The Coptic encyclopedia /

Other Authors: Atiya, Aziz Suryal, 1898-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Macmillan, 1991.
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Review by Choice Review

Although its focus may seem narrow, this encyclopedia will be invaluable to any program in late classical thought, medieval history, or medieval philosophy, and to all programs in religion. Renewed interest in the Eastern Christian churches seems inevitable given recent developments, and for similar reasons the history and culture of Egypt is more widely studied. This encyclopedia will serve all such interests in important ways. All articles are signed, all are authoritative; the Coptic bias is apparent, but no more damaging than the Roman Catholic slant in, for example, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967-79). Both that work and The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. by Mircea Eliade (CH, Jun'88) include some articles by scholars who appear in this set testimony both to the small number of Coptic scholars and to their established reputations. The encyclopedia is well made; though no statement to that effect appears, the paper is acid-free (a policy of the publisher for all multivolume sets) and individual volumes open easily. The index is adequate, although there are omissions, one such being the most informative reference to Hypatia, included in the article "Cyril I, Saint." (Hypatia seems to have been something of an embarrassment all around; in the article on Synesius her name appears in uppercase, indicating that an article devoted to her may be found in the encyclopedia but no such article exists.) However, flaws of this kind seem rare. This encyclopedia will be particularly helpful where questions are involved of schismatic or heretical doctrines and their impact on religious organizations of the East. In addition, such expected topics as Coptic art and ritual practices are covered; and there are biographies of religious and political leaders and extensive entries for monasteries in the Coptic tradition. But the scope is not limited to a religious focus; biographies of pioneering Egyptologists and archaeologists appear, as do entries for many other persons whose connection with the Coptic church is tenuous or nonexistent. One thing that does not appear is a general article on the Coptic church; this omission follows the pattern of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, which refrains from any effort to set forth in a single article the doctrine and practice of Roman Catholicism in a reference work informed throughout by principles of that faith. Finally, the decision to put the (very technical) linguistic material at the end, in the index volume, seems wise, since scattering it throughout the main alphabet would have been counterproductive. The Coptic Encyclopedia is a worthy companion to works like the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the Dictionnaire de Th'eologie Catholique (1909-50), or The Encyclopedia of Religion, and it should be available in most academic and larger public libraries.-N. F. George, Kenyon College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.