Paul Of Tamma, Saint


A fourth-century hermit. Paul was born at Tamma (written Tammah in the inscriptions of Bawit) in the nome of Koeis (Kynopotis/al-Qays) in the neighborhood of Dahrut, on the left bank of the Nile opposite Sharunah. This no longer exists, at least under this name. It should not be confused with Tamwayh, the location of DAYR ABU SAYFAYN, south of Cairo opposite Hilwan.

At the age of eighteen, Paul withdrew as a hermit to the mountain of Touho (Theodosiopolis/Taha al-A‘midah); there he was molded to the hermit life by a monk called Hyperichus. Fifty-four years later Ezekiel joined him—sent by the archangel MICHAEL from his native of Tkoui Nerot, near —and was instructed by Paul. One Saturday three monks visited Paul: Isidorus, the priest of the church at SCETIS; Agathonicus, from the mountain of Touji; and Victor, from the mountain of Thersa. Shortly after, the apostles Peter, Paul, and John appeared. Paul shaved Ezekiel’s head and gave him the monastic habit, then the apostles celebrated the eucharistic synaxis, each of the necessary elements—table, chalice, bread, wine, incense—coming down from heaven at the prayer of the participants, speaking in turn. Each part of the liturgy was performed by one of the apostles or the monks. Then they took a meal together, with bread miraculously brought from heaven. The apostles disappeared, and the visitors—Isidorus, Agathonicus, and Victor—left Paul and Ezekiel to return to Scetis.

The sequel in the life of Paul of is the story of his wandering from Touho as far as the neighborhood of Shmin (Panopolis/Akhmim), during which he died six times (seven in the Arabic text) from the excesses of his ascetic practices, and each time was resuscitated by Jesus. The first death occurred when he suspended himself head downward on a tamarisk; the second, when he buried himself in the sand; the third, after he had remained immersed in the water of a spring (the speaks of the Nile and of crocodiles); the fourth, when he flung himself from the top of a cliff onto jagged rocks; the fifth, when he remained without stirring, his head between his feet, for forty days; the sixth, after he had remained face to the ground for eight days (this appears to be added in the Arabic versions); and in the seventh, after he had thrown himself on a stone sharp as a sword.

At the same time, in the course of this journey to the south, Paul and Ezekiel met a number of more or less known to us from other sources. They included Pamun of the Many-hued Habit, who received the Eucharist from “John the Virgin”; Noc (Cyrus in an Arabic version), who fled the world in disgust at the corruption of both clergy and laity; Apollo and Papohe, no doubt at Bawit, for the text says simply “to the south of Daljah.” At Terot Ashans, to the south of Qus (Koussai/al-Qusiyyah), they found Aphu, who lived among the bubals (large antelopes); at Peshcepohe, Phib, a native of Percoush in the nome of Touho (and hence different from the friend of Apollo, born at Psinemoun in the nome of Shmun).

Once again they set off toward the south, to the mountain of Meroeit, a place today unknown, where the demon set a trap for Ezekiel during Paul’s absence in the desert. He passed himself off as a seeker of in the desert, where he had found Paul tied up by thieves. Paul, he said, asked Ezekiel to find him. Ezekiel went with the demon, who wished to kill him. Ezekiel called upon his father, Paul, who immobilized the demon by a magic charm (a circle traced on the ground), then bound him and sent him rolling to the bottom of a valley.

Paul of and his disciple next came to Siout (Lycopolis/Asyut), but the text, curiously, does not speak of the celebrated recluse JOHN OF LYCOPOLIS, who died shortly after 395. Pshoi of Jeremiah, that is, from the monastery of Jeremiah at Tkoou on the eastern bank, joined Paul. Together they restored to life six hundred men and fifty-four women, whom Jesus himself then came to baptize and give communion. Pshoi separated from Paul opposite Sbeht (Apollinopolis Parva/Kom Isfaht), to the south of Siout.

Paul and Ezekiel then went, on Jesus’ orders, to Banawat (perhaps Pneuit) in the nome of Shmin (Panopolis / Akhmim), where they met an ascetic called Abu Ishaq, with whom they were to destroy a sanctuary of the old religion. The text describes at length a curious rite in which the faithful brought and poured wine into a marble basin, over which the pagan priests uttered incantations, then each came to draw some wine. Paul and Abu Ishaq overturned the basin, a fire spurted from the ground and burned the priests, and the two ordered the demons bound to this temple to transport the basin to Atrib, where SHENUTE was building a church.

Then Abu Ishaq went off toward the mountain of al-Qusiyyah. The Lord appeared to Paul and ordered him to go back north to the mountain of Sbeht, to die there for a last time. There Paul dictated his commandments to Ezekiel, and recounted to him his youth at Tamma. The saint died on 7 Babah, and was buried at Sbeht by his disciples. The text names three in addition to Ezekiel, which may indicate that Paul had grouped a small community around him.

The notice in the is rather different. It indicates that Paul lived on the mountain of ANTINOOPOLIS, or on the eastern bank of the Nile, and does not speak of the journey of Paul and Ezekiel from Touho to the neighborhood of Shmin, nor of the visits to the established on the west bank in this region, but only of Paul’s six deaths. On the other hand, it confuses Pshoi of Scetis and Pshoi of Jeremiah into a single person when speaking of the meeting of Paul and Pshoi, which in addition it places on the mountain of Antinoopolis. Later, the bodies of these two saints are said to have been transferred to DAYR ANBA MAQAR, in the Wadi al-Natrun. In the Life, on the contrary, Paul of lived on the mountain of Touho, and it is near Siout that he met Pshoi of Jeremiah. In the Arabic versions of the Life, in the course of a prophecy made to Paul, Jesus announces to him only that his body will be transferred to Antinoopolis with that of Pshoi of Jeremiah, but the end of the Life does not speak of a translation. Only the Arabic life of Pshoi of Scetis speaks of his relations with Paul of Tamma (Evelyn-White, 1926-1933, pp. 158-60).

In addition to the rather brief notice in the Arabic of the Copts, the life of Paul of is preserved in eleven Coptic leaves from the same manuscript of the library of the White Monastery (DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH). Some have been published by E. Amélineau (pp. 759-69, 835-36), as have some papyrus fragments (Orlandi, 1974, pp. 155-58). Fortunately, some Arabic manuscripts (ten, to our knowledge) provide three versions of the Coptic life, sometimes quite divergent. The most faithful appears to be that of the manuscript of DAYR ANBA MAQAR (Hag. 19, fols. 110-31, dating from 1536) and of two leaves in the Coptic Museum (Inv. no. 6438, fourteenth century). The eight other —three at Dayr Anba Maqar, three at DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS, one at the Coptic Museum and one at the National Library in Paris (Arabe 4787, fols. 196-229)—give a mutilated text of an episode at the beginning of the story. We may rely on these Arabic versions, for where we have the Coptic, we can establish the agreement between the two texts, except for the proper names that sometimes have been rather distorted by the Arabic copyists.

The successive deaths and resurrections of Paul of are a unique case, at least in Coptic HAGIOGRAPHY. The Life does not attribute any particular intention to Paul for his ascetic attitude, but the states precisely: “Because of his great love for Christ and the excess of his asceticism, he killed himself seven times.”

It does not seem that this story is literary fiction meant to present to the reader the living in this region of Middle Egypt at the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, in the style of the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO or the Historia lausiaca of PALLADIUS. Rather, this is a genuine life of Paul, and the he meets on his journey pay homage to the sanctity of their visitor. The narrator, his disciple Ezekiel, does not seek to throw into relief the asceticism of the anchorites visited but only that of his master. It, therefore, seems that even on the literary level, this life of Paul of is very different from a “history of the monks.”

Two preserve the Rules, or letters, of Paul of Tamma (Orlandi, 1988).

His feast day is 7 Babah.


  • Amélineau, E. Monuments pour servir à l’ de l’Egypte chretiénne, pp. 759-69, 835-836. par les membres de la mission archéologique française au Caire. Paris, 1888.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n Natrun, Pt. 2, The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and Scetis. New York, 1932.
  • Graf, G. Catalogue des manuscrits arabes-chrétiens conservés au Caire. Studi e Testi 63. Vatican City, 1934.
  • Orlandi, T. Papiri di contenuto teologico. Mitteilungen aus der Sammlung der Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer, n.s., 9. Vienna, 1974.
  • . Paolo di Tamma. Rome, 1988.
  • Troupeau, G. Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, Pt. 1, Manuscrits chrétiens, Vol. 2. Paris, 1974.