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martyrological literature Egyptians came to understand Christianity through the landscape - in trees and villages and buildings.7

We may add another medium through which Egyptian Christians gathered a sense of Christianity as an Egyptian thing - part of landscape and legend: to wit, Coptic literature. From historiography (the Cambyses legend, the Alexander-romance, the Chronicle of John ofNikiu) to biblical apocrypha (Testaments of Isaac and Jacob, Testament of Job; apocryphal acts like The preaching of Bartholomew in the city of the oasis), the Coptic literature flourishing by the time of the Muslim conquest reasserted important Egyptian traditions of key historical events, like the beginning of Persian and Greek rules, while weaving that history with sacred events and heroes of early Christianity. Sometimes they would even bring the gospels' heroes into Egypt itself. Stories of the evangelist Mark and the foundation of Christianity in Alexandria, of the Holy Family's tour of Egypt (after Matthew 2.13-29), and even John the Baptist's and Elijah's persistent epiphanies to desert hermits, all lent the landscape a central position in the epic of Christianity. Coptic language and church tradition thus served to create a quasi-national ideology, if only for monastic writers. Egypt became the place of saints, orthodoxy and foreign depredations.8

Christianisation of ritual traditions

Religion for many in the late antique Mediterranean world provided a layout, a rationale, for identifying and wielding supernatural power for practical purposes, like health, safety, success and social tension. Local cults and ritual experts in Egypt, no less than elsewhere in antiquity, had long addressed these needs with amulets, decrees from gods, special iconography and ritual performances. As with popular attention to sacred landscape, interest in the sources of effective 'blessing' constituted a part of Egyptian religion with which monks, bishops and ecclesiastical writers had particularly to contend. Christian writers often constructed an insidious Egyptian 'magic' as the counterpoint to Christian ritual power, a caricature they based on classical notions of Egypt as a land of wizards. Such Christian polemics against Egyptian ritual were overt, yet distanced, conjuring a fictional world of stock romantic characters.

7 Apocalypse of Elijah 4-5; Athanasius, Festal letters 41-2; Life of Anthony 90-1; Shenoute, 'Those who work evil' (ed. Lefort, 225-30). See in general T. Baumeister, Martyr invictus; Arietta Papaconstantinou, Le culte des saints en Egypte; David Frankfurter, 'Introduction'.

8 On Egyptian traditions and 'nationalising' tendencies in Coptic literature seeH. Behlmer, 'Ancient Egyptian survivals'; Terry G. Wilfong, 'The non-Muslim communities'; andEwa Wipszycka, 'Le nationalisme'.

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