More from the Chronicle of Zuqnin, part 4

Here is the next section of the 8th century anonymous chronicle, written at the monastery of Zuqnin, just north of ancient Amida, now Diarbekir in Eastern Turkey:

Wonders worked by holy Mar Habib, Bishop of Edessa.

“In these days it is good to hide the secret of the king, but it is always right to publish and communicate to everyone the wonders of the Lord.”  (Tobit 12 :7)

It will not seem strange, and the ears of listeners shall not be burdened if I here report a miracle that God’s power worked today through one of his apostles.

There was an Arab in the army, which, when they wanted to invade the territory of the Romans, came to stay at the holy monastery of Mar Habil in the region of Edessa. Finding that the porter of the convent was a God-fearing man, humble, benevolent and adorned with all divine virtues, he gave him a considerable sum of gold, saying: [17]  “Keep this for me; if I return alive, I will want my property back; if you learn that I am dead, distribute it to the needy.” Then he left this place. The monk accepted the deposit, and having taken the treasure, he dug in the earth to bury it, without making the matter known to anybody. The Arabs remained a long time, and after a gap of about three years, it happened by the permission of the Creator, that before the Arabs were to leave the territory of the Romans, the porter departed from this troubled world. But he did not even then make known his secret. However, the owner of the deposit returned and asked for the man. He was told that he was dead. “Give me,” he said, “what I left in his hands.”  —  “We know absolutely nothing of what you speak,” said the monks; he never mentioned it or made any recommendation to any of us saying: I have something that belongs to others.” But this man was powerful and he strongly urged the monks, “Give me my property or I will devastate your monastery.” As this was a considerable sum, they were very embarrassed. The governor forced them to sell everything they had and to deliver the price to the man. And if that sum was not enough to release them, the monks themselves were to be sold until the debt was paid off. All the people of the city and the whole country, learning the severe sentence that had been enacted against the pious monks felt a deep grief to think they would see sold as slaves, their brothers and their children, who from renouncing the world, would have go to servitude among the Gentiles. The bishop of the city, the chaste Mar Habib, felt a great pain in seeing his brothers about to be led into slavery, and after having shed tears of anguish before the Saviour, he mounted his horse and went to the monastery with a great crowd of notables of the city and the country, [18] to intercede with the man. They tried to persuade him for a  long time to wait while the monks tried every means to raise the sum demanded, but he would not consent: “They have my property, he said, let them give me what is mine and I’ll go.” And they, in turn, assured him again and again with oaths and distress that they knew nothing of his gold; but he did not believe them. Holy Mar Habib was embarrassed by both sides, some saying: “We know nothing,” the other refusing to accept it. He then donned the saving armour of the true faith of the Lord and, walking in the footsteps of he who at Bethany sought, speaking of Lazarus: “Where have you put him?” he took the censer with incense, and went to the cemetery of the monastery without allowing anyone to accompany him. So he went there and stopped at the grave in which they had laid the blessed monk. There he knelt and prayed; then rising, he offered the incense and made rise before the Lord, the sweet smell of tears from his heart. Standing at the door of the tomb, with that imperturbable faith that God works miracles, he raised his voice and said: “In the name of Our Lord, get up!” He arose on hearing this word and stood before him with a cheerful face as though he had never experienced the corruption of the tomb. Habib said to him: “My son, tell me if such a master of the Arabs has entrusted you with something when he left to enter the territory of the Romans?”  — “Yes, sir,” said the deceased .–  “How much?” asked the bishop. — “So many thousands of minas;” said the dead man. — “Where are they?” asked Habib. — The dead man replied: “I’ve buried them inside the very gates of the monastery, under such a seat. In fact, if you command it, I will go myself and I will return his property.” The Bishop asked him again: “Is there in the monastery, besides you, anyone who knows where this gold is?”  — “No, sir,” he replied. — The saint [19] said to him them: “The time of the resurrection of the dead is not yet come, rest now until the voice of your Lord commands you to arise.” Immediately he changed and became as he was before. The saint, well informed of the case by the dead man, returned and ordered a hatchet brought. He went to the place that had been designated by the deceased, and stopping there, he commanded them to overthrow the seat, dig and search below. His order was executed, and thus was found the gold which he gave to his landlord, and thus procured the deliverance of the holy monastery.

In the year 1034 (722-723). Omar [II], King of the Arabs, died after a reign of two years and four months. He was succeeded by Yazid [II] who reigned four years.

In the year 1035 (723-724), Yazid ordered the destruction of all images wherever they were to be found, whether in temples or in churches or in homes. That’s why he sent out workers charged with destroying images wherever they were found.

In the year 1036 (724-725) Yazid ordered again the killing of white dogs, pigeons and white cockerels. So a rigorous decree was pronounced and dumb animals who were innocent were destroyed. The squares of cities and villages were infected by the smell of their corpses. And while it is written: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill and occupy the land; let birds fly in the sky; let the animals multiply upon the earth,” they, contrary to the order of creation, were destroyed. They wanted to destroy by their cruelty that which had been formed in the womb according to the principle of creation, and established by the will of the Creator at his pleasure, trying to destroy the order of the Creator and to prevent the world from marching under the laws which were imposed by its author. He even ordered the killing of all fair men [lit. with blue eyes]. [20] But the project was aborted because of the attention of God-fearing men, and it did not cause the death of anyone. He also ordered that the testimony of a Syrian against an Arab should not be accepted. He fixed the price [of blood] of an Arab at twelve thousand [dinars] and that of a Syrian at six thousand. This is the origin of these biased laws. He ordered that thieves should be mutilated at the sleeve instead of the wrist. The Arabs despised him and his teachings.

In the year 1038 (726-727), Yazid died. He had as emirs in Mesopotamia first Abourin, whom he deposed, and then Mardas. The latter was disgraced in turn and Abourin returned.

In the year 1039 (727-728), Hisham, son of `Abd al-Malik, ruled over the Arabs for nineteen years and four months.

In the year 1010 (728-729), holy Mar Habib, Bishop of Edessa, died; Constantine succeeded him.

At this time shone holy Mar Elias the Patriarch, Simeon, Bishop of Harran, Constantine of Edessa, and Theodotus of Amida.

About St. Theodotus, bishop of Amida.

This holy Theodotus, bishop of Amida, had grown up in the solitude and the humble labors of monasticism, to which he had constantly given himself, and which he loved: this was a peaceful and benign man, and adorned with all divine virtues: also he abdicated the episcopate of the city. He then retired from his see and leaving the city, he descended into the countryside of Dara, between Dara and Amida. Following in the footsteps of Mar [21] Thomas of Tela, he built a pillar on which he mounted. He also built in this same place a large monastery, which still exists near the village called Qalouq.  This is where he ended his life.

After him holy Mar Cosmas received  the episcopate.

About holy Mar Cosmas, bishop of Amida.

This holy Mar Cosmas was also a great monk, applying himself to all the virtues: also he did wonders and miracles like Elijah the Tishbite and like the first apostles. But because he was zealous and rebuked both great and poor, he was not liked by the lords of the city, because he vigorously attacked, openly and without respect of persons, the perverse deeds that they carried out continuously; and they feared he might open his mouth to curse them, because he was an austere man. They dared not openly rebel against him; so they stirred up the villagers not to receive him when went  to visit them, so as to have a reason thereby to expel him from their city. But that did not profit them in any way, any more than those who followed their advice. When, therefore, according to the rule established by the elders, he left to visit the region, knowing nothing of the ambush that awaited him, he came to a village called Tell-Dakoum, whose inhabitants were detractors. When he rang the bell, as usual, they met and were unwilling to receive him; they did not even judged him worthy of the word of a man, but sent word to him by a [22] old woman: “Go honorably on your way, otherwise you will not get out of here without having been mistreated.” These perverse men “did not know and did not understand, because they walked in darkness,” that the word of our Lord to the Apostles cannot be without effect: “Whoever receives you, receives me. If someone does not receive you, shake off the dust of your feet in testimony against him. It will be better for Sodom on the day of Judgement, for this place.” The saint, learning of their malice from the old woman, ordered his disciples to change the direction of the car in which he was and to pass south of the village. The prophetic word: “The fool does not know and the fool does not understand,” was fulfilled in these wretches. This first sin was not enough for them; but they went to the door of their church that stood on the height to jeer at the saint and to see what he would do. The brave man, seeing all their contempt, was not disturbed; but dressed in the faith and trust in his Lord, he went on his way and passed on. On reaching the eastern edge of the village, he stopped his car, pulled his shoes, and raising them in the direction of the town, shook them at him, saying: “Since you do not receive your bishop, wait and God’s anger will come upon you soon and without delay.” Then, continuing his way quickly, he went to the village which is to the East and called Tarmil-Raba; he came indeed from the west.That was in the time of the barley harvest and no appearance of a cloud covered the sky that day. The divine wrath suddenly and without delay seized the unfortunate village who had wanted to be an instrument of injustice in the hands of the great in the city, [23] so that it became an object of fear and terror to the country and for all those who dare to despise their bishops, and it should serve as a warning to future generations. He entered Tarmil. And now the clouds gathered over the village. While the inhabitants were running to and fro, a tempest and a rush of winds violent enough to topple mountains rose up against them. It fell like a hail of stones, which struck their vines and fig trees, broke the trees of their territory and destroyed in their fields everything that was green, and reduced their crops to dust, to the point that they did not recognize their place,  and dispersed also their mules, so they could not collect them and all hope of life was lost to them. The critics, seeing what had happened: “Their words were still on their lips and the anger of God came on them.” They understood the anger of God also weighed on them, and they awoke from a deep sleep, like a drunkard who has slept off his wine; they remembered what they had done to their bishop and recognized that this scourge happened because they had despised him. They were all the more confirmed in this opinion that the scourge had not exceeded the limits of their village. That’s why they all left, young and old, and went barefoot, humbly, weeping bitterly, and covered with shame to the village where the bishop was. The saint, seeing them, like once Elisha in the presence of the children whom the bears devoured, was deeply affected, especially because the scourge had destroyed everything they owned. He returned with them and prayed for them. In this way God poured out his fear and terror throughout all the countryside and on the great of the city, so that when the Bishop left the village [24] where he lived, the inhabitants of the other villages all came, great and small, humbly before him.

To holy Mar Elias, Patriarch of Antioch, Athanasius succeeded.

In the year 1042 (730-731), Maslamah crosses the Gate of the Turks. Because the Huns, that is to say the Turks had left their country and caused immense harm to Armenia, and throughout the northern country, Maslamah marched against them with an innumerable army. Every year they sortied out thus and caused great damage. He therefore advanced toward them and they came to meet him. He gave them battle and destroyed a large number of them. They were frightened and came to his feet and asked for peace. He gave it them, thinking they would keep their word.

In the same year, Maslamah destroyed this Gate which was at the entrance to the territory of the Turks, because, locking themselves inside it, they had fought a battle with him; but he feared to venture into the unknown region that belonged to the Turks, lest they come together against them and make them disappear from the earth. They are a nation without God and they are magicians. Because of this, Maslamah was forced to order the destruction of the Gate of the Turks which had been built by Alexander the Macedonian. They removed and brought out first, all the camels and donkeys, then the workers, they finally left themselves, throwing brambles behind them throughout the defile.

In the year 1043 (731-732), Maslamah assembled a great multitude [25] of artisans and labourers, carpenters, made all the necessary preparations for construction, and went to rebuild the Gate of the Turks which he had destroyed the previous year. After rebuilding, he made a treaty with them, confirmed by oath, after which it was agreed that none of them would cross the boundary of their ally. He then returned: but the Turks who know not God, who did not understand that they are his creatures, who do not admit that there is a God in heaven, did not keep their promise. They despised God, mocked the oath, crossed the border and did much evil in the land which was outside their own territory. Hisham sent against them his general Girah with a large number of horsemen. The latter entered the country during harvest and made by his passage a lot of damage in this area, because he was a madman. Feeling himself secure, he was not just; he devastated their crops and caused many other problems to the poor on his way. The people came to complain to him, but nobody met with relief from him; and so, as everyone had to suffer his passage, everyone also prayed for that to happen to him what he deserved. When he fought against the Turks, they killed many of his soldiers and carried off many captives into their country. After that, he sent to Hisham to get help. Maslamah hurried to reach him with an immense army, but before he could get to him, Girah and all his army had been exterminated by the sword; for the Turks gathered on all sides against them in large numbers and gave them all over to the sword. Nobody escaped. The Lord returned to the robber the harm he had done, and punished the wrongs he had done, [26] he and his army, to the peasants on the way. Everything they had committed during the road was accumulated at one time on their heads. Upon the arrival of Maslamah, the Turks were troubled and filled with fear because they feared his reputation more than his appearance. The latter gave them battle, shed their blood like water on the surface of the earth, and filled with their flesh the birds and beasts of the earth. After having cut them to pieces, he set up in Armenia Marwan Ibn Muhammad – the very man who ruled later over the Arabs – and retired, leaving him with a strong army. The latter caused more losses [to the Turks] than all those who had preceded him.

In the year 1029 (717-718), there was a strong and devastating earthquake that toppled in many places the temples, churches and large buildings, including the baptistery and the ancient church of Edessa. Great and large homes were thrown down on their inhabitants; while those which resisted and did not collapsed in the commotion, showed traces of it. So the people were filled with fear in the presence of the Lord every time they consider these remnants of the earthquake. At that time Hisham canalised the Zeitoun, built [on its banks] towns, castles, many villages which he embellished with numerous plantations of every kind.

He also channeled [the River] Beit Balash on which he built a castle, and there he planted plantations of every kind.  He also canalised the Hani, on which he built fortresses and gardens of every kind.

In his turn, Maslamah canalised the Beit Balash and built near the river which he had canalised houses and villas which he decorated with ornaments of every kind.

The story of Mar Habib is a depressing one.  Despite the pious exclamations of the monkish chronicler, it seemed to me that the monks did indeed intend to swindle the Arab, and kept up the pretence as long as they could, with the connivance of the bishop.  The cruelty of the Arabs, prefiguring the methods of Ottoman days, takes us into the Islamic world and away from the ancient world.

The story of holy Mar Cosmas, cursing a village which dares not to give him free lodging, is likewise retailed — by a member of the clerical caste, remember — as a “warning” to others.  Superstition flourished in that soil, it is clear.   More interesting is that the village had a bell which mendicant monks could ring, and the implication that this was standard.  The burden of wandering monastics upon the community must have been considerable.

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