Any glitches?

I’ve just upgraded WordPress, the software that this blog uses.  Do let me know if anything is now broken.

I can’t say that the process was seamless.  First I did an export, and deactivated the plugins. I ended up downloading the tar.gz. Then I renamed the old version directory, expanded the .gz  to the new wordpress directory, renaming it weblog, copying the wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php, and editing it with the credentials from the old directory.  Then I copied across the theme (very important; otherwise I get a blank page).  I also copied across the plugins files.  Then I went to the link, activated the plugins, and then tried the main page.  The ‘upgrade’ process just did not work for me.


More notes from Agapius

I’m still working on an English translation of Agapius.  I’ve now reached the overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate, and the early Abbassid period.

In the year 14 of `Abdallah, the Magi revolted in Khorasan and shook the authority of `Abdallah-al-Mansour for this reason:

In a city of Khorasan which is called Far`is (?), there was a mountain from where much silver was taken.  30,000 workmen dealt specifically with the exploitation of this mine and the purification.  The workmen were Magi to whom the mountain had been ceded. A very rich mine was discovered there.  The Sultan wanted to take the mountain from them and give it to others.  They were opposed to the implementation of this project, and the Sultan struck a Magus.  Then they threw themselves on him and killed a great number of his soldiers. 

After that, the Sultan wrote with Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah-al-Mansour who was in Ray, to tell him what had occurred.  The latter sent to him 34,000 soldiers who formed his vanguard;  then he went out, himself, against the Magi, at the head of 30,000 soldiers. 

The people who formed the vanguard arrived at the mountain where the mines and the Magi were;  they started the battle, but the Magi overcame them and made a very great number perish. 

Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah, learning of the defeat of his soldiers, remained at the place where he was and sent a letter to `Abdallah-al-Mansour in which he made known to him the fate of his troops and the business of the mine.  He was then at the place which is called Arfasir(?),  and he spent the winter there. 

After winter had passed, he sent against the rebels a man called Hazim at the head of 40,000 soldiers. 

When he arrived near the rebels, (his soldiers) attacked them, overcame them, killed more than 20,000, made captive the survivors whom they sent to Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah who was on the Tigris, opposite Baghdad.

No doubt the silver mines pretty much stopped working, after the workforce was killed or sent to Baghdad.

I was struck, while reading the section on the reign of the last Umayyad, Marwan II, and the early Abbassids, how much of this sort of thing is going on.  The rulers care nothing for the lands under their control.  The cities, inherited from the Roman empire, are routinely devastated in internal Arab quabbles, their inhabitants deported here and there.  Incessant raiding goes on.  Subjects are treated merely as sources of revenue.  There is no sense of a social contract between ruler and ruled; merely the exactions of a conqueror, even a century after the Arab conquest.

Here we see a successful industry destroyed at the whim of a remote despot.  Is it any wonder that the cities of the Roman East gradually declined and disappeared?  What motive was there to invest time or money, to develop civic pride, when capricious confiscation could see it all vanish in a trice? 

It is also interesting to see that Zoroastrianism was still active in whole communities, a century after the Arab conquest of Persia.


Coptic monastic revival

While I was in Egypt, I was interested to learn that the Coptic church has been undergoing a quiet revival over the last few decades.  This has centred on their monasteries, from which the Coptic Patriarch is always chosen.  By 1960, one of the most important monasteries, that of St. Macarius in the Wadi al-Natrun (the Nitrian Desert, or Scete) had only six frail old monks, and the building was in considerable disrepair.  Today it has 130.

Much of the credit belongs to the late Fr. Matta el-Meskeen.  He had created an independent monastic community in the Wadi al-Rayan during the 60’s.  In 1967 he and his dozen monks were ordered by the then Patriarch, Cyril VI – today widely considered a saint – to go to St. Macarius.  They did so, and Fr. Matta then revitalised the community, and began the current revival.  Monasteries are filling up with monks; men who have completed their military training, had a professional education, but have been drawn to the monastic life.  Abandoned monasteries are being reopened, although this has sometimes led to land disputes.  New monasteries are being built.

Books by Fr. Matta have been translated into several languages, and are available from the monastery here.

Fr. Matta was not always able to avoid politics.  As a senior monk in the church he was a natural candidate for patriarch, twice nominated and twice passed over.  As an important copt he was one of those consulted by President Sadat at the time when the Coptic Pope Shenouda III was sent into internal exile.  His closeness to Sadat meant that he was able to enjoy state protection, and to add land for cultivation to the St. Macarius monastery.  But the same factors meant that Shenouda’s supporters regarded him with suspicion, and attempts were made to find theological heresy in his books.  Such communal struggles are inevitable in this life, and should not detract from the immensity of his achievement.  He was able to find a way for Copts to reconnect with God in the modern world, and was the Lord’s implement to renew his people in a Moslem land. 

I have been unable to locate any English biography of him.  The Wikipedia article has several links which are helpful.


Legends about what the Chronicon Pascale says

After Eusebius invented the idea of the “Chronicle of World History”, subsequent writers produced considerable numbers of these.  As a rule these start with Adam, using the Bible and Eusebius to cover stuff up to Constantine, and then whatever continuations and paraphrases were available.

The Chronicon Pascale is an example of this genre.  It’s a Greek World Chronicle, composed around 630 AD in the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius, just half a dozen years before the Arabs charge out of the desert and find no-one in any shape to resist them.  No translation of the whole thing exists, apart from the renaissance Latin version printed in the Patrologia Graeca 92.  Whitby and Whitby made an English translation of the portion from 284 AD onwards.

Bill Thayer of Lacus Curtius forwarded me an email in which someone raised an interesting query:

…in “The Story of Religious Controversy”, a book written in 1929 by Joseph McCabe. In the chapter entitled “Morals in Ancient Egypt,” he is speaking of the son of the goddess Isis–Horus–and says: “An early Christian work, the ‘Paschal Chronicle’ (Migne ed. xcii. col 385), tells us that every year the temples of Horus presented to worshippers, in mid-winter (or about December 25th), a scenic model of the birth of Horus. He was represented as a babe born in a stable, his mother Isis standing by.”

I hope we all know better than to believe the crude falsehoods about Christian origins circulated by bitter atheists online.  But does the CP say any such thing?  I went off to look.

Skimming over the Latin side , I find a discussion of Jeremiah’s prediction of Christ, starting in col. 383, “De Jeremia”.  This starts with one of the messianic passages, mirrored in Matthew – which he quotes – and then says is also in Hebrews.  Then he goes on (my own rough translation of key points):

“Jeremiah was from Anathoth, and was killed in Taphais in Egypt by being stoned by the people, and sleeps in the place where Pharaoh’s palace is, (..because he was very respected..) because when they were infested with the aquatic animals, called Menephoth in Egyptian and crocodiles in Greek. Even today those faithful to God who take some of the dust of that place can drive crocodiles away”

One may hope that no-one actually experimented with live crocodiles to verify this.

Then follows a story that Alexander, when he came to Egypt, and heard about the “arcana” which he had predicted, removed the prophet’s relics to Alexandria, for some other similar magic which I can’t quite make out.  It then continues:

“This sign Jeremiah gave to the priests of Aegypt, predicting the future, that their idols would be destroyed and ? by a boy saviour born of a virgin, and laid in a manger.” 

It goes on:

“Quapropter etiamvero ut deam colunt virginem puerperam, et infantem in praesepi adorant.

For which reason (?) they honour a pregnant virgin goddess and worship an infant in a manger.

When king Ptolemy asked why, they told him that they received this secret from the holy prophet handed down by their fathers. The same prophet Jeremiah, before the destruction of the temple, …”  (more stuff about prophecy).

Migne quotes a note by DuCange (25) which says that this bit about a virgin comes from Epiphanius and Simon Logothetes (who?).  No reference is given, unfortunately, and I was unable to find it in the Panarion.

This last bit is probably the kernel of the story that we see in highly embroidered form above.


Legal attack on UK blogger

From time to time I comment on free speech online issues.  This is not because I want to, but because of the threats to all bloggers which of course includes me.  The best way to resist this is to highlight it.

I frequently read Guido Fawkes UK political blog for its alternative and somewhat subversive picture of what is really happening in UK politics.  Today I read that a leading libel lawyer has tried to silence discussion online (and presumably succeeded in some cases) concerning one of his clients.  See here for Guido’s comments.  A court order threatening people with prison for revealing that there is a court order?!?

I recall that during the 80’s UK television acted as mouth-pieces for Irish terrorists. When the then government tried to prevent them, the BBC spitefully announced that “this report has been compiled in accordance with government reporting restrictions” whenever it had an relevant news, which was most nights for a couple of years.  But that wasn’t censored in this way.  I recall how the New Statesman in the 1960’s used to publish official D-notices, which indicated matters of vital security interest which should not be published, thereby violating them comprehensively, endangering us all, and insulting the system which was trying to protect them.  They too went free.  But then, they weren’t writing a  blog.

UK. Free Speech. Now.

As a postscript, today I was reading a BBC piece about a new Chinese crackdown on dissent in Tibet.  Apparently the Tibetan nationalists were being arrested for “trying to stir up racial hatred”; weasel words for “resisting the Chinese occupation.”  Goebbels would be proud of whoever invented this phrase, I think.


Computer troubles

Merry Christmas to you all!

It’s clearly not my day, tho.  I came home to find my central heating had broken down.  That’s fixed – amazing to get an engineer on Christmas day! – but my Windows Vista laptop has decided to refuse to boot.  It gets stuck running CHKDSK.

After some effort and running the repair program on the install disk, I have managed to get it to boot; but it’s still whining a bit about this and that, and it all smacks of hard disk corruption.  This means, of course, that I can’t trust it with my data.  At this moment I’m typing this using an old laptop, and trying to do a mass copy from the PC to an external hard disk.  My data matters far more than the PC, although it’s only a few months old.

The reason I burden you with this is that it will probably affect the progress of my various projects. 

What I will need to do is get a new laptop, and make sure the thing has XP on it.  I have never had these problems in my entire career – until I bought a machine running Vista, that is.


Biblical quotations in the Fathers database (BIBLINDEX)

An interesting announcement on the LT-ANTIQ list (I have reworked the announcement to make it clearer):

An index of approximately 400,000 biblical quotations and allusions from Greek and Latin patristic texts of the first five centuries is now available online.

To search for references in Biblindex, you can open a user account on the site : and follow the instructions.

This index is essentially a digest of:

  • The published volumes of Biblia Patristica, CNRS Editions, 1975-2000.
  • The archives of the “Centre d’Analyse et de Documentation Patristique” (CADP) on Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Theodoret of Cyrus, Procopius of Gaza, Jerome.

This is the first step for a comprehensive index of all biblical references from patristic writings. Some technical improvements are still necessary.

Any questions, comments or suggestions are welcome. Please write to

Dominique Gonnet posted the announcement by Laurence Mellerin.  I’ve not tried it out yet, but such a thing should be invaluable.


Back from Luxor

Well, I’m back!  I got bitten to pieces, staying at the Maritim Jolie Ville, as everyone seemed to.  I have bites the size of boils!  The notorious “gyppy tummy” struck as well, affecting the last three days of my trip despite being paranoid about what I ate and drank.  I really must try to find somewhere to go on holiday that doesn’t involve either of these!

On the plus side I managed to get to see the tomb of Ay, in the Western Valley.  This is not listed either at the main ticket office, nor the ticket office at the Valley of the Kings.  But if you go to the latter, and ask for a ticket for Ay, they do have one, under that name.  You then go back to your driver in the car park, and point him at the broad rough area at the right as you look up the valley.  It often looks like overflow parking; but that is the entry to the Western Valley. 

The Western Valley is very silent, and not walkable.  You must get your taxi to take you up there.  You’ll need to collect the guardian en-route, and maybe a policeman.  There is signposting for the the tombs.  But it is well worth it!


Holiday reading while visiting Luxor

As the days count down to my holiday to Luxor, I start looking at the thermometer.  It’s 5C here; in Luxor today it’s 25C.  

Of course one joy of going on holiday is time off the internet, and time to read books.  Probably we should avoid scholarly reading.  Last year I took a volume of Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur with me, but never read a line.  Holidays are for a break.  This year I’m taking guidebooks, and (if Amazon deliver them in time) novels.

I’ve not decided whether to do any sight-seeing, although I probably will.  Ancient Egypt is good; but what about Coptic Egypt?  Is there anything to see in this region?