Wandering in the Desert and the Virtues of Manual Labor

Daniel Caner

in Wandering, Begging Monks

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2002 | ISBN: 9780520233249
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928503 | DOI:
Wandering in the Desert and the Virtues of Manual Labor

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  • Religion in the Ancient World


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A vignette from the apophthegmata patrun of the late fourth or early fifth century presents two very different attitudes toward wandering monks. It tells that if a monk is seen wandering and changing its place of meditation or residency, that monk might be scandalized and could cause alarm. The desert of Egypt offers enough examples of respected wandering monks, who demonstrate that wandering was not simply an outlandish, typically Syrian, or otherwise a deviant form of ascetic behavior, but rather a practice with its own principles, aims, and priorities, which might be pursued wherever conditions allowed. Some might say that the practice of these virtues among Egyptian monks was exaggerated because the normative tradition associated with Egypt clearly favored an ascetic lifestyle based on cell-sitting and manual labor over one characterized by wandering and material dependency.

Keywords: virtues; manual labor; Egypt; wandering monks; ascetic behavior; monks

Chapter.  14842 words. 

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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