Let’s just do Bar Hebraeus on the library of Alexandria!

I’ve weakened and put out a tender in the NASCAS Christian Arabic group, for a translation from the Arabic of Bar Hebraeus’ words about the library of Alexandria.  I’ve offered $30, which should be ample.  Let’s get a translation made, and have done with it.

In case anyone is interested, a PDF of the pages from Pococke’s edition is here.

We need an accurate translation, made from the Arabic to academic standard.  I’ll just give it away, of course, once it is done.


11 thoughts on “Let’s just do Bar Hebraeus on the library of Alexandria!

  1. Dear Roger, save your money for something else. Here is a translation with endnotes. I tried to be as literal as possible in my translation. Hope it is ok. Feel free to polish it if you want. Here it is:

    And in this time Yahya (1) who is known to us by the name Grammaticus (2), which means the Grammarian, became famous with the Muslims. He was Alexandrian and used to believe in the faith of the Jacobite (3) Nazarenes (4) , and confess the beliefs of Saweres (5) . He then recanted what the Nazarenes used to believe in the Trinity, and the bishops met up with him in Misr (6) and requested him to return back from what he was at, and he did not return back to their faith, and he lived until Amr ibn al-Ass (7) conquered the city of Alexandria. Amr entered Alexandria and got to know about Yahya’s position in sciences, and Amr was generous to him; and he heard his philosophical sayings which the Arabs were not familiar with, and he became fond of him. And Amr was sensible, a good listener and thinker; so Yahya accompanied Amr and did not depart from him. Then one day Yahya said to Amr, “You have control of everything in Alexandria, and seized all sorts of things in it. Anything which is of use to you I will not object to it, but anything which is not useful to you we deserve it more.” Amr said, “What things you are in need of?” He replied, “The books of wisdom that are in the royal stores.” Amr said to him, “I cannot issue orders about them until the Amir of the Believers, Omar ibn al-Khattab (8), gives his permission.” And Amr wrote to Omar and told him of what Yahya had said. Omar’s wrote to him saying, “About the books you have mentioned, if there is something in them that goes along with what is in the Book of Allah (9), the Book of Allah suffices; and if in them there is something that contradicts the Book of Allah, then there is no need for them.” And he ordered that they get destroyed; and so Amr ibn al-Ass started distributing them to the baths of Alexandria to be burned in their furnaces, and so the books heated the baths for a period of six month. Listen to what had happened, and marvel at it!

    (1) Yahya is the Arabic form for Yohanna or Yo’annis, which is translated John in the English.
    (2) John the Grammarian is also known as John of Alexandria and John Philoponus. He is known to have lived in Alexandria in the sixth century (490 to 570 AD). This makes it impossible for him to meet with Amr ibn al-Ass, the occupier of Egypt in 640 AD. It is, however, clear that Bar Hebraeus does mean this same person as he talks about his differences with the Church of Alexandria in the doctrine of the Trinity, which John Grammarian is known to have held (see: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philoponus/#4.3). My gut feeling is that Hebraeus is confusing two philosophers here.
    (3) The non-Chalcedonians, after the split of 451 AD, were known from the six century as Jacobites, because of the influence of Yacoub al-Barad’i (Jacob Baradaeus), Bishop of Edessa (d. 578 AD), who under the guidance of Saweres al-Antaki (Severus of Antioch), the exiled Patriarch of Antioch (512-518 AD) [See for Jacob Bardaeus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Baradaeus; and for Severus of Antioch:
    (4) Nazarenes is the name given by Muslims to Christians, though to be derived from Nazareth.
    (5) See Note iii.
    (6) Misr is the name given by the Arabs to Memphis, which corresponds now to the area of and around Old Cairo.
    (7) Amr ibn al-Ass is the Muslim leader who conquered Egypt in about 640 AD, and ruled it twice (in 639-646 AD and 658-664 AD).
    (8) Omar ibn al-Khatab is the second successor of Muhammad (634-644 AD). During his rule Egypt was occupied by the Arabs.
    (9) Kitab Allah, Book of Allah, is the Koran.

    Dioscorus Boles

  2. I should have added in the endnotes that the writer says Yahya is known to us by the name Al-Nahawi. Nahawi in Arabic comes from Nahwu, which means grammar, and nahawi means Grammarian (Grammaticus).

  3. Dear Dioscorus,

    It is extremely kind of you to donate this translation. Thank you! I’m on the run at the moment, but I will turn it into a proper post.

    One thought. Would you mind typing up the Arabic text as well? (It’s fine if you are too busy, of course). My thinking is that Arabic speakers should be able to see the original language. Also, if there is Arabic-English machine translation, then an electronic Arabic text would allow English-speakers to start looking at the original text.

  4. Thanks, Roger.

    I cannot type Arabic but I may copy what is in the book by hand and scan it, and send it to you.

    I think the first sentence of the translation should be a bit altered to: “And in this time Yahya (1) who is known to us by the name Grammaticus (2), which means al Nahawi (the Grammarian), became famous with the Muslims.”

    There is also a typo in the translation: “Omar’s wrote to him saying, “About the books you have mentioned, if there is …” should read “Omar wrote to him saying, “About the books you have mentioned, if there is …”.

  5. Don’t worry about the Arabic, then. It was just an idea. I don’t know Arabic myself, you know.

    Thanks for the corrections! I’m also getting a French scholar who is interested in the subject (and knows the scholarly literature!) to take a look, and she may have some contributions to add.

    But thank you again for taking the time to do this!

  6. One question, Dioscorus — the dreaded word “copyright”. The translation is your copyright. Would you be willing to place it in the public domain, so it can circulate freely online? I’d be grateful if you would. I doubt it has any commercial value, good as it is, and the “no copyright” status of public domain would mean no-one would worry about using it.

  7. Nazarenes is a Hebrew loan word into Arabic. It appears in the Gospels! It is not originally Arabic. Read “Life of Nar Abba” for some fascinating information about the word.

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