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Athanasius, of Alexandria  

Stacey Graham

bishop and patriarch of Alexandria, theologian, author, and doctor of the Church, is significant for his staunch opposition to Arianism, his prolific theological works, and his exile-ridden episcopate during a tumultuous time for Church and imperial politics. His most influential work is the seminal hagiography of Western monasticism, Life of Anthony.

Athanasius was born in Alexandria Egypt probably in the year 296 though possibly as late as 300 At an early age he came to the attention of Alexander the patriarch of Alexandria who ordained him as a priest and brought him into the patriarch s service Alexandria in the fourth century cultivated a mixture of intellectual philosophical and religious schools of thought from its long standing pagan Jewish and Christian communities The city was economically vital as the main grain supplier for the imperial capital at Constantinople and it ranked third among the four patriarchates in the early ...

Article

Cooper, Thomas  

Julia Sun-Joo Lee

slave and minister, was born in Maryland. The names of his parents are unknown. For the first twenty-five years of his life Cooper was known as “Notly.” He escaped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1800 and took the name John Smith. Employed at a lumberyard, he married a free black woman and had four children. Around this time Cooper's identity was betrayed by a friend. He was separated from his family and sent to Washington, D.C., to be sold at auction. He managed to escape and, with the help of a friend, return to Philadelphia, where he was reunited with his family. Still in danger of recapture, Cooper concealed himself at the home of a Quaker, where he stayed for a week while his master attempted to locate him.

Cooper fled to New Jersey where he was hired by a farmer His whereabouts were again discovered and Cooper escaped by ...

Article

Easton, Hosea  

Donald Yacovone

minister, author, and abolitionist, was born in North Bridgewater (later Brockton), Massachusetts, to James, a successful businessman, and Sarah Dunbar Easton. Easton'sTreatise on the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States (1837) was the nation's first systematic study of racism and stands with David Walker's Appeal (1829) as among the most important writings by African Americans during the early nineteenth century. The seven children of the Easton family blended African, American Indian, and white ancestry. Thus, the concept of “race,” as whites began to redefine it in the early nineteenth century, possessed little meaning to the Eastons. Indeed, one of Hosea Easton's brothers married into North Bridgewater's most distinguished white family.

James Easton had been a much respected businessman in the greater Boston area and a Revolutionary War veteran and viewed ...

Article

Elaw, Zilpha  

Martha L. Wharton

evangelist and writer, was born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents whose names remain unknown. In 1802, when Zilpha was twelve, her mother died during the birth of her twenty-second child, leaving Zilpha's father to raise the three children who had survived infancy. Unable to support the family, her father sent her older brother to their grandparents' farm far from Philadelphia and consigned Zilpha to a local Quaker couple, Pierson and Rebecca Mitchel. Within eighteen months Zilpha's father died. Zilpha felt fortunate to stay with the Mitchels for the next six years, until she reached the age of eighteen.

Zilpha had enjoyed a close relationship with her father and was deeply grieved by his passing The emotional turmoil associated with his death led her to a deeper contemplation of the state of her soul though she felt that she had no religious instruction or direction to guide her ...

Article

Gardner, Charles W.  

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and Episcopal minister, was born near Shoemakertown, New Jersey. Nothing else is known about his family background. Eloquent, forceful, and determined, Gardner earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and congregants. The great black nationalist Martin R. Delany considered him a man of “might and talent” who compelled whites to “recognize and respect” African Americans (Christian Recorder, 29 Apr. 1880). Theodore Dwight Weld, a celebrated antislavery lecturer, considered Gardner one of the country's leading black orators, and in 1837 Gardner became the first African American to address an annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

He began his ministerial career in 1809 as an itinerant Methodist preacher visiting churches throughout the Chesapeake region The experience led him to condemn the institution of slavery and the colonization movement which aimed at the expatriation of free blacks to Africa His criticism of Methodist slaveholders especially ...

Article

Ibn al-Farid, ʿUmar bin ʿAli  

Allen J. Fromherz

Egyptian Sufi mystic and poet, was born in Cairo. Most of his early years were spent in the hills to the east of Cairo and in the deserts. Although he started along the same path of his father, an estate lawyer, he felt that dry, legal study of the scripture was insufficient. He abandoned formal schooling. In an act reminiscent of the Christian desert fathers, he spent time in the deserted and empty quarters of Arabia, where he faced trials and had a vision of the Prophet Muhammad. He was praised as a saint when he returned to Cairo and told of his visions. His tomb beneath the mountains near Cairo is a major site of veneration to this day. The diwan, or the collected writings of Ibn al-Farid, is famous primarily for its poetry.

Like many mystic poets and writers Ibn al Farid used images of forbidden pleasures and ...

Article

Jea, John  

Richard J. Bell

Methodist preacher and seaman, was born in the port town of Old Calabar, in Nigeria, West Africa, to Margaret and Hambleton Robert Jea. At age two Jea and his family were captured in Old Calabar and transported to America on a slave ship. With his parents and several siblings he was immediately sold to the family of Oliver and Angelika Tiehuen, members of the Dutch Reformed Church who owned land outside New York City. This knowledge comes from Jea's narrative, The Life, History, and Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher, written and published in 1815; it is the only source of information about most of Jea's life and travels.

The newly enslaved family was set to work as field hands and quickly felt the hardship of poor conditions and physical abuse Jea found little comfort in the message of obedience and humility preached to ...

Article

Marrant, John  

Devona A. Mallory

minister and author, was born in the New York Colony to a family of free blacks. The names and occupations of his parents are not known. When he was four years old his father died. Marrant and his mother moved to Florida and Georgia; subsequently Marrant moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to live with his sister and brother-in-law. He stayed in school until he was eleven years old, becoming an apprentice to a music master for two additional years. During this time he also learned carpentry. His careers in music and carpentry ended in late 1769 or early 1770, when he was converted to Christianity by the famous evangelical minister George Whitefield.

Over the next few years Marrant converted many Native Americans, including members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw nations. In 1772 he returned to his family for a short time For the next ...

Article

Mars, James  

Sterling Lecater Bland

slave narrative author, was born in Canaan, Connecticut, the child of slaves. James's father, Jupiter Mars, was born in New York State. He had a succession of owners, including General Henry Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, with whom Jupiter served in the Revolutionary War. He was subsequently owned in Salisbury, Connecticut, and later by the Reverend Mr. Thompson, a minister in North Canaan, Connecticut. Mars's mother, whose name remains unknown, was born in Virginia and was owned there by the woman who became Thompson's wife. His mother, who had one child while living in Virginia, was relocated to Connecticut when Mrs. Thompson moved to Canaan to join her husband. The Reverend Thompson married Mars's parents, and they had James and four other children, three of whom died in infancy.

Of Mrs Thompson James Mars told his father that if she only had him South where she could have ...

Article

Montjoy, Zilpah  

Laura M. Chmielewski

convert to Methodism and religious contemplative, was born probably in New York City, of unknown but most likely enslaved parents. All the details of Zilpah Montjoy's life are derived from Abigail Mott's 1826Narratives of Colored Americans, a collection of biographical sketches of prominent and, in Mott's view, exemplary black Christians that includes Richard Allen, Benjamin Banneker, Paul Cuffe, Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano), and Phillis Wheatley as well as more obscure figures such as Billy and Jenny Poor Pompey and Old Dinah The circumstances surrounding Zilpah Montjoy s birth and parentage are unknown According to her biographer Montjoy spent her early life in domestic slavery in New York City serving masters who invested nothing in her spiritual development beyond calling her by a name that had biblical origins Montjoy was reportedly bound so tightly to her work that throughout her youth she ...

Article

Nuʿman, al-Qadi al-  

Sumaiya Hamdani

North African judge and author, was born sometime around the turn of the tenth century CE (or early 900s), into a North African Sunni family residing in what is today Tunisia, and yet he rose to become the preeminent author and legal authority for a Shia dynasty that established itself in North Africa in 909 and eventually ruled an empire that included Egypt, Syria, and Arabia until 1171. His full name was Al-Qadi (or judge) Abu Hanifa al-Nuʿman (first name) b. (son of) Muhammad b. Mansur b. Ahmad b. Hayyun al-Tamimi (tribal name).

Although al-Nuʿman was prolific and prominent, extremely little is known of his family and life before he joined the service of this Shiite dynasty, the Fatimids, in 925. A North African biographical dictionary from a slightly later period notes that his father Muhammad was among the few Sunni Muslim ulama or religious scholars of North ...

Article

Possidius  

Eric Fournier

was a Christian bishop and biographer of Augustine of Hippo. What we know about Possidius comes mainly from his own Life of Augustine. A few of Augustine’s own Letters (91, 101, 104, 137, 245, and 23*A) and the notice of Prosper’s Chronicle (Epitoma Chronicon for the year 437 CE provide additional details With such meager sources it is not surprising that we ignore the exact date and location of his birth although it is likely that he was born in the vicinity of Hippo Regius between 360 and 370 This supposition comes from the fact that Possidius is first securely attested in 391 as a companion of Augustine in the latter s newly established monastery of Hippo By Possidius own admission this was the beginning of a close friendship that lasted the better part of four decades There the brightest young promising Christian men of North Africa ...

Article

Prince, Nancy  

Martha L. Wharton

abolitionist, writer, lecturer, women's rights activist, and social critic, was born Nancy Gardner in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the daughter of an African American and Indian mother and an African American father, Thomas Gardner, who was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and died within three months of Nancy's birth. What is known about her is drawn primarily from her 1850 memoir, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince. While Prince does not name her mother in her narrative, she provides descriptions of both parents that highlight their African descent, and she recounts her grandfather's violent removal to America, along with his memories of a proud life in Africa. She briefly notes the capture of her Indian grandmother by local English colonials. Her narrative speaks clearly to issues of race, gender, slavery, and morality in the United States and the Caribbean.

Prince s childhood ...

Article

Russel, Chloe  

Eric Gardner

fortune-teller and author, does not appear in public records until 1820, at which time she is listed in the federal census, and nothing definitive is known about her parentage or childhood. A purportedly autobiographical text that introduces one extant copy of Russel's The Complete Fortune Teller and Dream Book claims that she was born in 1745 in the “Fuller nation” three hundred miles southwest of Sierre Leone, taken into slavery, and sold to Virginia planter George Russel after experiencing the horrors of the Middle Passage. In Virginia, the narrative asserts, after great torment, she gained the power of divination and then great fame as a seer, was freed, and raised money to free other slaves.

Though the veracity of this narrative is doubtful for several reasons—for example, the birthplace it gives is in the Atlantic Ocean—it is clear that the title-page attribution of The Complete Fortune Teller ...

Article

Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffaʿ  

Wafik Nasry

also known as Abu al-Bishr ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, the Egyptian Scribe, is celebrated as the first Coptic scribe to write theology in Arabic. The dates of his birth and death are currently unknown. However, scholars assign the year 905 as his approximate birth date and estimate his death around the ripe age of eighty. Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffaʿ was a prolific writer; in fact, the certain known dates in his life are all related to three of his compositions, namely his commentary on the Gospels Tafsir al-Amanah (Commentary on the Trust) in 950, which he lost, and then the rewriting of the same commentary in 955; finally in 987 he helped compose a letter to the Syrian Patriarch. All other dates are given as educated hypotheses.

Sawirus grew up in Old Cairo Egypt before the foundation of modern Cairo by the Fatimid caliphs As a young man Sawirus distinguished himself as a ...

Article

Tertullian  

Stacey Graham

early North African Christian thinker, was the earliest Christian apologist and theologian to write in Latin. Brought up in a pagan family and given a solid classical education, Tertullian became one of the most outspoken defenders of Christianity after his conversion, writing original and passionate texts on Christian morals and against heretics and nonbelievers. Most significant among them are the Apologeticum, a bitingly sarcastic and yet unassailably logical indictment against imperial policy of arresting and trying Christians, and the Adversus Praxean, a response to a heretic, which articulates the theology of the Trinity for the first time.

Most of the details of his life are unknown; the main source of biographical information is Jerome’s De viris illustribus of the late fourth century According to Jerome Tertullian was born in Carthage to a father who was a proconsular centurion in the Roman army Tertullian converted to Christianity in ...

Article

Turmeda, Anselmo  

Matthew K. Myers

Franciscan friar who converted to Islam and wrote polemical works supporting Islam against Christianity, was born in what is now known as Palma, Mallorca. Turmeda was his father’s only son and was possibly of Jewish descent. Mentioned as a witness in the will of James IV (c. 1336–1375), pretender to the throne of Mallorca, Turmeda’s father, Pere Silvestre, was a prominent figure in the community and a member of the weavers’ textile guild. Turmeda was conversant in both Catalan and Arabic as well as being experienced with Italian, French, Castilian, Latin, and Aramaic, allowing him to function as an interpreter and rise to positions of authority and prominence under the Hafsid Sultan of Tunis Abuʿl-Abbas Ahmad (r. 1370–1394) and his son Abu Faris ʿAbd al-Aziz (r. 1394–1434). The account of his conversion to Islam from Christianity is among the few such extant works.

Turmeda undertook training for the Christian priesthood ...