JOHN OF SHMUN
A sixth- and early seventh-century bishop of Shmun and writer of two Coptic works in praise of Saints MARK and ANTONY. There is no other evidence about him in Coptic literary tradition except for a passage by the historian SAWIRUS IBN AL-MUQAFFA‘ and John’s own mention in one work of his contemporary, DAMIAN, patriarch of Alexandria.
John’s encomium of the Evangelist Mark, in an Italian translation (Orlandi, 1968), consists of a prologue, which praises the great figures of Egyptian Christianity; a paraphrase of episodes concerning Paul, Barnabas, and Mark from the Acts of the Apostles; legendary relations between Mark and Peter; Mark’s deeds in Alexandria, according to apocryphal accounts; and an exhortatory conclusion.
John’s encomium of Antony (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, M579, fols. 72-87), in French translation (Garitte, 1943), consists of a prologue; the praises of Antony, which go on at considerable length; and an exhortatory epilogue.
John does not give a real biography of the saint being praised, as would be indispensable in a later period. Nevertheless, both works show an excellent capacity for construction and for the organization of content. The rhetorical style is florid and often very complex, in line with the taste of that time, which was distantly derived from that of the “second sophistic” style.
From his works, John’s most marked characteristic appears to be a burning nationalism, which is also obviously the basic reason for the choice of the subjects of these two homilies. At the time of Damian, in fact, the Coptic church tended to be closing in upon itself and to view Egypt as a privileged region that alone was capable of preserving orthodoxy against almost all the rest of the Christian world.
From the literary viewpoint, one can observe John’s participation in the argument about the lawfulness of reopening discussion of subjects already treated by the great Greek fathers of earlier times. In the late sixth and early seventh centuries, Coptic was becoming established as the language for everyday use (from the popular to the scholarly) within the church; at the same time, texts in Greek could no longer be trusted from the theological viewpoint.
- Garitte, G. “Panégyrique de Saint Antoine par Jean évêque d’Hermopolis.” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 9 (1943):100-134, 330-65.
- Orlandi, T. Studi Copti. 1. Un encomio di Marco Evangelista. 2. Le fonti copte della Storia dei Patriarchi di Alessandria. 3. La leggenda di S. Mercurio. Testi e documenti per lo studio dell’antichità 22. Milan, 1968.