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In the course of defining a Christianity of all-powerful blessings, images and saints, bishops and monks inevitably signified some local traditions as reprehensibly heathen while preserving others as indispensable to the construction of a Christian culture. If the ancient gods and their shrines were often demonised, the new Christian worldview also depended upon familiar notions of harmful and beneficial power, ritual efficacy, and communication with divine beings. We may call this inevitable process of mediating new ideologies within traditional schemes of ritual power 'syncretism', but only to the extent that it involves indigenous local agency and a genuine engagement with the authority of the new worldview, and not in the older sense of 'pagan survival' or 'native misunderstanding'. Syncretism is essential to Christianisa-tion, not its by-product. Indeed, syncretism may be said even to underlie the starkest efforts of Christian holy men to demonise, exorcise and demolish the old gods and their habitats, for in this process they preserve the old gods in repudiated form, even drawing on older schemes of apotropaic ritual in their efforts to repel those gods.3

Religious identity in names and places

Our first significant signs of people assuming some kind of Christian identity appear in naming (onomastic) practices. By the latter half of the fourth century, papyrus documents from Karanis, Hermopolis, Dionysias, Arsinoe and several other Egyptian cities show that a high proportion of children were being named not after Egyptian gods but rather after biblical and gospel heroes (Elias, Maria, Paul) and an ostensibly monotheistic 'God' (Coptic: noute). What does this mean about the 'conversion' of the populace: an exclusive Christian allegiance and repudiation of old gods, or people's mere hope that Christian names might carry some protective power for infants alongside that gained at local shrines and festivals? The increasing influence of biblical texts and ecclesiastical sermonising in Upper Egypt, or the efflorescence of an eclectic folklore of Christian heroes and holy names, such as we find in ritual spells of subsequent centuries - not so much replacing as augmenting stories of ancestors and gods? The onomastic evidence challenges the historian with multiple explanations beyond older Protestant notions of families' emotional 'conversion'.

Even more importantly, this evidence for certain cities' Christian naming practices must be balanced with the equally significant evidence, from other

3 See David Frankfurter, 'Syncretism and the holy man'.

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