Abu al-Fida, Historia ante-Islamica online

Emily Cottrell has written to tell me about a discovery in Google Books:

I am happy to have found this amazing chronicle online (very little studied because rarely available in libraries:


(Abu al-Fida, an Ayyubid prince of the 14th c. check out for his interesting genealogies of Greeks and Romans… I am trying to see if he had access to the Philosophical History by Porphyry…)


Theophanes in English, on Mohammed

Ninth century Byzantine chronicler Theophanes is the earliest Greek source to give a biography of Mohammed, or so I have been told.  I referenced yesterday the relevant pages in the Bonn edition.  But an English translation does exist, made by minor sci-fi author Harry Turtledove, although this only starts in 602 AD.  This was published in 1982 so will be offline and in copyright long after I am dead, which is a pity. 

Every time I find myself having to seek out an offline source, it’s a pain.  I’ll only want the book for five minutes; but to get it will involved a lot of labour and time, or some money.  This can’t be an unusual experience, and indicates why academic offline publishing must be doomed.  It so pointless.

Another translation was made by Cyril Mango for Oxford University Press, in 1997, which starts in 284AD.  It translated the De Boor text, and calls the Turtledove version “highly inaccurate” — pretty steep language.  Apparently it look Mango 15 years to do.  Yet the Turtledove translation is still being sold.  I wonder how many copies it sells?  Would the publisher sell the copyright?  How much for?

I find that I have access to a DJVU version of Mango, and — bless them — that Abbyy Finereader will open it so I can scan the portion about Mohammed (on page 464). The chunk is not that long.  In the meantime I’m reading Mango’s introduction. 

Theophanes Confessor (d. 822) uses and continues the better known chronicle of George Syncellus.  He was aristocratic in manner, addicted to sport when young, handsome and even portly in appearance.  He was easy-going, a generous host, and even as a monk was not averse to taking the waters at a fashionable spa.  He does not seem to have travelled much, staying in the Constantinople-Bithynia area.  He openly says that he did not have a proper education, and learned his work as a scribe as part of his monastic obligation.

Where Theophanes’ chronicle differs from many is that he had access to a Syro-Palestinian source which informed him about Eastern events.  He thus includes the Moslem rulers in his lists.  No other Byzantine chronicler was so well equipped, nor so interested in this material, which Theophanes uses extensively.  Like George Syncellus, he uses the Anno Mundi chronology and his work is a descendant of that of Eusebius of Caesarea; indeed the last such.

I will add Theophanes on Mohammed here when my OCR job finishes!

UPDATE: Here it is, translated by Cyril Mango:

[333] In this year died Mouamed, the leader and false prophet of the Saracens, after appointing his kinsman Aboubacharos (to his chieftainship).[1] At the same time his repute spread abroad) and everyone was frightened. At the beginning of his advent the misguided Jews thought he was the Messiah who is awaited by them, so that some of their leaders joined him and accepted his religion while forsaking that of Moses, who saw God. Those who did so were ten in number, and they remained with him until his murder.[2] But when they saw him eating camel meat, they realized that he was not the one they thought him to be, and were at a loss what to do; being afraid to abjure his religion, those wretched men taught him illicit things directed against us, Christians, and remained with him.

I consider it necessary to give an account of this man’s origin. He was descended from a very widespread tribe, that of Ishmael, son of Abraham; for Nizaros, descendant of Ishmael, is recognized as the father of them all. He begot two sons, Moudaros and Rabias. Moudaros begot Kourasos, Kaisos, Themimes, Asados, and others unknown.[3] All of them dwelt in the Midianite desert and kept cattle, themselves living in tents. There are also those farther away who are not of their tribe, but of that of lektan, the so-called Amanites, that is Homerites. And some of them traded on their camels. Being destitute and an orphan, the aforesaid Mouamed decided to enter the service of a rich woman who was a relative of his, called Chadiga, as a hired worker [334] with a view to trading by camel in Egypt and Palestine. Little by little he became bolder and ingratiated himself with that woman, who was a widow, took her as a wife, and gained possession of her camels and her substance. Whenever he came to Palestine he consorted with Jews and Christians and sought from them certain scriptural matters. He was also afflicted with epilepsy. When his wife became aware of this, she was greatly distressed, inasmuch as she, a noblewoman, had married a man such as he, who was not only poor, but also an epileptic. He tried deceitfully to placate her by saying, ‘I keep seeing a vision of a certain angel called Gabriel, and being unable to bear his sight, I faint and fall down.’ Now, she had a certain monk [4] living there, a friend of hers (who had been exiled for his depraved doctrine), and she related everything to him, including the angel’s name. Wishing to satisfy her, he said to her, ‘He has spoken the truth, for this is the angel who is sent to all the prophets.’ When she had heard the words of the false monk, she was the first to believe in Mouamed and proclaimed to other women of her tribe that he was a prophet. Thus, the report spread from women to men, and first to Aboubacharos, whom he left as his successor. This heresy prevailed in the region of Ethribos, in the last resort by war: at first secretly, for ten years, and by war another ten, and openly nine.[5] He taught his subjects that he who kills an enemy or is killed by an enemy goes to Paradise; and he said that this paradise was one of carnal eating and drinking and intercourse with women, and had a river of wine, honey, and milk, and that the women were not like the ones down here, but different ones, and that the intercourse was long-lasting and the pleasure continuous; and other things full of profligacy and stupidity; also that men should feel sympathy for one another and help those who are wronged.

[1] Muhammad died in 632.
[2] … Muhammad, of course, was not murdered. Besides, the sequence of thought appears to require something like ‘until they had seen him taking food’. The reading phaghs is not appropriate unless it can mean the act of eating rather than ‘food’, the latter given by Du Cange, Gloss., s.vv. phage, phagh. Dr R. Hoyland has drawn our attention to Chr. 819, 7, which says of Muhammad, primus fecit sacrificium, et comedendum imposuit Arabibus, praeter eorum morem. The eating of camel is forbidden in Deut. 14: 7. The story of the rabbis, of whom only two embraced Islam sincerely, whereas the others pretended to do so, is found in the Sira of Ibn Ishaq (d. 768), trans. A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad (London, 1955), 239 ff., 246 ff.
[3] These names correspond to Nizar, Mudar, Rabi`a, Quraish, Qais, Tamim, and Asad. Discussion by L. I. Conrad, ByzF 15 (1990), 11 ff. Longer genealogy in Chr. 1234, 187-8. …
[4] …
The legend of a Christian monk, variously called Sergius, Bahlra, or Nastur, who was either the teacher of Muhammad or recognized him as a prophet, enjoyed a wide currency. See S. Gero in Syrie colloque, 47-58.
[5] The durations given here, although presumably derived from an Arab source, do not agree with the Muslim tradition. See L. I. Conrad, ByzF 15 (1990), 18 ff.


External references to Islam

I knew that a collection of sources did exist online somewhere.  It seems that Peter Kirby, back in 2003, produced one and it is here.  It is excerpted from Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. (1997)  Nearly all of it is about the Islamic invasions, as might be expected.


Theophanes and Mohammed

The De Boor edition of Theophanes is online at Google Books, although as it comes from a UK library, UK people are not allowed to view it (!).  But I’ve been looking at the Bonn edition, which comes with Latin translation and so easier to thumb through.  P. 503 is the first mention of Mohammed, in a list of lengths of reigns (plainly derived from some of the tables of years that we find in Eusebius, and Jacob of Edessa):

Of the Arabs, leader Muamed for nine years.

Paging down, I look for more.  The same appears on p. 504 and 506!  On p.511 (AD 622) it begins seriously:

Hoc anno Muamed Saracenorum dux et pseudopropheta, Abubachr cognato suo  successore designato, mortuus est, ex quo omnes estimare.

In this year Muamed, general of the Saracens and false-prophet, having designated Abu-Bakr as his successor, died, as everyone calculates.

He then says that the Jews went over to Mohammed, believing him to be the expected Messiah.  Then the story of Mohammed and his teaching runs on to p.514.

Anyone fancy translating the Greek?


English translations of the earliest life of Mohammed

Philip K. Hitti writes (p.112):

The first record of [Mohammed’s] life was undertaken by ibn-Ishaq, who died in Baghdad about A.H. 150 (767), and whose biography of the Prophet has been preserved only in the later recension of ibn-Hisham, who died in Egypt about A.H. 218 (833).  Other than Arabic sources for the life of the Prophet and the early period of nascent Islam we have none.  The first Byzantine chronicler to record some facts about “the ruler of the Saracens and the pseudo-prophet” was Theophanis [1] in the early part of the ninth century.  The first reference to Muhammed in Syriac occurs in a seventh century work. [2]

1. Chronographia, ed. Carolus de Boor (Leipzig, 1885), p. 333. [Here]

2. A. Mingana, Sources Syriaques, vol. 1, Bar-Penkaye (Leipzig, 1908), p.146 (text) = p. 175 (tr.)

I’m not sure that  Hitti is complete.  Jacob of Edessa certainly mentions Mohammed briefly in his chronicle, although the way in which this was published in the CSCO edition would disguise this from most people. 

But I was wondering what was online of all this.  Naturally I turned to Wikipedia, which had an article on ibn Hisham.  This links to an English translation now only available in Archive.org, since the original site has disappeared.  It is here.  But… what is this, I wondered?  Is it out of copyright?  When was it done?

There is an introduction by “Michael Edwardes”.  A certain amount of hunting around reveals that the book is in fact “The life of Muhammad, Apostle of Allah”, edited by Michael Edwardes, London: Folio Society (1964); Selections from Edward Rehatsek’s translation of Sīrat Rasūl Allāh by Ibn Isḥāq in the recension of Ibn Hishām.  Some details of the book is here:

This translation of his biography of Muhammad, published here for the first time, was made by a Hungarian, Edward Rehatsek, who spent most of his life in India. He presented the manuscript of his translation to the Royal Asiatic Society of London, and it is now published courtesy of the Society. …

Ed Jajko comments on my review of Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, Apostle of Allah. Edited by Michael Edwardes: “Sirat rasul Allah by Muhammad ibn Ishaq is indeed the earliest extant biography of the prophet Muhammad, and thus an extremely important work. Not to deny anyone the pleasure of enjoying the new Folio Society volume, I would like to point out that this is not a new or a complete edition and that there are other ways of accessing the information. Michael Edwardes first published the Rehatsek translation in 1890 or 1894. Edwardes abridged Rehatsek’s translation for the general reader.  …

In the introduction, Edwardes writes:

“The translation which follows is the first known English version of Ibn Ishaq’s biography, and is here published for the first time. The translator, Edward Rehatsek, was born in Hungary in 1819 and died in Bombay in 1891. He arrived in India in 1847 and spent a number of years in research upon oriental subjects. He later became professor of mathematics and Latin at Wilson College, Bombay, from which position he retired in 1871. Rehatsek lived the life of a recluse, working upon his translations from Arabic and many other languages. After his death, his body was burned in the Hindu manner, the first European, it is said, to be cremated in India. The manuscript of the translation was completed just before his death and was presented to the Royal Asiatic Society, London, by F. F. Arbuthnot, the Islamic scholar, in 1898. This edition is published by courtesy of the Society.

The original work is extremely long, over a thousand pages of the translator’s small yet clear handwriting. Rehatsek produced an almost literal translation and it suffers somewhat from scholarly pedanticism. In preparing this edition for publication, I have kept one main aim in view – to present the earliest extant life of Muhammad in a form, and at a length, acceptable to the general reader. To do this it has been necessary to cut the text as well as to make some rearrangement in the interests of orderly chronology. I have inserted linking passages, printed in italic, where the text seems to require it. Generally speaking, those parts which have been excised have been repetitions of events, long lists of names, confusing accounts of minor battles, and a large quantity of verse. Some errors have been corrected and verbal infelicities removed.

Most of us will shudder at the cavalier statements of Edwardes, but doubtless he worked under the orders of a publisher who had somehow to sell the book to the public.

But how accurate are the statements?  Rehatsek certainly lived in the 19th century.  But Edwardes?  He looks like a 60’s figure, from online catalogues.  Was Rehatsek ever published before 1964?  If his translation exists in manuscript still, perhaps we would all be best served by a transcription, if it is public domain (rather a lot of ‘if’s there!)  It is certainly out of copyright in the US, but I find it hard to tell whether an unpublished manuscript would still be in copyright in the UK, although Rehatsek died more than 70 years ago.

Another Wikipedia article tells us that a  modern translation of the complete ibn Hisham does exist, by Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad. A translation of Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”, with introduction [xiii-xliii] and notes (Oxford University 1955), xlvii + 815 pages.

So what’s the upshot?  Ibn Isham is not online.  Excerpts from him are, in a dubiously legal way, dubiously edited.  It would seem that we could all do with much better materials online for early Islamic history.


Summer reading

I’m trying to read Philip Hitti’s monster History of the Arabs.  I’ve just reached the life of Mohammed, and his discussion of the materials for it — scanty.  He also has interesting comments on the text of the Koran; that the divergences in early Korans reflect the defective Kufic script used.  By chance I find that today is 16th July, the anniversary of the flight of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina, which marks the start of the Islamic year, and also the transformation of Mohammed from a prophet to a politician.

I hope to post some notes from Hitti when I can.

In the mean time I have been trying to turn the mass of photocopies on my floor into PDF’s.  This is proving slower than I had thought.  I really need a copy of Adobe Acrobat to manipulate the results.  But … it seems fantastically expensive!