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?


More notes from Agapius

I’m still working on an English translation of Agapius.  I’ve now reached the overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate, and the early Abbassid period.

In the year 14 of `Abdallah, the Magi revolted in Khorasan and shook the authority of `Abdallah-al-Mansour for this reason:

In a city of Khorasan which is called Far`is (?), there was a mountain from where much silver was taken.  30,000 workmen dealt specifically with the exploitation of this mine and the purification.  The workmen were Magi to whom the mountain had been ceded. A very rich mine was discovered there.  The Sultan wanted to take the mountain from them and give it to others.  They were opposed to the implementation of this project, and the Sultan struck a Magus.  Then they threw themselves on him and killed a great number of his soldiers. 

After that, the Sultan wrote with Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah-al-Mansour who was in Ray, to tell him what had occurred.  The latter sent to him 34,000 soldiers who formed his vanguard;  then he went out, himself, against the Magi, at the head of 30,000 soldiers. 

The people who formed the vanguard arrived at the mountain where the mines and the Magi were;  they started the battle, but the Magi overcame them and made a very great number perish. 

Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah, learning of the defeat of his soldiers, remained at the place where he was and sent a letter to `Abdallah-al-Mansour in which he made known to him the fate of his troops and the business of the mine.  He was then at the place which is called Arfasir(?),  and he spent the winter there. 

After winter had passed, he sent against the rebels a man called Hazim at the head of 40,000 soldiers. 

When he arrived near the rebels, (his soldiers) attacked them, overcame them, killed more than 20,000, made captive the survivors whom they sent to Mohammed-ibn-`Abdallah who was on the Tigris, opposite Baghdad.

No doubt the silver mines pretty much stopped working, after the workforce was killed or sent to Baghdad.

I was struck, while reading the section on the reign of the last Umayyad, Marwan II, and the early Abbassids, how much of this sort of thing is going on.  The rulers care nothing for the lands under their control.  The cities, inherited from the Roman empire, are routinely devastated in internal Arab quabbles, their inhabitants deported here and there.  Incessant raiding goes on.  Subjects are treated merely as sources of revenue.  There is no sense of a social contract between ruler and ruled; merely the exactions of a conqueror, even a century after the Arab conquest.

Here we see a successful industry destroyed at the whim of a remote despot.  Is it any wonder that the cities of the Roman East gradually declined and disappeared?  What motive was there to invest time or money, to develop civic pride, when capricious confiscation could see it all vanish in a trice? 

It is also interesting to see that Zoroastrianism was still active in whole communities, a century after the Arab conquest of Persia.