Mark the Evangelist symbol is the winged lion, the Lion of Saint Mark. Canvas painting, circa 1516.

The origins of the ancient Coptic Church of Egypt

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The Coptic Church of Egypt is the earliest Christian church in the world, going back to around 42 AD. According to Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as Coptic traditions, Saint Mark the evangelist, who wrote the earliest of the four New Testament gospels, was the founder and first bishop of the Church of Alexandria, even before the Church of Rome was established. In his landmark History of the Church , written in Greek about the year 310, Eusebius writes: "Now, they say that this Mark was the first to have set out to Egypt to preach the gospel, which he had already written down, and the first to have organized churches in Alexandria itself " (Eusebius, HE 2.16.1). This information is supplemented by Eusebius’s Chronicle, where he places Mark’s arrival in Alexandria in the third year of Claudius’ reign, which would be AD 41-42 or 43-44. This is no more than ten years after the date fixed for the death of Jesus, traditionally held to be in AD 33.  

Meanwhile, the traditional Egyptian account regarding the history of the early Coptic Church agrees with Eusebius on Mark’s role as the founder of the Alexandrian Church. However, Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa’ gives a slightly later date to Mark’s arrival in Alexandria: "In the fifteenth year after the Ascension of Christ ( c. AD 48), the holy Peter sent Saint Mark, the father and evangelist, to the city of Alexandria, to announce the good tiding (Gospel) there ".1 The History of the Patriarchs attributed to Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa is actually a multi-generational compendium of Egyptian church history that relies on several early Coptic sources, and was redacted and translated into Arabic in the eleventh century.

More information on Mark’s life in Egypt is found in the Coptic account recorded by Sawirus, which is believed to have come from an earlier source. This source, known as the Acts of Mark, gives more details about Mark’s activities in Egypt, including the account of the evangelist’s martyrdom in Alexandria. The Acts of Mark has collected some early oral traditions and set them within a larger narrative, describing the details of Mark’s mission and martyrdom in Alexandria. While the exact date of composition for the Acts of Mark is uncertain, these traditions are traceable at least to the late fourth or early fifth century. The Acts incorporates two streams of tradition within a single narrative. The first stream concerns Mark’s founding of the church in Alexandria. The second stream concerns Mark’s martyrdom, and provides an explanation for the establishment of his martyr church on the outskirts of Alexandria.

Detail, painting of Mark the Evangelist

Detail, painting of Mark the Evangelist. Public Domain

The document was originally written in Greek and Coptic, and was rendered into several other languages. The main line of the story in the Acts of Mark goes like this: when the apostles were sent out in their missions, Mark received as his lot the country of Egypt and its surrounding territories. He went first to Cyrene, (in Libya) (a second version makes him a native of Cyrene) where he did a lot of work to convert many to the Christian faith. While in Cyrene, Mark received a vision that he should go to Alexandria.

He arrived in Alexandria the next day and came to a place called Mendion. As he was entering the gate of the city, the strap of his sandal broke, and Mark looked for a cobbler to fix it. As the cobbler was working on the sandal, he injured his left hand and cried out in pain, ‘God is one.’ Mark healed the cobbler’s hand in the name of Jesus. To show his gratitude, the cobbler invited Mark to his home for a meal. There Mark began to preach the gospel of Jesus, telling the man of the prophecies related to Christ. The cobbler said that he did not know of these writings, though he was familiar with the Iliad and the Odyssey and other things that Egyptians learned from childhood. The man was eventually converted, and he and his whole household were baptized, and many others besides. The cobbler’s name was Ananias (the other version has Anianus).  Eventually, some pagan ‘men of the city’, angered by these conversions, sought to kill Mark. The evangelist decided to leave Alexandria and go back to Pentapolis, in North Africa. However, before leaving he ordained for the church Ananias (Annianus) as bishop, along with three presbyters (Milaius, Sabinus, and Cerdo).

The Healing of Anianus by Cima da Conegliano

The Healing of Anianus by Cima da Conegliano ( Wikipedia)


Nice work, Mr Osman. I love those early church martyrdom accounts. They have that underlying format that shows how those first Christians needed specific assurance that heaven was still assisting the church even though things looked bleak during persecution. Saying that, it is often surprising when bones are analysed, how often the core of the tale could be true. 

Around AD 55 saints Thaddeus and Bartolommeo travelled to Armenia to spread Christianity. Saint Thomas was in India for the same purpose. In AD 301 Kingdom of Armenia declared Christianity as state religion, seventeen years before Roman Empire did so.

Maybe it's interesting for Ancient Origins to start a series on wether Jesus really ever existed. What is the evidence. And I mean REAL HARD EVIDENCE. And if he did exist once what kind of a man was he really.
My position is: the more miracles the less believable.

Here's an interesting lecture: Richard Carrier: Why Jesus Never Existed

This article isn't about Jesus. It's about the Coptic Church. The liturgical texts of which proved useful in translation of ancient Egyptian. There's very little evidence at the level you demand for William the Conqueror. Show me the bones of Julius Caesar. Everything we know about him is written down. It gets a bit boring when anti-religious people expect forensic levels of evidence because it's "religion". Confirmation Bias yet again. There would be no point in  such articles because unless people with opinions like yours agreed with it, you would ramble on endlessly in the comments about why it was rubbish.

The problem is that the period of time when the mythical jesus is supposed to have lived is extremely well documented by hundreds of scribes who recorded the existence of all the thinkers and doers of the time throughout the entire region...and not one line about this jesus from any of them. Very strange, considering how well this character was supposedly known. Contemporary historical analysis at the highest levels of academia cannot find this character.

There are a few historians who actually wrote about Christ or Christians. Did you even bother to research about this???

Actually, the ones you are probably thinking about only spoke about christians. Not Jesus. One used another form of the title Christ (Christ's, I think), but a title isn't proof of existence. NONE of the folks he refers to wrote about "Jesus". Sorry, but that "proof" you want just isn't there.

"(Christ's, I think)" - should be "(Chrestus, I think)"

Here's just one link for you to read. I believe there's more than one line there: evidence on the exhistance of Jesus.htm

dead link.

I had to remove the special characters %20 which are HTML code for space. Just copy paste this into your browser, it works! Don't be lazy! evidence on the exhistance of Jesus.htm

I did. It worked. Thanks.

Your link contains spaces. A true url does not. What characters replace the spaces? Highlight the url in your browser's address field and copy it into a reply.

Ok, I got it to work on the computer instead of the iPad.

Virtually all of the sources mentioned do not mention Jesus by name, only by title, which could well have been referring to a mythical figure. Not proof of historicity.

Jewish Talmuds were not in evidence at the time of Jesus death, not like they are today, and the first versions were not canonized until over a hundred years later, when his name would have been well in circulation by that time.

If you want a source to be a true source, it MUST mention Jesus by name, because the title Christ (or variations thereof) were in use long before his birth and referred often to other figures. It must also be written within a small span of years past his death to be considered a true source.

Additionally, it is hard to find true eyewitness sources to a lot of history at the time, because ancient writers were not as concerned with "truth" as we demand it in written sources today. It was common to write using another's name, or putting words in their mouth, or omitting embarrassing stuff, etc.

Rumors were often passed off as fact.

What you need to understand is that NO true critical scholar will admit to there being any such real sources about Jesus before the writings of Paul. They do not exist. The sources cited on the page you referred to are common among apologists, but they do not hold water to historians at all, for various reasons.

There may be other reasons to suppose a possibility for a historical Christ (and Carrier even gives that at least a 30% chance of being the case), but contemporary written sources are not among them.

Your problem is that you only read in English. I am fluent in Armenian and Arabic, but unfortunately you are unable to read and understand in those languages. We know there are several communications between Jesus Christ and king Abgar of Urfa as the latter invited Him to teach and preach in his kingdom and cure him from a sickness. Wikipedia calls him King Abgar of Edessa.

No, that is NOT my problem. I'm reading and learning from the work of both biblical scholars and historians, most of whom read one ancient language or another.

Jesus did not write letters. He was, if the gospels are to be believed (which are not historical anyway) not an educated person, literarily speaking. His parents were not wealthy and could not afford to send him to a school to learn to write, which was a rich man's luxury at that time.

Neither were the disciples, being fishermen, etc.

There may be local stories and traditions that speak of communications like you mention, but they are not historical and are not acknowledged by biblical scholars.

The earliest writings that mention Jesus BY NAME are the writings of Paul, and that was at least thirty years, if not forty, beyond the crucifixion. Most scholars today count them as being after the fall of Jerusalem.

And Paul never mentioned meeting Jesus in person, merely in visions.

Sorry, try again.

With all due respect Robert, I have noticed from your comments that you are the only one who tells the truth and knows the facts. All of us are either liars or ignorant.
Anyway, I will stick to my readings in languages which I know.
I will not participate in those arguments, discussions, comments where you, with my respect, trying to show you're the only one who knows everything and we all are wrong.

Stop putting words in my mouth. I am merely repeating what I have read and studied, pointing out where scholars more educated and knowledgable than I have debunked apologists' arguments. That is NOT saying that I am the only one who knows something, it just shows that I've read a few more things than you have!

Something you can correct by more reading.

I get the feeling from your reply that you aren't interested in a discussion, but you want to be taken as an authority because you read more than one language. Sorry, bud, but lots of other people read more than one language, and apparently read more ancient stuff than you do.

Go out and read some sources that don't agree with you and learn some things, then come back and we can have a more nuanced discussion, if you dare.

Otherwise, you leaving matches how almost every other apologist reacts in similar circumstances - you all run away when you have no answers.

When you find your own does not matter what others believe, so proving whether Jesus existed or convince others that their beliefs are wrong....does that matter to your own truth? Do you want to avoid being alone in your belief that Jesus did not exist so you have to try to convince others to believe as you do? Why is it important to inflict your own beliefs onto others and try to disrupt their own understanding of their truth? In the big picture, it does not matter what others believe unless you have serious control issues, wanting the power to persuade others to believe as you do, when it is the symbolism in the story of Jesus that matters and when you understand that symbolism, you are a true seeker wanting to know the are able to see beyond the physical to the metaphysical. Look for the symbols in the story and look beyond the story...then you understand, it does not matter whether Jesus really existed or not, it is what is in the story that really matters. For example, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday....what does that mean to you? Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", where Zoroaster returned to his cave and found his quests worshiping the donkey.....what does that mean? Try to see the forest and not just the trees.

Karla, I wanted to address a couple of things you wrote. "Why is it important to inflict your own beliefs onto others and try to disrupt their own understanding of their truth? In the big picture, it does not matter what others believe unless you have serious control issues..." One of the things Christians are called to do is evangelize and spread the good news. We seek to save as many people as we can through the power of the holy spirit. If they do not know Jesus, they do not know the truth. Someone may believe he/she knows the truth, i.e. following Islam, Judaism, or is an Atheist, but to us Christians those dogmas (or lack there of) are the work of Satan; therefore, they are lies. So in summary whenever you see a Christian talking about the Bible and what certain scriptures mean to someone who has other beliefs, it is not that the Christian has "control issues" it is more so that the Christian is seeking to save his neighbor. Since we are called upon to love our neighbors and our enemies it is only fitting that we share the truth (as we see it) of the gospel with them.

Saving someone is not control. You can preach to someone (or proselytize, if you prefer), but that does NOT include forcing him/her to live according to your beliefs. Yes, there are a lot of Christians in our country (who are referred to as "Dominionists") who DO have delusions of control. who DO want to take control of our society and force us all to live according to THEIR beliefs.

As a Christian, are you comfortable with that? With another Christian forcing you to live according to their denomination's strictures instead of your own?

You made the point Robert. I am Christian and follow the Orthodox faith of the Holy Church of Armenia. I get frustrated, really I do, when someone knocks my door and INVITES me to join his/her different faith of Christianity despite knowing that I am a Christian. That is not the way of spreading the good word. What they're doing is nonsense.

Now that you've seen that point, take one additional step with me. Imagine you are of another religion. ANY religion, pagan, Islamic, Hindu, Japanese ancestor worship, anything.

As with your current situation, you'd be comfortable with your lifestyle and religious choices, even if that choice were the result of family and geographic circumstances (like it probably is now!).

Now think about some Christian knocking at your door. Or, more to my point, imagine you are told one day that your local legislature has passed a law making your favored worship service illegal,and you are now required to attend your local Catholic church. Or the local Islamic mosque. Or Hindu temple.

That is what some Christians here in the US want to do. Make all of us adhere to THEIR favored method of superstition. (which is what it is to me, as an atheist.)

I can deal with folks knocking on my door. I've had some Mormon kids do that, and some delightful conversations I've had with them, and I can credit one group of them for my interest in genealogy.

But not conflating church and State. That's where I draw the line.

We see that today still thousands of people are killed because of religion. The way the ISIS fundamentalists are going about is the same as Charlemagne and others went about 1000 + years ago. You convert to christianity or you lose your head. It's my mission to spread common sense.

The core business of judaism, christianity, islam is to demonise people: just recently the pope said: "If we don't pray to jesus we serve satan." I'm serving satan? I don't even believe in satan. It's all a bunch of crap! We live in the 21st century; we have sience. The only way to a peacefull and humane future is science, common sense and rational ethics. And democracy where it doesn't matter what you think. In the democratic, rational world view you are never considdered to be a servent of satan. You just have an own, and sometimes different opinion!

I think you need to get some radox and have a nice soak. There's a lot of prejudicial baggage weighing you down there. Not to mention that your tag name is a bit presumptuous. That was rather more of a rant than Common Sense. It seems to be the case that the problems are all about you disagreeing with ideas that nobody is actually obliged to take any notice of, than the effect those ideas are having on you. And to compare ISIS to any other individual or group that isn't terrorist, for no other reason than it and all religion is in a box constructed in your own head, is grossly bigoted and insulting. I'm sure that in the interest of being consistent you will be purposefully ignoring CHRISTmas and not buying anyone presents.

A merry solstice to you to!


riparianfrstlvr's picture

what i have googled is this. there was a roman soldier, Pantera in Jerusalim, he was courting a tapestry weaver at the temple, Mary. she got pregnant and they named the baby Yeshua Pantera. before they got married Pantera was restationed up in Germany and died in his early sixties knowing nothing of what happened. Mary being pregnant met Joseph. She had to get married or she would be stoned to death. women whether prostitutes or raped by Roman soldiers, pregnant out of wedlock were killed back then for adultry. Joseph thought Mary was a whore and didn't want to marry her . she went into hiding as she was starting to show, at her sisters. Joseph finally believed her and they got married and he is the adoptive father of Jesus, Yeshua. Mary of Magdela was not a whore, but came from the rich province of Magdela in Egypt, she came from wealth and gave that up for the more asetic life style of Jesus. the star that is associated with his birth was not recorded by anyone there at that time, but was witnessed and recorded in China on their calender and it occured about 5 years before the proclaimed birth of Jesus. that said, was Jesus a fairytale, no and yes.


As good of a story as any

Year one students in theology at secular universities would be able to tell you that what you managed to Google is rubbish. It was simply part of the establishment of the times effort to use propaganda to discredit Christianity. Realise that at the point in history we're looking at, being a Christian meant that you were a dangerous radical. There were similar articles about Christians meeting to drink the blood of infants being put about. Every society has a media with an agenda, even in the Roman Empire.

We're familiar with that 'evidence'. Like almost everything else in the new testament it's mere confabulation by Rome. Read the work of DM Murdock (Acharya S) before you claim ANY historical reference for the made-up mythical jesus cult -

"According to Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as Coptic traditions, Saint Mark the evangelist, who wrote the earliest of the four New Testament gospels, ..."

Eusebius was a well known and acknowledged liar-for-Jesus. Much of what he wrote must be taken as of dubious real historical value. Almost the entire critical field of biblical study now recognizes that none of the names associated "traditionally" with the Gospels reflect the true writers.

With this as the beginning of this article, i stopped reading, as it is obvious the rest will be of similar value, historically speaking.

History is subjective....meaning it is open to interpretation of the observer. Napoleon said :History is a lie that has been agreed to". Like the blind men and the elephant, we each examine different parts of the elephant and think we know what it is....but do any of us really know? My truth is different from others because I perceive the world through the veil of my own experiences, just like everyone else does. So, if some understand the story of Jesus as part of their truth.....who can deny that from their point of view their perception is valid?

History is written by the winners, which is why Eusebius got to write his "history" of the Church. Unfortunately for him, modern scholars have the luxury of finding and reading sources his readers would probably not have had - which often show his writings to be false.

Historians try not to allow such basis as you describe to affect their conclusions, and they do attempt to base their conclusions on probabilities which make the conclusion more likely.

Someone who still calls the Gospels as written by Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are behind the times, and ignoring the scholarship of numerous scholars who have concluded that the Gospels are unattributable to those august personalities, regardless of how much they'd like them to be.

According to your comment, history could be anything, depending on your biases and prejudices.

Sorry, historical scholarship doesn't work that way.

Actually, even skeptical New Testament scholars will "call the gospels" as you say as a form of shorthand. It would be tiresome having to write an essay about the probability of multiple layers of New Testament redaction every time you just wanted to say "Mark's Gospel."

But in writing an article like this, no historian would make the statement made attributing the Gospels to the supposed names, as used above. Yes, the names would be used out of convenience, but only that.

Here's an excellent 4 part series - roughly 40 mins. - of confirmed historical evidence from non-"new testament" sources that show there were many contemporaries who were not "believers" who at least knew and believed he existed and taught and was executed for his teaching - Please look into the evidence before being duped by the ignorant and those with an agenda to keep the masses in the darkness - Contrary to popular belief - Ignorance is Not bliss -

(this is part 1 - you can access parts 2 through 4 from this link)

I'm Christian - there is 2 billion of us and we're growing globally by the way - and for the first time in this blog this article was written according to the ancient Scripture which we know as Bible.

By reading the blog posts, I cannot understand the hatred towards the Scripture and the Gospel, when you at the same time have no issues by telling the pagan mythological stories, which in many cases are bloody and horrible.

Any how, I wish you all blessed and merry Christmas - the time when Christ was conceived just 9 months before he was born to be the most influental person who ever lived and it happened 2014 years ago.

I have no hatred towards any religion, I just have a great love for the truth! And 'Merry Solstice' doesn't mean that I love paganism: I really, really love it that the days are getting longer again. That's just a physical or astronomical fact. And more sunshine lifts up my spirit.

The Christians 'stole' the winter-solstice from the pagans, atheists and scientists so to speak. ;) Merry solstice to you as well.

"Pagan Athiests"? Pagans are not athiests they worship gods made of stone.

I’ll put my faith in the aliens! You can put yours in politicians and religious leaders if you want. The aliens are the only ones that I see coming around all the time to check on us and to make sure we don’t drop too many nuclear bombs on each other. Want to see what the aliens look like...

The "oldest" Christian Church would be the one established at Pentecost in the upper room in Jerusalem---I would think. But at the time of Great Schism with Rome in 1054, there were 4 other jurisdictions (5 including Rome; and the "new" Russian Church that was only a couple of deacdes old): Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. It only makes sense that if you are the one leaving the others because you disagree with them and together they are the Body of the Church--then you are the heretical branch of the family-tree. The Coptic Orthodox Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of Churches, which has been a distinct Christian body since the schism following the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, when it took a different position over Christology from that of the Eastern Orthodox Church, so what we have today as the Coptic Church also left the original Church (from the Alexandrian jurisdiction), aka the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Article has inaccuracies.
Christianity is not religion. It is the only belief that is righteous in Jesus' eyes. And the only belief he will recognize Inside a persons heart.. As for bishop; that name is a presbyterian/ catholic identity. religion saves No one. Please read scripture.
Jesus said himself, 'one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven". Gospel John chapter 3.
Mark was never a pope nor bishop, man may have given him that stature, but Christ does not identify any man except as his child, when he/she becomes Born again. Christian ! Accepting in Jesus as your personal savior requires no tradition, ritual nor condition.. A person can Not understand scripture without the holy spirit inside him. Must be born again first ! Love must be sincere.

It's interesting that people want to fit spirituality into a physical straightjacket, such as science. Science does not go beyond a physical parameter, no matter how large that may be.. Spirituality without science or with science has had power and influence, and Historically provable. More influence and power than any one here stating an opinion. When any one of us gets to the mythical or real statue of a Christ then it's time to listen. Expanding on the TOOLS of thought not in a belittling, limiting way, has always been the nature of man. Science, myth, fact, truth, spirit are still words, word symbols, pointing to power. Anyone can see this power today in science, in myth, in spirit, etc. It is also a fact, I believe, that everyone here will die, to the physical world, regardless of what's right or wrong. truth or a lie. We are the limiting factor in life, life is not. PROOF is all around us. I prefer more of an expansion of thought than a contraction.

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