Origins

The traditional account of the earliest years of Christianity in Egypt is built upon small, but striking, hints in the New Testament. The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt (Matt. 2: 13-20) is described in later apocryphal texts designating the specific sites that sheltered the Holy Family. Apollos, identified as a Jew from Alexandria (Acts 18: 24), appears as a Christian missionary in Ephesus; Paul (1 Cor. 1: 12) mentions an 'Apollos' as one who taught in Corinth. Egypt is mentioned (Acts 2: 10) in the long list of nations from which Jews and converts have come to Jerusalem and then heard Peter's preaching.

The direct evidence of Christianity in Egypt in the first and second centuries is sparse, coming only in the form of partial Greek manuscripts of biblical and patristic texts: a Bodmer papyrus fragment containing John 18: 31-3, 37-8 written c.135, several Chester Beatty papyri, c.200, containing parts of the New Testament and fragments of Irenaeus' 'Against Heresies', written in the early third century, have been found in Egypt. Coptic textual evidence is later; the Gospel of John, dated late third to early fourth century, is one of the earliest. Eusebius provides a continuous narrative in the form of lists of bishops, beginning with Mark the evangelist arriving in Egypt around 43, returning to Rome, and then coming back to Egypt as bishop until his martyrdom in the early 60s. Two points stand out in the traditional account: first, the founder is not one of the twelve, and, second, there is an indication of close communication between Rome and Alexandria, which will be a factor in the resolution of doctrinal conflicts in the third and fourth centuries.

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