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Faithful NarrativesHistorians, Religion, and the Challenge of Objectivity$
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Andrea Sterk and Nina Caputo

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780801451829

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801451829.001.0001

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Between Syria and Egypt

Between Syria and Egypt

Alms, Work, and the “Holy Poor”

(p.32) Chapter 2 Between Syria and Egypt
Faithful Narratives

Peter Brown

Cornell University Press

This chapter focuses on a religious struggle over the meaning of work and the definition of “the poor” in late antiquity, illustrating how theological principles and their institutional application affect the economy and society of entire regions. The monks of Syria and Egypt in the last centuries of the Roman Empire were far from being the wonderful drop-outs they were often imagined as; they acted as a catalyst for the social imagination of an entire society. What happened in this era reflects the extremist poverty of Saint Francis and his followers, which arose as a criticism on the economy of the thirteenth-century Italian cities. The monks' insistence that manual labor should be combined with almsgiving to the poor contributed to an imaginative victory in which the rich have a religious duty to support the poor.

Keywords:   poverty, work, Syrian monks, Egyptian monks, Roman Empire, manual labor, almsgiving, Saint Francis, thirteenth-century Italy

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