This book depicts the lives of female monks within a monastery located in upper Egypt in the period 385-464 CE. During this period the monastery was headed by a monk named Shenoute; twelve of his letters to the women under his care survive. Despite various technical textual difficulties, Krawiec is able to use the letters to reconstruct a series of quarrels and events in the life of the White Monastery and to discern some of the key patterns in the participants' relationships to one another within the world as they perceived it. She begins by describing the monks' daily routine and discovers that the monastery's culture was based on uniformity, in both material goods and emotional support, for all the monks, regardless of background. The female monks' relationship with Shenoute constructed and exerted his authority in these conditions, and investigates the degree to which the women accepted it.

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