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.

A bit more of Abu Qurra

I thought that I would translate a little more from this text:

3.  I left these people, and then Samaritans approached me, saying: “Do not pay attention to these people, but come to us, because nobody is right outside of us. We are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the friends of God, the God of heaven and earth. He had promised our fathers that, he would save their offspring from the land of Egypt, and give them the land of Palestine as their inheritance.  He did this by the intermediary of the prophet Moses.

“God sent him to Pharaoh, and struck [Pharaoh], as well as the people of Egypt, with the well-known signs and wonders.  By force he helped our fathers escape from the hand of Pharaoh; he parted the sea for them; he drowned Pharaoh and his armies there.

“He led our fathers into the wilderness and fed them manna and quails.  He made water burst out of a rock for them.  He gave them the Law of God, which determines for them what is allowed and what is not.  He slew the Philistines and gave their land to our fathers, whose children until today we are.

“So long as we remain faithful to him in keeping the Law, he pours on us his blessings.  But when we resist him, he chastises us, and afflicts us in this world.  Those of us who do good have a prosperous life in this world, those who do ill encounter misfortune.  And when we leave this world, we perish forever.  There is no resurrection.”

Hmm.  Nothing in this suggests a real, contemporary encounter with Samaritans, does it?

4.  I left these people, and at once was approached by Jews who said, “Do not pay attention to those individuals, and don’t join them because they are in error.

“What they said to you, that God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Joseph, the promise that He made them about their descendants, the sending by Him of Moses, and that he brought [our fathers] out of Egypt in order to bring them into the land of Canaan, all that is true, so it happened indeed.

“But when they claim to be the descendants of Abraham and of Israel, they are liars.  They are really the sons of the Mazdaeans, and as for the descendants of Abraham and Israel, that’s us!  Truly God gave the land of Israel as an inheritance  to our fathers, where they have resided for 1500 years in unparalleled prosperity.  Then they sinned, and God was angered against them.  He delivered them into the hands of the nations, who deported them.

“But God promised our fathers to send us the messiah.  God will gather us from the ends of the earth into the land of Palestine, He will give us once again the dignity that we used to have, and we will dominate the nations.  He will also raise the dead and gather them with us.   He will command the earth, and it will bring forth bread already baked, for ever.

“God does not lie.  This word will be realised, and we are awaiting it.  Do not attach yourself to anyone else, because ours is the only religion!”

5.  I left these people, and then I was approached by the Christians.  “Do not be led astray,” they said, “by the speech of the Jews.  For God has sent the messiah of whom they speak, but they did not receive him.  So God is angry against them and has dispersed them to the far corners of the earth.  They are in perdition forever, and their hope is vain.

“But what you need is the religion of the messiah and his teaching: that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God; three persons, yet one in substance.

“This is the true religion that Christ, the Son of God, has given us in the gospel.  He has fixed in our favour what is allowed and not allowed.  He has promised to raise the dead, to reward those who do good with the heavenly kingdom, and to punish those who do evil by hell.  There is no true religion apart from ours; don’t let anyone abuse you!”