Fourth-century martyrs in Egypt. They are the subject of the Passion of John and Symeon, a Coptic work that survives in only one manuscript of the ninth century (Hyvernat, 1886-1887, pp. 174-201). The Passion belongs to the late literary pattern defined by T. Baumeister as “koptischer Konsens,” the repetitive treatment of the Egyptian theme of “indestructible life” (see HAGIOGRAPHY). It is related to the cycle of Julius of Aqfahs (see MARTYRS, COPTIC) and for certain legends to the Antiochene Cycle of BASILIDES (see CYCLES).

The Passion opens in Kenemoulos, a village in the Panau district of Egypt, where live old Moses and his wife, Helen, who are childless. Moses makes a vow to John the Baptist to build a sanctuary, and the latter promises him a son who will become a martyr. John is born, and when he is eleven he becomes a shepherd for his cousin Symeon. After performing a first miracle, he comes back home and learns the Bible by heart. During a visit by the bishop, John shows his knowledge and is therefore made presbyter. He performs some more miracles. When John’s parents die, Symeon comes to live with him.

Then other miracles follow, among them one for an imperial officer. When the daughter of the emperor Quintilian falls ill in Antioch, the officer’s advice is to call John. He is miraculously taken to Antioch, where he cures the girl, and then is miraculously returned to Egypt. Then the Passion reports the episode of Nicomede, the son of the king of Persia, who had been captured in war—a story typical of the Basilidian cycle. After Diocletian, successor to Quintilian, denounces Christianity John and Symeon go to in order to confess their faith. They are imprisoned by the prefect Armenius. Before Julius of Aqfahs they are tortured and put to death. Julius saves their bodies and writes their Passion.


  • Baumeister, T. Martyr Invictus. Der Märtyrer als Sinnbild der Erlösung in der Legende und im Kult der frühen Kirche. Münster, 1972.
  • Hyvernat, H. Les Actes des martyrs de l’Egypte tirés des manuscrits coptes de la Bibliothèque Vaticane et du Musée Borgia. Paris, 1886-1887.