Al-Makin in prison

The Diez article on the 13th century Arabic Christian historian, al-Makin ibn Amid, contains an interesting anecdote from the historian’s life:

A second obscure point in the life of Ibn Amid concerns the period of the attempted Mongol invasion of Syria.  The functionary, who was then at Damascus, was accused of being in contact with the Mongols in order to reveal the secrets of the Mameluke army.  He was therefore thrown in prison in 1261 AD by order of the sultan Baibars, and remained there for more than ten years, before being liberated by the payment of a fine.  The biographer Ibn al-Suqa`i (and al-Safadi with him) attributes his detention to the slander of some envious envious scribe, while a Moslem contemporary, the sheikh Ghazi ibn al-Wasiti, cites the case of Ibn al-Amid as proof of the bad faith of the “dhimmis” which, in his opinion, shows that “it is necessary to seize the goods of the Christians, their wives and their lives, and to leave on the face of the earth neither Christian nor Jew.”

Interestingly the work by Ghazi ibn al-Wasiti exists in English, translated by Richard Gottheil[1]  Let us give Gottheil’s translation:

In the days of the Sultan al-Malik al-Thahir, a lot of sincere Moslems from the country of the Tartars told him that al-Makin ibn al-‘Amid, the Secretary of War, was corresponding with Hulagu in reference to the Egyptian army, its men and its commanders.  Al-Malik al-Thahir had him seized, with the intention of having him put to death. His condition was much worse than that of those who were governed by Christian Emirs-he was confined in prison for more than eleven years. Then, through payments of money, his release was effected. In order to put through this release, it was considered proper by Moslems to seize the property of Christians, their wives and their very lives. In the end, not a single Christian and not a single Jew remained in the land.

The work is well worth reading for a series of anecdotes on Moslem-Christian relations in the Moslem states.

  1. [1]R. Gottheil, “An answer to the Dhimmis”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 41 (1921), 383-457, esp. 410.  JSTOR.

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.


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?


State of the al-Makin project

Back 1971 Shlomo Pines published a strange version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus, where Josephus mentions Christ.   This came from the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Agapius, whose history I have translated and placed online.  But in fact the sole manuscript of part 2 of Agapius, which refers to Josephus, does NOT contain the text that Pines published.  This text is a reconstruction, using portions of text from the 13th century Arabic Christian historian al-Makin or Elmacinus, also known as ibn Amid.  Pines believed that these preserved portions of the text of Agapius lost in translation.

There are five big Arabic Christian histories; Agapius, Eutychius, Bar Hebraeus, al-Makin, and one which I can never remember [Yahya ibn Said al-Antaki].  But no edition or translation exists of al-Makin.  The second half — from the start of the Moslem period — was published and translated into Latin back in the 17th century.  The end portion of the chronicle, which deals with Saladin and his dynasty, was not present in the manuscript used then, but has been published recently with French translation.

An email this morning asked me the state of this project.  I’m not actively progressing it.  But I have obtained reproductions of two manuscripts, and the second half of a third.  I have a partial list of chapters of the first part from one of them.  And I have three translators, all of whom would be competent to work on the text.

As with so much in this life, all we need is money.  Maybe next year, when the downturn eases.


Vatican ms orders received

On May 19th I ordered reproductions of two manuscripts of the unpublished Arabic Christian historian al-Makin from the Vatican.  I didn’t receive any acknowledgement, so wasn’t expecting much.  Anyhow a UPS man arrived a few minutes ago, bearing a parcel.  So it took just under 7 weeks to get, from posting the order to now.  That’s really not too bad.

Less good is the payment arrangements.  They’ve sent me an invoice, which has an international bank account number (IBAN) and a SWIFT number on it, so I can do a bank-to-bank transfer.  These are marvellously expensive things to do from the UK (because the banks rip you off).  There seems no facility to do a credit card payment.

The images arrived as two PDF’s  — which is good.  The images are scanned from black-and-white (not even monochrome) microfilm — which is terrible.   The consumer really should be protected from this rip-off racket of selling substandard images at very premium prices.  The price for the two mss. was 215 euros; the charge for postage and packing was 15 euros; quite a bit for 43Mb of data, which could perfectly well have been made available for download. 

Of course the library is profiteering pretty heavily here.  The microfilms already existed, so to produce these PDF’s required them to load them in a microfilm scanner, hit “scan”, and go and have a coffee.  200 euros for a trivial bit of work; nice if you can get it, eh?

I was amused to find a “copyright” notice included.  This is almost certainly fraudulent, as ever; these images cannot be considered creative works of art!  Only in the UK could this even possibly be in copyright, because of the foolish wording of the law in this country.

Still, the failings of this service are historic and traditional; the advantages of it are all new, and I think we may expect radical improvements in service.  Everyone will expect better quality, and we may hope to get it.

UPDATE: I discovered by chance that HSBC customers can do their own international transfers from their online system, at a price of 9 GBP; far cheaper than Lloyds TSB at 15 GBP, etc.  So that’s the way to do it, if you have such an account.


Ordering from the Vatican library

I’ve never ordered anything from the Vatican library, so this note is for those who have thought about it but never got around to it.

Today I’ve downloaded the PDF order form from here and posted it off, with an order for PDF’s of microfilms (! — all I can afford) of two Vatican mss. of the unpublished history of the Arabic Christian writer Al-Makin.

I’ve ordered a copy of Ms. Vatican Arab 169 (which I mentioned here when discussing complete copies), and, for good measure, a copy of Ms. Vatican Arab 168 (which from this post contains the first half).  I am nervous, tho, that the description in Graf says that the former is folios 1-194r; i.e. around 400 pages, which doesn’t look long enough to me to contain the complete work.  Let’s hope I’m wrong.

The order form is simple and obvious — one of the better examples I’ve seen — and in English.  They intend to do it online, which they indeed should, but the website isn’t quite ready. 

Prices are listed on the form, and are 50 euros for 100 pages, then 20 euros for each chunk of 100 pages thereafter.   Payment is on delivery, apparently; I hope they take credit cards!

I will keep you posted on how this goes, and how easy they are to deal with.


Bibliotheque National Francais – more bloodsucking

Very angry this morning with the BNF.   They’ve just demanded $30 per page for a copy of two manuscripts. 

People will recall that I ordered reproductions of these two mss from them.  They charged me $400 — a huge, bloodsucking sum, enough to win them the March 2009 Bloodsucker award.  What arrived was some incredibly cheap and nasty scans of a microfilm!!! (I nearly typed “scams” instead of “scans” – maybe I was right first time!)  Worse, the results were actually unusable, because the ends of the lines were blacked out.

Their reaction was to offer me a refund!  They don’t seem to grasp that what scholars need is copies.  As far as they are concerned, they’re just selling products.

I’ve written them a courteous but angry email.  What all this means is that I cannot obtain a reproduction of those mss.   I’m trying to get work done on al-Makin, and simply can’t obtain the manuscripts to do so!

Still, with initiatives like the Virtual Manuscript Room, soon we will all look back at this exhibition of irresponsible greed and shake our heads.


Manuscripts of the history of al-Makin

The 13th century Arabic Christian chronicle of George Al-Makin or Ibn Amid has never been published in full, or translated into any other language.  However it contains a version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum, based on that in Agapius.  Some access to this text is desirable, therefore.  It’s a big text, in two halves.  The first need is to get hold of copies of manuscripts.

This has drawn my attention before.  I ended up ordering copies from a Paris manuscript, which cost a lot and turned out to be wretchedly poor quality; too poor to be usable.  I’ve gone back to them, and we’ll see if they will send me something useful.

In the meantime a scholarly friend has been going through this, listing the sections and how long they are, so that we can get an idea of contents.  The poor state of the Paris microfilm has become very apparent during this process.

According to Georg Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. 2, p. 349, the following manuscripts exist of the first half:

  • Vatican arab. 168 (16th c.).  215 folios.
  • Borg. ar. 232 (in Karshuni, 1659 AD)
  • Paris ar. 294 (14th century) – of which I received so poor a copy at so very high a price
  • Paris ar. 4524 (1672 AD; “sehr fehlerhaft”)
  • Paris ar. 4729 (19th century). 176 folios.
  • Bodleian ar.683 (Pococke 312 = DCLXXXIII).  170 folios.  AD 1591.  Catalogued here.
  • Bodleian ar.773.
  • Bodleian ar.789.
  • Gotha ar. 1557 (karshuni, 1661 AD)
  • Breslau, Stadtbibliothek ar. 18 (ca. 1270 AD) – Graf leaves it unclear whether this is merely extracts of two lives.
  • Munich ar. 376, by the same copyist as the Oxford ms.
  • Vienna or. 884.
  • St. Petersburg or. 112 (1672)
  • Cairo 572 (1685)
  • Coptic patriarchate 1103, 1 (1876)
  • Sarfeh syr. 16/4 (karshuni)
  • Sbath 1938 (13th century) but only pp. 155-168 so is an extract.

Manuscripts exist of the second half, as does a printed text, Thomas Erpenius Historia Saracenica (1625) with Latin translation.

  • Paris ar. 295 (1854) breaks off at 1023 AD – I got a somewhat better microfilm of this.
  • British Library ar. 282, I (17th century)
  • Bodleian ar. (Uri) 715, 735.
  • Leiden or. 758
  • Leipzig university or. 643 (17th century), containing fragments on 1123-1259 AD.
  • Beirut 6 and 7 (18th century)
  • St. Petersburg As. Mus. ar. 161 (but probably copied from Erpenius, as several other copies are)

I need to have another go at getting manuscript copies from the Vatican. Last time my email was ignored.  I don’t know that the Bodleian has changed its policy of charging the customer vast prices for full-colour images, but only supplying him low-grade monochrome derivatives.  Being poor, such a policy amounts to prohibiting access.  But it may be possible to obtain images from some of the other institutions.

Isn’t it odd, what a struggle it is to just obtain access?

UPDATE (16th Dec. 2013).  I have added some notes from Martino Diez, “Les antiquities greco-romaines entre al-Makin ibn al-`Amid et ibn Khaldun”, Studia Graeco-Arabica, 3, (2013) 121-140.


Asterix, manuscripts, and the Bibliothèque Nationale Français

In Asterix and the Normans, the Gauls encounter the Normans, who know no fear but would like to.  They are invited to listen to the village bard, the aptly named Cacafonix.  After his first number, the Normans look pained.  “By Thor!” says one; “By Odin!” another; “Bite on the bullet!” says a third.  A few more numbers, and they run!  Recommended, actually, this one.

What brought this on, I hear you cry?  Well, I want to get images of a manuscript of the History of the Arabic Christian historian, Al-Makin.  The British Library let me down when I ordered some from them, so I’ve asked the BNF in Paris for help.  The invoice arrived today.  For Ms. Arabe 294 and 295, total number of pages 648, the price is going to be…. 234 euros!  OUCH!

I’ve paid it anyway.  I have to have it to progress.  But this is serious money.  Each page costs 26c from the first ms and (mysteriously) 36c from the second.  But of course it hardly costs that much to make these copies. It certainly doesn’t cost a different amount for each of the two halves! Greed, I fear, is responsible for this bill. And all these images, I suspect, will be low quality monochrome. It’s enough to make any digital camera owner spit!

I know that I have banged on about this before, but this is serious stuff.  The medieval manuscripts are the raw stuff of scholarship on all ancient texts.  If we can’t access the dratted things — and a bill of 234 euros per manuscript is no different to refusing access, for most people — then we can’t work.  This is particularly bad for unpublished texts, which means most of Arabic Christian and Syriac and Armenian and…

The fact is that these institutions are making money off this.  Come on, you scholars; clamp down on it!


Getting hold of manuscripts of the Arabic historian Al-Makin

We all know that Shlomo Pines published an exotic version of the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus, telling of the events of the life of Christ.  This he tells us he got from the 10th century Arabic Christian historian, Agapius.  But on closer reading, he says that he reconstructed the text of Agapius at this point using the 13th century Arabic Christian historian Girgis Al-Makin (George Elmacin).  This hasn’t ever been published, never mind translated. 

The text is in two halves, according to Georg Graf’s handbook, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur vol. 2, p.348-351.  The first half covers history to the reign of Heraclius, divided into 120 sections on ‘important people’.  The second half covers history from the Arab invasions to his own time.

I’d like to get a copy of a manuscript of this work, and see if I can get the portion on Jesus translated.   Graf tells us that there is a manuscript in the Vatican (Vat. ar. 169, 1686 AD, on ff. 1r-194r); another in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Bodl. ar. christ. Nicoll. 47, 1 & 2 = Bodl. 316, 1646 AD), which also has a handwritten Latin translation of the end of part 1 and all of part 2; another in the British Library (or. 7564, AD 1280); another in Manchester (ar. 239, 18th century, but incomplete and breaking off at 1118/9 AD); another in Cairo (Coptic Museum Hist. 266, AD 1893); yet another in Cairo (Coptic Patriarchate Hist. 17, 18th century); one in the Sbath collection wherever that is now (Fihris 80 & 81); and finally one somewhere in the Orthodox Library in Aleppo between the wars, mentioned by L. Cheiko.

That sounds a lot – eight copies.  But the Vatican library is closed, and emails are being ignored.  The Bodleian is going through a greedy-nasty phase, and wants me to pay some enormous sum so they can make colour images for themselves but only supply low-grade monochrome images to me.  The microfilm of the British Library manuscript only covers part 2, and the leaves are said to be disarranged anyway.  The John Rylands Library in Manchester also demanded some huge and prohibitive sum for their partial manuscript.  Manuscripts in Cairo are inaccessible; a set of microfilms in the USA likewise, for practical purposes.  The location of the other two is really unknown.

Here we are in 2009; yet a researcher can’t get a copy of stuff held by state institutions.  This is a ridiculous situation, surely?

There are also manuscript copies of each half.  Perhaps the answer is to obtain some of these.  There are three of part 1 in Paris, for instance, and it should be possible to obtain copies, I would have thought. 

PS: The great thing about the Bibliotheque Nationale Francais is that they have scanned their catalogues and put them online.  A quick search, and I find that Mss. Arab. 294 and 295 should cover the whole text.  294 is 250+ folios in length, tho.  Less good is the prices demanded for colour digital images, which are basically free to make.  The prices are prohibitive, which is very silly.  I’ve been driven to ask for a duplicate of a microfilm in PDF form, for which they will charge 50 euros each (!).  Even that is a ridiculous price for what basically costs half an hour of staff time.  When will this ceaseless greed stop?