The conman and the Jews, in the Chronicle of Zuqnin, part 4

Here’s the next chunk of the 8th century anonymous Syriac chronicle, written at the monastery of Zuqnin, just north of Amida (= modern Diyarbekir), and once wrongly attributed to Dionysius of Tell-Mahre.

In the year 1040 (728-729), Neocaesarea was taken by Maslamah [27] who took captive the people of this town and sold them into slavery like animals, except, however, the Jews who had handed over the city. They had traveled secretly to Maslamah and, after receiving his promise, they treacherously made possible his entry into the city. He made them captives, but did not sell them; he took them with him.

In the year 1045 (733-734), Suleiman invaded the Roman territory and captured Polozonium where he took all the inhabitants into captivity. These are the circumstances. Artabas, son of the Roman emperor Constantine, revolted and took control of the city of Constantinople, and he assumed tyrannically the imperial crown. While the Emperor Constantine marched with his army against the multitude of his enemies, he had left in the city, to keep it, this tyrant Artabas with the garrison of Pelozonium. The latter, forgetting the pact concluded before God with Leo, and seeing that he was occupying the town, tried to take control of the Empire. He then occupied the city, and the imperial army, with Constantine himself, was camped outside, while the whole legion of Pelozonium fought inside against the emperor. As Suleiman was approaching, Leo sent to tell him: “Do not come to me; you risk finding it difficult to escape from me;  but go to Pelozonium, devastate it, demolish it, make of it whatever you please, because there no one will resist you.” He went there, sacked it and despoiled it at his pleasure, carrying off a booty like no one before him had ever won. Leo seized the tyrant, blinded him and deprived of pay the army which had taken his side.

 [28] In the year 1043 (734-735), Malik ibn Sebib, Emir of Melitene, and `Abdallah al-Batal besieged city of Synada. While they were encamped in the meadows that surround that place, a huge army gathered against them to revenge what the Arabs had done the previous year at Pelozonium. When the Arabs, who were about fifty thousand, were unsuspectingly within their camp, the Romans suddenly surrounded it on all sides and made them all perish by the sword. Only a few escaped, thanks to the time of day which was late: they fled, defending themselves with the sword, spear and bow, and they marched all night. Of the fifty thousand who had come, just five thousand escaped. The leaders themselves fell in the battle; never did such a misfortune happen to the Arabs.

At that time there was in the western region a seducer who deceived and ruined a great number of the Jews. Satan, who is pernicious and malignant from the outset, always tries to deceive people, not just some but everyone equally, regardless of their race or language, suggesting to each what seems to be agreeable and capable of misleading. He derives his name from his works: Satan, in fact, means “adversary”. He neglects nothing and does not cease to disrupt or deceive all peoples in all generations. He never gets tired, and he never gives up his ancient wickedness, that he once invented against the first of the human race to ruin it.

 [29] In this time, then, he brought out of Mesopotamia, a man from the village of Phalkat in the Mardin region, and he led him into the western country, near to Beit Shammar. This individual had access to the house of one of the principal men among the Jews, but abusing the hospitality given him, he corrupted the daughter of the latter. When the matter came to the Jews, they promised to put him to death. But as he was a Christian, they inflicted on him cruel and long-drawn out punishments during which he found an opportunity to escape from their hands. He decided therefore to subject them to all sorts of misery. Leaving there, he went down to the Aramoyé country where he plunged into every kind of evil incantation. There he devoted himself to magic and devilish artifices. He made progress in all the evil arts and became a master of them. Leaving this place, so he returned to the area of Beit Shammar. He told the Jews: “I am Moses, the very man who formerly brought Israel out of Egypt, who was with them in the sea and the desert for forty years. I am sent again for the salvation of Israel and to lead you into the desert, so that you may once then come into the inheritance of the Promised Land, so that you will possess it as before. Just as God overthrew all the nations who lived there so that your fathers might take ownership, so also he will make them disappear before you so that you can enter, so that you will own it as previously, and so that all the dispersed Israelites may be gathered according to what is written: ‘He will bring together the dispersed of Israel.’” As he spoke such language to them daily and constantly excited their admiration by his incantations, they went astray after him. Sometimes he made them wander in the mountains and threw them from craggy peaks and killed them, sometimes he shut them up in caves and caverns, where they perished. [30] He made them suffer so much misery, in killing and slaying many. He also took from them a lot of gold, persuading them by his incantations that he was leading them in the desert. When he had had his fill of the misery that he made them suffer daily, he deceived them by his tricks, took all the gold and all the property that he had acquired from them and fled to his own country. The Jews, come to themselves and seeing the evil that had made them suffer, chased him across the world, questioning and inquiring about him. Having finally discovered him, they took him before the Emir of the believers, Hisham. The latter abandoned him to them, so they made him suffer tortures and torments in Babylon and finally crucified him. So he died, and God gave him the sort of reward he so deserved.

Note how the term “Christian” refers to a group, not a belief; and how there is a Moslem emir charged with the affairs of the Christians (=”believers”). 


4 thoughts on “The conman and the Jews, in the Chronicle of Zuqnin, part 4

  1. One thing which again and again comes from these chronicles in that age is the frequent reports told by the chroniclers that the Jewish inhabitants of Christian Byzantine cities acted as traitors and handed the cities over to either Persians or Muslims. True, historical inaccuracy or anti-semetism? I don’t know.

  2. Probably true. They probably thought they would get a better deal under new masters. They were acting like the way my three year old son appeals to his mother when daddy says no. Interesting also is the fact that Jews and Samaritans saw some ‘sign’ on the person of Mohammed which showed that he was their liberator (in the Samaritan chronicle attributed to Abu’l Fath but elsewhere too).

  3. Nor me. But Roman rule had become oppressive. The endless theological inquisitions were designed to detect heresy — even if illusory — rather than ensure orthodoxy; to find a reason to demonise and marginalise people, not to unite the nation. We know from Michael the Syrian that the reimposition of Byzantine rule in his days was burdensome in just this way, whereas the crusaders were welcome precisely because they only asked “Are you Christians? Yes? Great!”

    It seems reasonable to me that Jewish groups would welcome its end (although they were a protected group under the Theodosian code, and perhaps safer than most Christians, therefore, from the inquisitors).

  4. One thing we must consider, however, is that under Arab rule Jews and Christians were rivals, and therefore chronicles written later may back-project this — or slanders — onto the events of the time.

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