“I have outflanked these miserable insects…”

An interesting email came to me today from David Wilmshurst, discussing the problems that a scholar has in editing Wikipedia, with a very nice turn of phrase in it:

No agreement will ever be possible in a democratic forum like Wikipedia, because Assyrians and Chaldeans cannot agree on the basic premises.  Instead, I have outflanked these miserable insects – as the Nestorian patriarch Elisha  (524-39) amiably termed his opponents – by writing my own book on the subject, in the hope that after it is published I can bludgeon them into submission by citing it as an authority.  I confess, though, that I am not optimistic of success.

The phrase “miserable insects”, for the dogs in the manger, is a delightful one.  My correspondent also kindly sent over a translation of the passage in which Elisha said this.  It comes from the Nestorian Chronicle of Seert, Part II, Chapter 25, apropos of the schism of Narsai and Elisha.  Elisha has suppressed Narsai’s supporters in most of Mesopotamia, and only Kashkar in Beth Aramaye still openly defies him.

Elisha, on his return to Seleucia, reached an agreement with the metropolitans and bishops who supported him to take his revenge on the inhabitants of Kashkar.  He then consecrated a bishop named Barshabba in place of Samuel.  This bishop, who was rejected by the people of Kashkar, returned to Elisha. 

Thanks to the doctor Biron, who obtained for him a royal edict aimed at giving him support, and to the militia commanders, who were ready to act upon his orders, Elisha resolved to attack the people of Kashkar to take his revenge on them.  They, having got wind of his plan, prepared to defend themselves, to fight, and to repel whoever attacked them.  They were supported by many men from Beth Huzaye and Beth Garmai, who opposed Elisha. 

The latter was extremely angry at this.  ‘How,’ he said in the presence of the people of Seleucia, ‘do those those miserable little insects, who claim to have rejected and humiliated me, think that they can get the better of me, since I have been victorious everywhere else?’  This speech reached the ears of the people of Kashkar, and inflamed their anger. 

Elisha returned to his residence, holding the royal edict in his hand.  One of the people of Kashkar approached him in the middle of the crowd to kiss his hand.  When the catholicus held it out to him, the man of Kashkar seized the edict from him and gave it to someone else.  A strict search was made for this man, but he was never found. 

The quarrel worsened.  One group of supporters would tear the clothing from their opponents, or the two sides would come to blows.  Elisha was mortified to have lost the royal edict, which had cost him so much to obtain, and to have been the object of the offensive mockery of the people of Kashkar.

I fear that the Chronicle of Seert is not a pro-Elisha source!  But the impatience of a great man with foolish opposition is apposite.

The text was published with French translation in the Patrologia Orientalis series by Addai Scher, who was done to death in 1915 as part of the massacres of Christians by the Turks.  I don’t know of an English translation, however.


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