[Vision2020] Pontius the Pilot and the Flight to Egypt

nickgier at adelphia.net nickgier at adelphia.net
Thu Dec 27 15:51:15 PST 2007


This was my radio commentary this week.  Let's hope that 2008 brings 5,000 watts for Radio Free Moscow.

My Christmas message from 2005 is at www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/christmas. htm.

Nick Gier


One day in Sunday School the children were asked to draw a picture of what they had learned.  The teacher looked at one of the results: it was a passenger jet with a pilot and what was obviously the Holy Family in the back.

The teacher exclaimed: "That's not in the Bible!" The child answered: "Yes, it is! That's Pontius the Pilot and this is the flight to Egypt!”

Not only is this hilarious, it is also theologically astute.  Not too many Christians connect Christmas and Easter, particularly not the troublesome thought that Jesus was born to die a gruesome death on the cross. 
In his poem "Journey of the Magi" T. S. Eliot envisions that as the Three Wise Men entered the Jordan Valley, they saw "three trees on the low sky, and an old white horse galloped away in the meadow." They then asked themselves: "Were we led all this way for Birth or Death?"

It should not be surprising that Eygpt’s Coptic Christians make much of the famous Flight to Egypt.  In November 2007, I visited the Church of St. Barbara in Cairo, where there was a large neon sign indicating that the Holy Family had stayed there.

The Coptic Church of St. Mary in Sakha in the Nile Delta shows an infant footprint in stone, which the Copts claim Jesus left during his sojourn there.  In 1984 workers were digging out an ancient sewer and they found a stone slab with an infant footprint, which Coptic priests determined to belong to the young savior.

The worship of savior feet is widespread.  Vishnu, whose 8th incarnation Krishna is often compared to Christ, is sometimes represented only by his feet.  Before Greek artists encouraged Indian artists to break the Buddha's prohibition of images, it was only the Buddha's feet that indicated that he was in the picture or bas relief.

After their stay in Sakha, the Holy Family went out into the desert to Wadi El Naturn where the baby Jesus predicted: "Know, O my Mother, that in his desert there shall live many monks and spiritual fighters, and they shall serve God like angels."  The Eygptian deserts did indeed produce some great Christian ascetics, St. Anthony being the most famous.

The Holy Family returned from the desert to Matariyah where they discovered that Herod's army was in hot pursuit.  A tree miraculously appeared and concealed them, and pilgrims today worship at the knotted trunk of this famous tree.

The prophet Isaiah declared: "Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence" (19:1)  Ancient witnesses saw the statues of Egyptian gods fall as Mary and Jesus, as pure as white clouds, approached Heliopolis.

>From the Church of Mary at Maadi, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus took a boat for the long journey to Upper Egypt.  About 200 miles up the Nile, the Holy Family landed at El-Ashmunain and they were greeted "great joy and jubilation."  After another 50 miles of sailing they arrived in Asyut where they stayed for six months.
They departed from Asyut only after Joseph received the following message from an angel: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead"(Matt. 2:20). After about three years in Egypt, the Holy Family returned to their home in Nazareth.

As one of the earliest Christian communities, Coptic Christians lived primarily under Byzantine rule until the Muslim conquest in 639 CE.  The Copts welcomed the Muslims as more tolerant than their Christian brothers, who considered the Copts heretics.  Perhaps because one of Mohammed's wife was a Copt, he declared: “When you conquer Egypt, be kind to the Copts for they are your protégés and kith and kin.” 

The main complaint of the Copts under Muslim rule was high taxes, which were abolished in 1855 when Jews and Christians became full citizens.  The high point of Christian-Muslim harmony came during the reign of Muhammad Ali and his relatives in the 19th Century.

Unfortunately, Muslim fundamentalists objected to modernizing efforts of Muhammad Ali. Their descendents became the Muslim Brotherhood, and, in addition to giving rise to Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, they have recently staged attacks against Coptic Christians. 

The Koran considers Jesus to be a major prophet and also mentions his sojourn in Egypt.  Even as a redeeming myth, these stories of the infant Prince of Peace traveling through Egypt should inspire people of all faiths to put their religious differences aside and live in peace.

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list