From my diary

An email drew my attention to an article by Amelineau in the Journal Asiatique for 1888,  Fragments coptes pour servir a l’histoire de la conquete de l’Egypte par les Arabes.  This gave two Coptic fragments with a French translation.  Let’s hear Amelineau introduce them.

If we except the two works to which I drew attention ten years ago[1], and of which I published the second here[2], we possess no other complete text in the Coptic language on the history of Egypt after the Muslim conquest.  While we await a happy accident that will discover another text, I believe we must think ourselves amply rewarded, during our research, if we put our hand on some fragment which deals with history, if not history as we understand it, at least history as it was known to the ancient Egyptians, and to their descendants, the Copts.

Last August, when I was researching at Oxford [3] the fragments of the works of that celebrated monk, Shenouda, I came across by accident two fragments in the Theban dialect, containing the history of two people very well known in Egypt at the time of the arrival of the Arabs.  One was a simple monk, the other the archbishop of Alexandria.  I believe it would not be without value to publish these, because they make known the state of feeling in Egypt during the last years of the Byzantine domination, and one of them perhaps gives us the solution to a historical enigma which has until now defied the efforts of the most competent and patient scholars.

The fragments which I publish today belong to the Clarendon Press in Oxford and have now been deposited in the Bodleian Library.  The first forms part of the life of Apa Samuel, a monk of the Nitrian desert, who finished his life at the Fayoum, a very little time before the arrival of the Arabs in Egypt.  The other belongs to a life of the patriarch Benjamin, in whose patriarchate Egypt escaped from the Greeks only to fall under the domination of new masters, as she was not slow to learn.

The first of these two fragments is composed of a double folio, paginated […] which was found in the middle of a quire.  This fragment, like the second, must have been purchased in Egypt at the end of the last century, and then sold to Woide.  (Woide himself could not have bought them in Egypt since he never went there[4]). 

The second is composed of four numbered folios […].  I have been unable to determine the age of the fragments, but it is quite clear from their content that this cannot be before the middle of the 7th century for the first, and perhaps the end of the same century for the second.  If we consider the place where Samuel and Benjamin lived, their lives must have been composed in the Memphis dialect, and a certain time must have elapsed before they were translated into the Theban dialect, or, at least, for the Theban author, if he was the first editor, to gather his materials.  Whatever the case, here are the fragments.

Perhaps I will translate these also at some point.

UPDATE: Some footnotes:

1. Cf. Mémoire sur deux documents coptes écrits sous la domination arabe in the Bulletin de l’Institut egyptien, 1885, p. 324-369.
2. Journal asiatique, févrer-mars 1887.
3. Here I must express my thanks for the generosity of Mr Guimet, who both sent me on the journey and made it possible for me to research a great deal of material which is of interest to science.
4. These fragments are not the only ones that Woide possessed.  There are around 150 others which I have copied, apart from 15 or 20.  Woide examined them to discover the Theban text of scripture; he seems to have studied them only from that point of view.

2 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. Roger, this is great. These two fragments were known to many scholars from the beginning of the 20th century, and Butler in his The Arab Conquest of Egypt mentioned them a few times, but they were only known in French. I have been looking for these documents for a long time until you kindly sent me them. So I would like to thank you very much.

    Patriarch Benjamin (622-661 AD) lived through the most troubling times in Egypt: he witnessed the reigns of Maurice, Phocas and Heraclius, then he witnessed the Persian invasion of Egypt (618-628 AD) and then the recovery of Egypt by Heraclius, who appointed the infamous Melkite patriarch Cyrus prefect of Egypt (631-641 AD). Benjamin then witnessed the Arab invasion in 639-642 AD, and then their oppressive rule under the last three of the so-called Rightly Guided Caliphs, and then the beginning of the Ummayad Dynasty of the Arabs. Perhaps no one had witnessed so many historical events, and atrocities, in his life. The fragment which Amelineau published in 1888 is therefore an important contribution to more knowledge about that important period in the history of Christianity in the east.

    The person mentioned in the other fragment is Samuel of Kalamoun, another very important figure in the history of the Copts. He was punished and tortured by Cyrus; but perhaps he is known more for the Apocalypse attributed to him, in which he prophesied, and lamented, the process of Arabisation and Islamisation of the Copts. Whether his Apocalypse was really written or uttered by him is not the issue – what is important is that his name was used by Coptic nationalists to resist these two awful processes.

    It will be great if you can translate them into English for the benefit of all scholars who are interested in the study of that period and are not fluent in French.
    Again, may God bless your work and life. Amen.

    Dioscorus Boles

    PS Amelineau mentions in his Introduction that “If we except the two works to which I drew attention ten years ago, and of which I published the second here, …” What two works he was talking about? Does anyone know?

  2. I should have added the footnotes, I know, but it was a struggle getting even that much done. I’ll see what I can do. But I have a job interview in the next day or two to prepare for, so don’t expect much of me.

Leave a Reply