Saturday, January 29, 2011
The Flight of the Sorceress, Q&A, Part 5 - Hypatia's murderer and the Alexandria pogrom of 415 A.D.
Q. Your account of the murder of Hypatia lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria. Where does that come from?
A. It is not my account. It is an accurate historical account that is confirmed by various sources, not the least of which is Bishop John of Nikiu. Bishop John was a Roman Catholic historian (a Coptic Egyptian cleric) who lived in the late Seventh and early Eight Centuries and wrote a work called the Chronicles. In it, he recounts, with obvious glee, Hypatia’s murder and gloats that Cyril rid Alexandria of idolaters. By the way, his Chronicle addresses the Muslim conquest of Alexandria. If it were Muslims who destroyed the library, you can bet it would have been mentioned in the Chronicles, but it does not. Bishop John was the Glenn Beck of his day. He wouldn’t have spared the Muslim conquerors such bad publicity if they had destroyed anything as significant as a great library. Just reading John’s Chronicles, you get a sense that the Muslim conquest must have been a welcome relief from the dour religious repression of the Church. At that time, they were so much more tolerant of other religions and ideas, you can’t help rooting for them.
Q. Your book includes a subplot involving the Jews of Alexandria. Why did you feel that this topic should be included in the story?
A. At the time of the story, Jews made up approximately one-quarter of the population of Alexandria. They were an integral part of the political and cultural fabric of the city. And the Roman Catholic Church was quite concerned about their influence on society, particularly arts and letters. It was here in Alexandria that the Church’s vilification first took on proportions that led to one of the earliest pogroms against the Jews —certainly the largest after the diaspora. It happened close in time to the murder of Hypatia and the persecution of the Nestorian Christian sect. I fudged the chronology a bit because the pogrom in fact preceded the murder but I didn’t find that author’s license to be historically significant. The fact was that the Roman Catholic Church, by this time, was using the Roman army to consolidate its power, demanding that its version of Christianity was the only permissible theology. Anyone, whether Christian, pagan or Jew, who dissented was marked for destruction. I think the book faithfully recounts the equal opportunity repression of differing points of view and its ultimate consequences to civilization and human progress.
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