al-Masudi on Christian Arabic historical writings

The early Islamic historian al-Masudi has this passage in his Kitāb at-tanbīh wa’l-ishrāf:[1]

One of those who belong to the Maronite religion, known under the name of Qays [ = Nafis?] al-Maruni, wrote a good book about history:  starting from the Creation, and then all the [sacred] books, [the history] of the city, of the people, of the king of Rum and of others, with information relating to them, and he ends his work with the caliphate of al-Muktafī [908 AD]. Indeed, among the Maronites, I have so far not seen a book with a similar arrangement. Many Melkites, Nestorians and Jacobites have written various books on ancient and recent times. But the best books written by Melkites that I’ve ever seen, on the history of the kings, the prophets, the people, the countries and other things, are the one by Mahbūb ibn Qustantīn al-Manbigī and that by Sa‘īd ibn al-Batrīq, known as Ibn al-Farrāğ al-Misrī, Patriarch of the see of Mark at Alexandria, whom we have personally seen at Fustat-Misr; and  he ends his work with the caliphate of ar-Radi.

Mahbūb ibn Qustantīn al-Manbigī is, of course, Agapius son of Constantine from Mabbug / Hieropolis.  I created a crude English translation of his work from the French a couple of years back.

Sa‘īd ibn al-Batrīq is our friend Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria.

It’s a reminder that the process of doing the same with his work is worthwhile.

  1. [1]In the edition of De Goeje, p. 154.  However I got this from the preface of Bartolomeo Pirone to his Italian translation of Eutychius, Eutychio.

8 thoughts on “al-Masudi on Christian Arabic historical writings

  1. Agapius and Eutychius both rely upon Islamic sources, more so in the case of Eutychius (I caught some probable Waqidi quotes where he talks of the mosque of Damascus – I promise I’ll point them out when you get to them). Be not surprised at a Muslim who endorses quotes from Muslims!

    That said, your translation efforts are much appreciated. Especially for Agapius who mostly cites from non-Islamic sources, but having another check on Islamic sources is always valuable.

  2. Hi Roger,
    Robert G. Hoyland, Theophilus of Edessa and the Circulation of Knowledge in Late Antiquity and Early Islam (Translated Texts for Historians 57), Liverpool University Press, 2011 states that much of Agapius’ knowledge comes from the lost Chronicle of Theophius of Edessa (pages 7-19).

    Theophilus was the court astrologer to the caliph Madhi. He was born in c 695 so much of his life would have spand the 8th century (he died c 785). Most of his sources would have been eyewitness and oral but I’m sure he would have supplemented it with written sources, even Muslim sources.

    Hoyland says nothing about Eutychius and his sources so I presume he doesn’t believe Eutychius used Theophilus.

    A quick query – Misr is the Arabic word for Egypt. Why transliterated rather than translate?

  3. “Hoyland says nothing about Eutychius and his sources”

    That’s inaccurate. Hoyland has his “Eutychius of Alexandria” entry in the Chronicles and Histories section, pp. 442-3 in my edition. What can be said is that Hoyland had little interest in Eutychius; he just refers to some French articles by Michael Breydy in the 1980s. (Which I’ll have to look up myself now…)

    That said, you’re right that Eutychius apparently didn’t use Theophilus. I’ve gotten Eutychius and Agapius mixed up in these here comments myself, so I’ve made a note not to do it again.

  4. I’ve done some poking about and dug up this article: pdf.

    If I’m reading footnote 7 right, Mr Pearse is translating the Antiochene Recension of Eutychius. Since we’re in the Umayyad era now, he has to do this because that’s the only recension that survives of this part of the history. But it’s heavily interpolated. The original is the Sinaitic Recension – if it’s a recension at all; Breydy thought the Sinaiticus MS might even be the autograph.

  5. Hi Zimriel,
    My comment about Eutychius of Alexandria concerns the book I initially referred to on Theophilus. I state the title clearly at the start of my post. Eutychius is not mentioned once in this book so I am accurate. I had the book in front of me when I wrote my post.

    You are mixing up this book by Hoyland with another he wrote called ‘Seeing Islam as Others Saw It’ but they are two different books.

    As a passing note, I highly recommend both. I own both.

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