Easter … again!

Today, the Orthodox Church is celebrating Easter Sunday. We will not attempt to explain the difference between the Catholic date of Easter and the Orthodox one. We wish only to commemorate this day by referring to two textual references that we have concerning Easter celebrations in Nubia.

To discuss the first one we will use data contained in the doctoral thesis by Gregorz Ochala, namely “Chronological Systems of Medieval Nubia”, referred to in an entry two weeks ago. It has recently been published in the series of supplementa of The Journal of Juristic Papyrology (no. XVI, Warsaw 2011) and it is a most welcome contribution to the study of Christian Nubian cultures. Logically in this work, where an abundance of data on chronology and its calculation is magisterially arranged in 9 maps and 48 (!) tables, the references to any knowledge of how the Nubians decided that it was time to celebrate Easter would not have been missed. In page 323, we read: “A peculiar document connected with the liturgical calendar is a chart on the back of the Coptic (sic) scroll containing Bishop Timotheos’ Letter Testimonial.” Timotheos was enthroned as Bishop of Nubia in 1372 CE and in his grave at Qasr Ibrim, he was buried with the two scrolls containing the letters that the Coptic Patriarch in Alexandria, Gabriel IV (1370-1378 CE), had sent to the Nubians introducing to them their new bishop. The chart was on the back of the Arabic scroll and gave the calculations for Lent between the years 1372 and 1378 and for Easter only for the years 1372 and 1373. For the rest of the years, the calculations for Easter were not given. Is it then the case that (as it was suggested by J.M. Plumley, who discovered and published the documents): “If conditions in Nubia were in a disturbed state <in the late 14th century> and communications with Egypt difficult <already the Mameluks had sacked Old Dongola>, it would have been prudent for Timotheos to have the dates of the fast and Easter calculated for at least a few years in advance of his journey to Nubia to his See” (Plumley 1975: 41)? Ochala commented on that point more prudently: “Corrections visible in Timotheos’ chart prove that the Nubians must have had some computational problems” (p. 323) In our opinion, this is precisely the point: Was it really the Nubians who had the problems? Or, as is implied by Plumley, Timotheos himself and/or the Copts (and then of Alexandria where he was elected or of Upper Egypt where he was enthroned?) who helped him make the calculations in advance of his journey to Nubia? The paleographic difference between the Coptic handwriting and the Nubian majuscules used in the chart would point to the scribe being a Nubian as the most plausible option. Let us note here that the Nubian majuscule letters on the cover of Ochala’s book reproduce (in the fanciful manner characteristic of the latest publication of the the JJP series), precisely this document! Moreover, we find it probable that the scribe was writing in columns and not in rows, and he simply never finished the chart that might have contained – for some reason unknown to us, only the years that Timotheos was on the throne of Qasr Ibrim (otherwise unknown to us) – and therefore written after his death in Nubia. Interestingly, Gabriel IV died precisely in 1378… Nevertheless, these questions should remain open and can surely not be answered in the present entry. What is rather certain is that the two Easter calculations given are conforming perfectly with the Julian calendar; which means that a hypothetical Nubian Church of 2012 CE, would be celebrating Easter … today!!!

A final intriguing point: the only other textual reference to Easter that we have from Nubia concerns a Lectionary in Old Nubian found again at Qasr Ibrim (Plumley and Browne 1988: 22-25). Can it be that the resources for Easter were somehow linked with this very special site for Christianity in Nubia!?!

Unless some “resurrection” from the Nubian soil of some new document takes place, we can only speculate upon the matter, while dreaming from the Norwegian latitudes…

…of Easter celebrations in warmer climates, in the Mediterranean Sea…

…or the Nile Valley…


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2 Responses to Easter … again!

  1. ounoginiri says:

    ΑΛΗΘΩC ANECTH here in Grece as you can easily see it on the flower carpets and blossomed trees everywhere!

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