Theodore Abu Qurrah and an anti-Manichaean synod

A correspondent kindly sent me an article[1] which mentioned a synod against the Manichaeans, assembled by Theodore Abu Qurra, the Melkite bishop of Harran, at Harran in 764-5 AD.  This is mentioned in a 14th century source, a certain John Cyparissiotes.  The latter was previously unknown to me, but his works are found in PG152.

It seems that Cyparissiotes wrote against the “Palamites”, the followers of Gregory Palamas, and that our snippet about Theodore Abu Qurra and the anti-Manichaean synod may be found in PG152, column 784 B.  Migne gives only the Latin: the Greek is quoted by Hemmerdinger from a manuscript, Vaticanus Ottobonianus gr. 99 (s. XVII), fol. 133 r-v.

This is Decades, part 3, chapter 4:

Likewise, from the Panaria, a synod was held against the Manichaeans by the bishop of Harran (=Καρων), Abu Qurra: “The goodness,” he said, “which is found in the world receives increases or decreases as chance determines.”  And further on: “Goodness in God is a substance; but in creatures is an accident. For “Be merciful”, he said, “even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

The footnote in the PG suggests that the “Panaria” were anti-heretical texts of various sorts, such as the Panarion (=medicine chest) of Epiphanius of Salamis.

The same material appears almost word for word the same in col. 809 C, which is Decades part 5, chapter 2, which is on fol. 148v of the manuscript.

Theodore Abu Qurra wrote against the Manichaeans, and a work in Arabic is extant.[2]  The context of all this is perhaps given by the monophysite writer (ps.)Dionysius of Tell-Mahre in his Chronicle, which states that, in 764-5, the Manichaeans of Harran were accused of practising human sacrifice once a year.[3]  Dionysius does not mention the action of the Melkite bishop in holding a synod and writing against the Manichaeans, but Hemmerdinger suggests that this may be from sectarian animosity towards the Melkites.  We cannot say.  But the account ends with the words:

Bearing the head [of a previous victim] away at a rapid pace, he [the intended victim] went to find Abbas who was then Emir of Mesopotamia.  The latter, learning what had happened, had all the Manichaeans seized and imprisoned, men, women and children; [82] he seized all that they possessed, inflicted on them various tortures and took from them more than four or five hundred thousand minae (? fr. = “mines”).

Whether the Manichaeans of Harran really practised human sacrifice may reasonably be doubted.  It would be very risky to abduct random strangers once a year, after all.  It is more likely that they were the victims of an informer, who ran quickly to the greedy emir, hoping to profit thereby.  Whatever the truth of the matter, the emir certainly took the opportunity to profit from it!

In the west we are accustomed to rulers who identify with the ordinary people, and whose interests are the same as the nation.  It may be a shock to remember that the oriental despot felt no such feelings.  The Arabs were little more than bandits who came into ownership of wide lands and rich cities, and settled down to enjoy them as much as possible.  This alien ruling class were looters, not rulers.   The same habit of mind has persisted down to our own day in those parts.  We are fortunate that such cold exploitation is exceptional in our own lands.

  1. [1]Bertrand Hemmerdinger, “Revue de l’histoire des religions”, tome 161 n°2, 1962. pp. 270.  Online here.
  2. [2]Hemmerdinger gives the reference: G. Graf, Des Theodor Abu Kurra Traktat uber den Schopfer und die wahre Religion, Munster i. W., 1913, pp.27-29.
  3. [3]J.-B. Chabot translated part 4 of the Chroniques, Paris, 1895, p.68-70, online here.

Augustine and Secundinus the Manichaean – works now online in English

Mark Vermes published translations of the Letter of Secundinus the Manichaean to Augustine and Augustine’s reply Against Secundinus, as part of his thesis in 1997.  The first item was then republished in Sam Lieu and Iain Gardner’s book on Manichaean texts in 2004; the second remains unpublished.

Dr Vermes has very kindly made it possible for both items to appear here.

I would like to thank Dr Sam Lieu very much for his help: he kindly obtained the permission necessary from Cambridge University Press for the Letter to be included.

The items remain the copyright of CUP and Dr Vermes respectively, which is why I have not included them in my collection of public domain material here.  If you would like to support the commissioning of more public domain material, there is a CDROM of the Fathers and Additional Fathers collection available from here.  All funds from sales go to pay for translating things, and sales have been a little low lately, so I hope no-one will mind my mentioning it!

UPDATE: I was wondering where else I might usefully announce the availability of new material in translation online.  Does anyone have any suggestions?


More on Persian Christian literature

There have been a number of further posts in the NASCAS forum on the subject of Persian Christian literature, all of considerable interest.

Thomas A. Carlson writes:

At one time there was a larger corpus of Persian Christian materials.  In Middle Persian there were some psalms, translations from Syriac Christian authors (including Abraham of Nathpar and Abraham of Kashkar, both translated by Job the Persian), a liturgy (mentioned by John of Dalyatha in a letter), and a law-book by Ishobokht of Rewardashir apparently composed in Persian, but which only survives in Syriac translation.  

In Sogdian some has survived, including parts of the Psalms and New Testament, some saints’ lives, and some monastic literature, an overview of which is provided at the end of Baum & Winkler, The Church of the East: A Concise History (London, 2003), 168-170.  

Dr. Pritula’s excellent work only concerns materials translated into neo-Persian, that is, Persian written in (modified) Arabic script.  Of this, if I remember correctly (it has been a while since I’ve looked at this!), almost all that survives from before the Jesuit missions c.1600 is biblical, although more was at one time written in Persian, for example the lost original travel account of Rabban Sauma’s trip to Europe, which the editor/translator mentioned at the end of the account of Rabban Sauma’s voyage in the Syriac “History of Mar Yahballaha and of Rabban Sauma” (edited by Bedjan, translated into English by Budge, recently re-edited by Pier Giorgio Borbone).

For my own reference, and possible future use, I am keeping a list of known (including lost) works in Christian Persian, so if others know of additional works I am very happy to hear of them!

Sasha Treiger draws attention to an article on the Chronology of Translations of the Bible in the Encyclopedia Iranica.  First it lists translations into Middle Persian, or evidence that such exist:

    • 4th century. Statement by John Chrysostom (Homily on John, in Migne, Patrologia Graecia LIX, col. 32) that doctrines of Christ had been translated into the languages of the Persians.
    • 5th century. Statement by Theodoret (Graecarum affect­ionum curatio IX.936, in Migne, PG LXXXIII, col. 1045c) that Persians regarded the Gospels as divine revelation.
    • 4th-6th centuries (?). Middle Persian translation from Syriac of Psalms 94-99, 119-136 (the “Pahlavi Psal­ter”); the extant manuscript contains canons written after ca. 550; Andreas-Barr, 1933.
    • ? centuries. Sogdian translations of the Gospels, Pauline epistles, and Psalms.
    • 9th century. Biblical quotations in the Zoroastrian text Škand-gumānīg wizār; Menasce, 1945, pp. 176ff., Asmussen and Paper, p. 5.

Then it continues with lists of translations of biblical texts into modern Persian.  This begins in the 13th century, is extensive and mainly from Syriac.

Further details appear in the next article, by Shaul Shaked, on Middle Persian Translations of the Bible:

    • The only extant Middle Persian Bible version is represented by fragments of a translation of the Psalms found at the ruin of the Nestorian monastery at Bulayïq near Turfan.   Most of Psalms 94-99, 118, and 121-36 are contained in these fragments. The script is an early form of the cursive Pahlavi script (see Nyberg, Manual I, p. 129).
    • Theodoret, in the fifth century, mentions a translation of the Bible into the language of the Persians alongside with those of the Romans, Egyptians, Armenians, Scythians, and Sauromatians (Migne, Patrologia Graeca 83, Paris, 1859, cols. 947f.; quoted by Munk, p. 65 n. 2; Asmussen and Paper, p. 5). The existence of Iranian language translations of the Book of Esther in use among Jews is indicated by a question which is raised in the Talmud as to whether it is permissible to recite the text of the Book of Esther on the festival of Purim in one of the following languages: Greek, Coptic, Elamite, or Median (Bavli Megilla 18a).

William Hume raises the question of Manichaean literature, in an interesting if somewhat rambling post, and points out:

Speaking of Middle-Persian-Script languages: let us all constantly keep in mind that the Dun Huang & Turfan materials are not fully excavated, and what has been excavated has not been fully described, much less catalogued.  Those materials have yielded plenty of Manichaean materials.  I have an extremely vague recollection that there were even Nestorian materials found, in Iranian-branch languages like Khotanese Saka, and so on.

He also adds:

May I add, as a sort of “marginal” consideration, my understanding that there is a fair amount of Manichaean literature that survives in Middle Persian? … Prof. Ludwig KOENEN of University of Michigan published the Coptic “Life of Mani”, in which it was made clear that Mani grew up as an Elkasite Gnostic…

I confess that this is news to me, and rather interesting.  The Cologne Mani codex, here referenced, also has an article in the Encyclopedia Iranica here.  The Wikipedia article (unreliable, of course!) gives a 5th century date for the tiny codex, and mentions an English translation.  It also links to images of all the pages.  I have not been able to find an English translation online, however.