Fleeing Herod: A Journey Through Coptic Egypt with The Holy Family by James Cowan
This travelogue through Coptic Egypt by James Cowan is an illuminating and provocative story of the Holy Family and Cowan’s attempt to put the pieces together on their journey through Egypt. Meeting with Coptic priests, nuns, and lay people, Cowan strives to bring together the story of the Holy Family’s journey with many available extra biblical texts that we have available. What I enjoyed about the book was its familiar way of letting us in on the journey, overhearing the interviews, breathing in some of the history of Coptic Egypt that I was unfamiliar with.
We find early on in the book some wisdom from the mouth of Pope Shenouda, leader of the Coptic Church. “The world forgets sometimes, Pope Shenouda went on, “that many of the questions relating to the nature of God were asked by the Ancient Egyptians before they became the subject of inquiry of others.” (5) Later on we find that Pope Shenouda believes that no one acted more courageously than Joseph, who defied the odds and traveled through Egypt with Mary (6). Without out the advent of motorized vehicles, the trek would have been treacherous and full of difficulty. Yet, as James indicates, we have no factual record of the Holy Family’s journey, but the established caravan route would have been best (10). The biblical record does indicate their precise journey because the journey was not as important as the fulfillment of prophecy and the setting up of two rival kings.
James goes on in the journey to find some very interesting writings relating to the infancy of Jesus. One source, namely Muslim narrator Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. AD 728), wrote of the way the infant Jesus upon realizing that part of his treasure had been stolen reported this to his mother. Jesus goes onto point out that a blind man in the crowd stole the treasure and the crowds soon beat him. The seer-like tendencies are evident in these early extra biblical accounts. There is a sense that many of these gospels, including the Arabic Infancy Gospel, wanted to fill in the gaps where the four gospels left out concerning the divine nature of Jesus being evident from the very beginning as a baby. My only concern here is to the veracity of the accounts of these gospel records (Thomas, Arabic, etc.).
Overall, I thought this book was a good look into the journey of the Holy Family through Egypt. More of a travelogue and dialogue with Coptic priests and nuns, the book serves as an entertaining guide to learning about Coptic Egypt and the difficulty the Holy Family might have faced traveling through such a tough terrain.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for review.