I’ve been continuing to translate the world history of the Arabic Christian writer Agapius, and have come across some interesting bits in it.
The first of these records that the emperor Heraclius, after finally defeating the Sassanid Persians, took up residence in Edessa for a year. While there, he discovered that bishop Qourrah (Cyrus) of Edessa was more or less illiterate and unable to read the gospels. The emperor exiled the bishop to Cyprus, and told him to fix himself somewhere and to learn to read and to study the “questions” — theological issues — that he should be familiar with as a bishop. It is interesting to find that such a senior ecclesiastic in the 7th century might be unable to read.
Another snippet describes the capture of Jerusalem by the Arab commander `Omar. It records that the patriarch Sophronius met him, and found that his conqueror was wearing clothes made of wool which were filthy. Conquered or not, this was too much for the embarassed patriarch, who offered to give him new clothes. `Omar refused to let go of his own clothes, but after much arguing eventually submitted to having them washed!
Agapius also records that one of `Omar’s first acts was to pass a law expelling all the Jews from Jerusalem, and that any who remained would suffer for it in their hair and their wallets.
I must say that I am enjoying reading through this largely unfamiliar material. Some of it has clearly suffered from admixture with popular tales, in the centuries, but there is a surprising preponderance of historically reliable material in the Chronicle.