The library at Meshed / Mashhad in Iran — unknown classical texts!

Let me direct you all to the comments on my earlier post about the discovery of some lost portions of Galen’s On my own books here.  The material is in Arabic translation, and found in a manuscript in Iran, at the library of Meshed.  I’d never heard of it!

A commenter has dug into the question and produced gold!  It seems that there are other unpublished texts there, including a mathematical commentary by Hypatia on Diophantus.  The library is now in a brand new building as well and has a website.

If you know Arabic and want to discover new classical texts, you need to visit Meshed / Mashhad.

Galen, “On my own books” — the translation of Hunain ibn Ishaq

The second century medical writer Galen left behind such a vast array of works that it has been estimated that around 20% of the surviving volume of ancient Greek was written by him!  I’m not sure where this estimate comes from, but it is a remarkable amount.

Ancient medical texts are a specialised interest.  Our interest here is more with what Galen has to say about ancient books, libraries, manuscripts, the book trade and the process of copying.  He does, in fact, have a great deal to say on these subjects.

One of the most revealing works is On my own works (De libris propriis).  I gave some extracts from this here

But today I gained access to a rather interesting volume: Vivian Nutton (ed.) The unknown Galen (2002) — a collection of papers from a colloquium on texts of Galen not in the massive 20 volume 19th century edition by Kuhn.  Nutton writes engagingly, and I shall have things to say about the book on Monday, I suspect.

But what I wanted to see was a paper by Veronique Boudon, Galen’s “On my own books”: new material from Meshed, Rida, tibb. 5223, on p.9-18.

De libris propriis reaches us only in a single Greek manuscript, Milan Ambrosianus graecus 659 (=A).  This is a paper manuscript of the 14th century, some 272 folios long.  It contains 14 works by Galen, and De libris propriis occupies f. 187r-197r.  An equally interesting work, bibliographically, follows: On the order of my own works, f.197r-200r.  But examination of the gatherings in the manuscript reveals that a bi-folium has been lost at some point.  The manuscript was written on quaternions.  The outermost bifolium of quaternion 24 is lost.  Quaternion 24 currently includes folios 193-198.  So there should be an extra folio before f.193, and another after 198.  In short, we have lost two pages from each of these useful works, or the equivalent of about 4 pages of Kuhn’s edition.

But it seems that the great translator of Galen into Arabic made a translation of De libris propriis.  He says so, indeed, in the Risala which Bergstrasser published (I uploaded this to and which John Lamoreaux has translated into English.

A single manuscript containing the translation exists.  It’s in what Boudon calls “a religious library in North-Eastern Iran, at Meshed”.   The manuscript has been unknown to science, and was first mentioned only in 1970 by F. Sezgin in Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums, III (Leiden, 1970), p.78, no.1.  The work is on f.22v to 40v of the manuscript.

Boudon adds an interesting note for the rest of us: that it was unknown to M. Steinschneider, Die arabischen Ubersetzungen aus dem griechischen (Leipzig, 1897) (online here) and M. Ullmann, Die Medizin in Islam (Leiden, Cologne 1970), which are “the standard repertories of information on such manuscripts.”  The former should be out of copyright and worth a bit of investigation!  But back to the Meshed ms.

Boudon was able to get a set of “photocopies”, evidently monochrome, by means of a “complex series of exchange deals”.  These revealed that the folios had become disarranged.  The script suggests an 11th century AD date.  It is so very similar to another Meshed ms, Rida, tibb. 5214/1 which contains On the order of my own books and gives Hunain ibn Ishaq as the translator, that the two were probably once part of the same ms.  Once the folios are rearranged, we find that the opening leaf of De libris propriis is lost.

But the translation gives us much.  The lacunose Greek neverthless has chapter titles.  The Arabic agrees, and restores three more from points where there are lacunas in the Greek.  Still more, it gives us a massive extra chunk of text from chapter 3, where Galen is summarising the contents of 20 books of anatomy written by one Marinus, who wrote ca. 129 AD.  Boudon gives a translation, also.  Nothing in it relates specially to our interests, however, but it is very good to have. 

The translation by Hunain also corrects various numerals appearing in the text, for the numbers of books in particular works.  Naturally at some points this leaves a question as to what the right number is — the Greek or the Arabic both giving a different number!

I had never heard of the library at Meshed, or its contents.  But if such libraries can give us back portions of ancient literature, we need to know more of them.

UPDATE: Please note the comments on this article by Maureen which contain a vast amount of information about the Meshed site.  Thank you so much for that!

Persian Christian manuscripts

The NASCAS Christian Arabic group is one I look into from time to time, because of my interest in Christian Arabic literature.  But I find today a couple of messages there on something even further removed from the comfortable shores of Greek and Latin patristics.  Who in the world knows anything about Persian Christian literature?

Anton Pritula does.  He writes:

 Persian Christian MSs was my PhD topic. I published it later in Russian: Christianstvo i persidskaya knizhnost’ XIII-XVIII vv. [Christianity and the Persian Manuscript Tradition in the 13–17th  centuries, in Russian]. St Petersburg, 2004 (163 pp.).

It contains an English summary and an index of the existing Persian Christian MSs.

The most famous of them is of course the illumitated Persian Diatessaron (OR.81), in the Florence Library Medicea Laurenziana (transcr. in 1547 AD).  Catalogue entry:  Piemontese A.M. Catalogo dei manoscritti persiani conservati nelle biblioteche d’Italia. Roma. Libr. dello stato. № 5, 1989. P. 104, no. 140.

In the same catalogue you can find also several other Persian Chr. MSs.

The text of this Diatessaron MS was also published by G.Messina: Messina G. Diatessaron persiano. I. Introduzione. II. Testo e Traduzione. Roma, 1951.

Also interesting are the Gospel (Pococke 241) in the Bodlean Library, Oxford (transcr. in 1341 AD) and a Nestorian lectionary in the National Library in Paris (Persan 3) (transcr. 1374 AD).

According to my list the total is 123 Persian Chr. MSs, but it was several years ago, and since that time I have found some more, but anyway under 150.

He then added:

Well, I think I would load the PDF of the book in internet and give the links. At least the English summary (15 pp.), MSs index and the bibliography could be helpful.

I am also thinking of publishing it in English, but a little bit updated, as some new information came up since 2004, when it had appeared. May be, someone knows a publishing house, where it would be appropriate to do.

And he was as good as his word:

Here you can find my book on the Persian Christian MSs.′

Pritula A. Christianstvo i persidskaya knizhnost’ XIII-XVIII vv. [Pritula A. Christianity and the Persian Manuscript Tradition in the 13–17th  centuries; in Russian]. St Petersburg, 2004 (163 pp.). It has an English summary and a MSs index. It was published in 2004, and there is some new literature, which cannot be found in the bibliography there.

The English summary is at the back of the PDF.  I might OCR the English and post it.  Essentially the materials are from Nestorian / East Syriac sources, in the 13-14th centuries.  There is the Diatessaron; gospel mss; a lectionary; and also some commentaries on paraphrases of the Psalms.  All are written in Persian language but in the Arabic alphabet, often from a Syriac source.  There were also materials translated by Catholic missionaries.

There is no single corpus of Persian Christian literature, and little of it survives in Iran.  Rather we are dealing with isolated pockets of translation.

Hunain ibn Ishaq from the Encyclopedia of Islam

Yesterday I mentioned that the PDF’s of the Encyclopedia of Islam 2nd edition had appeared online.  I downloaded them last night, and then went to look at the article on Hunayn ibn Ishaq, the 9th century Christian who translated the Greek scientific works into Arabic.  It was rather good; so much so, in fact, that I will post it here. 

HUNAYN B. ISHAK AL-`IBADI, the most important mediator of ancient Greek science to the Arabs. It was mainly due to his reliable and clearly written translations of Hippocrates [see BUKRAT, in Suppl.] and Galen [see DJALINUS], that the Arab physicians of the Middle Ages became worthy successors of the Greek. 

Life: Hunayn was born in 192/808 in al-Hira [q.v.], where his father was a pharmacist. The nisba indicates that he was a descendant of the so-called `ibad, i.e. Arab tribesmen who had once embraced Christianity and who after the rise of Islam remained faithful to the Syrian Nestorian church, refusing to adopt the new religion. Hunayn may be assumed to have been bilingual from his youth, for Arabic was the vernacular of his native town, and Syriac was the language of the liturgy and of higher Christian education. Later in life, when settled in  Baghdad, he translated far more books into Syriac than into Arabic, in accordance with the wishes of his clients. He himself showed a certain predilection for the Syriac language at the expense of Arabic, which he blamed for its lack of an adequate nomenclature as compared with either Syriac or Greek or Persian (see a fragment of his Kitdb al-Nukap, ed. L. Cheikho, in Mashrik, xx (1922), 373). But in their Arabic translations he and his school avoided mere transcriptions as far as possible, and thus helped to forge the Arabic scientific terminology. He was also at pains to acquire a sound knowledge of Arabic grammar; he is even said to have studied it at Basra and to have brought from there al-Khalili’s Kitab al-`Ayn. That he had the advantage of meeting the famous grammarian personally, as Ibn Djuldjul and others point out, is impossible for chronological reasons (see M. Plessner, in RSO, xxxi (1956), 244 f.). The Arab bibliographers unanimously attest that Hunayn was fasih.

How Hunayn acquired his astonishing knowledge of Greek is told by the eyewitness report of a certain Yusuf b. Ibrahim (see Ibn Abi Usaybi`a, ed. Müller, i, 185 f.), which does indeed sound very trustworthy. It relates that Hunayn began his study of medicine at Baghdad under Yuhanna b. Masawayh, the famous court-physician and director of the bayt al-hikma [q.v.]. But as Hunayn used to ask too many troublesome questions, he incurred the anger of his master, who eventually ordered him to leave his school. Hunayn then disappeared from the capital for more than two years. The narrator himself is silent upon his whereabouts, but some sources contend that he went to Alexandria, others that he was staying in bilad al-Rum. When he came back, he was so thoroughly versed in the Greek language that he could even recite from Homer. Afterwards he was reconciled with Ibn Masawayh, who also encouraged him further to translate from the Greek (cf. Les axiomes medicaux de Yohanna Ben Massawaih, ed. P. Sbath, Cairo 1934, 8, 33 f.).

Under the caliph al-Mutawakkil Hunayn was appointed chief physician to the court, but he had to suffer great hardships through the capricious behaviour of this Commander of the Faithful. One day he fell a victim to an intrigue of his Christian colleagues. As he was an enemy of image-worship, they induced him to spit on an icon during an audience. This provoked the indignation not only of the Nestorian katholikos, but also of the caliph. Hunayn was flogged, put in jail and deprived of his whole estate, including his library (for the historicity of this account see B. Hemmerdinger, in Actes du XIIe Congr. Int. d’Etud. Byzant., ii, Belgrade 1964, 467-9, and G. Strohmaier, in Klio, xliii-v (1965), 525-33). After six months he was set free and reinstated in his office, which he held until his death in 260/873. He had two sons, Dawud and Ishak [q.v.]. Both of them became medical practitioners; the latter, following in his father’s footsteps, excelled in translating from the Greek, but concentrated more on philosophical works.

Translations: Hunayn is credited with an immense number of translations, ranging from medicine, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics to magic and oneiromancy. His Arabic translation of the Old Testament [see TAWRAT], made after the Septuagint, was regarded as the best among other renderings (see al-Mas`udi, al-Tanbih, 112). So far as his versions are conserved, they can help in establishing the Greek text, for Hunayn had Greek manuscripts at his disposal which were several centuries older than ours. They also represent a valuable substitute for some writings that are otherwise lost.

Thanks to the important edition of Hunayn’s Risala . . . ila `Ali b. Yahya fi dhikr ma turdjima min kutub Djalinus bi-`ilmih wa-ba`d ma lam yutardjam by G. Bergstrasser (Hunain Ibn Ishaq über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-Übersetzungen, Leipzig 1925, Abh. K. M. xvii/2), we possess a detailed report on the various translations of Galen that were available at his time. There exists a different recension of this Risala, which was found some time later (see G. Bergstrasser, Neue Materialien zu Hunain Ibn Ishaq’s Galen-Bibliographie, Leipzig 1932, Abh.K.M. xix/2). Hunayn enumerates 129 titles, of which he himself translated about 100 into Syriac or Arabic or into both. The list is not exhaustive, however, for al-Razi [q.v.] wrote a special treatise Fi ‘stidrak ma bakiya min kutub Djalinus mimma lam yadhkurhu Hunayn wa-la Djalinus fi Fihristih (see Fihrist, i, 300, cf. P. Kraus, Epitre de Beruni, Paris 1936, no. 175). One must bear in mind that Hunayn wrote the Risala after the complete loss of his library (see above), a fact to which he repeatedly refers in it (p. 1.11 f., 3.5-10, no. 95, cf. nos. 42 and 118). In the Risala as well as in another tract Fi dhikr at-kutub allati lam yadhkurha Djalinus fi Fihrist kutubih (ed. G. Bergstrasser, in Neue Materialien, 84-98) he makes some statements about the spuriousness of several writings ascribed to Galen, and it is remarkable to see how his judgement coincides with the results of modern scholarship (see M. Meyerhof, in SBPr. Ak. W., phil.-hist. Kl., 1928, 531-48 and F. Kudlien, in Rheinisches Museum, cviii (1965), 295-9). Only the question of the commentary on the Hippocratic oath remains doubtful: Hunayn regarded it as genuine, but we have nowadays to rely on a few Arabic fragments (collected by F. Rosen that, in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, xxx (1956), 52-87), whereas Hunayn had the full text before him.

In the Risala he also gives some occasional remarks on his philological methods. They are not different from ours: he used to collect as many Greek manuscripts as possible and to collate them in order to get a sound textual basis for the translation (cf. nos. 3, 20, 74, 84). In search of manuscripts he travelled to Syria, Palestine and even to Egypt (cf. no. 115). But in one respect his philological principles deviate from the modern. Like other Christian translators he felt the obligation to eliminate all traces of paganism from the works of the ancients, e.g., to replace the pagan gods by the one God and His angels, etc. Usually this did not impair the scientific value of his translations, but it did some harm to the rich mythological material found in the dream-book of Artemidorus (see G. Strohmaier, in F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Die Araber in der Alten Welt, v, Berlin, forthcoming).

The Risala also contains valuable data on the translations of Galen made by Hunayn’s predecessors and contemporaries. He does not spare them harsh criticism, if necessary, and he often had to revise their Syriac or Arabic versions. He himself translated either into Syriac for his Christian colleagues or into Arabic for the Muslim sponsors of his work [see BANU MUSA]. It is remarkable that there is no word about the famous bayt al-hikma; the whole activity seems to have been based on a kind of private enterprise. He engaged two members of his family, his son Ishak, his nephew Hubaysh b. al-Hasan al-A`sam, and another pupil, `Isa b. Yahya, who also took part in translating Galen. Since Hubaysh and `Isa did not

understand Greek well enough, they made Syriac translations after Hunayn’s Arabic (nos. 36, 38, 119) or, much more often, Arabic translations after Hunayn’s Syriac. This could lead to some deterioration (cf. Galeni Compendium Timaei Platonis, ed. P. Kraus and R. Walzer, London 1951, 22-4), if Hunayn or Ishak did not have the opportunity to compare these new versions with the Greek original (cf. nos. 20,49,69,86,113,126). Usually the colophons in the manuscripts of these second-hand versions mention Hunayn as the only translator, a fact which is already stated in the Fihrist (i, 128 and 289). The reason for this is not clear. Perhaps it is due to the modesty of the pupils themselves, or else they wanted to conceal the circumstance of the double translation, as Muslim intellectuals had been well aware of its shortcomings.

Unfortunately, there exists no corresponding risala for the non-Galenic writings, and it remains to be proved by an analysis of the language and by possible mistakes resulting from ambiguities of Syriac words, whether the present Arabic versions were made by Hunayn directly from the Greek or by someone else after his Syriac translation. Nearly all of these Syriac versions are now lost (for the possible ascription of some fragments to Hunayn see G. Furlani, in ZS, iii (1924), 28 and J. Schleifer, in RSO, xviii (1940), 348).

Hunayn’s own works: Besides his translations Hunayn composed numerous original works, mainly on medical, but also on philosophical, geophysical, meteorological, zoological, linguistic, and religious subjects. He is even credited with a history of the world from Adam down to al-Mutawakkil. His medical treatises are mainly epitomes and rearrangements of classical material. Many of them are written in the form of questions and answers, this curious kind of literature being very common also in the biblical exegesis of the Nestorian church at this time (cf. E. G. Clarke, The selected questions of Isho bar Nun on the Pentateuch, Leiden 1962, 10-3). His main work in this field is al-Masa’il fi ‘l-tibb (numerous mss.), later translated into Hebrew and Latin. There also exists a so-called Isagoge Johannitii ad parvam artem Galeni (many Latin mss. and early printed texts). According to M. Steinschneider (Die hebräischen Übersetzungen, 710) this is another recension of the same work.—The following titles show Hunayn’s special interest in ophthalmology: al-`Ashr makalat fi ‘l-`ayn (ed. M. Meyerhof, The book of the ten treatises on the eye ascribed to Hunain ibn Ishaq, Cairo 1928). This work appears in two different Latin versions, as the Liber de oculis Constantini Africani and Galeni de oculis liber a Demetrio translatus (see J. Hirschberg, in SBPr. Ak. W., 1903, 1080-94).—For his sons Dawud and Ishak he wrote al-Masa’il fi ‘l-`ayn (ed. P. Sbath and M. Meyerhof, Le livre des questions sur l’œil de Honain ibn Ishaq, Cairo 1938, MIE 36). —A little tract about the incorporeal nature of light Fi ‘l-daw’ wa-hakikatih shows Aristotle as his main authority in the field of physics (ed. L. Cheikho, in Mashrik, ii (1899), 1105-13 and with French translation in Actes du XIe Congr. Int. des Orient., Paris 1897, IIIe sect., Paris 1899, 125-42, German translation by C. Prüfer and M. Meyerhof, in Isl., ii (1911), 117-28). 

The often quoted Nawadir al-falasifa are extant in later Arabic extracts, a mediaeval Hebrew translation of which has been edited by A. Loewenthal (Sefer Musre ha-Pilosofim, Frankfurt a.M. 1896, German translation by the same, Berlin 1896). The Arabic text remains to be edited (see K. Merkle, Die Sittensprüche der Philosophen “Kitab adab al-falasifa” von Honein ibn Ishaq in der Überarbeitung des Muhammed ibn `Ali al-Ansari, Leipzig 1921; M. Plessner, in Tarbiz, xxiv (1954-5), 60-72, VI f.; J. Kraemer, in ZDMG, cvi (1956), 292-302). The book is mainly a collection of stories, letters, and sayings ascribed to the ancient Greek philosophers, mingled with Hunayn’s own reflections. It is based on similar Byzantine florilegia and contains very old material (see G. Strohmaier, in Hermes, xcv (1967)). Part 3 deals with the death of Alexander the Great: its connexion with the Alexander Romance remains to be investigated.—A little apologetic tract Fi kayfiyyat idrak hakikat al-diyana is conserved in an abridged form (ed. L Cheikho, in Nöldeke-Festschrift, i, Giessen 1906, 283-91, and P. Sbath, in Vingt traite”s philosophiques et apologetiques, Cairo 1929, 181-5). Some points in this treatise may be understood as an intelligent and cautious polemic against Islam.—Hunayn’s bibliographical Risala to `Ali b. Yahya has been mentioned above; there also exists a short letter to his sponsor Salmawayh b. Bunan as an introduction to the translation of Galen’s De consuetudinibus (German translation by F. Pfaff, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum Suppl. iii, p. XLI f.) [see AFLATUN].

Bibliography: in addition to the works mentioned in the text: Fihrist, i, 294 f.; Ibn Djuldjul, Tabakdt al-atibba’ wa’l-hukama’, ed. F. Sayyid, Cairo 1955, 68-72; Ibn Sa`id al-Andalusi, Kitab Tabakat al-umam, ed. L. Cheikho, Beirut 1912, 36 f., French translation by R. Blachere, Paris 1935, 80 f.; `Ali b. Zayd al-Bayhaki, Tatimma siwan al-hikma, ed. M. Shafic, Lahore 1935, i, 3 f.; Ibn al-Kifti, Ta’rikh al-hukama’, ed. J. Lippert, Leipzig 1903, 171-7; Ibn Abi Usaybi`a, `Uyun al-anba’ fi tabakat al-atibba’, ed. A. Müller, Cairo 1882, i, 184-200; Ibn Khallikan, no. 208; Barhebraeus, Chronicon ecclesiasticum, ed. J. B. Abbeloos and Th. J. Lamy, Louvain 1872-7, iii 197-200; idem, Chronicon syriacum, ed. P. Bedjan, Paris 1890, 162 f., Latin translation by P. J. Bruns and G. Kirsch, Leipzig 1789, i, 173f.; idem, Ta’rikh mukhtasar al-duwal, ed. A. Salihani, Beirut 1890, 250-3; J. S. Assemanus, Bibliotheca  orientalis, iii/i, Rome 1725, 164 f.; F. Wüstenfeld, Geschichte der arabischen Arzte und Naturforscherr Gottingen 1840 (repr. Hildesheim 1963), 26-9; L. Leclerc, Histoire de la medecine arabe i, Paris 1876 (repr. New York n.d.), 139-52 (uncritical); M. Steinschneider, Die hebraischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters, Berlin 1893 (repr. Graz 1956), 1055 (index); idem, Die arabischen Übersetzungen aus dem Griechischen, in ZDMG, 1 (1896) (repr. Graz 1960), 390 (index); Suter, 21-3; J. Hirschberg, Geschichte der Augenheilkunde, ii/2, Leipzig 1905, 34-7; M. Steinschneider, Die europaischen Übersetzungen aus dem Arabischen, in SBAk. Wien, phil.-hist. kl., 1905 (repr. Graz 1956), 98 (index); G. Bergstrasser, Hunain Ibn Ishak und seine Schule, Leiden 1913 (still important); A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur, Bonn 1922, 227-30; G. Gabrieli, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, in Isis, vi (1924), 282-92; M. Meyerhof, New light on Hunain Ibn Ishaq and his period, in Isis, viii (1926), 685-724; idem, Les versions syriaques et arabes des écrits galeniques, in Byzantion, iii (1926), 33-51; G. Sarton, Introduction to the history of science, i, Baltimore 1927 (repr. 1950), 611-3; J. Tkatsch, Die arabische Übersetzung der Poetik des Aristoteles, i, Vienna 1928, 80-4; H. Ritter and R. Walzer, Arabische Übersetzungen griechischer Arzte in Stambuler Bibliotheken, in SBPr. Ak. W., phil.-hist. kl., 1934, 801-46; Lutfi M. Sa’di, A biobibliographical study of Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi, in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, ii (1934), 409-46 (useful, but uncritical); Brockelmann, I, 224-7, S I, 366-9; F. Rosenthal, Die arabische Autobiographie, in Studia Arabica, i (1937),  15-19; idem, review of Galen: On medical experience, ed. R. Walzer, in Isis, xxxvi (1945-6), 253 f.; idem, The technique and approach of Muslim scholarship, Rome 1947, passim; G.  Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, ii, Vatican City 1947 (Studi e testi 133), 122-9 (important); Salah al-Din al-Munadjdjid, Masadir djadida `an ta’rikh al-tibb `inda ‘l-`arab, in Revue de l’institut des Manuscrits Arabes, v (1959), 229-348; Ibrahim Shabbuh, Fihris al-makhtutat al-musawwara, iii/2: al-tibb, Cairo 1959.

Translations: Artemidorus: Artemidore d’Éphèse, Le livre des songes traduit du grec en arabe par Hunayn b. Ishaq, ed. T. Fahd, Damascus 1964. Galen [see DJALINUS]: P. Bachmann, Galens Abhandlung darüber, dass der vorzügliche Arzt Philosoph sein muss, in Nachrichten der Akad. d. Wissensch. in Gottingen, phil.-hist. kl., 1965, no. 1; Galen, On the parts of medicine, On cohesive causes,On regimen in acute diseases in accordance with the theories of Hippocrates, ed. M. C. Lyons (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Suppl. Orient, ii), Berlin (forthcoming); Galen, Über die Verschiedenheit der homoiomeren Korperteile, ed. G. Strohmaier (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Suppl. Orient, iii) (in preparation). Hippocrates: The aphorisms of Hippocrates, translated into Arabic by Honain Ben Ischak, ed. J. Tytler, Calcutta 1832; Prognosticon, in M. Klamroth, Uber die Auszüge aus griechischen Schriftstellern bei al-Ja`qubi, in ZDMG, xl (1886), 204-33, for new collations see B. Alexanderson, Die hippokratische Schrift Prognostikon, Göteborg 1963, 156-73; De diaeta in morbis acutis, ed. M. C. Lyons, Cambridge 1966. Proclus: a fragment of the commentary on the Timaeus, in Galeni De consuetudinibus, ed. J. M. Schmutte and F. Pfaff, Leipzig, Berlin 1941 (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Suppl. iii), 55-60 (German translation).


Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd Ed) online at

An amazing report at AWOL from Charles Jones:

Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition (1986-2004) Leiden, E.J.Brill

at the Internet Archive

Vol. 1
Vol. 2
Vol. 3
Vol. 4
Vol. 5
Vol. 6
Vol. 7
Vol. 8
Vol. 9
Vol. 10
Vol. 11
Vol. 12

Wow.  And I say again, wow!

I don’t know why this is up there, but I am glad it is.

UPDATE: I discover that Brill are now marketing the 3rd edition as an “entirely new” work.  This means that the 2nd is now obsolete, although the historical content will, of course, be pretty much as good as ever.

I wonder … are Brill being fiendishly clever here?

Think about it.  Take a sample online person.  Take me, for instance.  I’ve never read a page of the Encyclopedia of Islam.  I’ve never opened a copy.  I doubt I’ve ever seen a copy.  Yet here I am, tonight, at 00:34 hrs, downloading the PDF’s.  I’m pretty much certain to at least look at a couple of articles.

The Encyclopedia Iranica gets read, precisely because its articles are online.  Is this the idea?  To build market share by making an old version freely available?  To get people who would never pick up a copy interested?  To get students, who have no money, but will become academics and librarians with budgets, accustomed to  using it, to treating it as the last word, as the authoritative resource?

Let’s face it — if they are intending this, it’s working!  It’s working on me right now, drat them.

UPDATE (29th April): A commenter notes that most of the links now don’t work, and bring up a message that there are “issues with content”.  I believe this is their phrase for “may be in copyright”.  Sadly it wasn’t the dawn of a new day — just an uploader who didn’t check the copyright status properly.  Pity.

A letter of St. Pisentios on Islam

While looking rather carelessly through the online volumes of the Revue de l’Orient Chretien, whose Syriac contents are listed here, I found myself looking at something interesting and non-Syriac.

In ROC 19 (1914), on p.79f. and 302 f. (the article was split into two parts, issued in successive quarters), A. Perier publishes the Arabic text of a letter of St. Pisentios, Coptic bishop of Qeft, to his flock.  The letter exists in four manuscripts in the French National library, the Bibliotheque Nationale, and Perier gives a French translation.

The second half of the letter consists of a prophecy of the coming of the Moslems, and their leader Mamadanous (Mohammed) whose name, in Coptic letters, is said to add up to 666.

Unfortunately the letter cannot be genuinely by the pre-Islamic bishop.  The predictions of the actions of the Turks, the very general terms in which Moslem atrocities are described, the whole feel of the letter suggests a later composition, in which past history and current woes are depicted in apocalyptic terms as a prophecy.  Several Coptic apocalypses are of the same kind, which I think means that we are probably dealing with a literary genre here, rather than several attempts at forgery.

It is rather too long and diffuse for me to turn the French into English, sadly, with my current concerns. 

But it is by no means uninteresting.  It makes the point that the ROC contains a great deal more than just the Syriac articles.  It contains, indeed, publications of texts from the Near East.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would digest down a table of contents of these articles also?

James of Edessa (d.708) – letter on the genealogy of the Virgin Mary now online

The Syriac scholar bishop James of Edessa, who continued the Chronicle of Eusebius and introduced Greek vowels into West Syriac, has left us a number of letters in a 10th century manuscript in the British Library, ms. Additional 12172.  Several of these were published by Francois Nau in the Revue de l’Orient Chretien between 1900 and 1903, together with a French translation.  One of these is the letter to John the Stylite on the genealogy of the Virgin Mary.

A correspondant wrote to me about this.  Since a lot of people seem not to know French, I have run Nau’s translation across into English and uploaded the result here.  The output makes no claim to scholarship.  It’s only merit is that it exists, and so makes James’ thought accessible to the 2bn people for whom English is a first or second language.

I’m not sure that many people care about patristic statements about the genealogy of the Virgin Mary.  These are usually based on material obtained from the apocrypha, of no historical value.  In fact James is too good a scholar to do this.  He attacks the practice, and advises his correspondent instead to use logic and reason.

But the real interest of the text is elsewhere.  James died in 708 AD, which means that he lived in the first century of Moslem rule.  His statements about what early Moslems thought about the Virgin Mary, and about Christ, are therefore of considerable interest to those attempting to look behind the statements of Moslem writers, which tend to rely on sources which are themselves later than this.

My correspondent was assembling a collection of early non-Moslem sources on the history of Islam.  He came across mention of the text in a revisionist history by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Hagarism, Cambridge, 1977.  The book itself is now very hard to find and very expensive to buy, but thankfully someone has created a PDF which I found on the web.

On page 11 it makes the following statement:

The most interesting attestation of this recognition occurs in a letter of Jacob of Edessa (d.c. 708) on the genealogy of the Virgin: 17

“That the messiah is of Davidic descent, everyone professes, the Jews, the Mahgraye and the Christians … That the messiah is, in the flesh, of Davidic descent … is thus professed by all of them, Jews, Mahgraye and Christians, and regarded by them as something fundamental … The Mahgraye too … all confess firmly that he [Jesus] is the true messiah who was to come and who was foretold by the prophets; on this subject they have no dispute with us, but rather with the Jews. They reproachfully maintain against them … that the messiah was to be born of David, and further that this messiah who has come was born of Mary. This is firmly professed by the Mahgraye, and not one of them will dispute it, for they say always and to everyone that Jesus son of Mary is in truth the messiah.”

Nau’s translation confirms all this, although Crone and Cook translated directly from the Syriac, as their preface makes plain.

Regular readers will know that I am not in favour of revisionism as a general rule, as it often seems to be contrived for non-scholarly purposes.  On the other hand we have to ask whether Cambridge University Press would dare to publish such a book today.  Somehow I have my doubts; and this may provoke some to adopt the ideas contained in it, merely to push back against the censors.  But let’s keep a balance.   Let’s not fall into the pitfall of endorsing nonsense, merely because the object of the attack is one that we are instructed may not be discussed except in terms of warmest approval.  Rubbish is rubbish, even when condemned by a censor. 

I hope the translation of James will be of use, either way, to others.

Did Amr ibn al-As refuse to pray in a church in Jerusalem in case the Moslems seized it?

Anglican Samizdat tells the story of a US church offering to share its building with a Moslem group.  This reminded me of a story about the Moslem conquest of Jerusalem, which I find in various places on the web such as here.

The gates of the city were now opened. Omar went straight to Al-Masjid-i-Aqsa. Here he said his prayer .

Next he visited the biggest Christian church of the city. He was in the church when the time for the afternoon prayer came.

“You may say your prayers in the church,” said the Bishop.

“No,” replied Omar, “if I do so, the Muslims may one day make this an excuse for taking over the church from you.”

So he said his prayers on the steps of the church. Even then, he gave the Bishop a writing. It said that the steps were never to be used for congregational prayers nor was the Adhan [ call to prayer ] to be said there.

This story can be found, unreferenced, in all sorts of places online in various forms.  But none of them give a reference!  And that is always a worrying sign.

A Wikipedia article references Gibbon (vol. 6, p.321 of the 1862 edition, which I find is online here). 

When he came within sight of Jerusalem, the caliph cried with a loud voice, ” God is victorious: ” O Lord, give us an easy conquest!” and, pitching his tent of coarse hair, calmly seated himself on the ground. After signing the capitulation, he entered the city without fear or precaution, and courteously discoursed with the patriarch concerning its religious antiquities. Sophronius bowed before his new master, and secretly muttered, in the words of Daniel, ” The abomination of desolation ” is in the holy place.” At the hour of prayer they stood together in the church of the Resurrection; but the caliph refused to perform his devotions, and contented himself with praying on the steps of the church of Constantine. To the patriarch he disclosed his prudent and honourable motive. ” Had I yielded,” said Omar, ” to your request, the Moslems of a future age would have infringed the treaty under colour of imitating my example.” By his command the ground of the temple of Solomon was prepared for the foundation of a mosch; and, during a residence of ten days, he regulated the present and future state of his Syrian conquests.

That book gives no reference for the remarks of Omar, tho.

A Google books hunt for the same subject brings up Sulayman Bashir, Studies in early Islamic tradition, p.78,  here, who references the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Eutychius, Annals, “II, 17-19”.  Glancing at the Italian translation of this (p.336), I find that it does indeed say something of the sort.  Gibbon had access to Eutychius, in Pococke’s Latin version, so that is probably his source.  So what does Eutychius say?

7.  `Umar ibn al-Khattab then wrote to `Amr ibn al-`As to go with his army into Palestine, saying among other things: “I have appointed as governor of Damascus Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, Sarhabil (75) Hasan ibn as governor of the territory of Jordan, and Abu `Ubayd ibn al-Garrah as governor of Homs.” `Amr ibn al-`As departed then for Palestine, Sarhabil (75) into the territories of Jordan, and Abu `Ubayd ibn al-Garrah to Ba`albik (77).

/The people of Ba`albik / said: “We have no objection to make a treaty of friendship with you in the same way as the people of Damascus have done.” He gave them his promise in writing and left for Homs. The inhabitants of Aleppo and all the /other/ cities asked him for the same promise in writing. Then came the news to the Muslims of the arrival of `Umar ibn al-Khattab. Abu `Ubayd ibn al-Garrah left the command of his men to `Iyas ibn Ghanm (78); Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan left with Mu`awiya ibn Abf Sufyan, `Amr ibn al-`As and his son `Abd Allah, and they met with `Umar ibn al-Khattab. Then they all went to Jerusalem (79) and besieged it.

Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, then went to `Umar ibn al-Khattab. `Umar ibn al-Khattab granted him his protection, and wrote them a letter which stated that: “In the name of God, the gracious and merciful. From `Umar ibn al-Khattab to the inhabitants of the city of Aelia (80). He granted them a guarantee of their persons, their children, their property and their churches because this /last/ are not to be destroyed nor reduced to places of residence” and swore this in the name of Allah.

When the gate of the city was opened and he entered with his men, `Umar went to sit in the courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection. When it was time for prayer, he said to the patriarch Sophronius: “I would like to pray.”

The patriarch replied: “O prince of believers, pray where you are.”

“I will not pray here,” said `Umar.

Then the patriarch introduced him to the Church of Constantine and commanded a mat to be spread in the middle of the church. But `Umar said: “No, I will not pray here either.”

`Umar came out and walked to the steps that led up to the door of the church of St. Constantine, on the eastern side. He prayed alone on the steps, then sat down and told the patriarch Sophronius: “Do you know, O patriarch, why I have not prayed in the church?”

The Patriarch replied: “I do not really know, O prince of the believers.”

“If I had prayed in the church,” replied ‘Umar, “you would have been removed and you would have lost possession, because on my departure the Muslims would have taken it saying in chorus: ‘Here `Umar prayed.’  Let me take a sheet of paper and you write a ‘charter’ (81).”

`Umar then wrote a ‘charter’ requiring that no Muslim should pray on the steps, not one nor many, and that no ritual prayer should be held there or the muezzin go up there. He wrote a ‘charter’ and gave it to the patriarch. Then `Umar said:

“I am a debtor for the lives and property that I have given. Come, give me a place where a mosque can be built. “

The Patriarch said: “Give the prince of the believers a place where he can raise a temple where the king of the Romans has not been able to build. This place is the rock upon which God spoke to Jacob and Jacob called the “gate of heaven” (82); the children of Israel called it “Sancta Sactorum” and it is at the center of the earth. It was previously the temple of the children of Israel, who have always magnified it, and every time they prayed anywhere they turned their faces toward it. This place I will give you, provided you write me a ‘charter’ that no other mosque will be built in Jerusalem than this.”

It’s worth remembering that this is written three centuries later.   I don’t know what sources Eutychius had, but the whole thing sounds to me a little like a self-serving legend, designed to protect the Christians from Moslem attacks in that difficult period which precipitated the Crusades.

But who knows?  It would be interesting to know what Moslem sources say.

Getting Al-Makin online

I received an interesting email this morning:

Arabic manuscript of Elmacin’s history

Dear Sir,

My search for Elmacin led me to your most interesting blog, namely to this post.

I am working on a translation of Edward William Lane’s Description of Egypt [into Arabic], and he quotes Elmacin. I’ll of course need to use Elmacin’s Arabic original instead of translating back which as you can see is not a preferable option.

Would please share with me any digitized versions you may have?

It is extremely frustrating to decline such requests.  But of course the PDF’s of manuscripts that I have are all supposedly copyright of this library or that, and I can’t give them away to all and sundry, much as I would like to.

What we need, perhaps, is to create an electronic text that can be freely available.  Does anyone have any ideas of how we might get one of these manuscripts transcribed?

Abu’l Makarem online?

The NASCAS list for Arabic Christian scholars contains this interesting note:

Since we discussed the work of Abu al-Makarim (Tarikh al-kana’is wa-l-adyira) a while ago, I thought you might be interested in the following website of the Dayr al-Suryan in Egypt, where the book (4 vols.) is downloadable, together with much other useful material.

This is indeed a vast collection of books.  But … can some kind person who knows Arabic point me to the 4 volumes of Abu’l Makarem?

One useful trick — the links may be in Arabic, but if you hover over them, the links displayed at the bottom of internet explorer are in English!  This I find this link for manuscripts.

The monastery is of course Deir al-Suryani, the famous source of all those Syriac books brought to the UK in the 1840’s by Henry Tattam.  It is wonderful to find their website, and that they are still disseminating knowledge!