A Rerun for Christmas Eve: The Coptic Traditional Tales of the Flight into Egypt

From MEI Editor's Blog Mon Dec 24 2012, 08:35:00

Though the Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on the Eastern date, January 7, I thought I'd start the week of Western Christmas this year with this rerun from back in 2009, on the folklore surrounding the Flight into Egypt in the Coptic tradition. The Copts have taken the brief Biblical mention of the Holy Family's sojourn in Egypt and elaborated it into a tale of three years of wandering, tales little known, I suspect, outside Egypt. This remains one of my more popular posts, and one of my personal favorites.

Since we're in between Western Christmas and Eastern Christmas, I thought it might be a useful time to call to your attention the extremely detailed traditions Egypt's Copts maintain about the Holy Family and the Flight into Egypt. There is hardly a Christian church in Egypt -- and there are some mosques, too, since Jesus and Mary are highly venerated in Islam -- that doesn't claim that Jesus, Mary and Joseph dropped by for a while. They must have been constantly on the move to have covered so much ground, but you can't build up a good pilgrimage trade if you don't stop frequently.

Now, the Flight into Egypt gets only a couple of verses in the Bible and is only mentioned in one Gospel, Matthew, so the extremely detailed accounts of the Coptic stories have more to do with pious elaboration -- or pilgrimage tourism -- than history, but the stories can be quite charming. Some are based on an apocryphal Armenian infancy gospel, some on local traditions, etc. The Coptic traditions hold that the Holy Family spent three years in Egypt.

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