria (allegory), and typos (type). Exegetical techniques as the use of Scripture to explain Scripture and of etymologies are common and characteristic of both Fathers. In Section 5, ‘The Homilies and the Earlier Exegetical Tradition,’ Sheridan examines Rufus’ interpretation of specific parts from each gospel against the background of earlier patristic exegesis, in Alexandria and elsewhere. It is evident that the exegesis given by Rufus is in large part traditional; but he also exercised certain creativity. Sheridan concludes, “No one else seems to have been engaging in this kind of activity, as far as we know, either in the Coptic speaking world or in the Greek speaking society of his time.”
Although the book is primarily directed to Patrology and Coptology scholars, yet it contains new material that is of immense value to students of biblical exegesis and the history of the Church and...