Other titles: none
Standard abbreviation: Vis. Theo.
Clavis numbers: CANT 56; CPG 2628
Category: Infancy Gospels
Compiled by: Tony Burke, York University (email@example.com)
Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Burke, Tony. “Vision of Theophilus.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. http://www.nasscal.com/e-clavis-christian-apocrypha/vision-of-theophilus/.
Created July 2017.
Vis. Theo. is an embedded apocryphon taking the form of an apparition of the Virgin Mary recounting the journey of the Holy Family in Egypt to Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria (r. 385-412), who recounts the vision in a homily delivered on the feast day of her dormition. Cyril of Alexandria (r. 412-444) is credited with writing down Theophilus’s words. According to the framing homily, Theophilus was appointed by the emperor Theodosius to use funds looted from pagan temples and treasuries to build and renovate churches in Egypt. He comes to Dayr al-Muharraq, a monastery on a holy mountain near the village of Qusqam and there delivers the homily in praise of a church built there over the remains of a home said to have been the dwelling of the holy family for six months of their three-year and six-month stay in Egypt. The bishop begins by comparing Jesus’ stay on the holy mountain to the epiphany of Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus’ addresses to the disciples on the Mount of Olives. He connects the holy family’s flight to Egypt also with the woman who flees from the dragon of Revelation to the mountains (Rev 12:1-6; 14-17). Then he details his efforts to build a church for John the Baptist in Rome, after which Theodosius charges him with his mission to Egypt. He mentions his arrival at the holy mountain and introduces his vision, which he received while lodging at the house on its premises.
In the vision (pp. 17–40 of Mingana’s English translation), Mary appears to Theophilus on a throne of light accompanied by a myriad of angels. She tells him about her parents (Joachim and Anna) and of her flight from Herod with Jesus, Joseph, and her nurse Salome. The following episodes are a compilation of Egyptian ecclesiastical foundation stories related to sites established prior to the composition of the text. The first story (pp. 19–21) is set in the outskirts of Bastah. There they encounter two thieves, one Egyptian and one a Syrian Jew. Mary searches for water for Jesus in town, but when no one comes to their aid, Jesus makes the sign of the cross upon the earth and a spring bubbles up that becomes a place of healing. The temples of idols in the town fall and the idols are smashed, recalling, it seems Isaiah 19:1 (“Behold, the Lord is sitting on a light cloud and coming to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will be shaken by his presence, and their hearts will give way within themselves,” LXX). While Mary and Jesus are away, Joseph falls asleep and the two thieves steal Jesus’ sandals.
The family moves on and, bombarded by the sounds of animals and nature at his presence, Jesus lays his hands on a mountain to the east and another to the south and commands the noise to cease. His hand prints are said to be on the mountains to this day (p. 21). The family then comes to the village of al-Ashmunayn where statues of horses at the gate fall, Jesus consecrates a sacred tree called Mukantah, five camels are turned to stone, and once again, idols fall to the ground. The people of the town are healed by Jesus (pp. 21–23).
The next story takes place in Qenis (pp. 24–26), where the family encounter a friend of Joseph from Judea whose possessed son is exorcised by Jesus. Though the townspeople are charitable to the family, they must flee when the nobles of the town hear that they have caused the destruction of their idols. So they come to Qusqam, the home of an idol adorned by seven veils. Sensing Jesus’ presence, the veils are torn and the idol falls to the ground. The priests chase the family away and Jesus curses the town.
They stop at Dayr al-Muharraq, where Jesus takes Joseph’s staff of olive-wood, plants it in the ground, and it becomes an olive tree (p. 26). Then the two thieves catch up to them and steal all of their garments. Mary utters a lengthy lament filled with worry about her son and wishes that she were home where they might be more protected from harm. The Egyptian thief has pity on Mary and convinces his accomplice to return their belongings. Jesus predicts the two thieves’ presence at his crucifixion and from Mary’s tears he creates a spring where people will come for healing (pp. 26–29). Then they find shelter at the house that will one day become a church (pp. 29–30).
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Satan appears to Herod, tells him where the family is staying, and instructs him to pursue them with soldiers. A friend of Joseph named Moses hears their plans and goes to warn Joseph. He arrives miraculously in three days. When he tells them about Herod, Mary weeps and laments again. Grateful for Moses’ service yet concerned for his mother, Jesus bids Moses sleep on a stone imbued with his power and in doing so give up his spirit, though Jesus promises Moses that he will rest with the patriarchs until he opens the gates of heaven. The remains of Moses are said to reside in the wall of the church there to this day (pp. 30–35).
After six months, an angel comes to tell Joseph that Herod has died and the family may return home (p. 35; from Matt 2:19–20). Jesus consecrates the house and says it will become a church and that pilgrims who come there will be blessed, their sins forgiven, their infirmities healed, and all of their requests answered. Barren women will give birth to sons and monks will live there in protection (pp. 35236). The family return to al-Ashmunayn and head home on a ship that Jesus creates by making the sign of the cross on the water (p. 37).
Mary then tells Theophilus about a gathering after Jesus’ death at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. The apostles are present, along with Mary Magdalene, Anna, and Salome. She recounts her various trials (evoking, it seems, the similar event in the Dormition of the Virgin). And then Jesus appears and takes them all in a cloud (recalling Isa. 19:1) to the house on Dayr al-Muharraq which they consecrate as the first church in all the world and then return to Jerusalem (pp. 37–39).
The vision ends with Mary telling Theophilus to write everything down so that the world knows about the history and miraculous qualities of the house (pp. 39–40). The framing homily then resumes and Theophilus declares the gifts that will come to those who visit the house and delivers woes on those who do not revere it appropriately.
Vis. Theo. plays an integral part in Coptic and Ethiopic Christianity. Several feast days celebrate events in the narrative: the departure of St. Theophilus (18th of Babah), the coming of Christ into Egypt (24th of Bashans), and the consecration of Dayr al-Muharraq’s church (6th of Hathor) (see Morris Guirguis, 308–23). Several hymns and songs are also connected to these celebrations (Morris Guirguis, 324–46).
Named historical figures and characters: Abraham (patriarch), Adam (patriarch), Alexander (bishop), Anna (mother of Mary), Arius, Bad Thief, Constantine (emperor), Cyril of Alexandria, David (king), Demetrius (bishop), Elizabeth, Gabriel (angel), Good Thief, Herod (the Great), Isaac (patriarch), Isaiah (prophet), Jacob (patriarch), Jeremiah (prophet), Jesus Christ, Joachim (father of Mary), John (son of Zebedee), John (the Baptist), Joseph (of Nazareth), Judas (Iscariot), Mark (evangelist), Mary Magdalene, Mary (mother of John Mark), Mary (Virgin), Michael (angel), Moses (friend of Joseph), Paul (apostle), Peter (apostle), Salome (midwife), Satan, Theodosius (emperor), Theophilus (bishop).
Geographical locations: al-Ashmunayn (Hermopolis), Alexandria, Aswan, Babylon, Bastah, Bethlehem, church of Mark, Constantinople, Dayr al-Muharraq, Egypt, Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Mount Sinai, Mukantah, Nazareth, Qenis, Qusqam, Rome, Syria, temple of Alexander, temple (Jerusalem).
2.2 Web Sites
3.1 Manuscripts and Editions
Edgbaston, University of Birmingham, Mingana Chr. Arab. 18 (olim 14), fol. 1v–16v (ca. 1670)
Qusqam, Dayr al-Muharraq, 9/14 (1840)
Qusqam, Dayr al-Muharraq, 9/15 (1842)
Qusqam, Dayr al-Muharraq, 12/42 (1783) ~ image of first page in Morris Guirguis, p. 350
Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. ar. 170, fols. 191r–215r (1719)
Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. ar. 698 fols. 102v–131r (1371) + Vat. ar. 1581 (final fol.)
Wadi El Natrun, Dayr Abu Maqar, 378
Wadi El Natrun, Dayr Abu Maqar, 381
Wadi El Natrun, Dayr Abu Maqar, 481
Wadi El Natrun, St. John the Short Monastery, no catalog number (1722) ~ image of first page in Morris Guirguis, p. 348
Guidi, Michelangelo. “La omelia di Teofili di Alessandria sul Monte Coscam nelle letterature orientali (textus).” Rendiconti della reale Accademia dei Lincei 26 (1917): 381–469 (edition of Vat. ar. 698, pp. 441–69).
Guidi, Michelangelo. “La omelia di Teofili di Alessandria sul Monte Coscam nelle letterature orientali (versio).” Rendiconti della reale Accademia dei Lincei 30 (1921): 217–37, 274–309 (edition of Vat. ar. 170, pp. 217–37).
Hunayn, Jirjis, ed. Kitab mayamir wa‘aja’ib al-‘adharâ’. Second edition. Cairo: ‘Ayn Shams Press, 1927 (a modern text of Vis. Theo. in Arabic from an unnamed source, see pp. 81–106; translated into English in Morris Guirguis, “The Vision of Theophilus,” pp. 351–69).
Monferrer Sala, Juan Pedro, ed. and trans. The Vision of Theophilus: The Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 39. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2015 (edition and translation of Mingana Chr. Arab. 18).
Richard, Marcel. “Les Écrits de Théophile d’Alexandrie.” Mus 52 (1939): 33–50. (discussion of Vat. ar. 1481).
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Copte 1318, fol. 80 (10th/11th cent.)
Suciu, Alin. “‘Me, This Wretched Sinner’: A Coptic Fragment from the Vision of Theophilus Concerning the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt.” VC 67 (2013): 436–50.
London, British Library, Orient. 604, fols. 5r–18r (1716–1721)
London, British Library, Orient. 605, fols. 2r–18v (18th cent.)
Oslo and London, Schøyen Collection, MS 248 (formerly Lady Meux Collection 2), fols. 90v–101v (ca. 1682–1706) LINK
Lady Meux Collection 3 (current location unknown)
Bombeck, S. Die Geschichte der heiligen Maria in einer alten äthiopischen Handschrift. 2 vols. Bottrop: Verlag Proxiswissen, 2005 (new edition of the “long recension”).
Budge, E. A. W. The Miracles of the Blessed Mary and the life of Hannâ (Saint Anne), and the magical prayers of A̕hĕta Mîkâêl. London: W. Griggs, 1900 (edition of the “short recension” based on Schøyen 248, pp. 62–70; English translation pp. 11–31).
Rossini, Carlo Conti. “Il discorso su Monte Coscam attribuito a Teofilo d’Alessandria nella versione etiopica.” Rendiconti della reale Accademia dei Lincei 21 (1912): 395–71 (edition of the “long recension,” pp. 401–41, translation pp. 442–71).
See the manuscripts listed under Life of Mary (West Syriac).
Additional manuscripts listed under Life of Mary (West Syriac).
Guidi, Michelangelo. “La omelia di Teofili di Alessandria sul Monte Coscam nelle letterature orientali (textus).” Rendiconti della reale Accademia dei Lincei 26 (1917): 381–469 (edition of Vat. Borg. 128, pp. 391–440).
Mingana, Alphonse. “The Vision of Theophilus, Or the Book of the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 13 (1929), 383–474. Reprinted in idem, Woodbroke Studies. Fascicle 3. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, Ltd., 1931 (Edition based on Mingana Syr. 5, Syr. 48, and Vat. Borg. 128).
3.2 Modern Translations
Budge, E. A. W. Legends of our Lady Mary the Perpetual Virgin and Her Mother Hannâ translated from the Ethiopic Manuscripts collected by King Theodore at Makdalā and now in the British Museum. London: Medici Society, 1922 (translation based on Schøyen 248 and British Library, Orient. 604, pp. 61–80).
Mingana, Alphonse. “The Vision of Theophilus, Or the Book of the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 13 (1929), 383–474. Reprinted in idem, Woodbroke Studies. Fascicle 3. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, Ltd., 1931 (translation of edition based on Mingana Syr. 5, Syr. 48, and Vat. Borg. 128).
Monferrer Sala, Juan Pedro, ed. and trans. The Vision of Theophilus: The Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 39. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2015 (translation of Mingana Chr. Arab. 18, pp. 83–108).
Guidi, Michelangelo. “La omelia di Teofili di Alessandria sul Monte Coscam nelle letterature orientali (versio).” Rendiconti della reale Accademia dei Lincei 30 (1921/1922): 217–37, 274–309 (translation of Vat. Borg. Syr. 128, pp. 274–309).
3.3 General Works
Abû Ṣâliḥ al-Armanī, The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt and Some Neighbouring Countries Attributed to Abû Ṣâliḥ, the Armenian. Edited and Translated by B. T. A. Evetts, with added notes by Alfred J. Butler. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895. Reprinted Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2001 (see pp. 99–101, 224–227).
Boud’hors, Anne and Ramez Botros. “La Saint Famille à Gabal al-Tayr et l’homélie du Rocher.” Pages 59–76 in Études coptes VII. Neuvième journée d’études Montpelier, 3–4 June, 1999. Edited by N. Bosson. Leuven: Peeters, 2000.
__________, eds. L’homélie sur l’Église du Rocher attribuée à Timothée Aelure. Patrologia Orientalis 49/1. Turnhout: Brepols, 2001 (a fifth-century Coptic homily that refers to and summarizes Vis. Theo.).
Cerulli, Enrico. Il libro etiopico dei Miracoli di Maria e le sue fonti nelle letterature del Medio Evo latino. R. Università di Roma. Studi pubblicati a cura della Scuola Orientale 1. Roma: Dott. Giovanni Bardi Editore 1943 (pp. 206–208).
Davis, Stephen J. “Ancient Sources for the Coptic Tradition.” Pages 133–62 in Be Thou There: The Holy Family’s Journey in Egypt. Edited by Gawdat Gabra. Cairo & New York : American University in Cairo Press, 2001.
Desreumaux, Alain. “Les apocryphes syriaques sur Jésus et sa famille.” Pages 51–69 in Les apocryphes syriaques. Edited by Muriel Debié, Alain Desreumaux, Christelle Jullien, and Florence Jullien. Études syriaques 2. Paris: Geuthner, 2005.
Gero, Stephen. “Apocryphal Gospels: A Survey of Textual and Literary Problems.” Pages 3969–96 in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 25.2.2. Edited by Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase. New York: de Gruyter, 1988 (See pp. 3983–84).
Graf, George. Geschichte der christlichen Arabischen Literatur. 5 vols Vatican: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1944–1953 (see vol. 1, pp. 229–32).
Gregorius. Al-Muharraq Monastery. Fagalla: Dar El-Geel, 1990.
christliche Archäologie: Bonn 22-28 September, 1991. Edited by E. Dassmann and J. Engemann. JAC 20.2. Münster/Città del Vaticano: Aschendorff, 1995.
Mar Girgis Nuns’ Monastery. Visit of the Holy Family to Egypt and Misr Qadima, 2000 Years’ Commemoration. Misr Qadima: MarGirgis Nuns’ Monastery, 2000.
Meinardus, Otto. The Holy Family in Egypt. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1983.
Morris Guirguis, Fatin. “The Vision of Theophilus: Resistance Through Orality Among the Persecuted Copts.” PhD diss., Florida Atlantic University, 2010.
Monferrer Sala, Juan Pedro. Textos apócrifos árabes cristianos. Madrid: Ed. Trotta, 2003.
Naffah, Charles. “Les ‘histoires’ syriaques de la Vierge: traditions apocryphes anciennes et récentes.” Apocrypha 20 (2009): 137–88.
Nau, François. “La version syriaque de la vision de Théophile sur le séjour de la Vierge en Egypte.” Revue de l’Orient Chrétien 15 (1910): 125–32.
Perry, Paul. Jesus in Egypt: Discovering the Secrets of Christ’s Childhood Years. New York: Ballantine, 2005.
Youssef, Youhanna Nessim. “Notes on the Traditions concerning the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.” Coptic Church Review 20.2 (1999): 48–55.