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Egyptian — and Endangered

by Paul Marshall

Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity, by Samuel Tadros (Hoover Institution, 262 pp., $19.95)

Media reports on current events in Egypt have called a little attention to a fact frequently ignored: that there are millions of Christians in that country.

These Christians are usually called “Copts,” a word derived from “Egypt,” and can claim descent from Pharaonic and Ptolemaic ancestors. Their liturgical language, Coptic, derives from Egyptian Demotic. The Coptic Orthodox Church, which embraces over 90 percent of Egypt’s Christians, traces its founding in Alexandria to Saint Mark, the author of Mark’s gospel. Their church calendar dates from 284, the start of the reign of their worst persecutor, the Roman emperor Diocletian. They have produced some of the greatest theologians of the church, including Clement, Origen, Cyril, and, most important, Athanasius, the major shaper of the Nicene Creed.

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