Egyptian Writer Defends Story of Early Christians World
- View SourceEgyptian Writer Defends Story of Early Christians World
Novelist in hot seat over early portrayal of Christian leaders
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt�Egyptian novelist and scholar Youssef Ziedan has angered the Egyptian Coptic Church with his best-selling novel Azazeel, the story of a 5th-century Egyptian-born monk who witnesses early Christian disputes.
Bishop Bishoy, the secretary of the church's Holy Synod, said Ziedan "intended to destroy authentic Christian doctrine" and accused him of interfering in internal Christian matters.
But in an interview with Reuters, Ziedan said Church elders were upset he had challenged their authority as the heirs of St Mark the Apostle and their exclusive claim to Egyptian history between the end of paganism and the arrival of Islam.
"The Egyptian Coptic Church imagined for years that the centuries that preceded the arrival of Islam (in 640 AD) are a history private to the Coptic Church, and I cannot accept that, and I see no meaning or logic to it," he said.
In the novel, shortlisted for the Arabic Booker prize and now in its fifth edition less than a year after it appeared, the monk Hypa watches a Christian mob lynch the pagan Greek scholar Hypatia in Alexandria in 415 AD.
He later plays a minor part in the conflict between St Cyril of Alexandria and the Syrian-born theologian Nestorius over whether the Virgin Mary gave birth to God or to Christ.
The modern Coptic Church, followed by up to 10 percent of Egyptians, counts St Cyril one of its most illustrious fathers.
Ziedan, Muslim-born director of the manuscripts center at the revived Alexandria Library, said: "Azazeel shakes the necessary link between temporal power and spiritual power."
"For ages, the men of religion have said that they speak in the name of St Mark the Apostle ... The novel shows that this is spurious in the case of St Cyril," he added.
"Religious violence has one structure, which can be repeated when the objective circumstances exist to bring it out ... What happened in 391 (when Christianity became the state religion) is the reverse of what we have in Egypt today," he added.
Ziedan, who was a professor of philosophy at the age of 29 and has written more than 50 books, said he did not deny the importance of St Cyril in Christian history. "But he was violent and his thinking was violent," he said.
He defended his interest in Christian theology on the grounds that it is part of a shared heritage. "I believe that this heritage is connected. I will not understand the Islamic heritage unless I go back to the Christian period," he said. "So in this respect I should not be counted as Christian or Muslim, but as someone who thinks and tries to interpret the reality he is in."
The novel, with its lively recreation of the period, strong plot, and persuasive characters, has quickly won a following among the growing Egyptian reading public.
Asked to explain its success, Ziedan said: "Because the book is different. "We haven't had any historical novels ... What was written previously were stories about history but not reconstruction of a historical period."