Getting hold of manuscripts of the Arabic historian Al-Makin

We all know that Shlomo Pines published an exotic version of the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus, telling of the events of the life of Christ.  This he tells us he got from the 10th century Arabic Christian historian, Agapius.  But on closer reading, he says that he reconstructed the text of Agapius at this point using the 13th century Arabic Christian historian Girgis Al-Makin (George Elmacin).  This hasn’t ever been published, never mind translated. 

The text is in two halves, according to Georg Graf’s handbook, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur vol. 2, p.348-351.  The first half covers history to the reign of Heraclius, divided into 120 sections on ‘important people’.  The second half covers history from the Arab invasions to his own time.

I’d like to get a copy of a manuscript of this work, and see if I can get the portion on Jesus translated.   Graf tells us that there is a manuscript in the Vatican (Vat. ar. 169, 1686 AD, on ff. 1r-194r); another in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Bodl. ar. christ. Nicoll. 47, 1 & 2 = Bodl. 316, 1646 AD), which also has a handwritten Latin translation of the end of part 1 and all of part 2; another in the British Library (or. 7564, AD 1280); another in Manchester (ar. 239, 18th century, but incomplete and breaking off at 1118/9 AD); another in Cairo (Coptic Museum Hist. 266, AD 1893); yet another in Cairo (Coptic Patriarchate Hist. 17, 18th century); one in the Sbath collection wherever that is now (Fihris 80 & 81); and finally one somewhere in the Orthodox Library in Aleppo between the wars, mentioned by L. Cheiko.

That sounds a lot – eight copies.  But the Vatican library is closed, and emails are being ignored.  The Bodleian is going through a greedy-nasty phase, and wants me to pay some enormous sum so they can make colour images for themselves but only supply low-grade monochrome images to me.  The microfilm of the British Library manuscript only covers part 2, and the leaves are said to be disarranged anyway.  The John Rylands Library in Manchester also demanded some huge and prohibitive sum for their partial manuscript.  Manuscripts in Cairo are inaccessible; a set of microfilms in the USA likewise, for practical purposes.  The location of the other two is really unknown.

Here we are in 2009; yet a researcher can’t get a copy of stuff held by state institutions.  This is a ridiculous situation, surely?

There are also manuscript copies of each half.  Perhaps the answer is to obtain some of these.  There are three of part 1 in Paris, for instance, and it should be possible to obtain copies, I would have thought. 

PS: The great thing about the Bibliotheque Nationale Francais is that they have scanned their catalogues and put them online.  A quick search, and I find that Mss. Arab. 294 and 295 should cover the whole text.  294 is 250+ folios in length, tho.  Less good is the prices demanded for colour digital images, which are basically free to make.  The prices are prohibitive, which is very silly.  I’ve been driven to ask for a duplicate of a microfilm in PDF form, for which they will charge 50 euros each (!).  Even that is a ridiculous price for what basically costs half an hour of staff time.  When will this ceaseless greed stop?

17 thoughts on “Getting hold of manuscripts of the Arabic historian Al-Makin

  1. Very interesting post. I am trying to get my hands on a latin manuscript (number 14181-14185 in their arcane numbering) at the BNF also and they tantalisingly dangle the Delisle catalogue in pdf and then don’t respond to queries about access..

    Google Books is our last and great hope.. maybe we should encourage the guys in Palo Alto to do a Google Manuscripts (no copyright problems there!) and remove the gatekeepers from their vice-like grip on obscure texts…then again what good would the gatekeepers serve if their gate was kicked down… and not by barbarians either..

  2. Google manuscripts would be a great idea!

    I’ve been to the BNF and handled Paris lat. 1622, the 9th century Codex Agobardinus of Tertullian. It was pretty simple, actually. I turned up on spec at the Rue de Richlieu site (where the mss are) with my standard letter of introduction from an academic, and asked for a “carte a lire” (my broken French isn’t great). They gave me one, and I went upstairs and ordered the mss.

    They expect you to use the microfilm readers if there is a microfilm of the work; otherwise they’ll produce the manuscript.

    I did my visit as a cheap day trip from the UK; air flight to Charles de Gaulle cost $30, and then you take the tube to Chatelet-les-Halles, and get off before you get there. If you prepares a few phrases you know you’ll need (“one ticket please”) then it’s not too difficult.

    I didn’t know if I would get in or not, but I was prepared to punt a few bucks on the off-chance. They were fairly relaxed, I found; more so than UK libraries.

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

  3. Thanks for the tips. I am in New York, so the hunt for that piece must be delayed..

    However, in case you hadn’t seen this…

    I found a pretty stunning image in a St Gallen MSS that they had put up that no-one else has ever mentioned. Once again the wonders of the Internet. Its not just that its accessible its that so much of its is indexed now.. Before this material was only to be found serendipitously on the spot. Now one can do it from one’s own lair!


  4. Roger, Alastair Hamilton in his “The Copts and the West, 1439-1822: the European discovery of the Egyptian church”
    (Oxford University Press, 2006) says in page 137 that there were translations of Al-Makin. I am not sure if you have access to them.

    On this matter: have you had any luck with translating what you have in hand of Al-Makin?

  5. There was a Latin translation of the second half, which was published, and an abbreviated English version of that (which I have, as being on EEBO).

    There is a Latin translation, which exists in manuscript in the Bodleian library. But the Bodleian charge enormous sums for reproductions — they seem to be deliberately overcharging, in order to fund their digitisation programme, while supplying low-grade photos to the customer. So anything in the Bodleian is inaccessible.

    But I’m really interested in the first half. At the moment John Lamoreaux is running through what I have, and compiling a “table of contents” of the chapters; what the chapter titles are, and how many pages. That’s the roadmap for translation.

    But since the microfilm itself is missing the ends of the lines, we’ll have to get another manuscript before we can proceed. I’ve not heard anything from the Vatican yet.

  6. I would like to study and translate bits of it (part dealing with Islamic period), and would be grateful if I could have an electronic copy.

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