From my diary

I’ve spent today driving up to Cambridge to visit the university library.  My object was to obtain some articles by R. Delmaire on the subject of Chrysostom’s letters.  For the most part I was able to obtain these; although I was disappointed to discover that the latest available volume of one serial was not shelved or accessible.  I’m reading into them at the moment.  R. Delmaire’s 1991 study examined the letters, and reordered them by date.  The order in the Benedictine edition (and the PG) isn’t even that of the manuscripts!

The Letters of Chrysostom project is not mine, so I won’t say a lot about this.  But I have also discovered a list of the opening words of all of the letters at the Sources Chretiennes site here (PDF).

Equally useful, I have discovered a list of the works of Chrysostom at the same site, with the Clavis Patrum Graecorum number for them all, here (PDF).

I’ve also received from the Lebanese typist the next 10 pages of the transcription of al-Makin’s world history.  This is taken from the 1625 Erpenius edition, which has the merit of being printed.  Once we get to the end of this – for Erpenius died before he could complete editing the text – I shall have to try the typist on a PDF of a microfilm manuscript.

An email has arrived today from the Bibliothèque Nationale Français, containing an estimate for reproductions of two manuscripts of al-Makin.  They require 50 euros each, plus 10 euros for “shipping” (why?) plus M. Hollande’s tax on top of that, totalling around 130 euros, or nearly $190!  Quite a bit for 2 PDF’s!  Worse still, they propose to supply me with scans from microfilms — at least, I hope these are scans, for the estimate says only “microfilm”.  And these will be black and white, and quite possibly unreadable.  I have a lot of time for the BNF, but this is shameful.  For that price they could at least photograph the things with a consumer digital camera and supply me with some decent images!  I shall have to pay the blackmail – it is, at least, less than the Bodleian is demanding – but it is a salutary reminder, in these days of digitisation, how bad things were and still are in some places.


From my diary

Happy new year everyone.  I’ve spent the last few days at a very nice house-party in Derbyshire, complete with evening dress dinners — no, it wasn’t at Pemberley!

So, quite naturally, I haven’t done very much on any of my projects.

However I did receive 10 pages of Arabic in a Word document: the opening section of al-Makin’s history, transcribed from the 1625 Erpenius edition.  This looked very good indeed!  But of course I haven’t really had a chance to look at it.

Nor have I had the chance to do any real proof-reading of the Origen volume.  A copy of the proof has been sent to a gentleman to proof-read, however.

At this time of year in England it is dark, rainy and depressing.  It’s rarely possible to get much done in the winter holidays.  The best thing to do is to do as I did, and go away!

A typist for part 2 of al-Makin

It looks as if another correspondent of mine will be making it possible for the second half of al-Makin’s History to be typed up.  I have today sent her a cut-down copy of the edition by Erpenius from 1625.

Extraordinarily, there are only two editions of this half of the work (and none of the other half).  There is Erpenius’ effort, which is incomplete at the end.  There is also the one done by Ali Bakr Hassan in Cairo a few years ago.  It would be unfair for me to use that one, since it is probably still in print, although where I don’t know.  Indeed I only have a copy of it by the kindness of Dr Hassan himself!  But for the same reason I can’t use that as the basis for a free online text.

Here’s hoping this works out as well.

From my diary

If you can actually find anything on your hard disk any more — and I know that this can be difficult for many of us — then, sometimes, when you do, you get a little more than you expected.

Regular readers will know that I have arranged to get an electronic text created of the history of al-Makin.  He was a Coptic writer of the 13th century.  A Coptic correspondent knows someone in Egypt who will type it up, for money, if I can send some page images.  So I was looking for some PDF’s of manuscripts.  For most of al-Makin has never been published.

So I went searching for a PDF of a British Library manuscript of al-Makin.  To my deep delight, I discovered, in the folder where I keep the al-Makin PDFs that I have been gathering for some time, PDF’s of a pair of Vatican manuscripts.  I don’t even remember ordering these.  But there they were!  Let’s hear it for consistency in filing!

The PDF’s are of microfilms, and miserable low-quality productions they are too.  But I have them!  That means I have a copy of the first half of al-Makin.

I also found two Paris manuscripts.  I’d forgotten these too; but I quickly recalled what they were, when I looked inside.  The reproductions were of such poor quality that I complained, and, on being given the Gallic shrug, threatened to get my credit card company to block the payment.  I did get my money back in the end for these.  Sadly they were as poor as I recalled, and still unusable for any purpose.

It’s rather daft, but I don’t have any Bodleian manuscripts.  That’s because the blighters charge so much for them.  Indeed one scholar who obtained a copy from them recently had to pay $300 for some shoddy monochrome microfilm images.   I’m not paying that!  I’m willing to do something to get al-Makin accessible, but that is real money.

Anyway, the discovery of the Vatican manuscripts is a great blessing.  My correspondent, who is acting as middle-man between the Egyptian typist and myself, confirmed that the two PDF’s were of the first half of the work.  He also reminded me, gently, that a print version of the second half already exists – in Erpenius’ edition, and a modern French text (which I have!) that completes the work.  So this means I actually do own a complete text of al-Makin, and that means that I can get it typed up!

So suddenly we are go.  I have asked my correspondent to go ahead, and to ask the typist to create a text of the first half of the work.  If we do it in chunks of 10 pages, that should allow me to quality-control it.  Although I can imagine all sorts of things that might go wrong; but here’s hoping.

Nor is al-Makin all that I am thinking about.  Another kind correspondent has sent me some English versions of the life of Nicholas of Myra, mostly from Russian sources.  These are interesting, in that they give the general outline of the Life.  What I would like to find, however, is someone able to translate the Life by Metaphrastes, and materials of that date (9-11th century) from Greek into English.  Aren’t there monasteries full of these people somewhere?  I could pay something, to make it happen.

A kind gentleman is going to read the proof copy of Origen’s Exegetical works on Ezekiel for me.  I’m really sick of the work, and so I can’t really proof it.  I sent off an email about that this evening.

I was going to translate a further chunk of the life of Severus of Antioch this evening, but in the event I felt more like lying on the sofa and reading a novel which Santa brought me.  I think, on Boxing Day, that this is entirely right and proper conduct!

Hiring someone to type up an edition of al-Makin from a couple of manuscripts

One of the great problems with accessing the history written by the Coptic Christian writer al-Makin ibn-Amid (13th century) is that you have to deal with manuscripts.

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a manuscript typed up.  After all, that would mean we could use Google Translate to at least get the gist of what is being said.  If I could place a free text online, it would probably help a lot.

So the thing to do, obviously, is get hold of a couple of manuscripts and get someone to type them up.  How hard can it be?

I already have a PDF of a British Library manuscript of the second half of the work.

This evening I have struggled through the French National Library site, creating an account and requesting an estimate for two microfilms.  The site is a nightmare, even though my French is quite good, and I have probably spent an hour so far.

A correspondent has found a typist in Egypt for me.  I have asked him for advice on how best to send money, and we’ll start with the British Library manuscript while I wait for the French to get back from holiday.  I don’t actually know whether to start at the back or the front of the PDF!  I think it would be wise to do it in chunks, and I don’t know if someone in Egypt could download a 300 mb file anyway!  So … cross your fingers for me.  Let’s see if it works!

Of course the output won’t be a critical edition.  But so what?  The professional scholars aren’t showing any signs of producing any edition whatsoever.  Let’s take the first step.

I bet subsequent scholars will complain bitterly about my “vulgate” text, tho!

The “Testimonium Flavianum” in al-Makin

The so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus has provoked extensive discussion down the years, not all of it either measured or even sensible.  One witness to the text is the Arabic versions.  These were handled in a rather mangled way in 1971 by Shlomo Pines,[1] who introduced the world to their existence in the World History of Agapius (a.k.a. Mahbub ibn Qustantin), the 10th century bishop of Hierapolis.  Pines made use of the CSCO edition, which rather misled him, and proposed that this version of the Testimonium preserved features corrupted in the Greek as it now stands.

Part of Agapius’ work is extant only in a single damaged manuscript in Florence.  But the CSCO editor of Agapius, Louis Cheikho,[2] believed that his text was quoted at length by the 13th century Coptic writer al-Makin Ibn-al `Amid, and so included extracts from the latter’s unedited work in an appendix.  Pines made use of the latter on the basis that this was “Agapius”.  But the actual text of Agapius is given in the Florence manuscript.  What al-Makin says may now be considered, since Martino Diez has kindly edited and translated the text for us.[3]

It is as follows:

tf_al-makinIn English:

And likewise Josephus the Hebrew says in his writings on the Jews: in those days, there was a wise man named Jesus.  He lived a good life, distinguishing himself by his learning, and many people, as many Jews as of other nations, became his disciples.  Pilate condemned him to crucifixion and death.  But those who had become his disciples did not cease to be so, and affirmed that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive.  Perhaps he was the Messiah of whom the prophets speak.

The text is preserved only in the “expanded” recension of al-Makin, which may or may not be the original version of the text (see here).  It appears towards the end of the life of Jesus, where the “expanded” edition includes a series of quotations from pagan authors on the subject of the events on and following Good Friday. (These are probably — I say this without seeing them — taken from collections of sayings, gnomologia, that circulated in the Arabic world.)

Diez edits the text from the single manuscript of the “expanded” recension accessible to him, Ms Paris BNF, arab. 4729, where it appears on folio 108r, lines 1-6.  Pines made use of Paris BNF ar. 294, f.162v-163r.[4]  As Diez rightly remarks, a study of the other witnesses to this recension of the text of al-Makin is necessary before much more is done.

  1. [1]S. Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1971.
  2. [2]Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 65 (Scriptores arabici 10), Beirut 1912.
  3. [3]M. Diez, “”, Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 221-140, esp. 134-5.
  4. [4]Pines, p.6-7, n.6.

The two recensions of al-Makin

There are quite a number of manuscripts of the history by the 13th century Coptic historian al-Makin ibn al-Amid.  I have listed these in a previous post here.  Martino Diez, in his important article on the subject[1] has obtained copies of three of the manuscripts.  This is no small feat in itself, as I can bear witness myself after attempting it. Indeed a look at the prices on the Bodleian website today was quite enough to dissuade me from trying to obtain a copy of any of their manuscripts!  I have commented before on the corruption involved in charging huge sums for reproductions of public-owned manuscripts.

Diez obtained somehow copies of the following:

  • Vatican ar. 168. (16th c.)
  • Bodleian ar. 683. (AD 1591) (=Pococke 312)
  • Paris ar. 4729 (19th c.)

He writes:

Investigation shows that the three manuscripts belong to two different recensions.  One, the shorter, is present in ms. Vat. ar. 168 and in Pococke 312, and the other, longer, preserved in ms. Paris BNF ar. 4729.  The exact relationship between the two recensions seems, on first sight, difficult to establish.

The existence of two families of witnesses was already highlighted by Gaston Wiet in a long note to the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.  The French researcher proposed to call the first family the vulgata and assigned to it most of the witnesses, notably Paris BNF ar. 4524, Vat ar. 168 and 169, Borg. ar. 232, and Pococke 312.  All the same, Wiet noted the existence of a second family, “completed and retouched using [the Annals of] Eutychius, such as ms. Paris ar. 4729.”  “This manuscript reveals that its copyist had literary, confessional and chronological concerns: the material of al-Makin is treated very freely.  But the modifications at bottom belonging to the Chronicle [of al-Makin] have not been invented by the copyist.  It is obvious that he worked with a copy of the Annals of Eutychius before him.”  For Wiet, therefore, the vulgata is the original work of Ibn al-Amid, while ms. Paris ar. 4729 (which we will refer to as the “expanded” recension) represents a later elaboration, contaminated from other sources, notably Eutychius, and not without literary ambitions.

In reality the relations between the two recensions are more complicated.  That they are both fundamentally the same work is clear, because of the existence of the same rubrics for people (166 in both recensions), but it is not always the expanded recension that completes the vulgata.  It is not uncommon for the reverse to be the case.  Taken together, the differences are not marginal, especially in certain sections such as the introduction, or the history of Alexander.  The key to understanding this is supplied by the author himself in his preface.  …

Here Diez gives a transcription of the incipit from all three manuscripts and portions of the preface; unfortunately without translation, so of course I cannot follow it.  Then:

The text clearly shows that the vulgata represents an abridgement (muhtasar) of the chronicle, made by the author himself.  He states, in fact, that, after completing a first version of his work, he came into possession of new sources (on the origin of the world, the shape of the world, on the patriarchs, on the kings of Persia) which enriched the treatment of certain periods.  However the work was already too long, and someone, “to whom it was not possible to say ‘no'” (“someone who sought to make his request accepted and to assist in the pursuit of his desire”) asked Ibn-al `Amid to make an abridgement which contained all the best known events.  And this is exactly what is called the vulgata of Ibn-al `Amid.

He then explores what the “expanded” edition is.  Is it indeed the original version, or a longer version, enriched with further information before being condensed?  He argues that it is the former; this is, indeed, the original version produced by al-Makin.  He notes that the titles and explicits of the copies indicate something – again this is not translated so I can’t say what that is! – and then details differences.  Diez does not seem to deal with the question of contamination from Eutychius, however.

If both versions are indeed by the author, any future edition and translation needs to include both.  But clearly there is more work to be done.

  1. [1]Martino Diez, “Les antiquites greco-romaines entre ibn al-`Amid et Ibn Khaldun. Notes pour une histoire de la tradition, in: Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 121-140.  Online here.

Diez’ article on al-Makin is online!

I have started to blog about a fascinating article on the Coptic historian, al-Makin.  The article is Martino Diez, “Les antiquites greco-romaines entre ibn al-`Amid et Ibn Khaldun. Notes pour une histoire de la tradition”, in: Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 121-140.  But I had not realised that the full article is online!  The PDF is here, and vol.3 of the journal is here.  In fact the whole journal is online at  It seems to be funded by an EU grant.  The first volume contains only 3 papers; but vols. 2 and 3 are full size.

I strongly approve.  It means that this research is available to inform those who pay for it.

From my diary

I’ve managed to read Diez’ article on al-Makin ibn Amid, the largely unpublished 13th century Arabic Christian historian.  It’s a cracker!  It is, indeed, the new entrance-point to all the literature on the subject.  It also – ahem – mentions this blog.

I’ll post some more about this in due course.  But I did start thinking … surely the first thing to do is to get a text of al-Makin into electronic form and get it on the web?  I wonder how this might be done, at a reasonable price?

I wish I could think of a way to get hold of the edition printed in Cairo a few years ago!

UPDATE: I have just spent an hour trying to locate copies — some may be found in the UK in by searching on the editor, Ali Bakr Hassan — and placing an ILL when I suddenly remembered, rather embarassingly … that I have met Dr Hassan, at Oxford some years ago, when he was so kind as to give me a copy of it.  A little searching and I have it in my hand.  I must be getting old or daft.  I have a vague memory — you can tell how good my memory is right now! —  that his edition only covers part of the work, however.

Al-Makin in prison

The Diez article on the 13th century Arabic Christian historian, al-Makin ibn Amid, contains an interesting anecdote from the historian’s life:

A second obscure point in the life of Ibn Amid concerns the period of the attempted Mongol invasion of Syria.  The functionary, who was then at Damascus, was accused of being in contact with the Mongols in order to reveal the secrets of the Mameluke army.  He was therefore thrown in prison in 1261 AD by order of the sultan Baibars, and remained there for more than ten years, before being liberated by the payment of a fine.  The biographer Ibn al-Suqa`i (and al-Safadi with him) attributes his detention to the slander of some envious envious scribe, while a Moslem contemporary, the sheikh Ghazi ibn al-Wasiti, cites the case of Ibn al-Amid as proof of the bad faith of the “dhimmis” which, in his opinion, shows that “it is necessary to seize the goods of the Christians, their wives and their lives, and to leave on the face of the earth neither Christian nor Jew.”

Interestingly the work by Ghazi ibn al-Wasiti exists in English, translated by Richard Gottheil[1]  Let us give Gottheil’s translation:

In the days of the Sultan al-Malik al-Thahir, a lot of sincere Moslems from the country of the Tartars told him that al-Makin ibn al-‘Amid, the Secretary of War, was corresponding with Hulagu in reference to the Egyptian army, its men and its commanders.  Al-Malik al-Thahir had him seized, with the intention of having him put to death. His condition was much worse than that of those who were governed by Christian Emirs-he was confined in prison for more than eleven years. Then, through payments of money, his release was effected. In order to put through this release, it was considered proper by Moslems to seize the property of Christians, their wives and their very lives. In the end, not a single Christian and not a single Jew remained in the land.

The work is well worth reading for a series of anecdotes on Moslem-Christian relations in the Moslem states.

  1. [1]R. Gottheil, “An answer to the Dhimmis”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 41 (1921), 383-457, esp. 410.  JSTOR.