Montanus in the Chronicle of Zuqnin

After my last post, I realised that I had a copy of Amir Harrak’s translation of parts 3 and 4 of the Chronicle of Zuqnin, which, for the section about Montanus, is based on John of Ephesus.  Here it is (Harrak, 1999, p.123-4):

549-550 The year eight hundred and sixty-one: Concerning the flood of the river that runs in Tarsus of Cilicia.

Most of Tarsus, a big city in Cilicia, was carried away, submerged and utterly destroyed by the water of the flooded river that runs through it. The other villages of the region, covering a vast area, were also swept away. Fields, vineyards and the rest of the plants were ruined; they were uprooted, dried up, and covered by earth.

At this time, the corrupting heresy of Montanus—the story of which and how it emerged was written down for us at the time of the Apostles—was ridiculed and uprooted.[3] For through the exhortation of holy John, Bishop of Asia, the bones of Montanus—he who said about himself that he was the Spirit Paraclete—Cratius (his associate),[1] Maximilla and Priscilla, his prophetesses, were found. He set them on fire and razed their temples to their foundations.

3 Michael, IV 323-325 [II 269-272] provides more information.
1 Addition based on Michael

“Michael” is, of course, Michael the Syrian, and the numbers are the volumes of the Chabot edition; Syriac in vol. IV, French in vol. II.  Here is the French, from book 9, chapter 33:

Dans le pays de Phrygie, il y a un lieu appelé Pépouza, où les Montanistes avaient un évêque et des clercs ; ils l’appelaient Jérusalem, et ils y tuaient les chrétiens. Jean d’Asie s’y rendit et fit brûler leur synagogue, sur l’ordre de l’empereur. On trouva dans cette maison un grand reliquaire de marbre scellé avec du plomb et lié par des garnitures de fer. Sur le dessus était écrit : « De Montanus et de ses femmes ». On l’ouvrit et on y trouva Montanus et ses deux femmes, Maximilla et Priscilla, qui avaient des lames d’or sur la bouche. Ils furent couverts de confusion en voyant les ossements fétides qu’ils appelaient « l’Esprit ». On leur dit : « N’avez-vous pas honte de vous être laissé séduire par cet impudique, et de l’appeler « Esprit »? Un esprit n’a ni chair ni os.» Et on brûla les ossements. —Les Montanistes firent entendre des gémissements et des pleurs. « Maintenant, disaient-ils, le monde est ruiné et va périr. » — Ou trouva aussi leurs livres honteux et on les brûla. La maison fut purifiée et devint une église.

Auparavant, du temps de Justinianus Ier (Justin), quelques personnes avaient informé l’empereur que Montanus, au moment de sa mort avait ordonné à ses ensevelisseurs de le placer à cinquante coudées sous terre « parce que, disait-il, le feu doit me découvrir, et dévorer toute la face de la terre ». Ses partisans, par l’opération pernicieuse des démons, répandaient faussement le bruit que ses ossements chassaient les démons; ils avaient suborné quelques individus qui, moyennant le pain de leur bouche, affirmaient qu’il les avait guéris. — L’empereur écrivit à l’évêque de l’endroit. Celui-ci fit creuser profondément et retirer les ossements de Montanus et ceux de ses femmes, pour les brûler. Alors, les Montanistes vinrent trouver l’évêque pendant la nuit, et lui donnèrent cinq cents dariques d’or; ils emportèrent les ossements et en apporce que les corps avaient été retrouvés tèrent d’autres; et au matin, sans que personne s’aperçût du mystère, l’évêque brûla ces ossements comme étant ceux de Montanus et de Crites (?) son associé. Mais ensuite, l’archidiacre dénonça l’évêque qui fut envoyé en exil.

Apollon, le compagnon de Paul, écrit que ce Montanus  était fils de Simon le mage; que quand son père périt, par la prière de Pierre, il s’enfuit de Rome, et se mit à troubler l’univers. Alors Apollon, (poussé) par l’Esprit, alla où il était, et le vit assis et prêchant l’erreur. Il commença à l’invectiver en disant : « O ennemi de Dieu, que le Seigneur te châtie ! » Montanus se mit à le reprendre, et dit :« Qu’y a t-il entre toi et moi, Apollon? Si tu prophétises : moi aussi ; si tu es apôtre : moi aussi ; si tu es docteur : moi aussi. » Apollon lui dit : « Que ta bouche soit fermée, au nom du Seigneur ! » Aussitôt il se tut et ne put jamais plus parler. Le peuple crut en Notre-Seigneur  et reçut le baptême. Ils renversèrent le siège de Montanus qui prit la fuite et s’échappa. — Ce récit est fini, ainsi que l’autre.

 In English:

In the country of Phrygia, there is a place called Pepouza where the Montanists had a bishop and clergy; they called it Jerusalem, and there they killed the Christians.  John of Asia went and burned their synagogue, on the orders of the emperor. In this house there was found a large marble shrine, sealed with lead and bound with iron fittings. On the top was written: “Montanus and his wives”. We opened it and found Montanus and his two wives, Maximilla and Priscilla, who had gold leaf on their mouths. They were ashamed of seeing the fetid bones which they called “the Spirit”. They were told: “Aren’t you ashamed to be seduced by this shameless wretch, and to call him ‘the Spirit’? ‘A spirit hath not flesh or bones. ‘” And the bones were burned.—The Montanists were heard wailing and crying. “Now,” they said, “the world is ruined and will perish.” — Their disgraceful books were also found and burned. The house was cleansed and became a church.

Previously, in the time of Justinianus I (Justin), some people had informed the emperor that Montanus, at the time of his death had ordered those who buried him to place him fifty cubits underground “because,” he said, “fire shall discover me, and devour the whole face of the earth”. His supporters, by the pernicious work of demons, falsely spread the rumor that his bones could cast out demons; they had bribed a few individuals who, for the bread in their mouths, claimed that he had healed them. — The Emperor wrote to the bishop of the place. He dug deep and removed the bones of Montanus and those of his wives, and burned them.  Then the Montanists came to find the bishop during the night, and gave him five hundred darics of gold; they took away the bones and ensured that the bodies recovered belonged to others; and in the morning, without anyone realising it, the bishop burned the bones as those of Montanus and Crites (?) his associate. But then the archdeacon denounced the bishop who was sent into exile.

Apollos, the companion of Paul, wrote that Montanus was the son of Simon Magus; that when his father died, by the prayer of Peter, he fled from Rome and began to disturb the world. Then Apollos (led) by the Spirit, went to where he was and saw him sitting and preaching the error. He began to curse him, saying: “O enemy of God, may the Lord punish you!” Montanus began to rebuke him, and said: “What is there between you and me, Apollos? If you prophesy: I do too; if you are an apostle: so am I; if you are a physician: so am I.” Apollos said: “Let your mouth be closed, in the name of the Lord!” He immediately fell silent and could never speak again. The people believed in our Lord and were baptized. They overthrew the seat of Montanus who fled and escaped.—  This story is finished, like the other.

 Interesting details indeed.  But it is hard not to feel sorry for the poor Montanists, plainly simple rural folk following the traditions of their families since the second century.

The pagans at Constantinople in the time of Justinian

Vivian Nutton’s paper From Galen to Alexander, Aspects of Medicine and Medical Practice in Late Antiquity,1 continues to give interesting pieces of information.  On page 6 he discusses the relationship of antique medicine to Christianity at the opening of the Byzantine period, and tells us:

… John of Ephesus denounced in the persecutions of Justinian an indiscriminate collection of grammarians, sophists, lawyers and, finally, doctors. 

The reference is to the Revue de l’Orient Chretien vol. 2 (1897) p.481 f.  Fortunately this very valuable series was digitised and made available, thanks to the generosity of George Kiraz of Gorgias Press, so we can consult it at Archive.org.

The article begins on p.455, and is by Francois Nau, Analyse de la seconde partie inedite de l’histoire ecclesiastique de Jean d’Asie, patriarche jacobite de Constantinople (d. 585).  This consists of material from the Chronicle of Zuqnin, book 3, which is mainly derived from the lost second book of John of Ephesus.  The article comes with portions of the Syriac text and a French translation of them.  Here is the French, and an English translation of that.

(Folio 200v) En ce temps, on découvrit des Manichéens à Constantinople et on les brûla.

A cette époque un grand nombre d’hommes adhérérent à l’erreur funeste des Manichéens; ils se réunissaient dans des maisons et écoutaient les mystères impurs de cet enseignement. Quand ils eurent été pris, l’empereur les fit comparaître devant lui; il espérait les convertir et les ramener de leur pernicieuse erreur; il disputa avec eux, les instruisit, leur démontra par l’Écriture qu’ils adhéraient à une doctrine païenne, mais ils ne se laissèrent pas persuader; avec une ténacité satanique, ils criaient devant l’empereur sans aucune crainte, disaient qu’ils étaient prêts à affronter le bûcher pour l’enseignement de Manès et à supporter tous les supplices et toutes les souffrances pour ne pas le changer.

Alors l’empereur ordonna d’accomplir leur désir, de les jeter [Syriac] et de les brûler dans la mer afin qu’ils fussent ensevelis dans les flots, et de confisquer leurs biens, car il y avait parmi eux des femmes illustres, des nobles et des sénateurs. C’est ainsi que beaucoup de Manichéens périrent par le feu et ne voulurent pas quitter leurs erreurs.

Des paiens que l’on découvrit à Constantinople sous l’empereur Justinien.

La dix-neuvième année de l’empereur Justinien (546), on s’occupa, grâce à mon zèle, de l’affaire des païens que l’on découvrit à Constantinople. C’étaient des hommes illustres et nobles avec une foule de grammairiens, de sophistes, de scholastiques et de médecins. Quand ils furent découverts et que, grâce aux tortures, ils se furent dénoncés, on les saisit, on les flagella, on les emprisonna, on les donna aux Églises pour qu’ils y apprissent
la foi chrétienne comme il convient aux païens.

Il y avait parmi eux des patrices et des nobles. Ainsi un païen puissant et riche nomme Phocas, qui était patrice, voyant l’âpreté de l’inquisition et sachant que ceux qui étaient arrêtés l’avaient dénoncé comme païen et qu’un jugement sévère avait été rendu contre lui à cause du zèle de l’empereur, prit de nuit un poison mortel et quitta ainsi cette vie terrestre. Quand l’empereur l’apprit, il ordonna avec justice qu’on l’enterrât comme un âne, qu’il n’y eût aucun cortège pour lui ni aucune prière. Ainsi sa famille le mit durant la nuit sur une litière, l’emporta, fit ouvrir un tombeau et l’y jeta comme un animal mort. Grâce à cela les païens craignirent pour quelque temps.

En 853 (542), la bonté de Dieu visita l’Asie, la Carie, la Lydie et la Phrygie, grâce au zéle du victorieux Justinien et par l’opération de son humble serviteur (c’est-à-dire de Jean d’Asie). Aussi par la vertu du Saint-Esprit, 70,000 âmes furent instruites et quittèrent les erreurs du paganisme, l’adoration des idoles et les temples des démons pour la connaissance de la vérité. Tous se convertirent, renièrent les erreurs de leurs ancêtres, furent baptisés au nom de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, et furent ajoutés au nombre des chrétiens. Le victorieux (Justinien) paya les dépenses et les habits du baptême; il eut soin aussi de donner un trimi/tion (1) à chacun d’eux.

Quand Dieu eut ouvert leurs esprits et leur eut fait connaître la vérité, ils nous aidaient de leurs mains à détruire leurs temples, à renverser leurs idoles, â extirpir les sacrifices que l’on offrait partoùt, à abattre leurs autels souillés par le sang des sacrifices offerts aux démons et à couper les innombrables arbres qu’ils adoraient, car ils s’éloignaient de toutes les erreurs de leurs ancêtres.

Le signe salutaire de la croix fut planté partout chez eux, et des églises  de Dieu furent fondées en tout lieu. Elles furent bâties et édifiées, jusqu’au nombre de quatre-vingt-seize, avec grande diligence et grand zèle dans les montagnes hautes et escarpées et dans les plaines, dans tous les lieux qui portérent le paganisme. Douze monastères (2) furent aussi fondés dans ces lieux qui portérent le paganisme et où le nom de chrétien ne fut jamais entendu depuis le commencement du monde jusqu’à cette époque. Cinquante-cinq églises furent fondées aux frais du trésor public et quarante et une aux frais des nouveaux chrétiens. Le victorieux empereur leur donna volontiers par nos mains les vases sacrés, les vêtements, les livres et l’airain (3).

In English:

At that time, Manichaeans were discovered at Constantinople and burned.

At that time many men adhered to the fatal error of the Manichaeans; they gathered in houses and listened to the impure mysteries of this teaching. When they were taken, the emperor summoned them before him; he hoped to convert them and bring them back from their pernicious errors; he disputed with them, instructed them, showed them from Scripture that they were adhering to a pagan doctrine, but they would not allow themselves to be persuaded; with satanic tenacity, they cried out before the emperor without any fear, said they were ready to face the stake for teaching of Manes and to bear every agony and suffering rather than change.

Then the emperor ordered that their desire should be fulfilled, and to throw them [Syriac] and to burn them in the sea that they might be buried in the waves, and to confiscate their property, because there were among them illustrious women, nobles and senators. Thus many of the Manicheans perished by fire and would not leave their errors.

Of the pagans that were discovered at Constantinople under the Emperor Justinian.

In the nineteenth year of the Emperor Justinian (546), they were busy, thanks to my zeal, with the matter of  the pagans who were discovered in Constantinople. These were illustrious and noble men, with a host of grammarians, sophists, scholastics and physicians. When they were discovered and, thanks to torture, denounced themselves, they were seized, flogged, imprisoned, and sent to the churches so that they might learn the Christian faith as was appropriate for pagans.

There were among them patricians and nobles.  Then a powerful and wealthy pagan named Phocas, who was a patrician, saw the harshness of the inquisition and knowing that those arrested had denounced him as a pagan, and that a severe sentence had been given against him because of the zeal of the emperor, that night took deadly poison and so left this earthly life. When the emperor heard this, he ordered with justice that he should be interred like an ass, that there should be no cortege or prayer for him. So his family during the night put him on a litter, carried him, made an open grave and threw him in it like a dead animal. Thanks to this the pagans were afraid for some time.

In 853 (542), the goodness of God visited Asia, Caria, Lydia and Phrygia, thanks to the zeal of the victorious Justinian and by the efforts of his humble servant [i.e. John of Ephesus himself].  So by the power of the Holy Spirit, 70,000 souls were instructed, and left behind the errors of paganism, the worship of idols and the temples of the demons for the knowledge of the truth. All were converted, disavowed the errors of their ancestors, were baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and were added to the number of Christians.  The victorious (Justinian) paid the expenses and clothing for baptism; he also took care to give a τριμίτιον (1) to each of them.

When God had opened their minds and had made known the truth, they helped us with their own hands to destroy their temples, to overthrow their idols, to extirpate the sacrifices that were offered everywhere, to cut down their altars, soiled with the blood of sacrifices offered to demons, and to cut down countless trees that they worshipped because they were leaving all the errors of their ancestors.

The salutary sign of the cross was planted everywhere among them, and churches of God were founded everywhere.  They were built and erected, to the number of eighty-six, with great diligence and zeal, in the high mountains and steep and in the plains, in all the places where there was paganism.  Twelve monasteries were also founded in places which were pagan, and where the name of Christian name had never been heard from the beginning of the world until this time. Fifty-five churches were founded at public expense and forty-one at the expense of the new Christians.  The victorious emperor gave them willingly, by our hands, the sacred vessels, clothes, books and brass items.

(1) The dictionary gives three gold pieces.

We are so accustomed to Christians being persecuted, that it is right to remember that the name of Christ has been used to justify horrible persecution.  John of Ephesus, it seems clear, was a persecutor.  He ended his life in exile, however, when the tide in Constantinople changed and the monophysites received the treatment that he had handed out as a young man.  It’s sad, sobering stuff.  Note how Justinian didn’t want to say “I am persecuting you” but took refuge in the “I am giving you your desire”.  Such are the tricks that men play on themselves, when they are doing something they know to be wrong, yet doing it anyway.

But an interesting fact is that even in the middle of the 5th century, there were substantial areas of Asia Minor where “the name of Christian had not been heard from the beginning of the world to this time.”

The article mainly summarises what is on each page of the manuscript.  On fol. 238v, we find the statement that in 861 AG (550 AD), John of Ephesus burned the bones of Montanus, Maximilla, and Priscilla, as well as the temples of their adherents.  It is a pity that he does not translate this section. 

The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin (Ps.Dionysius of Tel-Mahre)

Amir Harrak, who published an English translation of parts 3 and 4 of this world chronicle, introduces the manuscript in the following, very interesting way.

The Chronicle of Zuqnin is a universal chronicle which begins with the creation of the world and ends with the time of writing, A.D. 775-776. The Chronicle is known from a single manuscript of 179 folios, 173 of which are now housed in the Vatican Library (Codex Zuqninensis, Vat. Syr. 162), and an additional six are currently in the possession of the British Library (formerly British Museum), labelled Add. 14.665 folios 2 to 7. Each folio is circa 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. The Vatican folios have been bound in 1881 into a single volume, protected by a hard red cover, whereas the six folios in the British Library have been included with fragments belonging to other manuscripts. According to Tisserant’s reconstruction of the Codex, it originally comprised at least 190 folios.

Of the folios of our manuscript 129 are palimpsest—one a double palimpsest (BM fol. 3), the originally inscribed text representing a number of books of the Old Testament in Greek (the Scptuagint). In fact, the folios once belonged to six distinct manuscripts with text from five biblical books (Judg, 1 Kgs, Ps, Ezek, Dan), which have been assigned dates ranging from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

In 1715 the famous Maronite bishop and scholar J. S. Assemani found the Vatican portion of the manuscript in the Syrian Monastery of Saint Mary in the Egyptian desert of Natrun, and purchased it for the Vatican Library. The other six folios were acquired by the British Museum between 1839 and 1842. That both were part of one and the same manuscript was confirmed on the basis of the Septuagint texts by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Tisserant, however, dated the manuscript to the 9th century in light of the Syriac script.

According to J. S. Assemani the manuscript was written in Egypt by a monk of the Desert of Scete (Wadi al-Natrun) at the beginning of the 10th century. By the time he wrote his Catalogue with his nephew S. E Assemani, however, he had changed his mind and believed that the manuscript had been brought, along with others, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, by the abbot Moses of Nisibis (died in 944) in 932. Although this statement is only an assumption, it makes sense, since the manuscript was the product of the monastery of Zuqnin, located near Amida now in south-east Turkey, judging from a note inserted by a monk of the same monastery. This monk, Elisha by name, was a contemporary of Moses of Nisibis (see below for more details). Tisserant further observed that since the sub-script was Greek and not Coptic, as Assemani had first asserted, Syria rather than Egypt must have been the place of origin, seeing that most of the manuscripts in the possession of the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in Scete (of which Moses of Nisibis was the abbot) came from Syria.

As is often the case, the first and last folios of the manuscript of Zuqnin have been lost. The preface of the work, however, has survived, albeit in a very damaged condition. It was written in S(eleucid) 1087 (A.D. 775-776) “in which (year) Mahdi son of `Abd-Allah is ruling over Syria, Egypt. Armenia, Azarbayjan, all of Persia, Sind, Kho[rasan], as well as over the Arabs, and over the Greeks Leo son of Constantine, and over the Romans Pepin”. The addressees in the preface are the “spiritual fathers (of the writer), George, chorepiscopus of Amida. the abbot Euthalius, Lazarus the Visitor, the honourable Anastasius, and the rest of the monastic community (of Zuqnin)”. Unfortunately, the Chronicler’s name, and perhaps indications of his status and origin have not survived. Moreover, the manuscript per se is scarcely in a perfect state of preservation, since several folios—especially of its first half—have either suffered erasure or are damaged in varying degrees. For some reason, the second half of the manuscript, which contains Parts III and IV, fared better, even though here, too, many folios have suffered erasure and/or are fragmentary. Furthermore, the folios housed in the British Library are worm eaten, a fact which explains why the last account of the Chronicle—the martyrdom of Cyrus of Harran—is very fragmentary and comes to an abrupt end.

As I have remarked before, manuscripts are not static things.  In fact they lead a full and interesting life, and move around like bumble-bees.

The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin

Brent Landau’s online thesis of the Revelation of the Magi contains a Syriac text of this work, extracted from the first part of the Chronicle of Zuqnin.  The third and fourth parts were translated into English by the excellent Amir Harrak.  Landau has some interesting things to say about the manuscript:

II. The Chronicle of Zuqnin—Codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162

The only extant version of the RevMagi has been preserved in Syriac, although it is possible that major portions of the text were actually composed in Greek, as this study will suggest. In its received form, the RevMagi constitutes part of a worldchronicle dating from the late eighth century, a document known as the Chronicle of Zuqnin (henceforth CZuq), or, less accurately, as the Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre.(6) Composed at the Zuqnin monastery in southeastern Turkey (near the present city of Diyarbakir),(7) the CZuq incorporates a number of pre-existing writings of various genres in its compilation of the history of the world from creation up to its time of composition, 775-776 CE. It has simply inserted the entire RevMagi at the appropriate place in its chronological framework, without anything in the way of evaluative commentary. Apart from the text itself, the author of the CZuq, anonymous but probably a stylite named Joshua,(8) has only added the descriptive phrases, “About the revelation of the Magi, and about their coming to Jerusalem, and about the gifts that they brought to Christ” (1:) at its beginning, and “The story about the Magi and their gifts has finished” (32:4) at its end.

The CZuq itself is only extant in a single MS housed in the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, a witness catalogued as codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. Until quite recently, the dominant scholarly opinion was that this MS was most likely a ninth-century copy of the original chronicle, a judgment based upon paleographic grounds.

In 1999, A. Harrak presented compelling evidence that this MS is actually the autograph of the CZuq, and indeed may well have been the only copy of the chronicle ever in existence.(9) The MS is a palimpsest on vellum, with the Syriac text written over fragments of the Septuagint dating from the fifth to eighth centuries. The script is predominantly an unpointed Serto, although some letters resemble an Estrangelo script. The MS currently contains 179 folios, although E. Tisserant, the editor of the Greek fragments, believed that it originally included 190 folios.10 The dimensions of the folios vary, with measurements between 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. There are twenty quires in the extant MS, most of which are quinia, that is, groupings of ten folios.

6. The latter title is the product of J.S. Assemani, who believed that its author was the ninth-century Syrian patriarch Dionysius I of Tel-Mahre, a judgment that scholars have since discredited, giving rise to the appellation “Pseudo-Dionysius.” However, as A. Harrak observes, this identification has no clear basis and is quite misleading: “Moreover, Zuqnin as a concrete location seems somehow a more appropriate anchor for the anonymous Chronicle than a phantom author dubbed Pseudo-Dionysius. The latter is not only an imaginary person, but his name fosters confusion with the real Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, who had no connection whatsoever with the Zuqnin Chronicle,” Chronicle of Zuqnin, 3-4.

7. Although Assemani found the MS in Egypt, at the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in the Desert of Scete, the production of the chronicle at the Zuqnin monastery is clear, since the author mentions that several monks “from our monastery of Zuqnin” died from a pestilence, ibid., 2-3.

8. Ibid, 4-8.

9. Harrak makes two especially strong arguments for viewing the CZuq as an autograph. First, in several places there are blank spaces, as if the chronicler had intended to fill them in once he had acquired the missing information. Second, there are previously unnoticed annotations in the margins, which Harrak interpreted as memory-aids that the scribe wrote in order to remind himself to mention topics at a later point in the text. See his discussion of these features in ibid., 13-15.

10. See the introduction to his edition for codicological data pertaining to the MS, Codex Zuqninensis, vxv.

 

I wish I had a PDF of Harrak’s translation!

UPDATE: A correspondent has pointed me to this Google books preview.  But … it’s only previewable in the USA!  I didn’t know they restricted previews like that, but they certainly have.

The Revelation of the Magi

Quite by accident I came across an online dissertation of an interesting yet obscure text here, via Flow of Consciousness:

Oklahoma has been hiding one of its most interesting secrets for two years, namely its very own Syriac scholar. Dr. Brent Landau, graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is Assistant Professor at University of Oklahoma’s Religious Studies Program.

Dr. Landau is noted for providing the first English translation of what has been named the “Revelation of the Magi”, a Christian apocryphal work and the most extensive Magi account from the ancient world. The Syriac narrative is preserved in a longer work comprising Vaticanus Syriacus 162, a codex housed in the Vatican Library.

Landau estimates the original “Revelation of the Magi” (ROM) was composed in the late second or early third century and was written from the perspective of the Magi themselves. It was then redacted in the third or fourth century to include the Apostle Thomas in a third-person account. The Vatican manuscript used by Landau for his English translation is from the 8th century.

With the Nativity approaching it is no accident that Harper Collins has released Landau’s research entitled Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem, based on his dissertation and edited for the wider audience in mind. The press releases and articles begin with the usual dramatic titles about lost scrolls and Christian origins.

If you are interested in seeing the Syriac text (nicely vocalized) and a more technical treatment of the ROM, Landau’s dissertation can be downloaded here at Academia.com.

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon

A critical edition will be available to the scholarly community when Landau publishes the Syriac text as part of Brepol’s Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum.

The nice vocalisation of the Serto text validates my own decision to do the same with the Syriac in the Eusebius book.  It forces the editor to commit to an understanding of the text.

The text is found in Syriac and Latin (from which Dr. Landau sensibly supposes the existence of a Greek version linking the two):

The first chapter is a critical edition of the Syriac text of this apocryphon as found in the Chronicle of Zuqninan eighth-century world chronicle preserved in a single manuscript, codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. The corresponding annotated English translation is the first of its kind for this text. …  a much shorter version of the narrative [is] contained in the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, an Arian commentary on the Gospel of Matthew from the fifth century. It concludes that the Opus is a witness to a Greek version of this apocryphon, basically equivalent to the received Syriac.

An extremely important point is made in the thesis:

This edition of the Syriac text of the RevMagi as found in Vaticanus Syriacus162 relies upon three principal sources, listed here in order of their importance: the 1850 edition of Tullberg, the 1927 edition of Chabot, and my first-hand observation of the MS at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in November of 2004. Because of the significant deterioration in the MS that took place in the period between Tullberg and Chabot, Tullberg is extremely valuable for the quality of his readings, many of which Chabot has followed.

We tend to think manuscripts are static objects.  But the books taken from the Nitrian desert to the damp climate of Europe are unlikely to remain intact.  I wonder how widespread this problem is?

Another useful comment appears at the end:

Beyond these problems associated specifically with the   RevMagi itself, this study has also called attention to several obscure apocryphal texts related to the birth of Jesus in which the Magi play a significant role. These texts include the “New Source” of M.R. James, the pseudo-Eusebian Syriac work “On the Star”, and the “Legend of Aphroditianus”, falsely attributed to Julius Africanus. Research on such texts has remained at a very basic level, not because of the dullness of their narratives, but because of the difficulties in their textual transmission and the theological biases that hamper the study of all noncanonical writings.

Actually I’m not sure what “theological bias” Dr Landau has in mind.   I’m as fundamentalist as they come, and I see no issue with studying these pieces of literature as the fiction that they are.  The only real theological barrier I can see is the dreary tendency of notoriety seekers to treat the veriest ancient tosh as equivalent to the canonical texts, which naturally irritates Christians and encourages them to ignore the texts.  But the tedium is undoubtedly a problem.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised in the Religionsgesprach as to how much interesting material there was — a citation of Josephus, a collection of pagan oracles predicting Christ, quotations from Philip of Side — and I think that other texts will also contain treasures.

Well done, Dr. L., for attacking something of real interest and making it available (if not in finished form) online.

The Chronicle of Zuqnin continues

The next installment makes clear how the Moslems even of this period behaved largely as bandits rather than rulers.

In the year 1062 (749-750), the Arabs of Maipherkat spread themselves across the region and began to do much harm to the inhabitants of the mountain and to all the country.  Qore (Korah) Ibn Thabit went up to the canton of Qoulab, seized its notables and killed them in September.  When their brothers, the residents of the township of Phis, knew what had happened, they stood on their guard for fear of being treated worse.  However, there was a brave man, loyal and God fearing, named John Bar Dadai, originally from the village of Phis, who gathered together all the inhabitants of the township of Phis, and spoke as follows: “Today, you know, there is no king to avenge our blood on their hands.  If we let them, they will gather against us and take us from here as captives, we and all that is ours.”  They listened to him eagerly, followed him and made him their leader.  He led them into the holy temple, and made them swear by the divine mysteries, that they would listen to all he commanded, that they would not act against his orders and would not deceive him in any way.  This man, strongly encouraged, making God his leader, took his troops and appointed generals and officers who commanded each group of one thousand, one hundred, fifty and ten men.  He established guards [53] at the entrance to all the passages that gave access to the mountain.  However, there came a man named Suda, who promised all the Arabs of Maipherkat to provide them with the severed heads of all the great men of the mountain, and to throw the others in chains.  After making such promises, he brought with him a strong army and advanced towards them, as if to ask for peace.These, being aware of his deceitful ruse, fell upon him unawares and killed many of his men; the others fled and escaped, thanks to the horses on which they were mounted; they returned to the city.  Since that time, great miseries have happened to them. 

The Arabs and the Christians wanted, by mutual agreement, to bring down the governor, who for two years, was established in the fortress of Qoulab.  They refused to obey him and rebelled against him. The Arabs wanted to bring him down lest he joined the inhabitants of the mountain; the Syrians also sought his departure for fear that he would betray them. He, resisting both parties, remained solidly in the fortress: he gathered together wicked men of whom he became the leader and went down at the head of his troops to ravage the villages and took the loot into the fortress. He fell suddenly on Elul and Pashpashat, where he and his army committed all sorts of atrocities.  He threw the people in chains and took everything they owned. While these men were inflicting these ills on the villagers, they secretly sent to John: “Hasten to our aid, so that we are not taken into captivity.” John, on learning of the oppression of his brothers, hurried to move his army quickly and to go down to them.  At night, he surrounded the village in which [their enemies] were and said to them: “Leave [54] the village, and go in peace.” But the governor would not. He put himself at the head of his troops and they came out in arms to fight.  John fell on him, and he perished with his army. The Lord turned his head against the evil that he had done; he threw him down in the presence of (John) and he died. 

There was also in the mountain one of the notables, named Stephen, son of Paul, a criminal and deceitful man who, trampling on the oath that he swore to John on the divine mysteries, held himself continually ready for an ambush.  He intended to deliver it to the Arabs. He therefore treacherously sent a message to the Arab army, and `Aouph came to find him, with a considerable body of men, in the village called Hazro (1).  He secretly agreed with them that he would bring John in order to deliver him into their hands.  He acted, in fact, thus in order to carry out his plans, but God did not allow the criminal to accomplish his desire. The project they had brought against the innocent man fell on their own heads and they filled with their own bodies the pit that they had dug.  So [Stephen] brought `Aouph, with two of his companions, into his house and hid them in a bedroom.  He agreed with them that, when he brought John, he would lead him into the house and then they would come out of hiding and kill him.  He also put the army in ambush at the village of Hazro and immediately sent someone to tell John this lie: “Come quickly to see what we must do, because the army surrounds us everywhere.” John, who was loyal, promptly ran like a lamb to the slaughter, knowing nothing. As he was about to enter the house where the ambush was waiting for him, he found there, as if by divine will, a faithful and God-fearing man, who had learned [55] of their plot, and made the betrayal known to him.  He promptly went back, and while they were awaiting his arrival in order to carry out their project, he sent an army which, before the troops they had with them were aware of it, surrounded them on all sides.  None of them escaped, but all of them perished by blows of the lance.  The matter was as yet unknown to Stephen, or to `Aouph, chief of the army. 

When they learned what had happened to their companions, they got on  the fast horses they had with them and thought of escape, but they were not saved in this way, because some swift men began to pursue them. They caught up to `Aouph and his companions and killed them by the sword.  As for Stephen, when he saw that his fraud and that of Satan, his father, was known, he fled, reached the city and so did not perish. After that, terrified, he never returned to the mountain. 

Since that time, evils have been added to evils.  The mountain people and the Arabs attacked and killed each other continuously.  The highlanders captured the passes and no Arabs live any more in the mountains.  

But another thorn pricked them from within.  A certain Ourtaean (2), named Gregory, advanced against them with a large army and attacked the inhabitants of the banks of the river Hara. He killed many; he cut off the hands of some, and the members of others: from some the ears, some the nose; from still others, he put out their eyes with fire. The inhabitants of Mount Cahya (3) stood on their guard and confided the matter to John. 

In the East, Boraika joined the sect of the Harourites. 

In the region of Edessa, `Ibn Oubeidallah Boktari(1) also revolted and did much harm to many men, especially in Beit Ma`adi, [56] where he captured the principal residents and had them roasted in the fire like fish.  In order to seize their gold, he killed, took captive or slew many persons. He devastated all the monasteries in the region of Edessa, Harran and Tela, took all their belongings and killed their Superiors, roasted with fire.  Here are the monasteries which he ruined, together with a large number of villages: the monastery of Coube, the monastery of Resmat at Tispa, the monastery of Qatara, the great monastery of Hesmi, the monastery of Mar Lazarus, Beit Ma`adi, the monastery of Mar Habil, the monastery of Mar Miles (4), the monastery of Sanin (5) and many villages. This impious one directed all his anger against the monasteries.  Satan also excited him against churches, and he continually threatened the convents of the East and North, in order to satisfy the hate of the devil his father.  

1. The name is here added in the margin of the manuscript — This village is located west and about 20 miles from Maipherkat on the Amida road.
2. The Syriac “Ourtaia”, which is often translated as “Iberian”, means properly the inhabitants of the district of Anzitene. Cf. Joshua the Stylite, ed. Wright. 33.9 (trans., 23, n.).
3. I.e. Mount Aratus. Proper name of a place near the town of Balat on the Tigris. Cf. Bibl. or., I, 249; II. ij.lxciv, cj, 127, 218. — The name also referred generally to the part south of Taurus which is the territories of Arzoun, of Maipherkat, Amida, of Hanazit, and of Samosata.
4. The text reads “Migas” is the text, but the confusion of the letters lomad and gomal is so common among inexperienced scribes that we may correct it to Miles, the name of a martyr much honoured among the Syrians.
5. Probably the monastery also called Sanouna. — Cf. Bibl. or. II, 19, 38. Cat. Bibl. Vatican., III. 217; Cat. of syriac mss. of the British Muséum, 649, 706. 
 

 

Continuing the Chronicle of Zuqnin

The unknown 9th century chronicler from the abbey of Zuqnin in Mesopotamia, known to us as pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, is continuing his tale of events after the Persians overthrew the Arabic Ummayad dynasty of Caliphs.

Of the pastors of the Church who flourished at that time.

After holy Athanasius, holy Mar John was patriarch of Antioch. At Edessa flourished the holy bishop Constantine; at Harran, holy Mar Simeon, of the holy monastery [46] of Qartamin; at Samosata, another Constantine; at Maipherkat, holy Mar Athanasius nicknamed Sandalia, who subsequently became patriarch.

At Amida, holy Mar Cosmas was succeeded by Mar Sabas, of the holy Monastery of Zuqnin, located within the jurisdiction of this city. He died after twenty years, and Severus, of the same monastery, succeeded him. He died after about a year during the epidemic, while he was visiting in his diocese. In his place was put another Severus, of the same monastery.

At this same time, a certain disturbance took place in the Church, about Mar John, to whom not all would submit.

The  movement of the royal treasury from the West into Mesopotamia.

Marwan, knowing the treachery of the West towards him, tried to bring the royal treasury to Mesopotamia. The westerners then rose up violently and began to turn against him.  Knowing that they would not yield anything up to him without a fight, he deceived them and said: “I do not want to take it to Mesopotamia, but to Damascus, because that is where the seat of royalty is established.” 

When he had done this, they allowed him to take it to Damascus.  They themselves accompanied it and led it into the city. After a few days, he sent them back to their homes, and after two or three months had elapsed, when the westerners were paying no attention, he secretly removed the treasure and took it to Harran, where he came himself to live. After that there was unceasing war throughout his kingdom. [47]

In the year 1058 (746-747) Dahaq, associating himself with the sect of the Harourites, invaded Mesopotamia.  Marwan in coming to Mesopotamia had still not found rest from his misfortunes: there emerged against him from this land of Mesopotamia a cruel thorn.  At that time the tyrant Dahaq, from Mount Izala, and with him Yakoub Haibara and Saqsaqi, came to fight many battles with Marwan and killed many of his soldiers.  After numerous engagements taking place everywhere, a violent and bloody battle took place at Tell Mashrita, which Dahaq perished with his whole army, which was cut to pieces. Those who remained fled.

In the year 1059 (747-748) there was a great and violent earthquake in the western region. “By shaking the earth will be shaken, by the staggering the earth will stagger, and it will sway like a hut.” These things, and similar things, and worse yet, were caused by the iniquities, sins, the wickedness that we commit every day.  Where can we find the cause of these earthquakes, except in the sins of men? Will the earth fall apart? When it trembles and is shaken, does it invoke the craftsman so that he shall come to fix it? I do not think so. But when it trembles, it protests against the iniquities that are performed on its face, as once was made clearly seen by the following fact: There was a commotion during the night, and we heard it from afar like the voice of a roaring bull. The next morning, the bishop ordered, under pain of excommunication, that everyone should assemble in prayer, because, he said, this happens because of sin.  All thus came to prayer, and went in procession to a shrine dedicated to the Mother of God, which was outside the city, that is to say Mabug, [48] in the western region. These people were Chalcedonians (1).

The bishop himself walked at their head.  When they had arrived at the church and they had all gone in like goats in a shed, while they were saying prayers together, there was suddenly an earthquake, the building collapsed on top of them and crushed them all with their bishop.  They all perished, and no one escaped alive. They suddenly became a mass of perdition and misfortune: the righteous perished there with the wicked.

In the year 1060 (748-749), the people of Persia (2) invaded the land of Syria, conquered the Arabs and ruled in their place.  It is in fact in Khorasan and eastern Persia that the Abbasids made the first attempts to revolt against the Ummyads and where they recruited their troops.  Isaiah prophesied about these things in saying: “Behold Asshur! He is the rod of my anger; in his hand is the stick with which I strike. I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and give him orders against the people of my wrath.” He also said: “It will happen in that day that the Lord will whistle to [call] the flies which are on the rivers of Egypt and the bees which are in the land of Ashur. They will rest in the desolate valleys and in the hollows of the rocks.” In truth, these are the rod of anger, and the staff which strikes is in their hands, as the prophet says, because they carry sticks in their hands, at the end of each of which were iron nails, as if they were coming to kill dogs. He also called them, “flies and bees”, and rightly so: for even as flies buzz, rising everywhere, and produce a foul odor, so also they were magicians, thieves, adulterers, murderers, wherever they went, causing evil, discord and disorder.  They came out from their land and marched in large numbers, like a swarm of bees which appears despicable, but never turns [49] back. They gathered together to invade the earth. An Arab army came down against them near Akoula (3); but it could not stand up to them: they destroyed it, and the survivors fled and dispersed. They seized weapons, horses and great wealth, because previously all of them went on foot and had nothing more than the sticks they carried in their hands. Joel spoke of them when he said: “As the dawn spreads over the mountains, and a numerous and strong people will spread; there was nothing like it since the beginning, and after it there will be nothing during the years of many generations. Before their face a devouring fire and behind them a burning flame. Before them the earth is like a paradise of Eden: and behind them, like the solitude of the desert. There is no one who escapes them.  Like the appearance of horses is their appearance; they shall run like horsemen.” The prophet was right to call them “horse-like” because, just as a horse has a mane on its head and neck, they had long hair, like the mane of a horse. Also he said again: “They run like horsemen, imitating the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains, the roar of the flames of a fire that consumes straw, like a strong people ready to fight. Before them all the peoples tremble, every face will become black like the soot from a pot. They run like giants; like men of war, they will scale the walls.” And again: “They go up into the cities, they run on the walls, they will ascend to the tops of houses and enter through the windows like thieves. At their face the earth shook, the heavens are shaken.” — Nahum also said: “Their appearance was like lamps of fire and they ran like lightning. They take possession of their masters, they speed in their marches, they will go up quickly onto the walls and appear at the niches.” And again: “Their face to all was like the black [50] of a pot.” Not only their faces were black, but all their clothes because their dress was that colour. For this reason they were called [in Arabic] Messouàdi, which means black [in Syriac].

When they had subdued the lower region, Marwan sent Ibn Houbeira again against them at Nisibis who, could not stand before them either and was also cut to pieces. Then `Abdullah Ibn Marwan came down and was also defeated. Marwan came himself, and after many battles in which many men were killed on both sides, they finally engaged in a great and terrible battle, and the earth was soaked with blood which they watered in abundance at Beit Zabé (2).

That is to say on the banks of the upper Zab, between Mosul and Arbrie: [Arabic] (Yakout, II, 904). This battle ended the domination of the Ummayads and assured the victory of the Abbasids. Merwan, cut to pieces, fled. His army was scattered; and he himself took refuge beyond the Euphrates. All the cities were closed to him, and the Westerners wanted to fight him. Then he disappeared and was seen no more, neither he nor any of his people. Part of the captives were killed, part were thrown in irons. The Persians, after beating Merwan, spread out over the earth, “like the wolves of evening or hungry eagles.” Habakkuk prophesied of them when he said:

“Here I raise up the Chaldeans, a bold and cruel nation that travels the breadth of the earth to seize tabernacles that are not theirs. It is great and terrible, it is by itself that his judgement goes forth,” — truly they have spread over the extent of the earth — “their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the wolves of evening. They will fly like an eagle hungry for its meal. Everything will be loot.” The prophet likens them justly to wolves in the evening. Wolves in fact [51] does not show themselves and can not be seen by men or dogs during the day. At night, they are hungry because they have not eaten all day. “From the rising of the sun they retire to their dens to sleep and the man leaves for his work and his labour until evening.  Just as they howl when they are hungry, so he was like them; they cry like the eagle that shrieks when hungry, and wherever they came, like wolves, they stole the property of men, just as it is said: “All the world became loot;” and elsewhere: “He will insult kings, turn princes into ridicule, make a mockery of all the fortifications.” Is not the prophecy right to say: “He will make a mockery of the fortifications,” since all the city walls were knocked down by their hands, and they destroyed everything that the wise and prudent kings had made at great cost to defend themselves against enemies. It said: “He will insult kings and turn princes into ridicule.” Does he not insult them, make a mockery of them, in destroying their buildings?

The first governor of Mesopotamia was `Aki, who made an edict requiring all Muslims to dress in black.

In the year 1054 (742-743), on Friday the first day of Kanoun II [January], stars fell from the sky and we saw them as balls of fire that ran in all directions. They presaged the calamities that later came upon the earth: the sword, plague and the Persian invasion.

In the year 1061 (749-750), the Arabs took the white  (4).  The Arabs, seeing the evils inflicted upon them by the Persians, who were constantly mercilessly killing them like sheep, and looting [52] their property, could not bear it any more and donned white. It is said: “He will laugh at kings and princes” and again: “The vile man will prevail over the great, and wretched men against those of honour.”

So the Arabs took the white, killed a large number [of Persians], put them to flight and went down into their country.  There was an interregnum of a year, during which disharmony arose and Boraïka embraced the sect of the Harourites.

1. I.e. supporters of the council of Chalcedon, which rejected the monophysites, and therefore heretical in the eyes of the author.
2. Dionysius refers to the Abbasids as the Persians. Theophanes, Chronograph., ad ann. m. 6240 calls them Χωρασανῖται and also Μαυροφόροι (dressers in black).
3. The former name of Kufa, on the west bank of the Euphrates to five days’ march from Baghdad. See Bar Hebraeus, Chron.eccl., II.111, n. 1.
4. I.e. revolted; or embraced the sect of the Harourites. See above p.27, n.2 Cf.History of Edessa, p.259, n.1.

And more from the Chronicle of Zuqnin

This continues as follows:

In the year 1057 (745-746), Marwan went out from the Gate of the Turks.

It is written in the prophet Jeremiah: “Therefore thus says the Lord: See I will put pitfalls before this people: fathers and son will fail together; neighbour and friend will perish.”

All these things happened to the Arabs, because brothers and nephews fell into pitfalls because of their ambition.

The supporters of Abbas and those of Hisham, the son of Walid and the supporters of Marwan, who were brothers and nephews, neighbours and friends, threw themselves on one another, perished themselves and perished with them a great many men.

Jeremiah also spoke about the journey even of Merwan: “See a people comes from the land of the north; a great nation comes out of the confines of the earth; they are armed with bows and spears, they are cruel and merciless; their voice is like the sound of a rough sea; they are mounted on horses and are prepared like brave men for battle. We have learned their design and our hands have grown weak; tribulation and pain have seized us, like a woman who gives birth. Do not go out in the fields and do not walk at all in the road because of the sword of the enemy.” And Isaiah also said, speaking of them: “I have raised him up from the north, he will come from the East, he will call on my name; they will take the judges and treat them like the mud that the potter tramples under his feet,” and again: “From the north the evil will spread over all the inhabitants of the earth.”

When Marwan had invaded Mesopotamia and subjected it, he established governors in all the cities, and even in Mosul. Then, having assembled a large army, he made it advance rapidly with workers and engineers.

The supporters of Abbas went to the West. Yazid, who had killed Walid, died after a reign of six months, and [45] his brother Ibrahim took his place.

The latter, on learning that Marwan had crossed the Euphrates with a large army, and that Mesopotamia had submitted, was seized with fear. “They shook and staggered like drunken men.”

He first sent Nouaim Ibn Thabit against Marwan, with a considerable army. It is reported of this man that he had seventy sons.

They then marched against each other and engaged in battle: the whole army of Ibn Thabit was destroyed and cut to pieces in the presence of Marwan.

The supporters of Ibrahim seeing that Marwan had triumphed in this first battle were afraid, and gathered innumerable forces, bringing even the country people to fight with slingshots.

Both armies advanced against each other, and having met, encamped at `Ain Gara.
After numerous engagements, and after many men had fallen continuously on both sides, Marwan finally gained the victory and cut Ibrahim to pieces and his brothers, who had run away, and Soliman, son of Hisham. No similar battle ever happened in the world; never in any place was so much blood as in this place. Even the people of the countryside — more than five thousand men — perished.

Merwan after his victory besieged Emesa, captured it and threw down its walls. He also removed the corpse of Yazid from its tomb and had it crucified head downwards.

He also took, from a certain Jew, four hundred thousand [pieces] of gold.

Back to the Chronicle of Zuqnin

The plague is raging in the East in the 740’s AD.  We’ve already seen quite enough about it, but the chronicler is not finished.  He ends his description of it as follows:

Everywhere, those who remained – a very small-number –removed the dead, and all day without pause carried them away, threw them down as one would throw a stone on a mound, then back, take another, and go out again, to throw it down the same way. Many lacked neighbours: they were seen lying on the streets and eaten by dogs, because there was no one to bury them. Each was only sufficient for his own house: several workers were even hired just to carry the corpses from the house or from public places because of their putrefaction. And so was fulfilled the saying: “I have brought up the smell of their rotting to your nostrils,” and another: “The earth wept and lamented.”

Soon there were no more tears, no sorrow nor pain: because every man was already knocking on the door of the tomb. Gold and silver were despised as dung: so that if on the wives or virgins there was gold, silver or precious ornaments, no-one would stretch out their hand to take anything, not even the parents of their children: because they felt that soon they would come with them into the tomb and their rottenness would mingle with theirs.

And now, my beloved ones, is it not so reasonable that I weep tears? What sobbing can suffice? What breaking of the heart, what grief, what lamentations, what groans, what pains will be sufficient when I see old men, and men of all ages and sizes, slaughtered and lying down like cedar tree-trunks!

The great mercy of God appeared even in this scourge: firstly because it fell first on the poor who were lying in the streets of cities: everywhere it was through them that it began, [42] and when they were all dead, then this terrible rod turned against the rich and the lords of the cities.

These two things happened by the divine mercy, so as to benefit both parties. First for the city-dwellers, because they showed their zeal for justice and gained for their souls great benefit from their care for the poor, while they were taking care of them; they buried them, organised their funerals and buried them with great mourning, with care, with fear and zeal. Then [for the poor], because if the scourge had hit them at the same time as the others, how would it have been possible, because of their stench, for their fleshless bones to be removed from the streets? For they would have lacked those who could deal with them, if it had not first visited them, when everyone was healthy, upright and well: then care was taken to remove them, in order to bury them, those who had no one to bury them. Subsequently, the scourge caused the powerful, who were relying on their tombs and funeral directors, to remain without graves, so that not one of them had a burial service. The scourge, in fact, turned on the great when the poor had been buried, and death overtook them all, from the smallest to the greatest: none of them was left. Even those who escaped this calamity, and did not die, withdrew, as they could, away from the towns. At the end, those who survived were struck with a terrible wound, in the groin: some with one, the others with two. What had happened to the dead took place among the living.  They were suddenly seized with pain [43] in the groin, and soon, by this sign, those who had escaped death acquired the certainty of suffering more severely thus than by the cruel death. Their groins swelled up, became swollen and burst, and it produced large, deep ulcers that produced a flow of blood, pus and water, day and night, like a spring. After that there was a great languor in which they remained, some one month, others two, five, six months to a year, many even two years. Many of them were affected forever.

Then was fulfilled the prophecy which says: “The water will flow from all the knees,” and: “Every human heart will rot.” and another: “On all their heads will be baldness.”

It happened so in the present time. Anyone who had survived his family or tribe would fall into this infirmity. It happened that his two legs were left running with water and even blood and pus, until his head became bald, and because of that, those who survived, few in number, were not recognizable, at least they were not recognized and were distinguished by their clothing. We could not discern the priests and monks: all had become bald. As it was in the groin, so it was at the armpit and neck. Most were quickly released from this evil, others were after some time, others will never fully recover their health.

But, while this calamity was enveloping the region on all sides like the pains of childbirth oppress pregnant women, the Arabs did not cease to fight and injure each other. When Merwan went out from the Gate of the Turks, the whole earth was troubled and agitated. [44]

The chronicler of Zuqnin continues…

The next passage of the anonymous 9th century Syriac chronicle is as follows.  After the widespread flooding, which of course polluted the water supply, the inevitable plague struck.  This is happening towards the end of the Ummayad caliphate, in the early 700’s.

It is interesting to note that, while the Arabs and Jews buried their dead in “innumerable” pits, both were clearly a very small minority.  The population of Syria was mainly Christian, almost a century after the Moslem conquest. 

Of the great plague which happened in that time.

Here the prophet Jeremiah comes to  help us, he who knows better than anyone lamenting over the miseries by which we are surrounded on all sides: “Who will give water to my head, and to my eyes a fountain of tears? and I shall weep day and night for the dead of the daughter of my people.” And again: “On the mountains I abandon myself to tears and lamentations, and in the desert to complaints because they are desolate and there is nobody there.  Let our eyes shed tears, let our eyelids flow with water. Therefore, listen, women, to the word of the Lord; let your ears capture the speech of his mouth, teach your daughters lamentations, and let each learn the plaintive chant of his neighbour; because death is come through our windows, it came into our homes to exterminate children in the streets and young men in public places. The bodies of men shall fall like manure upon the face of the earth, like the grass behind the mower, and there is no one who collects them!”

[36] Let him come now [the Prophet], and let him weep about, not one people, nor only the city of Jerusalem, but over all nations and many cities, that the plague has made like a press, trampling and crushing them underfoot and plucking without mercy their inhabitants like beautiful grapes; — over the whole earth, because the punishment, like the reaper in the middle of the ripe corn on foot, has threatened and cut off all ages, all conditions, all ranks, without distinction of persons;  — over decaying and mangled corpses [which lie] in the streets of the whole world: their fluids flow like water, and there is nobody to bury them; — over houses, large and small, beautiful and pleasant, which have suddenly become the graves of their inhabitants, in which suddenly servants fell with their masters, and no-one escaped to drag the corpses out of the interior; — over the roads, which are desolate; — over many villages, whose inhabitants have all perished at once; — over the palace where each trembles at the other; — over the nuptial chambers decorated for brides, who have there died suddenly; — over young virgins kept in the women’s quarters, awaiting the celebration of their wedding and who suddenly have been carried to the grave; — over many similar things that surpass speech and the narratives of all the rhetoricians; — over these things, I say, the prophet would have reason to weep and say: “Woe is me!” not because of “the defilement of the daughter of my people,” but because of the ruin of all the inhabited earth, and the world that the plague has completely destroyed because of its sins. It would be right to use the prophetic words of his colleagues: “Let him come and tell the rest of those who survived: Weep, mourn, you ministers of the altar; enter, spend the night in the hair shirt, ministers of my God,” not “because the offering has been removed [37] from the house of God,” but because of men, who have been cut off from the world; and again: “Let the earth live in mourning, let all its inhabitants lament. Call the mourners and let the chanters of lamentations all come to celebrate together, not over an only son,” nor a single corpse, but over peoples and kingdoms. “By the tearing the earth will be torn, by the breaking the earth will be broken, by the shaking the earth will be shaken, by the trembling the earth will tremble. It will be delivered to the fire like a terebinth lined with leaves, like an oak tree fallen from its base.”

All these things have been fulfilled in the present time: great disturbances and violent earthquakes; armies, wars, the enmities of the Arabs between themselves over power; the famine which so raged that in the southern and eastern region the entire population arose and spread themselves all over the countries of the north and west; discord with every misery.

“I will send after them,” says the prophet, “the sword and captivity, famine and plague too.”

All these things have happened today without exception. Here is the sword of the Arabs [turned] against themselves; here are depredations so that it was impossible to go out without being pillaged and robbed of one’s property; here is famine which rages within and without. If someone enters his house, there he finds famine and pestilence, if he goes outside, the sword and captivity run to meet him. On all sides there is nothing but cruel oppression and terrible pain, suffering and disturbance.

“They are drunk, but not on wine, and they stumble, but not from spirits.”

Men began to wander and to travel from city to city and place to place; they stumbled as if they were drunk; they asked for bread and there was none, just as the prophet said.

First, a large number of the heads of families began to sicken and die from a corruption of the blood and from ulcers. Things went thus [38] during the whole winter. They could not be buried. Men were lying in the streets, the porticos, towers, temples, in every home, tortured by the violence of the disease and the great strictness of the famine, so that the number of those who perished from starvation was greater than that of those who died from disease.  It was especially those who had eaten bread until they were full who were seized by the disease. When the days became warmer, tumours appeared on the sick, who began to fall dead in public places, like manure in the face of the earth, and there was no one to bury them!

The plague began to rage among the poor, who were abandoned in the streets. They buried them with honour, singing hymns, and they were buried properly, and when there were no more poor, mortality raged with such violence against the lords of the villages and the towns that, when the priests wanted to do a funeral, there were gathered in the morning at the same place fifty to seventy to eighty or a hundred coffins, in each of which there were two or three dead, or even four children. And so all day, without truce or rest, the corpses of men were buried.

The Arabs covered the earth with pits, and the Jews likewise. The tombs of the Christians were so full that they themselves were forced to dig holes in the earth. In a single day, over five hundred coffins came out by a single door. Throughout the day the doors were only used for the goings and comings of those who carried the corpses: they went out, deposited them, and returned to take others.

So, except for a few, there was no {burial} service, because of the swiftness of death, the small number [39] of priests and the innumerable multitude of buryings. In the morning, the priests prescribed that anyone who had a deceased should come to the nearest crossroads and the whole region or district would assemble in this place. The priests divided themselves up in the morning to go in all directions to perform the office of the dead and to put them in the ground in groups. It happened that one group was over a hundred coffins, in which there were more than two hundred or two hundred and fifty dead, because they were piled next to each other without pause throughout the day. Here there was no distinction between servant and master, between serving-girl and mistress, between the hired man and the hirer, but one storm of destruction and fury was prepared for them all: servants and masters were equally struck down without distinction of persons; the man of the people and the leaders fell, and were groaning next to one another.

Let everyone admire the divine decree and be filled with astonishment and stupour in presence of these judgments of God, unfathomable, incomprehensible, incommensurable for men. Certainly “a deep abyss is the judgments of the Lord!”

The plague spread its devastating hand over those who hold power, who enjoy opulence, or who revel in grandeur. The houses of many of them were left without an heir, because there remained in them neither servant nor master. Men suddenly abandoned to their companions their possessions, their riches, their crops, even their beautiful homes. How splendid and opulent mansions, how many families perished because there did not remain a single heir!

The human language is incapable of expressing the prodigious disasters [40] that occurred in the country which stretches from the Euphrates to the west, as well as in the other cities of Palestine, in the North and the South, as far as the Red Sea as well as in the rest of Cilicia, Lycaonia, Asia [Minor], Bithynia, Lysynie [Lydia?] Galatia, even in Cappadocia: because the oppression of this cruel suffering was felt throughout the world. As the rain descends upon the whole earth, or as the sun’s rays are spread equally in all places, the plague spread equally over the whole world. However it was prevalent more in the countries previously designated. In these regions, towns and numerous villages became suddenly deserted, and no-one stayed there or passed that way. They were filled with rotting dead bodies, lying on the ground like dung upon the face of the earth, with no one to bury them: because not one of their inhabitants remained; so that men lay in the middle of them, swollen, full of pus, and rotting. The houses were opened as tombs and their owners putrefied in the middle of them. Their furniture, their gold, their money, their possessions were scattered in the streets and there was nobody to collect them. Gold and silver were despised, and riches were abandoned everywhere and found no master. Old men and old women, adorned with white hair, who had hoped to be buried with honour by their heirs, lay open-mouthed in the streets, in houses, in public places, dying and putrefying. Pretty virgins, beautiful young girls who were waiting for their happy nuptials and the adornment of precious clothing were found lying and decomposing, and became an object of pity for those who saw them. Would to God that this was happening in the tombs! But it is in the houses in the streets [41] that charming and cheerful young people have become livid, deceased, and that their pus was mingled with that of their parents.

That is what happened in these countries.