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Thebes (Thebais Secunda)



Titular see of Thebais Secunda, suffragan of Ptolemais, and the seat of a Coptic Catholic diocese. Thebes was the No-Amon of the Jews, the Nouit-Amen of the Egyptians (City or Kingdom of Amon), the Nia of the Assyrians, and the Diospolis of the Greeks, which is the exact translation of Nouit-Amen. The Egyptians also called it Per or Pi-Amen, the dwelling of Amon, and also Apet, whence, with the article Ta before the feminine name Apet, is derived Ta-Apet, or Tape, as it is called by the modern Copts, the Thebai of the Greeks. Thebes is mentioned three times in the Bible under the name of No-Amon in the Hebrew text, which the Vulgate each time renders incorrectly by Alexandria. Nahun (iii, 8-10) refers to the victories of Assurbanipal, King of Ninive, over Tanutamen, King of Egypt, as we now know from the cylinders of that sovereign (G. Smith, "History of Assurbanipal", 52-56). It is thought that Jeremias (xlvi, 25) and Ezechiel (xxx, 14-16) allude to the two campaigns of Nabuchodonosor against Thebes, which took place in 583 and 588 B.C.

Originally a mere borough, Thebes grew by degrees, and as early as the twelfth dynasty its sovereigns dominated Egypt. Thenceforth also its god Amon-Ra, to whom the pharaohs had erected numerous monuments, became the foremost of the gods. halted for a time by the invasion of the Hyksos, the growth of Thebes continued under the pharaohs of the eighteenth and especially those of the nineteenth dynasty, who extended their domination to the sources of the Euphrates. When the sovereigns of Thebes had become degenerate they were replaced by the priests of the god Amon, who constituted themselves the twenty-first dynasty. They disappeared in turn and the capital of Egypt was then transferred to the Delta. The city began to fall away, especially after the Assyrian armies had captured and devastated it in 668 and 664 B.C. and Nabuchodonosor had twice rifled it of its treasures. However, as long as there were Egyptian sovereigns, even under the Ptolemies, work was done at the temple of Karnak, which was only abandoned under the Roman domination. Thebes then became a place of pilgrimage and sight-seeing. Christians established their churches in the temples, monks and laymen dwelt everywhere, preferably in the ancient tombs. The great earthquake of 27 B.C. caused some damage, but that which ruined the temples of Karnak must have occurred two or three centuries later.

A see was established at Thebes at an early date. Ammonius of Diospolis assisted at the Council of Nicaea in 325, unless he was Bishop of Diospolis Parva (Harnack, "Mission and Ausbreitung des Christentums", II); Maletius was a partisan of Arius, according to Philostorgius and Nicetas Choniates ("Thesaurus orthodoxae fidei", V, 7); Hero apostatized under Julius the Apostate, according to Philostorgius (Hist. eccl., VII, 13); Stephen was Catholic metropolitan at the time of Photius, and Kalta was Jacobite metropolitan in 1086 (Le Quien, "Oriens christ.", II, 611). The Coptic diocese, created in 1895, has 15,000 Catholics to 300,000 Jacobite Copts and about 3,000,000 Mussulmans. There are 31 Coptic priests, 35 churches, besides 6 which belong to the Franciscans, 18 stations, 26 primary schools with about 500 pupils, 4 convents of Franciscans, 3 of Brothers of the Christian Schools, and 1 of native Sisters. The seminary which is used by the three Coptic Catholic dioceses has 17 students and is situated at Tahtah, the residence of the Bishop of Thebes.

The ruins of Thebes are among the most beautiful in the world. The city was situated on both banks of the Nile, which is more than two miles wide at this point. On the right bank was the temple of Luxor, built by king Amenothes III and Rameses II, the great temple of Amon, and the great hypostylic hall of Karnak, the work of the pharaohs Rameses I, Seti I, and Rameses II, and which is 37 feet broad by 169 feet deep. A veritable fortress of 134 colossal columns divides it into three naves, forming a hall which has not its like in the world. The temples of Luxor and Karnak were joined by an alley nearly two miles long by about 3 3/4 miles wide, bordered by rams or criocephalous sphinxes. On the left side is Quournah, which begins the line of temples of which the Ramesseum is almost in the centre and Medinet-Habou at the southern extremity. A line drawn around all these monuments either from the right or the left bank describes a circuit of nearly 8 3/4 miles. Now Diodorus Siculus (I, 45) and Strabo (XVII, 46) give almost the same dimensions to the Diospolis of the first century before Christ. But in the time of its real splendour, according to Eustathius and Stephanus Byzantius, confirmed by other geographers and modern discoveries, Thebes was almost 400 stadia in circumference, or nearly 28 miles. It is probable, however, that these figures included not only the extent of the city, but also the entire territory of the commune.

LAGIER in Dict. de la Bible, S.V. No-Amon; BENEDITE, Guide Joanne: Egypte (Paris, 1900). Both these authors give a detailed bibliography.


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