Some answers on the confusing History of Abu al-Makarim / Abu Salih

I’ve now read the article by Ugo Zanetti, “Abu-l Makarim et Abu Salih”, Bulletin de la societe d’archeologie copte 34 (1995), pp.85-138, which seems pretty thorough on all the confusing information around.  Rather than leave my questions hanging, I thought I would answer it myself for the benefit of those reading and not as obsessed as myself!

There are two, and only two manuscripts; Paris arabe 307, and Munich ar. 2570.  The latter once belonged to Girgis Filutaus (who was Rector of the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo), but arrived in Europe a couple of decades ago, in a very bad state.

Evetts published the Paris ms in 1898, with an English translation.  This is missing the introduction, but ends with a colophon.

Fr. Samuel published the Munich ms (then still in Egypt), and used a modern copy of the Paris ms. in the Coptic Museum.  His edition was in 4 parts, part 4 being indexes etc.  Part 1 and 3 were from the Munich ms; part 2 from the Paris ms, where he improves somewhat on Evetts edition.

Zanetti analysed the two mss codicologically and found that they were originally a single manuscript, which was dismembered centuries ago, before the Paris ms was bought in Egypt during the 17th century.  The Munich ms. is the start of the ms. and should be followed by the Paris ms.  So the correct order of the parts in Samuel should be part 1, part 3, and then part 2.  (Samuel was misled by the hand of the scribe, which changes part way through the ms and then changes back, and by the fact that he didn’t have access to more than photographs of the Paris ms.)

An English translation exists of part 1 (only) of Samuel’s edition.  This is

Bishop Samuel, “Abu al Makarem”. Trans<lated> by Mina al-Shamaa`.  Rev. by Mrs. Elizabeth (= “History of the Churches and Monasteries in Lower Egypt in the 13th century”), Cairo, Inst. des. Etudes Coptes (Anba Ruwais), 1992.

It also includes some maps and an index. A copy exists in the US Library of Congress.

So no translation exists of part 3 (i.e. the middle part of the work).


12 thoughts on “Some answers on the confusing History of Abu al-Makarim / Abu Salih

  1. Hello Roger,
    I wonder if there is any translation in English for Ugo’s articles. I was searching for it. Have you any idea?

    Peace and Love,

    Fr. Bishoy
    Coptic Priest

  2. Hello Fr. Bishoy,

    Most such articles are untranslated, unfortunately. I am fortunate enough to know enough French to be able to read them.

    However … the free online translators do French-to-English really quite well. So if you scanned the French, and put it into, or Google translator, the results would be quite decent.

    However I summarised what Ugo Zanetti said in this post. Was there anything particular you wanted? A lot of Zanetti’s article was boring stuff. I could probably translate some of it if you liked?

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

  3. Thanks Roger,
    That was very quick, Well I attended one session with Ugo about the development of “Katameros” which is our daily reading book. but I forgot what he said as it was a long time ago, I wonder if he had an article about it. Also Roger if you can link me with Ugo, that would be great.

    Thanks Roger,

    Fr. Bishoy

  4. Father Zanetti’s studies are anything but boring… It’s first class scholarship; his knowledge of the Coptic liturgical sources in late Coptic and early Arabic period is unique. Of course that when you want to prove something, the details might sound boring, but that’s why scholarship it’s not poetry.

  5. Can you advise me, please, where I can pick up Abu (Salih)’s alleged reference to having witnessed at Axum in Ethiopia the procession of some object which could have approximated to the Ark of the Covenant? It certainly doesn’t appear to show up in the text of “Churches……..”, such as I’ve checked on-line, which notwithstanding the fullness of the title DOESN’T seemingly deal with countries other than Egypt at all – none (including Ethiopia/Axum) is included in the index.

    With thanks,

    Lance Haward
    [Edited for finger-trouble, RP]

  6. Well I don’t know. The “Churches” volume is only part of Abu Salih. The other two parts deal with other geographical locations, so it must be in these.

    There is, apparently, an edition, and also an English translation of this material, done in the US via a Coptic Studies outfit (have a look through the blog posts on Abu Salih for the details, which I cannot recall at the moment). Unfortunately I have never been able to acquire access to either.

    Where did you read about this supposed reference? It’s the first clue to the content of the other parts that I have heard, you see.

  7. Lance emailed me:

    Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately, I can’t now recall where I initially picked it up; but the context was the question of the Ethiopian claim to possess the original Ark of the Covenant, which I noticed in passing in a memorandum of mine a couple of years back whose primary thrust was a response to Dr. Tudor Parfitt’s fairly extraordinary claim on the same subject. The point immediately in issue here being that whereas the earliest known reference to the claim that’s normally cited is in the 16th Century “Kebra Negast”, whatever it was that Abu (Salih/al-Makarim) is supposed to have witnessed would ante-date that by a century or two. Which is why I was hoping to get a sight of his actual account – to determine whether HE put this cast of “Ark” on the object at the centre of it or whether others have conveniently (to their own theses) pointed out that he could well have been inadvertently describing something which bolsters their interpretations. All a bit vague without being able to call up the reference where I originally came across this; and perhaps not desperately important in the larger context of a whole string of circumstances and texts which make very uncomfortable reading for Ethiopians in any case.

    But from your standpoint it could, I suppose, be useful to note that “Salih” clearly WAS in Axum. The title of the work hardly makes much sense otherwise.

    I asked whether I could quote this, and added:

    I wonder whether Abu Salih exists in Ethiopic? I think some of the Arabic historians do; notably al-Makin.

    To which he said:

    I doubt that it adds up to much, but by all means feel free. You’ll have gathered that my interest, in passing, so to speak, is not primarily in A.S/M himself but in what he does or doesn’t add to the story of the Ethiopian claim. A small enough detail in his own biography.

  8. Hello, from what I’ve read till now, Abu-Makarim’s let’s say “book” was translated 3 times. I have no idea about the first, but the other two were translated by two different people at two different times and in two different places. One of them was transported into Munich and the other to Paris. The Paris edition was made by Abu-Saleh [Abu-Makarim is the original writer, he’s not Abu-Saleh]. The fact that Abu-Saleh was Armenian pushed him into adding Armenian things into the “book”. Likewise, the third translator might have added his/her side of influence in his/her edition. This is why the two editions are not identical. Therefore, of course the appendix/chapter division and some points differ between the Munich and Paris editions.

    Should someone research something, he/she needs to read more than one resource 😛


  9. I apologize, but no.

    I was actually searching the living … out of Google for my research about English Origins [don’t ask how I ended up with Abu-Makarim] once I saw it I also searched it. I had inhuman amount of tabs. Wikipedia is not really a stable site, I read about Abu-Saleh and a little of his book, in addition to that some info in Arabic [again, sorry I don’t remember the websites]. Hence, just by adding his Arnenian background info into his edition already differs it from the third edition.

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