Theodore Abu Qurrah and an anti-Manichaean synod

A correspondent kindly sent me an article[1] which mentioned a synod against the Manichaeans, assembled by Theodore Abu Qurra, the Melkite bishop of Harran, at Harran in 764-5 AD.  This is mentioned in a 14th century source, a certain John Cyparissiotes.  The latter was previously unknown to me, but his works are found in PG152.

It seems that Cyparissiotes wrote against the “Palamites”, the followers of Gregory Palamas, and that our snippet about Theodore Abu Qurra and the anti-Manichaean synod may be found in PG152, column 784 B.  Migne gives only the Latin: the Greek is quoted by Hemmerdinger from a manuscript, Vaticanus Ottobonianus gr. 99 (s. XVII), fol. 133 r-v.

This is Decades, part 3, chapter 4:

Likewise, from the Panaria, a synod was held against the Manichaeans by the bishop of Harran (=Καρων), Abu Qurra: “The goodness,” he said, “which is found in the world receives increases or decreases as chance determines.”  And further on: “Goodness in God is a substance; but in creatures is an accident. For “Be merciful”, he said, “even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

The footnote in the PG suggests that the “Panaria” were anti-heretical texts of various sorts, such as the Panarion (=medicine chest) of Epiphanius of Salamis.

The same material appears almost word for word the same in col. 809 C, which is Decades part 5, chapter 2, which is on fol. 148v of the manuscript.

Theodore Abu Qurra wrote against the Manichaeans, and a work in Arabic is extant.[2]  The context of all this is perhaps given by the monophysite writer (ps.)Dionysius of Tell-Mahre in his Chronicle, which states that, in 764-5, the Manichaeans of Harran were accused of practising human sacrifice once a year.[3]  Dionysius does not mention the action of the Melkite bishop in holding a synod and writing against the Manichaeans, but Hemmerdinger suggests that this may be from sectarian animosity towards the Melkites.  We cannot say.  But the account ends with the words:

Bearing the head [of a previous victim] away at a rapid pace, he [the intended victim] went to find Abbas who was then Emir of Mesopotamia.  The latter, learning what had happened, had all the Manichaeans seized and imprisoned, men, women and children; [82] he seized all that they possessed, inflicted on them various tortures and took from them more than four or five hundred thousand minae (? fr. = “mines”).

Whether the Manichaeans of Harran really practised human sacrifice may reasonably be doubted.  It would be very risky to abduct random strangers once a year, after all.  It is more likely that they were the victims of an informer, who ran quickly to the greedy emir, hoping to profit thereby.  Whatever the truth of the matter, the emir certainly took the opportunity to profit from it!

In the west we are accustomed to rulers who identify with the ordinary people, and whose interests are the same as the nation.  It may be a shock to remember that the oriental despot felt no such feelings.  The Arabs were little more than bandits who came into ownership of wide lands and rich cities, and settled down to enjoy them as much as possible.  This alien ruling class were looters, not rulers.   The same habit of mind has persisted down to our own day in those parts.  We are fortunate that such cold exploitation is exceptional in our own lands.

  1. [1]Bertrand Hemmerdinger, “Revue de l’histoire des religions”, tome 161 n°2, 1962. pp. 270.  Online here.
  2. [2]Hemmerdinger gives the reference: G. Graf, Des Theodor Abu Kurra Traktat uber den Schopfer und die wahre Religion, Munster i. W., 1913, pp.27-29.
  3. [3]J.-B. Chabot translated part 4 of the Chroniques, Paris, 1895, p.68-70, online here.

5 thoughts on “Theodore Abu Qurrah and an anti-Manichaean synod

  1. The latin text has “Item, ex panariis, synodus habita contra manichaeos ab episcopo Carorum Abucara”, depending on the greek text “Η κατα μανιχαιων συνοδος δι επισκοπου Καρων του Αβουκαρα φησιν”. The city of Harran was named “Χαρραν” in the septuagint (Gen 11.31), and later “Κάρραι”. The latin translator did not recognize the “Haran” of the Vulgate below “Καρων”…

  2. This is the same city referenced in the Acts of Archelaus. The story there has Mani coming to the city and being ridiculed and repulsed. But clearly there was lasting Manichaean influence there.

  3. About the date of this synod, we might have a clue in the “Chronicle of Michael the Syrian”. At the end of the notice about Theodore Abu Qurrah, we read :
    A cette époque, le paganisme recommença à se montrer à Harran, après avoir été détruit du temps des empereurs chrétiens et du temps des Taiyayê. — Un homme nommé Ibrahim, qoreisite, reçut un présent des païens qui existaient en secret à Harran, le nid du paganisme,
    car “Haranayê” est synonyme de “païens” ; et il leur permit d’accomplir ouvertement leurs mystères. Ceux qui se dissimulaient, comme nous l’avons dit, pour accomplir en secret l’impureté de leurs honteux mystères, arrivèrent maintenant à une telle audace qu’ils promenaient par toutes les rues un boeuf orné de vêtements précieux, couronné de fleurs de roses et de myrte, ayant des clochettes aux cornes, et suivi de joueurs de flûtes; et ils l’offraient ainsi en sacrifice à leurs dieux.
    Chronique de Michel le syrien, traduite par Chabot, tome 3, 1905 ; Livre XII, chap VIII, p 32-34 (colonne gauche)

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