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!


More on Abu’l Makarim

evettsIt’s been a while since I wrote about the 13th century Arabic Christian history once ascribed to Abu Salih the Armenian and today to Abu’l Makarim.  But a friend has sent me a new article on the subject, by Mouton and Papescu-Belis, in Arabica 53, p. (2006), which discusses the unique manuscript.

B.T.A.Evetts in 1895 published part of this text from Paris Arabe 307 with an English translation.  Coptic monk and bishop Fr. Samuel published the rest in 1984 in four volumes.  His manuscript is now Munich Arabicus 2570, in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.  An English translation of the new material, undertaken by a collaborator, is apparently not that reliable.  But Fr. Samuel’s own corrections are in the main sound.

The combined manuscript was originally 365 folios in length, disposed into 37 quires.  The first 21 quires are in the Munich ms, and the last 16 in the Paris ms.  The two quires 21 and 22, where the manuscript was broken in half, are mostly missing as the leaves became detached.  The manuscript seems to have been written in 1338 AD (explicitly stated in the Paris ms.); the work itself refers to no event later than 1220.  It is possible that later events were written by a continuator.

The Munich ms. contains descriptions of monasteries and churches in the north of Egypt, as far as Cairo; then those of the Near-East.  The Paris ms. contains the same material for Egypt south of Cairo, into Nubia, and the rest of Africa.

The remainder of the article discusses the description of the monastery of Mt. Sinai and its environs at the period of composition.


Samuel al-Suryani

While I was looking at the medieval Coptic history attributed to Abu Salih and in reality by Abu’l Makarim, I came across the publication of this work, complete, in four volumes by an Egyptian monk, Samuel al-Suryani.  I haven’t ever managed to set eyes on a copy. 

Fr. Samuel went on to become a bishop, and is now deceased.  This was all I knew of him.

But an email brings me more details on his life. 

UPDATE: Apparently this information relates to a different bishop Samuel!  My apologies for the misinformation.  See attached comment.

It seems that he was killed during the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt in 1981.  A prominent figure, he was on the dais with the president at the time, and died from a grenade.

There is a detailed Evening News Obituary online, which outlines his life.  It seems that he nearly became Coptic patriarch.  There is also a book mention.

It’s worth remembering that Coptic Christianity and scholarship takes place against a background of constant violence.  I do wish, tho, that Coptic publications were more easily accessible!


Is this the title page of Abu’l Makarem?

Sometimes it is a pain not knowing Arabic, and this is one of those times.  Below is a page from a PDF which has reached me, containing a file named “abu.makarim_tarikh.i.pdf”.  The book is entirely in Arabic, in a directory labelled “Christian Arabic”, and has a picture of a Coptic bishop at the front.  It is 125 pages long.  So… what is it?

Some people will remember my interest in the Coptic-Arabic history of “Abu Salih”, or Abu’l Makarem as it turns out to be.  One portion was published with an English translation; another third has been published in Arabic; and a final chunk remains unpublished.  Is this PDF part of the Arabic portion, I wonder?

Can anyone tell me what the page says?  (Click on the image for the full size image).

Page from unknown PDF
Page from unknown PDF

From my diary – Cambridge

Sunshine this morning, so I clambered into my car and drove up the A14 to Cambridge.  Only one broken down lorry at Sproughton to delay traffic – police coned off one lane, causing tailbacks.  More noticeable is the atrocious state of the roads, worn threadbare and rutted with lack of maintenance.  I drive on past Cambridge to the M11 junction, drop down towards London two junctions, and come off with the tower of the University Library in sight.  Then a drive through fields, then along a leafy road or two between agreeable large houses of the early twentieth century, down to West Road and into the car park where I even manage to find a space.  Normally I have to park by the side of the road!

Into the library, swiping my card as I go to operate the turnstyle.  Up to the catalogue room, and a search for Le Monde Copte sends me to South Wing Floor 3.  A look at the article tells me that it is of little interest.  Down to the machine room on the ground floor to look for Bishop Samuel al Suryani’s edition or translation of Abu Makarim; in vain.  The Newton catalogue behaves erratically, as ever, refusing to give results that I know it has.  But I do find an entry for “Tawaḍrūs, Ṣamūʾīl, 1911-” as author of a “Guide to ancient Coptic churches & monasteries in Upper Egypt / by Samuel al Syriany, Badii Habib”, 1990.  Seems to be Arabic language, tho.

The university library building is well designed, built of brick and obviously intended to resemble an Italian palazzo, or so the architects model in the foyer indicates.  I suspect the university was less impressed by the somewhat forbidding appearance that they actually got.  Gothic is the only style that looks good in the rain, in my experience.

I still have a bunch of books rejected in Oxford in the boot of my car.  I wonder if Oxfam in Cambridge will take them and find homes for them?  But it is quite a way from the library on foot into town!


Some answers on the confusing History of Abu al-Makarim / Abu Salih

I’ve now read the article by Ugo Zanetti, “Abu-l Makarim et Abu Salih”, Bulletin de la societe d’archeologie copte 34 (1995), pp.85-138, which seems pretty thorough on all the confusing information around.  Rather than leave my questions hanging, I thought I would answer it myself for the benefit of those reading and not as obsessed as myself!

There are two, and only two manuscripts; Paris arabe 307, and Munich ar. 2570.  The latter once belonged to Girgis Filutaus (who was Rector of the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo), but arrived in Europe a couple of decades ago, in a very bad state.

Evetts published the Paris ms in 1898, with an English translation.  This is missing the introduction, but ends with a colophon.

Fr. Samuel published the Munich ms (then still in Egypt), and used a modern copy of the Paris ms. in the Coptic Museum.  His edition was in 4 parts, part 4 being indexes etc.  Part 1 and 3 were from the Munich ms; part 2 from the Paris ms, where he improves somewhat on Evetts edition.

Zanetti analysed the two mss codicologically and found that they were originally a single manuscript, which was dismembered centuries ago, before the Paris ms was bought in Egypt during the 17th century.  The Munich ms. is the start of the ms. and should be followed by the Paris ms.  So the correct order of the parts in Samuel should be part 1, part 3, and then part 2.  (Samuel was misled by the hand of the scribe, which changes part way through the ms and then changes back, and by the fact that he didn’t have access to more than photographs of the Paris ms.)

An English translation exists of part 1 (only) of Samuel’s edition.  This is

Bishop Samuel, “Abu al Makarem”. Trans<lated> by Mina al-Shamaa`.  Rev. by Mrs. Elizabeth (= “History of the Churches and Monasteries in Lower Egypt in the 13th century”), Cairo, Inst. des. Etudes Coptes (Anba Ruwais), 1992.

It also includes some maps and an index. A copy exists in the US Library of Congress.

So no translation exists of part 3 (i.e. the middle part of the work).


Copts in literature from ancient times to the present

Christianity came early to Egypt. The distance from Jerusalem is not great, and the substantial Jewish community in Alexandria must have provided fertile ground for early missionaries. But for the first couple of centuries there is relatively little literary material, even though the discoveries of papyri at Oxyrhynchus indicate the presence of Christians. Clement of Alexandria at the end of the second century witnesses to the substantial Christian community; Origen in the third century does likewise. In this way the Egyptian church comes into being, and has continued to exist to this day. Its roots in the native population led to Coptic being its language.

The historical sources for Christianity in Egypt are not as numerous as might be desired.  There is the mighty History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, first compiled supposedly by the 10th century bishop Severus of al-Ashmunein, or Sawirus ibn Mukaffa` as he is in Arabic.  This runs from the time of St. Mark, down to the modern era, and the notices are often contemporary, and vivid.  The length account of the reign of Cyril III Ibn Laqlaq will illuminate any discussion of modern Palestine, as the writer grapples with regular Western — ‘Frankish’ — incursions into the region.  The vulnerability of the Christians to Moslem attack, even in time of peace under very tolerant Sultans, is visible throughout.

Unfortunately the history withered in the later Middle Ages, and notices from that period down to the 19th century are perfunctory.  The size of the book, even so, can be gauged by the fact that it fills four fascicles of the Patrologia Orientalis, and a further 8 similar sized fascicles in the Cairo continued translation.  All this material is now in Arabic, but some was originally in Coptic.  All of it is online in English here and here.

Beyond that there seem to be few sources.  The other source is the history of which part was published by B.T.A.Evetts as the Churches and Monasteries of Egypt and some neighbouring countries, ascribed to Abu Salih, and which is really by Abu al-Makarim  This portion is online here.  But the work is actually a history, which happens to include sections on churches and monasteries.  I have been writing about this important 13th century source, since I discovered the existence of the whole work in an Arabic edition by Bishop Samuel al-Suryani.  I hope to discover whether an English translation of the whole exists; it seems that the Bishop may have translated at least some of it.

These histories give us a window into the Egyptian church in ancient times, after the ending of our standard histories — Eusebius, Sozomen, Socrates and Evagrius Scholasticus.  The schisms of the 5th century and the collapse of Roman society mean that our knowledge of what happened there tends to be sketchy.  These sources can rectify this, if we let them.  They will tell us what it was like to live under Islam; and how doing so tended to corrupt senior clergymen.

Accounts of 20th century Coptic Christianity seem to be patchy.  A really good book, aimed at the western Christian, does not seem to exist.  Yet Christianity remains strong in Egypt even today, in a situation very like that of the times of Ibn Laqlaq.  The Sunday School movement of the early 20th century has led to a renewal among the Copts.  Coptic Orthodox monasticism is thriving, and monasteries are being reopened.  Interest in Coptic studies is increasing all the time.  Islamic violence — malevolent, yet somehow feeble — remains a problem, as it has done for centuries.  But a true picture of what God has been doing among the Copts has never reached me.  I wish there was one!

(This post has been written to give some context on my posts on Coptic and Egyptian Arabic Literature to the general visitor, who might otherwise find himself wondering just why anyone cares about some bloke named Abu al-Makarim!)


English translation of the Coptic history of Al-Makarim?

The medieval coptic history attributed to Abu Salih by the first editor, B.T.A. Evetts, was published in a complete form by Bishop Samuel al-Suriani in Egypt, in five parts and two volumes.  I learn today that he may also have completed an English translation, available from the St. Shenouda Center in the USA.  Their bookstore is here.  Unfortunately the details I have are infuriatingly vague, as are the details on that page.  I wonder if it is true?  If it is complete?

Pity it isn’t online, if so.