The “Testimonium Flavianum” in al-Makin

The so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus has provoked extensive discussion down the years, not all of it either measured or even sensible.  One witness to the text is the Arabic versions.  These were handled in a rather mangled way in 1971 by Shlomo Pines,[1] who introduced the world to their existence in the World History of Agapius (a.k.a. Mahbub ibn Qustantin), the 10th century bishop of Hierapolis.  Pines made use of the CSCO edition, which rather misled him, and proposed that this version of the Testimonium preserved features corrupted in the Greek as it now stands.

Part of Agapius’ work is extant only in a single damaged manuscript in Florence.  But the CSCO editor of Agapius, Louis Cheikho,[2] believed that his text was quoted at length by the 13th century Coptic writer al-Makin Ibn-al `Amid, and so included extracts from the latter’s unedited work in an appendix.  Pines made use of the latter on the basis that this was “Agapius”.  But the actual text of Agapius is given in the Florence manuscript.  What al-Makin says may now be considered, since Martino Diez has kindly edited and translated the text for us.[3]

It is as follows:

tf_al-makinIn English:

And likewise Josephus the Hebrew says in his writings on the Jews: in those days, there was a wise man named Jesus.  He lived a good life, distinguishing himself by his learning, and many people, as many Jews as of other nations, became his disciples.  Pilate condemned him to crucifixion and death.  But those who had become his disciples did not cease to be so, and affirmed that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive.  Perhaps he was the Messiah of whom the prophets speak.

The text is preserved only in the “expanded” recension of al-Makin, which may or may not be the original version of the text (see here).  It appears towards the end of the life of Jesus, where the “expanded” edition includes a series of quotations from pagan authors on the subject of the events on and following Good Friday. (These are probably — I say this without seeing them — taken from collections of sayings, gnomologia, that circulated in the Arabic world.)

Diez edits the text from the single manuscript of the “expanded” recension accessible to him, Ms Paris BNF, arab. 4729, where it appears on folio 108r, lines 1-6.  Pines made use of Paris BNF ar. 294, f.162v-163r.[4]  As Diez rightly remarks, a study of the other witnesses to this recension of the text of al-Makin is necessary before much more is done.

  1. [1]S. Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1971.
  2. [2]Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 65 (Scriptores arabici 10), Beirut 1912.
  3. [3]M. Diez, “”, Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 221-140, esp. 134-5.
  4. [4]Pines, p.6-7, n.6.

The two recensions of al-Makin

There are quite a number of manuscripts of the history by the 13th century Coptic historian al-Makin ibn al-Amid.  I have listed these in a previous post here.  Martino Diez, in his important article on the subject[1] has obtained copies of three of the manuscripts.  This is no small feat in itself, as I can bear witness myself after attempting it. Indeed a look at the prices on the Bodleian website today was quite enough to dissuade me from trying to obtain a copy of any of their manuscripts!  I have commented before on the corruption involved in charging huge sums for reproductions of public-owned manuscripts.

Diez obtained somehow copies of the following:

  • Vatican ar. 168. (16th c.)
  • Bodleian ar. 683. (AD 1591) (=Pococke 312)
  • Paris ar. 4729 (19th c.)

He writes:

Investigation shows that the three manuscripts belong to two different recensions.  One, the shorter, is present in ms. Vat. ar. 168 and in Pococke 312, and the other, longer, preserved in ms. Paris BNF ar. 4729.  The exact relationship between the two recensions seems, on first sight, difficult to establish.

The existence of two families of witnesses was already highlighted by Gaston Wiet in a long note to the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.  The French researcher proposed to call the first family the vulgata and assigned to it most of the witnesses, notably Paris BNF ar. 4524, Vat ar. 168 and 169, Borg. ar. 232, and Pococke 312.  All the same, Wiet noted the existence of a second family, “completed and retouched using [the Annals of] Eutychius, such as ms. Paris ar. 4729.”  “This manuscript reveals that its copyist had literary, confessional and chronological concerns: the material of al-Makin is treated very freely.  But the modifications at bottom belonging to the Chronicle [of al-Makin] have not been invented by the copyist.  It is obvious that he worked with a copy of the Annals of Eutychius before him.”  For Wiet, therefore, the vulgata is the original work of Ibn al-Amid, while ms. Paris ar. 4729 (which we will refer to as the “expanded” recension) represents a later elaboration, contaminated from other sources, notably Eutychius, and not without literary ambitions.

In reality the relations between the two recensions are more complicated.  That they are both fundamentally the same work is clear, because of the existence of the same rubrics for people (166 in both recensions), but it is not always the expanded recension that completes the vulgata.  It is not uncommon for the reverse to be the case.  Taken together, the differences are not marginal, especially in certain sections such as the introduction, or the history of Alexander.  The key to understanding this is supplied by the author himself in his preface.  …

Here Diez gives a transcription of the incipit from all three manuscripts and portions of the preface; unfortunately without translation, so of course I cannot follow it.  Then:

The text clearly shows that the vulgata represents an abridgement (muhtasar) of the chronicle, made by the author himself.  He states, in fact, that, after completing a first version of his work, he came into possession of new sources (on the origin of the world, the shape of the world, on the patriarchs, on the kings of Persia) which enriched the treatment of certain periods.  However the work was already too long, and someone, “to whom it was not possible to say ‘no'” (“someone who sought to make his request accepted and to assist in the pursuit of his desire”) asked Ibn-al `Amid to make an abridgement which contained all the best known events.  And this is exactly what is called the vulgata of Ibn-al `Amid.

He then explores what the “expanded” edition is.  Is it indeed the original version, or a longer version, enriched with further information before being condensed?  He argues that it is the former; this is, indeed, the original version produced by al-Makin.  He notes that the titles and explicits of the copies indicate something – again this is not translated so I can’t say what that is! – and then details differences.  Diez does not seem to deal with the question of contamination from Eutychius, however.

If both versions are indeed by the author, any future edition and translation needs to include both.  But clearly there is more work to be done.

  1. [1]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.

Diez’ article on al-Makin is online!

I have started to blog about a fascinating article on the Coptic historian, al-Makin.  The article is 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.  But I had not realised that the full article is online!  The PDF is here, and vol.3 of the journal is here.  In fact the whole journal is online at  It seems to be funded by an EU grant.  The first volume contains only 3 papers; but vols. 2 and 3 are full size.

I strongly approve.  It means that this research is available to inform those who pay for it.