Severus al-Ashmunein, Zoroaster and the “Book of the Councils”

For some time I have been tracking down references in Arabic Christian texts to the idea that Zoroaster said something like “He who doesn’t eat my body and drink my blood will not know salvation”.  (The actual idea is fairly clearly bogus).

One of the possible witnesses is a passage in Severus ibn Mukaffa’, Book of the Councils.  Severus is one of the first Christian writers to write in Arabic, and he was bishop of Al-Ashmunein (formerly Hermopolis) in Egypt in the 9th century.  He is best known for starting the collection of biographies of patriarchs which forms the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.

Unfortunately the printed text was from a manuscript which doesn’t include this passage, but the passage can be found in a Cairo manuscript.  Georg Graf gives the following description:

“Severus ibn al-Muqaffa‘ of al-Ashmûnain (10th century) in his polemical “Book of the Councils” (= S) 2…[2] In Cairo 111 (1544 AD), ff. 268v-270v. This portion was not included in the printed edition in Patrologia Orientalis III, 2.” (Graf vol. 1. p-483-6)

A kind friend told me that Graf (almost always) refers to the Cairo MSS via the numeration of his own catalogue. This catalogue combines material from both the Coptic Patriarchate and the Coptic Museum.  Graf nr 111 is found in the Coptic Museum. Its shelf number there is Theol. 196. It is also described in Simaika’s catalogue under nr. 53. In the film collection at Brigham Young University , it is found in Roll A15-4.

I never have a lot of luck communicating with people in Egypt.  Even today the Coptic Museum isn’t on the internet!  So I tried emailing various people at BYU.

Gary Gillum of BYU has tracked down this microfilm, found someone who knows Arabic, located the relevant pages and emailed me jpgs of them, all without charge.  I am deeply grateful to him.  I think the world of scholarship owes more than we ever realise to all the people out there like Gary, who make it all possible. 

I’ve now commissioned someone to transcribe and translate the pages, which I will place online in the public domain.  Interestingly I am finding it easier to locate Arabists willing to translate than either Greek or Syriac translators.

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