Anthony Alcock on Ptolemy and the LXX in Agapius

An interesting article from Anthony Alcock, translating the passage in the 10th century Arabic Christian historian Agapius which describes the creation of the Septuagint under Ptolemy.  It’s here:

Thank you, Dr Alcock!


A new translation of Agapius into Italian, plus the publication of two more pages of the text

A correspondent has drawn our attention to a rarity – a new translation of the Arabic Christian writer, Agapius of Hierapolis (or Mahbub ibn Qustantin, in the graceless phrase of that language).  It is a translation into Italian, by Bartolomeo Pirone, who translated Eutychius back in the 80s.  Here’s the front cover:


Bartolomeo Pirone, Agapio di Gerapoli: Storia universale, Edizioni Terra Santa (2013), series: Monographiae vol. 21.  Links:,, and the Italian site of the publishers.  The ISBN is 978-88-6240-164-7, it is 494 pages long, and available for around $50, which is quite a lot.

For anyone interested in Arabic Christian studies who knows Italian, this is probably a must-buy.  The histories that a language group write about themselves are always the first items to read.

It is now a few years since I converted the old French translation of Agapius into English, and placed it online.  The second half of the work exists in only a single, water-damaged manuscript in Florence, Ms. Laurenziana Or. 323.  A few years ago Robert Hoyland went to look at the manuscript, and discovered that it had been conserved, and two pages, previously stuck together, were now readable!  He published them with an English translation; and has now uploaded that to here.  Which is rather marvellous, really!


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.

Diez on al-Makin and the Testimonium Flavianum

Just a quick note to signal an important article: Martino Diez, “Les antiquites greco-romaines entre ibn al-`Amid et Ibn Khaldun. Notes pour une histoire de la tradition, in: Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 121-140 (Online here).  (In this and what follows, don’t presume I have every letter just correct: WordPress won’t allow me to!)

The abstract tells it all:

The Coptic Historian al-Makin Girgis ibn al-`Amid (1206 – after 1280) is the author of a universal history known as al-Magmu` al-Mubarak (‘The blessed collection’). This work is divided into two parts: a section on pre-Islamic history, still unpublished, and a summary of Islamic history, edited by Erpenius in 1625 and completed by Claude Cahen. The article analyzes the two recensions of the first part of the Magmu` through the comparison of three manuscripts, in particular as regards the sections on Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine history. After discussing the particular version of the Testimonium Flavianum which can be found in the longer recension of the Magmu`, the article traces the fortune of al-Makin in subsequent Islamic historiography, especially al-Qalqašandi, al-Maqrizi and Ibn Khaldun.

Al-Makin is the big unpublished Arabic Christian history.  His version of the Testimonium Flavianum in the first half of al-Makin’s work was referenced by Shlomo Pines in his well-known article on the subject, when discussing Agapius, but a look at the French translation of Agapius reveals that Pines must have used Al-Makin’s version extensively.

The article is in French, but promises to be very interesting!  Watch this space!

Update (16th Dec. 2013): I had not realised that the article was online.  I’ve added the link, and also corrected a typo in the title.


CSCO Agapius NOT the most recent edition!

Now here’s a surprise!  The Cheikho CSCO edition came out in 1912.  The PO edition came out starting in 1910 (PO5) 1911 (PO7) 1912 (PO8) and 1915 (PO11).  Even on the face of it, that means that the first fascicle — which covers the time of Jesus — was only just before the CSCO text.

But looking at the CSCO introduction, the first sentence tells us that the text was set up in type five years earlier — that is, in 1907.  Unspecified delays prevented printing until 1912.  So in fact the two editions are quite independent, as regards half of the text.

The introduction goes on by telling us that he must have known Greek letters, as well as Syriac and Arabic; that he must be a Melchite, since he acknowledges the council of Chalcedon and refers approvingly to the see of Rome.

Agapius alludes to the date when he was writing (p. 334 of the CSCO edition), as being the eighth month of 330 A.H. (i.e. AD 942).  Eutychius must precede him slightly, as the latter died at the end of Ragab, 328 AH (11th May 940 AD).  Both authors are mentioned by the Moslem author `Ali Ibn Husain al-Mas`udi (X, 957).

The CSCO text was published in Lebanon, and naturally made use of eastern copies.  For the first part of the work, it used a Bodleian Nicol. manuscript.  Cheikho knows of two more at Sinai, which he could not use.  He was able to use two mss in Beirut, both owned by the St. Joseph Catholic University.  The first, which he calls A, was bought at Emesa (Homs) and dates from the 16th century.  The second (B) was written in Lebanon in 1818.  A third ms. (C) was found in the seminary of the Syrian Patriarch at Scharfa, dating from 1662 AD.  A fourth written in 1882 he had seen in a monastery at Luaize in Lebanon, but this was already lost when he wrote.  A fifth manuscript — he doesn’t say if he used it — was in the Greek Patriarchal library of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 

All these, he says, are pretty much identical to the Oxford ms. and all end in the middle of the same sentence, apart from the Scharfa ms. which ends on fol. 104.  He used A and B, with bits of C.

For the second part, he had a photographic copy of the unique Florence manuscript.  He also made use of al-Makin from Paris ms. Arab. 294 — the one which I was sold a wretched  microfilm of — and printed the excerpts from Agapius from it at the end of his edition (which, drat it, I didn’t notice).


Searching for books; Origen, Agapius, and the Didache in Shenouda.

My trip to the University Library at Cambridge was successful, and they did let me in. I was able to get photocopies of the Baehrens GCS edition of Origen’s Homilies on Ezechiel.  Mind you, it cost 15c per page, which made it costly and prevented me from copying the whole volume.  I wish someone with borrowing privileges would scan all these early GCS editions — they’re all out of copyright.

I also took a look at the CSCO edition of Agapius, by L. Cheikho, from 1912.  I’m not all that impressed by this; if it is using al-Makin to supplement the text then it doesn’t really say so.  The apparatus seemed rather feeble to me.  It does seem to me that a modern critical edition of this text is required.  Modern technology such as multi-spectral imaging should allow the material that was illegible in those days to be read with relative ease.

Some time ago I discussed the Arabic life of the 4th century Coptic churchman Shenouda.  This is of interest because it contains, improbably, a version of the Didache.  It was printed with a French translation in several versions by Amelineau, over a century ago.  Unfortunately all of these are offline.  CUL did have the Vie de Schnoudi volume, but had consigned it to the dungeon which is the “rare books” department.  This means that you can’t photocopy it, which makes getting a copy difficult and costly.  However the version printed in the Monuments pour servir a l’histoire de l’Egypte…, t. IV, in 2 vols, was accessible and could be copied.  The text is found on pp. 289-478; which means photocopying over 150 pages, one page at a time.  However the format is Arabic at the top, French at the bottom, and there isn’t actually that much text on each page; less than in the Patrologia Orientalis editions. 

I would have photocopied this, but a call on my mobile cut short my visit, to attend to family business.  I’ll get a copy of this another day.

Wish it didn’t cost so much, tho.



Agapius almost ready

I’ve finished turning the French translation of the 10th century Arabic Christian historian Agapius into English, formatting it and so forth.  Only a couple of issues remain, but these are important.

People get interested in Agapius for two reasons only, in my experience.  The lesser reason is that he preserves a fragment of Papias not found elsewhere.  This undoubtedly comes from a Syriac version of some lost Greek chronicle.

The main reason is that Shlomo Pines quoted a version of the Testimonium Flavianum as from Agapius, which has since attracted a lot of attention.  Pines made his own translation, using the 1912 CSCO text. 

The passage is found in the second part of Agapius.  This is preserved only in a single damaged manuscript in Florence.  The manuscript breaks off in 776 AD, in the second year of the Caliph al-Mahdi; but the text originally continued to 941 AD.  Quotations from Agapius are found in the 13th century Arabic Christian historian al-Makin.  The CSCO text supplemented the text found in the Florence manuscript from al-Makin. 

Methodologically this seems unsound to me.  We all know that texts tend to grow in transmission, as marginal notes find their way into the text, and additional material gets added.  It would be most interesting to learn whether attention was paid to this.  Since no edition exists of al-Makin, it is rather hard to judge.  Unfortunately the CSCO edition did not come with a translation.  Let’s hope it has a non-Arabic introduction!

Either way I need to look directly at the CSCO edition, and give both passages a special treatment.  So I shall drive up to Cambridge tomorrow, and get copies of the relevant passages.   I think I will take a little digital camera with me and just photograph the pages — the photocopiers at the university library are a disgrace!


Agapius once more

Well that was a good day’s work; starting late morning, continuing this afternoon with a couple of breaks, and finishing now — I’ve translated the remainder of Agapius, some 38 pages.   The first draft of the whole work is done!  Frankly I am delighted.

Thankfully I had scanned the page images before I began, presumably whenever I scanned the last chunk.  Then I marked up the pages for scanning, corrected the OCR, and got a French text in an RTF file.  Then I ran it through a programme that split it into sentences.  I took the output and ran it through the machine translator.  Then input both the French and the English into another tool to interleave automatically the French and English sentences.  From there on, it was just a task of working through the file, making the English version correct, and removing the French as I did so.  I suppose it took, what, seven hours?  Hmm… that’s longer than I thought.

Not bad on a day when the outside temperature hit over 27C.

I’m done for today, now; the days when I could work to midnight on Friday and Saturday in order to work on the website are sadly behind me. 

The next stage, when I get some time, is to go through these files, add page numbers, correct awkwardnesses, check things, and so on.  That may be a couple of days work.  But we’re getting close to a free, online English version of Agapius! 


Agapius again

I have resumed work on turning the French translation of Agapius, published by A. Vasiliev in the Patrologia Orientalis, into English.  In fact I never totally halted on this, except when I was working at full speed on the Greek translator.  My work has no scholarly value, but there must be 2bn people who can read English and cannot read French, so I hope that making this freely available will promote interest in this text.

Long term readers will be aware that Agapius was a 10th century Arabic Christian writer, who has left us a world chronicle.  This is best known for supposedly containing a unique version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus; and also has a fragment of Papias not otherwise known.  His work is largely made up of material from earlier chroniclers, mostly Syriac and Byzantine.  The text was published in 600 pages of the PO, in four parts, all of which are now on  I have made a translation of parts 1, 3 and 4, and am halfway through part 2 at the moment *.  The current text is taken from legendary material about Alexander which circulated through the east.  In truth it is quite tedious, but I hope that easier access to this text will promote study of this material.

Here is a sample.  Alexander has just defeated the Indians by rolling red-hot brass elephants (with a coal furnace inside each) into the ranks of the enemy, who happen to be downhill.

The troops of Alexander pursued them in all directions and killed a very great number of them. After this the auxiliary troops of the king of China, agitated and drawn out, came to the king of India, with their tired beasts of burden. They halted in the camp of the Indians without movement or resources. Alexander, who was unaware of their situation, thought, after having seen their camp, that this was a trick on their part. So he gathered his philosophers and said to them: “You have already seen with which speed their reinforcements arrived and what a state of exhaustion we are in; [you see] that we have fewer resources than they do. Yesterday, at nightfall, we had massacred them and made them perish. But hardly has the day begun, and their army has returned more numerous than before. What is your opinion on this, our situation and our position?” While they were reflecting, the oldest of their philosophers said: “I believe that we must attack them and fight them next Tuesday.” However this opinion was pronounced on Wednesday, seven days before Tuesday.

In Agapius, Alexander is always hanging around after battles, and asking his philosophers what he should do next.  Of course the Arabic word using is probably hakeem; usually translated “doctor”, but often “philosopher”, and in any case a learned man of some sort, of the kind that might be met with in the Arabian nights in the Bazaar.  The word might even mean “magician” or “sorceror”, as Sinbad the Sailor found to his cost.  There is an Arabic correspondance of Alexander and Aristotle, in which the former seeks ways to defeat the Persians, and the latter advises him on spells and incantations to do so!

In a sense all this is tedious.  Yet in another sense it is salutary to be reminded that the rise of superstition in the west during the Dark Ages was paralleled also in the East, even without the barbarian invasions.

* Postscript: I was translating away and suddenly found myself at the end of the chunk.  I divided each part of Agapius into three chunks, you see, each of 50 pages.  So I have in fact completed two-thirds of part 2.  Only another 38 pages to go!