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).



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?


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.


Arabic gospel manuscripts

There is a two volume thesis by Hikmat Kashouh, The Arabic version of the gospel: the manuscripts and their families, accessible online at EthOS here (you have to create an account and do a rather silly ‘order’ but the PDF download is free, and the PDF is searchable).  This thesis was done in 2008 at the University of Birmingham; nice to see the Mingana collection getting some contemporary scholarly use!

The work looks like the starting point for some serious study of the Arabic translation of the gospels.  Interestingly it was sponsored by Christian groups the Langham Partnership International and St. John’s Church in Harbourne.

The thesis has developed into a book, being published by De Gruyter for a modest $377.  Details are here:

This book is concerned with the Arabic versions of the Gospels. It is an attempt to examine a substantial number of Arabic manuscripts which contain the continuous text of the canonical Gospels copied between the eighth and the nineteenth centuries and found in twenty-one different library collections in Europe and the Orient.

Following the introduction, Chapter Two presents the state of research from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present time. Chapter Three introduces and reflects on the two hundred plus manuscripts examined in this work. Chapters Four to Eight concentrate on grouping these manuscripts into twenty-four families and examining their Vorlagen (Greek, Syriac, Coptic and Latin). In order to examine the relationship between the families, phylogenetic software is used. Consequently, the manuscripts are grouped into seven different mega clusters or tribes. Finally the date of the first translation of the Gospels into Arabic is addressed and (a) provisional date(s) suggested based on the textual and linguistic analyses of the manuscripts.

The conclusion in Chapter Ten gives the overall contribution made by this thesis and also future avenues for the study of the Arabic versions of the Gospels.


Severian of Gabala in Arabic

Some materials by the 4th century bishop made their way into Arabic.  Here is what Georg Graf says.  German is not a language I find easy, but I have attempted a translation and placed it below.

92. Severianus, Bischof von Gabala (gest. nach 408).

1. Von seinem reichen Homilien schätz ist nichts vollständig in arabischer Uebertragung vererbt worden. Auch musste gerade in dem wenigen, was als Ausbeute aus seinen Schriften übrigblieb, sein Name demjenigen des von ihm angefeindeten, aber berühmteren Johannes Chrysostomus weichen, wie schon in der griechischen Ueberlieferung.

1. Of his many and popular homilies nothing has been transmitted in a complete form in Arabic. Also the very few portions that survived of his writings were not attributed to him, but to the more famous John Chrysostom, as already in the Greek tradition

Noch als Eigentum des Severian war dem Enzyklopädisten Abu’l-Barakät in seinem Katal. 648 (678) “das Buch Hexaemeron” (Kitäb aksimärus) bekannt; er führt es als einziges Werk von ihm an. Zweifelhaft aber ist, ob damit eine vollständige Uebersetzung der 6 Reden über die Erschaffung der Welt (P. gr. 56, 429-500) gemeint ist, von der wir keine Hs kennen, oder schon eine Neubearbeitung dieser Eeden zusätzlich einer siebenten, die mit dem griechischen Original nicht viel mehr als das Thema und einige gedankliche Anklänge gemein hat. — Die anderen, zu einer einzigen Homilie zusammengezogenen Auszüge können mit dem “Buch” des Abu’l-Barakät kaum zu identifizieren sein.

The encyclopedist Abu’l-Barakat in his Catalogue 648 (678) stated that “the book Hexaemeron” (Kitab aksīmārus) was known as being by Severian; he gives it as a single work by him. It is doubtful, however, whether a complete translation of the 6 speeches about the creation of the world (PG 56, 429-500) is meant, of which we know no manuscript, or instead a new edition of these discourses with a seventh, which have in common with the original Greek not much more than the subject, and some echoes of thought. – The latter, a collection of extracts from a single homily, is difficult to identify with the “book” of Abu’l-Barakat.

Die 7 Reden in Paris arabe 68 (J 1339), ff 36 r-67r tragen die Ueberschrift: “Aus den Worten (qaul) des Severianus (Name verstümmelt), Bischofs von Gabala, die er zur Erklärung der sechs Tage, in denen Gott den Himmel und die Erde erschuf, gesprochen hat, eine zusammengelesene Abhandlung (kaläm multaqat), Zeugnisse und feststehende Tatsachen (umür täbita?) für die, welche Erkenntnis wünschen”. Siehe Joh. Zellinger, Die Genesishomilien des Bischofs Severian von Gabala, Münster i. W. 1916, S. 17-19 mit Textproben aus der 7. Homilie in Uebersetzung. – Die “Homilie zur Erklärung der 6 Schöpfungstage” siehe oben bei Johannes Chrysostomus.

The 7 speeches in ms. Paris arabe 68 (J 1339), ff 36 r-67r bear the inscription: “From the words (qaul) of Severianus (name mutilated), Bishop of Gabala, which he spoke in explanation of the six days that God created the heavens and the earth, gathered into a treatise (multaqat Kala), with evidence and established facts (umür täbita?) for those who desire knowledge.” See Johannes Zellinger, Die Genesishomilien des Bischofs Severian von Gabala, Münster i. W., 1916, p. 17-19 with samples of the text of the 7th Homily in translation. – For the “homily to explain the 6 days of creation,” see above under John Chrysostom.

Die Homilie über den verfluchten und vertrockneten Feigenbaum ebd.

The homily on the cursed and withered fig-tree, likewise.

2. Unterschobene Homilien. – “Ueber die Erscheinung Gottes, unseres Erlösers, und seine Geburt aus der Jungfrau, aus dem Syrischen übersetzt von Gregorius, Oberen des Klosters Däfnünä in den Schwarzen Bergen”: Bairut 510, S. 500-509 (verschieden von Oratio in Dei apparitionem, P. gr. 65, 15-26). H. zum Mittwoch in der Karwoche: Borg, ar. 57 (J. 1739), ff. 135 v, 136 r. Kairo 170 (15. Jh.), ff. 53 v-54 v; kopt. und ar.; zum Karfreitag ebd. in 91 (17. Jh.).

2. Spurious homilies. – “On the epiphany of God our saviour and his birth from the Virgin, translated from the Syriac by Gregorius, Superior of the Abbey of Däfnünä in the Black Mountains”: Beirut 510, p. 500-509 (different to the Oratio in Dei apparitionem, PG 65, 15-26). Homily on Holy Wednesday: Borg, ar. 57 (1739 AD), ff. 135v, 136r. Cairo 170 (15th c.), ff. 53 v-54v; Copt. and Ar.; on Good Friday likewise in 91 (17th c.).

Lobrede auf die Apostel zum 6. hatür, aus dem Koptischen übersetzt: Vat. ar. 536 (15. Jh.), ff. 1 r-32 r. Kairo 717 (J. 1358), ff. 115 v- 130 v. – Eine unbestimmte Rede: Sin. ar. 423, 3 (J. 1626x).

A panegyric on the apostle on the 6th Hatur, translated from the Coptic: Vat. ar. 536 (15th c.), ff. 1 r-32 r. Cairo 717 (1358 AD), ff. 115v- 130v. — A sermon of indefinite content: Sin. ar. 423, 3 (1626 AD).

3. Zwei Scholien zu Mt 25,31-26, 5 in der koptisch-arabischen Evangelien-Katene: Vat. ar. 452, f. 119 r; 410, ff. 98r-99v. – Ein dem Cyrillus von Alexandrien (De recta fide ad reginas) entnommenes Zitat unter dem Namen des Severian im Florileg B. V. 76, siehe dort; J. Zellinger, Studien zu Severian von Gabala, Münster i. W. 1926, S. 118 f.

3. Two scholia on Mt 25:31-26:5, in the Coptic-Arabic gospel catena: Vat. ar. 452, f. 119 r; 410, ff. 98r-99v. — A citation from Cyril of Alexandria (De recta fide ad reginas) appears under the name of Severian in the Florilegium B. V. 76, see J. Zellinger, Studien zu Severian von Gabala, Münster i. W. 1926, p. 118.


Eutychius on the events in Egypt in 820-30 AD

I’ve translated from the German the last portion of the Annals of Eutychius, who was Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria, and whose autograph manuscript has been edited in the CSCO.


[286]. When morning came, the Patriarch Thomas and his companions were brought.  The Muslims came and testified that the dome had enlarged (=been made larger).  Patriarch Thomas disproved this through the (above-mentioned) argument 1

 [287] Abdallah ibn Daher said to them: he is right.  Explain to me:  How big was the dome, before it was removed, and how big is it now?  They said:  We will think about this.  They went out and the meeting came to an end.  Abdallah ibn Daher then went to Damascus.  Thomas and his companions went merrily to the holy city. 

[288]  Thomas paid the Sheikh in question 1000 (dirhams).  To him and his children after him as well as his  children’s children the compensation was paid continuously, so long as (someone) from his descendants lived, until there was only one daughter (young woman).  Elias ibn Mansur, Patriarch of the holy city, presented her with the compensation. Patriarch Thomas died, and his pupil named Basila (= Basilios) became  Patriarch of the holy city.  It was in the 7th year of the Caliphate of al-Ma`mun.  Basila remained in the see 25 years and died.  Abdallah ibn Daher returned to al-Ma`mun and reported about Egypt and on what he had undertaken (there).  Then the (supporters of the) Emma (Yma) revolted.  Al-‘Emma is a coptic word and means “forty” 2. This is why: when the Romans left Egypt, in the time when the  Muslims arrived, forty men stayed.  In the lower part of the country (=Lower Egypt) they testified, multiplied and continued to do so and were called ‘Y MA, i.e.  the descendants of the forty (men).  They revolted and paid neither excise nor poll tax.  This event was announced to Mamun and he sent his brother  al-Mu`tasim, who was a Amir, to Egypt.  The Emma fought against him . . . 3

1 The previous sentence in Ch. 51, 56,20-22 reads:  A Muslim sheikh had secretly instructed him (to say):  May the Emir ask them,”How big was the small dome, which I took down as you requested, and how big now is the dome, which I have rebuilt  and enlarged?” 

2 If the rebels had been descendants of those Romans left, then they would have used a Greek name, not a Coptic one.  The letters given however do not permit the Coptic reading of HMA (for forty).  Later historians have confounded this revolt with that of the Copts in Basmur, which took place allegedly under Abdel Malek around 750-51.  Scholars are therefore divided on the exact date of the last Coptic revolt, therefore.  See Sylvestre Chauleur, Histoire des Coptes d’Egyple, Paris 1960, 107 (dating the revolt to 216 AH. = 831 AD); item: C. Detlef, G. Müller. Grundzüge des christlich-islamischen Ägypten, Darmstadt 1969, 146 (both giving around 828-30). 

3 The continuation of the sentence in Ch. (51, 57.17-18)  reads:  “and he fought them and killed very many of them.  He struck them down and drove out their wives and children and brought them with him to Baghdad.” 


Recent studies on the Coptic catena of de Lagarde?

Looking at the summary of information on catenas on the gospels in Di Berardino’s latest volume of Quasten’s Patrology, I notice an intriguing couple of entries:

E. J. Caubet Iturbe, La Cadena arabe del Evangelio de san Mateo,1 Texto; 2 Version, Vatican City 1969-1970.


E. J. Caubet Iturbe, “La Cadena copto-arabe de los Evangelios y Severo de Antioquia”, Homenaje a J. Prado. Miscelanea de estudios biblicos y hebraicos, ed. L.Alvarez Verdes, E.J. Alonso Hernandez, Madrid 1975,421-432.

Now I recall from Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur 1, p. 318, n.1 and p.481-2, that the Coptic catena on the gospels published by Paul de Lagarde also exists in an Arabic version in the Vatican.  I came across this reference while searching for material by Eusebius of Caesarea in Arabic.  He’s listed in Abu’l Barakat’s catalogue:

Eusebius of Caesarea: He has explanations on passages of the holy Gospels and other separate religious treatises.

which Graf discusses, referring to a catena with 6 passages from Eusebius on Matthew and material from Severus of Antioch on Luke.  Page 481f discusses an “anonymous gospel catena”, which turns out to be that of Paul de Lagarde.  I’m not sure I’ve read the entry before.  Written in Bohairic, and almost certainly based on a Greek catena now unknown, H. Achelis dates the catena before 888 AD.  The manuscript used by de Lagarde is incomplete, however.   The manuscript turns out to be Vatican Arab 452, and most of the scholia are at least under the name of Eusebius.  A long quotation from Luke, and five chunks on Matthew, are ascribed to Eusebius, or so Graf says.

It is an interesting sight, therefore, to see this in the modern bibliography, and no mention of de Lagarde’s publication.

Is it possible that Iturbe published a critical text of the Arabic version of the catena?  It looks very much like it.  I wish I could obtain the article and see what he says.

UPDATE: After typing those words, I started searching for the book in Google.  Slightly amazing to find my site listed, and this article listed, less than a minute after I pressed save.  Is Google really watching these words that intently!?

I find in COPAC more details of the book:

A compilation of patristic commentaries, with the text of the Gospel, in the Arabic of Codex Vaticanus ar. 452 and in a Spanish version.

which also aligns with my understanding.  Another states:

Studi e testi 254-5.  Half title: Cod. vat. ar. 452, ff. 6-135. Originally presented as the editor’s thesis, Pontificia Commissio Biblica. Based on a Coptic version entitled: Ermēnia n̄te pieuangelion ethouab kata Matheon. cf. the editor’s introd., v.1, p. [li]-liv; H. Achelis. Hippolytsudien. 1897. p. 163-169. Originally presented as the editor’s thesis, Pontificia Commissio Biblica. Arabic text; Spanish introduction, notes and translation.

So there we have it.  This is indeed a critical edition of the Arabic catena.  The next question is whether I obtain this and include it in the Eusebius!  For there is a copy available for sale online…

UPDATE 2: I cannot resist.  It would be cheaper to order the books by ILL, and copy them, etc; but it is far easier to just buy the things. 


Doing it right – an new edition and Italian translation of a work by Hunain ibn Ishaq

It’s always delightful to see things moving in the right direction (especially when it isn’t because I pushed them).  Quite by accident I came across this site, which is the English-language page of an Italian journal.

The arab version of De differentiis febrium of Galen, edited by Claudio De Stefani, is the first issue of the Collection «Studi di Eikasmós Online».

Galeni De differentiis febrium versio Arabica (Bologna 2004)

Hunain ibn Ishâq di al-Hîra (808-873[?] A.D.), physician and philologist, author of original works and translations into Syriac and Arabic, was the most important arabic translator of the Middle Ages, and one of the best in the world. Because of this celebrity, many translations from Greek were wrongly attributed to him in the arabic mss. Most of his translations from Greek concern the works of Galen of Pergamon (128/131-210/213 A.D.). Here is the translation of one of Galen’s pathologic works on fevers (in two books): it was largely spread in the byzantine Greece (many Greek mss. preserve this work and several summaries on the same subject), in Western Europe (there are some latin translations from Greek, for example that of Burgundius), and in the Arabic East, where the galenic doctrines on fevers were going to survive for a long time. This electronic edition is interesting for people working on Galen, Arabists, historians of medicine.

Book I,1-8
Book I,9-14
Book II,1-7
Book II,8-18

The text (as a pdf file) can be scrolled or free downloaded (clic the file name and choose “Save as”), and printed for study. All rights are reserved for commercial reasons and aims.

Now this is simply splendid!  The files contain an electronic Arabic text with Italian translation.  And quite rightly too!  For the subject is so obscure that very few people will be interested. 

Most such pieces of work vanish into specialist libraries and never become known to the public.  Here someone — who? — has realised that there is another audience out there, one that will never see the printed paper journal, will never buy it, will never read its contents or know of them; the general educated public.  People like us, in fact.

Well done, the Italians!  In one stroke they have probably multipled by ten the number of people who can read this.

Thanks to this site.


Abu’l Barakat’s Catalogue of Christian Literature in Arabic now online

Adam McCollum has kindly translated for me Riedel’s text of the catalogue of Arabic Christian literature by Abu’l Barakat.  It’s here:

I’m placing this file and its contents in the public domain.  Please do whatever you like with it, for personal, professional, educational or commercial purposes.  It’s free to use for any purpose.  Adam also invites comments.

I intend to get an HTML version together as well, but this will take a day or so for me to do.  Then I hope to make people in various email lists aware that it exists, and particularly classicists and patristics people, who might be interested to see what has made its way into Arabic.

UPDATE 12 Feb 2024: I’ve retrieved the Word document and uploaded that also.


Last section of Abu’l Barakat

Good news!  An email tells me that another of my projects is coming in.  The catalogue of Arabic Christian books, by the 13th century writer Abu’l Barakat, is progressing nicely.  The whole thing has now been translated into English, in first draft.  The wording will now be revised over the next two weeks, and then comment invited from others.

Once the whole thing is complete, I will post it online and make it public domain.

This is such an important text.  When you come into a literature, all is confusion.  What we need is a map, a list of major writers and what they wrote.  This acts as a skeleton, on which we can hang all the rest of our knowledge.  A modern list would be good, but none exists in English.  This ancient list is also good, as it probably refers to stuff no longer extant and tells us what might be out there.

The translation has been made from the older 1902 edition of Riedel.  But apparently there is somewhere a critical edition made by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ.  I think this was published in Cairo.  The text is so important that I have suggested to the translator that he acquire a copy of Samir’s publication, and do a revised version for formal publication on his own, so that scholars can reference it in their bibliographies.  This will happen, I think.