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The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt (641–1517)The Popes of Egypt: A History of the Coptic Church and Its Patriarchs Volume 2$

Mark N. Swanson

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9789774160936

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774160936.001.0001

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Crisis of Cohesion1

Crisis of Cohesion1

Menas I (#47,767–776)

John IV (#48, 777–799)

Mark II (49,799–819)

Jacob (50, 819–830)

Simon II (#51, 830)

Yusab I (#52, 831–849)

Michael (Khẚil) II(#53, 849–851)

Cosmas II (#54, 851–858)

Shenoute I (#55, 859–880)

(p.27) Three Crisis of Cohesion1
The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt (641–1517)

Mark N. Swanson

American University in Cairo Press

Abstract and Keywords

John became a spiritual son of Patriarch Yusab. John the Writer had his own distinctive way of relating the history of the Church. His account is therefore full of ups and downs, of cycles of progress and persecution, building and destruction, calm and chaos. John the Writer did not make any correlation between the work of Satan and the Islamic religion. Such tyrants were frequently replaced by rulers who precisely as good Muslims, would “do good” to all, including the Christians. John the Writer was unafraid to admit that administration, especially with regard to taxes, was not every patriarch's gift. John and his successor Comas established a patriarch in the Nile Delta town of Damirah, at a safe distance from government officials in both Alexandria and Misr.

Keywords:   Yusab, progress, destruction, tyrants, Damirah

Satan Hinders, But God Prevails

[T]he blessed patriarch … bore witness that no patriarch sits upon this throne except those whom God chooses, but that Satan resists their advancement and hinders their doing good.2

After the contributions of George the Archdeacon and John the Deacon, the author of the History of the Patriarchs' next set of papal biographies was another monk named John, who flourished in the middle third of the ninth century, and whom I shall call “John the Writer” in order to distinguish him from his predecessor.3 John the Writer began his ecclesial career as a disciple of a monk of the Monastery of St. John Kame4 named Amunah, who not only taught John to write but, as John himself tells the story, prophesied that he would be the author of the next section of the history of the Church.5 Later, John became a spiritual son of Patriarch Yusab I (#52, 831–849),6 for whom he at least on occasion served as scribe7 and whom he accompanied into prison.8 He was also close to Patriarch Shenoute I (#55, 859–880).9 Once again, therefore, we are dealing with an author who was close to, and sometimes a participant in, many of the events he narrates.

(p.28) John the Writer has his own distinctive way of relating the history of the Church. While God is at work in the world for good, Satan is constantly seeking the means through which to disturb the Church's well-being. Descriptions of peace and progress in the Church are regularly followed, in John's account, by a statement that Satan, “the hater of the good,” found a way—usually a human instrument—through which to attack the Church.10 John's account is therefore full of ups and downs, of cycles of progress and persecution, building and destruction, calm and chaos. Through it all, the patriarch and those around him bear trials and tribulations with patience, since “the Lord Jesus Christ the Merciful One does not cause anyone to be afflicted beyond the power of his endurance.”11 In the end, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” against God's Church;12 rather, “it is God who prevails.”13 God's victory is made manifest in the divine vengeance that inevitably (if not always immediately) catches up with the Church's enemies; “[h]e abases the nations that obey him not.”14 John describes the fall of persecutors, including the torments to which they are put and the diseases with which they are afflicted, with fierce exultation—although his Schadenfreude (joy in another's misfortune) serves as a foil for the humility and patience of the saintly patriarch, who prays for and forgives his persecutors.15

It is important to note that, in some contrast to a certain strain of Middle Eastern Christian martyrdom or apocalyptic texts, John the Writer does not make any correlation between the work of Satan and the Islamic religion.16 While some Muslim officials were tyrants, they oppressed everyone, Christians and Muslims alike, so that suffering was shared by all.17 Thankfully, such tyrants were frequently replaced by rulers who, precisely as good Muslims, would “do good” to all, including the Christians.18 And it is a special feature of John's history that many of the human “vessels” with which Satan attacked the Church were, more often than not, members of the orthodox Christian community, including monks, deacons, and even bishops. This is a theme to which we shall return.

Patriarchs and Political Authority in Άbbasid Egypt

The period covered in the chronicle of John the Writer (767–880) roughly corresponds to that of ‘Abbasid authority in Egypt, that is, from the death of the Umayyad caliph Marwan II in 750 to the appointment of Ahmad ibn Tulun as governor in 868. The Άbbasid period in Egypt was turbulent, marked by a rapid turnover of governors and other chief officials,19 some of whom were more, and others less, favorably disposed toward their Christian subjects. Regardless of the officials’ attitudes toward the Copts, John the Writer defines the chief duty of the patriarch with respect to civil authority (p.29) as one of obedience: “the carrying out of decrees issued by the governor of Egypt to the patriarch and bishops, that the affairs of the orthodox churches may be kept in good order.”20 This theme runs throughout John's chronicle. In its opening pages, Patriarch Menas I (#47, 767–776) is hauled up before the governor, who says to him, regarding a caliphal mandate granting authority in the Church to a conniving rival:

“Do not oppose the command of the prince, but perform what he ordains.” Menas replied: “I will do so with joy, that I may carry out the Law which bids me obey the king as I would obey God; for it says: He who resists and disputes authority, resists God, his Lord.”21

The biblical reference is to Romans 13:1–2, the foremost New Testament proof-text for the necessity of subjection to civil authority.22 Similar affirmations of the obedience and non-resistance of the patriarch and his community run throughout John's biographies. He quotes Patriarch Yusab, under arrest and just about to receive a blow to the head, as counseling his grieving people: “We do not resist the government.”23 Patriarch Shenoute assures a tyrant who had kept him waiting for three days and who was about to impose huge new tax demands on the Church: “Whatever your highness commands I will do.”24

As this last example indicates, the principal area in which the patriarch was called to obedience continued to be financial. John the Deacon had already noted that, at the beginning of Άbbasid rule, Patriarch Michael I (743–767) and his close advisor Bishop Musa of Awsim spent great amounts of time in Misr, negotiating tax relief for the Alexandrian churches' endowment lands.25 In the eyes of some government authorities, the patriarch was little more than a cog in the machinery for the financial exploitation of the province of Egypt. This comes out clearly in the story of the election of Mark II (#49, 799–819): once the assembly of bishops and clergy in Alexandria had acclaimed Mark as pope, they wrote to Michael, bishop of Misr, whose delicate task it was to convince the governor to confirm this choice. Accompanied by a few bishops, Michael was granted an audience with the governor:

[The governor] said to them: “What is your business?” Abba Michael replied: “We make it known to thy lordship that our father, the chief and father of our religion, whom we had, is dead.” Then the governor asked: “What then do you desire?” They answered: “May God lengthen thy days! There are heavy (p.30) taxes upon the property of the Church, and therefore we desire to appoint a successor to him, who may administer the affairs of the Church and the people.” Then the governor enquired: “And what is his name?” They said that it was Mark. So he ordered that Mark's name should be written in the diwan, and then gave them permission to appoint him in the place of Abba John.26

According to this account, Mark had been presented to and accepted by the governor … as a tax administrator.

As John the Writer portrays them, the patriarchs of the Άbbasid period had varying capacities for the administrative tasks set before them. It is not surprising that some of the patriarchs who were most effective (at least, in times of peace) were those who had previous administrative experience. John IV (#48, 777–799) had been oikonomos (“steward” or even “Chief Financial Officer”) at the shrine of St. Menas in Mareotis, pilgrimage to which had long been one of the Alexandrian Church's major sources of income.27 His spiritual son and successor Mark II had also had administrative responsibilities there.28 Blessed by peaceful times and a governor who respected him,29 Patriarch John, with Mark's competent assistance, was able to rebuild and embellish churches and the patriarchal residence, erect the new Church of the Archangel Michael in Alexandria, and mount a major relief effort in a time of famine.30 As patriarch (799–819), Mark too, for a time, enjoyed the good graces of the governor,31 and continued in his spiritual father's footsteps: “He loved good works and the building of churches.”32 Patriarch Yusab I (#52, 831–849) had been raised by a Coptic archon in the upper ranks of the civil service;33 early in his patriarchate he stressed the development of income-generating projects for the Church, including both pilgrimage sites and productive enterprises (“vineyards and mills and oil-presses”).34 And Patriarch Shenoute I (#55, 859–880) had been oikonomos of the Monastery of St. Macarius before his election;35 among his early acts as patriarch were projects to improve the fresh-water supply in Alexandria and Mareotis.36

John the Writer is unafraid to admit that administration, especially with regard to taxes, was not every patriarch's gift. According to John, Patriarch Michael II (#53, 849–851) experienced great “sorrows and trials” in connection with the tax demands he faced. He prayed for release from his trials—and when he fell terminally ill on Easter Day 851, his prayer was granted.37 His successor Cosmas II (#54, 851–858) was, by contrast, fortunate: he could rely on the financial expertise of two wealthy Coptic notables, Maqarah ibn Yusuf and Ibrahim ibn Sawirus. They established the patriarch in the Nile Delta town of Damirah, at a safe distance from (p.31) government officials in both Alexandria and Misr. There Cosmas could live and pray in quietness while Maqarah and Ibrahim “took care of the affairs of the Church” and dealt with “the affairs of the Sultan.”38

Trials from Without

The Egyptian Church experienced a number of external blows during the Άbbasid period. The authorities' tax policies ranged from difficult to downright cruel. Popular uprisings in Egypt, sometimes involving the Christian population, were common; a recent study counts thirteen of them between 767 and 832.39 Chaos at the Άbbasid center could spill over into the provinces, as during the civil war over the succession to Harun al-Rashid for much of the decade following his death in 809, or the rapid succession of caliphs after the murder of the caliph al-Mutawakkil (by his son, al-Mustansir) in 861. These blows resulted in the erosion of various aspects of the Egyptian Christian “infrastructure,” induced major changes in the financing and even the location of the patriarchate, and made conversion to Islam an attractive option for many Egyptian Christians.

John the Writer devotes a considerable amount of space to the disturbances that had broken out in Egypt as early as the year 806, and which were exacerbated by the death of the caliph Harun al-Rashid in 809 and the outbreak of civil war between his sons al-Amin and al-Mẚmun. Military leaders who were relative newcomers to Egypt jockeyed for authority, mostly at the expense of the long-established Muslim families in the country. By 813 they had effectively split Egypt into northern (including Alexandria) and southern (including Misr) zones of influence.40 The area around Alexandria was largely under the control of Arab tribesmen who originally hailed from Yemen, although the older Arab families who had inhabited Alexandria since the time of the conquest clung to their sense of superiority and entitlement. The power equation in Alexandria was made yet more difficult in 815, when the area around the city was invaded by Arab refugees fleeing autocratic rule in al-Andalus (Islamic Spain).41 According to John the Writer, Patriarch Mark II watched the unfolding situation in his city with pastoral concern: noting that the Andalusians held Byzantine Christian captives who were regularly sold into slavery and frequently converted to Islam, he did his best to purchase their freedom (and to arrange, if they so desired, for instruction in the Coptic Orthodox faith).42 Shortly afterward, however, chaos erupted in Alexandria as it became the scene of a fierce three-way struggle among the older Arab families, the Arab tribesmen, and the Andalusian refugees.43 When in 816 the Andalusians went on a murderous rampage in the city, the Church of the Savior (the Soter) and (p.32) many other buildings were destroyed by fire, and the patriarch with two disciples was obliged to flee. They eventually settled in the Delta town of Nabaruh, the hometown of a pious Coptic official who negotiated with the regional strongman for their safe sojourn there.44

At about the same time that blood and fire were defiling the city of the patriarch, Beduin were plundering Scetis (or “the Wadi Habib”), demolishing churches and cells and killing, scattering, or enslaving the monks.45 The horror of this event is magnified in John's account by his reverence for Scetis, to which he regularly gives names such as the “Paradise of God,” the “Garden of Eden,” the “Holy of Holies,” or the “Holy Jerusalem.”46

If Patriarch Mark had been presented at the beginning of his biography as an efficient administrator and builder, at its end we are left with a portrait of a figure like Jeremiah, an exile who gives voice to his people's lament over the destruction wrought in the “holy temples” (of Alexandria) or the “Holy of Holies” (Scetis):47

The gentiles have entered [the Lord's] inheritance, and defiled our holy temples, and made the great city of Alexandria like a prison, through the fighting that has taken place therein between the tribes.

At last the slain found none to bury them; and many of their corpses became food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.48

My heart is disquieted within me, and in my reins a fire is kindled.

O Lord, let me know my end; for my hope is vanished, and I have no harbour of safety where I can be secure.

For the joy of Egypt has ceased, and Wadi Habib, the Holy of Holies, has become a ruin, the dwelling of wild beasts.

The homes of our blessed fathers, who passed their nights in prayer, have become the resort of the owl and the dens of cruel foxes, namely this foul tribe.49

The patriarch's words are full of biblical echoes, especially of Israel's laments over Jerusalem as well as of her prophets' oracles against the nations.50

(p.33) The patriarch himself had become an exile. This is a turning point in the story of the patriarchs of Alexandria. Their connection with their city, while not completely severed, would never be quite the same.

Patriarch Mark II was succeeded by Jacob (#50, 819–830), a monk of St. Macarius who had fled to Upper Egypt when Scetis was sacked, but who soon returned (in response to a vision of the Virgin Mary, John the Writer tells us) in order to head up the effort of rebuilding and regathering the monks.51 Egypt was still in a chaotic state when Jacob became patriarch in 819: control of Alexandria continued to be contested, and the lamentable security situation interrupted pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Menas, normally one of the patriarchate's major sources of revenue.52 Order was finally restored in 826 with the arrival of the caliph al-Mẚmun's general and governor-designate Άbd Allah ibn Tahir, who quickly reconquered the province. While John the Writer characterizes Άbd Allah as “a good and merciful man in his religion” who “loved justice and hated tyranny,”53 he only remained in Egypt for seventeen months, and the governors who followed him promptly increased their tax demands.54 John the Writer relates that Patriarch Jacob found these demands so difficult that he resorted to handing over gold Eucharistic vessels in partial payment of his debt—but that God intervened with a miracle: the vessels flowed with blood when a goldsmith attempted to break them up.55

Onerous tax policies and the cruelty with which they were implemented led to renewed rebellion, including a major uprising in 831 in which Muslims and Copts alike participated.56 The caliph al-Mẚmun's forces under his Persian general al-Afshin were largely successful in putting down the revolt, but ran into difficulties in pacifying the Copts of the Bashmur district of the northern Delta, where the marshy terrain favored the defenders. According to John's chronicle, the new patriarch Yusab I (#52, 831–849), in the company of his Syrian counterpart Dionysius I (818–845), who had come to Egypt in the company of the caliph al-Mẚmun himself, tried to persuade the Bashmurites to give up their resistance to the authorities, but in vain.57 Al-Afshin eventually put down the uprising with great violence, burning villages (and churches), executing men, and enslaving women and children.58 The result of this revolt was the de-Christianization of an entire region; some historians have seen the failure of the “Coptic” or “Bashmuric” revolt of 831 as a point at which many Egyptian Christians decided to convert to Islam.59

Conversions were certainly reported during the reign of the caliph al-Mutawakkil (847–861), who, as part of his policy of promoting a traditionalist Sunni understanding of Islam, passed edicts in 850 and 853 calling for the destruction of “renovated” churches, the dismissal of non-Muslim (p.34) civil servants, and a variety of measures designed to mark out non-Muslims and keep them in their (subservient) place.60

John the Writer reports his edicts as follows:

[Al-Mutawakkil] brought down upon the churches in every place innumerable afflictions which were that he ordered all the churches to be demolished, and that none of the Orthodox Christians, Melkites, Nestorians, or Jews should wear white garments, but that they should wear dyed garments, so that they might be distinguished among the Muslims. He ordered that frightful pictures should be made on wooden boards and that they should be nailed over the doors of the Christians. He forced most of them to embrace al-Islam, and ordered that Christians should not serve in the employment of the Sultan at all, but only Muslims and those who had gone over to al-Islam.61

According to John, al-Mutawakkil's governor in Egypt, Άnbasah ibn Ishaq,62 not only implemented the above stipulations but forbade any public display of Christian religion (crosses, funeral processions, striking of the naqus63 to summon the faithful to prayer), and outlawed the possession of wine, even for liturgical purposes.64

The legal traditions reflected in al-Mutawakkil's decrees would eventually crystallize as the “Covenant of ‘Umar,” allegedly an agreement made between the “rightly guided” caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (634–644) and his new non-Muslim subjects in the early days of the Islamic conquests.65 As false as their attribution to ‘Umar may have been, such traditions, with their provisions for distinguishing (and humiliating) non-Muslims, had been seen in Egypt before (under the Umayyad caliph ‘Umar II, 717–720), would flare up again under the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (996–1021),66 and would become a regular feature of Coptic life under the Mamluks.67 While neither the ghiyar legislation (that is, those measures aimed at differentiating non-Muslims from Muslims) nor the demand for the dismissal of non-Muslim civil servants tended to stay in force for very long, they served as periodic prods to conversion. As John the Writer reports:

Many people could not endure these conditions, and they did not trust in their God, but denied the Name of the Saviour in those days of adversity, and they forgot what is said in the Holy Gospel: “But he that endureth to the end, the (p.35) same shall be saved. And this gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached.”68

We note, though, that John does not only report unhappy events, he also preaches to strengthen the resolve of Christians tempted to deny their faith.

In spite of al-Mutawakkil's discriminatory decrees, his reign represented a period of political stability, allowing for relative peace during the reign of Cosmas II (#54, 851–858) as well as a period of intensive pastoral work, including a tour of Upper Egypt, by his active and saintly successor Shenoute I (#55, 859–880). That stability came to an end with al-Mutawakkil's assassination in 861. His son, murderer, and successor al-Mustansir appointed a finance minister in Egypt69 who immediately doubled taxes, cancelled exemptions, and invented new forms of extortion;70 Shenoute soon found himself either in hiding71 or desperately attempting with his bishops to work out a payment plan.72 Soon afterward, however, grievances against the caliph and his officers led to rebellion throughout the caliphate; in Egypt it was led by the tribe of the Banu Mudlij near Alexandria. As order broke down, Upper Egyptian monasteries were destroyed by Beduin,73 Scetis was threatened,74 and pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Menas was cut off—this time, it seems, for good: “The church of the martyr Saint Menas at Maryut which was the delight of all the Orthodox people of Egypt became a desert.”75 It is indicative of the times that, once Ahmad ibn Tulun had restored order (and opened a new chapter in the history of Egypt), Patriarch Shenoute, who earlier had undertaken public works projects in Alexandria and Mareotis, now built a wall around the Church of St. Macarius—creating the fortress-like monastery with which we are familiar today.76

Trials from Within

If the Church suffered from external trials during the Άbbasid period, one of the most striking features of the account of John the Writer is the regularity with which the Church suffered from internal strife. It may be that this feature receives special emphasis because of the way John orders his plot: the Church thrives for a time, then Satan enters into someone in order to create trials for God's people, but eventually divine vengeance catches up with that person. That vengeance is sometimes swift, as when one of the administrative assistants of Patriarch Mark II, in a bid for power at a rival's expense, swore falsely on an icon of the Virgin and Christ Child—and his entire right side was immediately paralyzed.77 It is sometimes widely encompassing, as when a deacon who had spoken insolently to Patriarch Jacob suddenly died—with all his household.78 But there are also cases in (p.36) which the ambitious are bought off, as when Ishaq ibn Andunah, a wealthy rival of Yusab I for the office of patriarch despite being a married layman,79 was made bishop of Awsim with authority over the diocese of Misr as well.80 Upon Ishaq's death, his son Theodore aspired to succeed him as bishop of Awsim. He eventually got his way when the governor (who had been promised payment for his support) began to pull down one of the most celebrated churches of Misr, the Mưallaqah or “Hanging” Church, in order to persuade the patriarch to proceed with the consecration.81 John the Writer reports that divine retribution did fall—but on the governor, who later died in battle against the Byzantines, rather than on Bishop Theodore.82

A number of stories in John's chronicle are of this nature: individuals seeking the office of deacon, bishop, or even patriarch with the support of Muslim authorities (who have often been bribed). Two stories of this sort, both of which resulted in severe suffering for the patriarch, bracket John's narrative. His first biography, of Menas I (#47, 767–776), is almost entirely taken up with the story of the renegade monk Peter, who won the confidence first of the patriarch of Antioch, and then of the Άbbasid caliph al-Mansur (754–775), and who attempted to have himself imposed as patriarch of Alexandria. Menas and many of his bishops resisted steadfastly—but spent a year doing backbreaking, degrading work in a shipyard before Peter's overweening arrogance triggered his downfall.83 John's final story has to do with the monk Theodore of the Monastery of St. John Kame, who, frustrated in his ambition to be ordained deacon, falsely claimed that Patriarch Shenoute was converting Muslims to Christianity. Shenoute, already crippled with gout, was imprisoned for a time with a number of members of his entourage.84

Perhaps the patriarch of this era who faced the greatest internal challenges was Yusab I (#52, 831–849). His dealings with his rival Ishaq ibn Andunah (the married lay notable or archon who was a candidate for patriarch) and his son Theodore (who became a bishop as a result of a Muslim governor's violent pressure) have already been mentioned. Shortly after the pacification of the rebellion of 831, Yusab was obliged to suspend two bishops, Isaac of Tinnis and Theodore of Misr, who had alienated their people to the point that the people threatened apostasy or even murder.85 They then denounced the patriarch to General al-Afshin as being the person behind the Bashmurite Christians' participation in the rebellion.86 Their denunciation led to an assassination attempt against the patriarch, and then his arrest and maltreatment, before he was finally vindicated before the general.87 Perhaps even more disturbing was a plot among a number of the bishops, with the support of the chief Muslim legal authority, the qadi, to depose Yusab and (p.37) replace him with Yannah, bishop of Misr.88 This time around, Yusab was saved by careful documentation: diplomas recognizing his position from both the caliph al-Mẚmun and his brother, the super-governor of Egypt (and future caliph) al-Mưtasim.89 John the Writer portrays his spiritual father Yusab as a holy man, but cannot disguise the fact that the Church in Yusab's days was riven by ambition, dissatisfaction with the patriarch, and an unseemly readiness to resort to alliances with those outside the Church.

A Crisis of Cohesion?

A Battered Church

Was the Egyptian Church, to put the matter bluntly, falling apart? External blows during the Άbbasid period had badly degraded the Egyptian Church's sacred geography. Pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Menas had effectively come to an end. The patriarchs had been driven out of Alexandria into the Delta, where they took refuge in out-of-the-way places. Monasteries had been attacked, and were trying to ensure their survival by building fortress-like walls. Internally, John the Writer gives us a melancholy picture of party spirit and ambition that regularly took a sinister and destructive turn.

Ignorance and Heresy

John's melancholy picture is by no means relieved by the state of Christian teaching in the Coptic Church in the period he chronicles. When Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Dionysius I (818–845) visited Egypt in the company of the caliph al-Mẚmun in 832, it was not his first visit to Egypt; some years earlier (826) he had come in the company of al-Mẚmun's general Άbd Allah ibn Tahir. According to Dionysius's own account, the Coptic patriarch Jacob and his bishops received him with joy and said:

“We have not seen a [Syrian] patriarch in Egypt since Mar Severus!” Then we reminded him of the coming of Athanasius Gammolo, and the union that he made with Anastasius after the schism of Peter and Damian.90 We realized that, not caring about book-learning, conventions had fallen into disuse among them. Jacob was rich in good works but was not skilled in speaking and administration.91

The charge (by a theological ally) that the leadership of the ninth-century Egyptian church did not care about book-learning may simply reflect the prejudices of a highly cultured foreign visitor. One could assemble evidence to the contrary from the History of the Patriarchs: Mark II, himself (p.38) the author of “twenty-one books of Mystagogia,”92 saw to the Christian education of the Byzantine captives he had ransomed.93 Yusab I was trained in Greek.94 Shenoute I “was very solicitous for the books of the Church.”95 And yet, Shenoute spent many of his early days as patriarch combating odd heresies and heretics: ‘Quartodecimans’ in Mareotis;96 bishops in al-Balyana teaching that “the Nature of the Divinity died”;97 a teacher who reviled Cyril of Alexandria in Upper Egypt;98 and teachers elsewhere who claimed that the Resurrection took place on 11 April rather than on 25 March.99 John the Writer is candid about one cause of the spread of false teaching among the people: “the scantiness of the knowledge of their shepherds (the bishops) was manifest in those days.”100 It is probably not too much to speak of a crisis in Christian education in the mid-ninth century.

One recent writer, reflecting on the strange appearance of ‘Quartodecimans’ in Mareotis, suggests that it is “the sign of a tear in the religious fabric, of a breakup, of a crisis of cohesion among the Christians.” He finds in the appearance of this and other ancient heresies “a symptom of religious deculturation.”101 Such a process of deculturation could only pave the way for increased Islamization.102


Άbbasid ideology stressed both the equality of Muslims regardless of ethnic background and the desirability of non-Muslims' conversion to Islam. This marked a break with the instincts of the Umayyad Arab elite, in general happy to allow Christians and Jews to remain in their religion as long as they paid the poll tax or jizyah.103 From the time that the Άbbasids succeeded in asserting their authority, they encouraged conversion by exempting converts from the jizyah, as well as by other means. The Mưtazilite theologians who dominated official Άbbasid discourse under the caliph al-Mẚmun and his immediate successors produced a large volume of ‘refutation of the Christians’ literature that may have served both “evangelistic” and catechetical purposes.104 While the caliph al-Mutawakkil suppressed the Mưtazilite dialecticians in favor of a more text-based, traditionist discourse, he continued to patronize writers of anti-dhimmi literature,105 and John the Writer bears witness that the caliph's dismissal of non-Muslims from the civil service induced many to convert.106

For John, the phenomenon of Christians converting to Islam is a reality, but one against which he can preach. In his account of the false monk Peter, who tormented Patriarch Menas I, John relates that Peter converted to Islam at the hand of the caliph al-Mansur, who rewarded him with “many gifts … garments and money and horses and female slaves.”107 When al-Mansur (p.39) died in 775, however, Peter (or Abu l-Khayr, as he had come to be known) encountered nothing but contempt and shame from his family and acquaintances, who spoke to him as follows:

“Ah thou that art become a son of Satan, and hast strayed from the way of life, where hast thou left the fear of God and of Hell, and the voice of our Creator pronouncing the terrible sentence: ‘Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I deny before the Father who is in heaven?’ Thou hast rejected this true voice, and therefore thou shalt hear instead of it: ‘Take him away to the fire which is not quenched and the worm which sleeps not.’ This shall be the reward of thy apostasy.”108

The verbal violence of this statement may well indicate the degree to which conversion to Islam was, for John the Writer in the mid-ninth century, a painful reality. While evidence outside the literary sources for conversion to Islam in ninth-century Egypt is limited, what evidence does exist is striking—for example, funerary stelae from Aswan for persons with startling names such as Muhammad ibn Yuhannis (“Muhammad son of John”) or Abu l-Harith Bilal ibn Andriya (“Abu l-Harith Bilal son of Andrew”), presumably sons of Christian converts to Islam.109 Medieval Islamic biographical dictionaries yield similar examples of prominent Muslim individuals with Christian ancestors, as is clear from the Christian names of their forebears; the limited evidence for Egypt indicates a heightened conversion rate in the ninth century lasting into the tenth.110 Christians and Muslims (including converts to Islam) may well have been living together peacefully in common communities by the time John the Writer produced his chronicle. Indeed, some evidence of intermarriage exists: we possess an Arabic contract from Edfu for the sale of a house, dating to AD 854, between Yuna bint Halis ( Johanna daughter of Elisha?) and her husband Yazid ibn Qasim, signed by three Christian witnesses (one of whom signed his name in Coptic).111 John's description of the shame that Peter's kin heaped upon him for converting may have been more an expression of what John thought proper than a reflection of actual conditions, in which conversion to Islam and intermarriage were becoming accepted realities.112

The religious conversion of a population is, of course, an extraordinarily complex process, progressing at different rates in different places, and proceeding in any given locality in a series of fits and starts, with a number of plateaus along the way. Later, we shall see that the twelfth century, and again the fourteenth, offered conditions and witnessed events that made (p.40) conversion to Islam an attractive possibility, or at least a rational choice, for many of Egypt's remaining Christians. Still, there seems to be no reason to dispute the scholarly consensus that the ninth century was a crucial period in the process of conversion to Islam in Egypt, even if we have no way of measuring the exact proportions of Egyptian Christians and Muslims at the end of that century—or at any other time.113

Hanging on

The preceding section has painted a rather bleak picture of the Egyptian Church in the ninth century. Is the gloom unrelieved? Are there elements in the picture provided by John the Writer (and other sources) that point to adaptability and possibilities of renewal in the Church?

One such element, possibly, is the important role played by the arakhinah or Coptic lay notables in some of John's biographies.114 Although this role could be disruptive, at other times the arakhinah came to the rescue in difficult situations. Thus it was the archon Maqarah ibn Shath who settled Patriarch Mark II in the Delta town of Nabaruh after he had been obliged to flee Alexandria in 816.115 As noted earlier, the arakhinah Maqarah ibn Yusuf and Ibrahim ibn Sawirus spirited Patriarch Cosmas II (851–858) away from the clutches of the local governor (wali) in Alexandria to Damirah in the Delta, leaving him to pray there while they effectively ran the Church.116 Ibrahim continued in an active role after his colleague's death, and at the height of oppressive financial extortions (in 861–862) undertook an embassy to the caliphs al-Mưtazz and al-Musta‘in, from whom he obtained a decree restoring much church property.117 The contributions of these arakhinah foreshadow the leading role that Coptic laity would take in the affairs of the Church at various times of difficulty and opportunity, in which the history of the patriarchs tends to give way to the history of the lay notables.

Another element of renewal in the life of the Egyptian Church has to do with its connections with Christians beyond the lands ruled by the governor. John the Writer makes the patriarch's responsibilities for these relations explicit when he states that the patriarch's duties are threefold:

the care for the synodical letter to the patriarch of Antioch; secondly our relations with the Abyssinians and the Nubians; and thirdly the carrying out of decrees issued by the governor of Egypt to the patriarchs and bishops. …118

We have treated the third responsibility, that of obedience to the Muslim authorities, at some length. Relations with the Abyssinians and Nubians only (p.41) come into John's chronicle at one point, when Patriarch Yusab I counsels the Nubians to fulfill their treaty obligations to the Άbbasids, meets the Nubian prince George on his way to and from Baghdad, and consecrates a bishop for the Abyssinians.119 What may be surprising is the stress John places on the synodical letters between the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, that is, the statements of faith addressed by each new patriarch to his counterpart, and the responses to them. John documents these exchanges diligently,120 and at least three of them have been preserved.121

This “Syrian connection” was important to the life of the Coptic Church.122 Periodic formal exchanges of letters provided opportunities for each community to reaffirm its loyalty to—and to reflect upon—the faith of Athanasius, Cyril, Dioscorus, Severus, and Theodosius. Of particular importance to the life of the Coptic Church was the presence of Syrian monks, who, by the early ninth century, had established themselves at the Monastery of the Theotokos of Bishoi,123 which came to be known as Dayr al-Suryan or the Syrian Monastery. Recent restoration work at the monastery has led to the discovery of ninth-century Syriac inscriptions on the wall of the old church.124 One of them names the Antiochian patriarch Cyriacus (793–817). Another, which presumably dates to the period immediately after the sack of Scetis in 816/817, refers to the rebuilding efforts of the monks Mattai and Ya‘qub and names the patriarchs Jacob of Alexandria (819–830) and Dionysius I of Antioch (818–845). Mattai and Ya‘qub are also known as two of the monks responsible for assembling the core of an extraordinary library at the Syrian Monastery.125 At the same time that Dionysius was complaining about the Copts' disinterest in book-learning, monks from his own community were assembling a remarkable theological resource center in the heart of the Egyptian “Paradise of God” that was Scetis, one that continues to be of great significance today.126

Embattled Saints

John the Writer presents the patriarchs of the difficult Άbbasid period as embattled saints. As portrayed, they are distinctive in their saintliness: Mark II is a practical man who builds churches and writes books;127 Jacob is a holy man who sees saints in visions, prophesies, has remarkable capacities of both healing and cursing, and was “intercessor for the land of Egypt”;128 the prayers of Yusab I are likewise heard, whether for healing or for vengeance;129 Shenoute I is not only an attractive pastor and teacher but also a model of monastic humility, weeping with ease and regularly praying for the forgiveness of his enemies.130 All the patriarchs of this period suffered trials and afflictions patiently. The Arabic redaction that has preserved their story (p.42) regularly uses the language of jihad, “struggle,” to describe their endurance of adversity: they were mujahidin who earned the crown of life/victory through their patience.131

Just so, the patriarchs of this period stood in continuity with the great “fighters” of old such as Athanasius, Dioscorus, Severus, and Theodosius. They themselves claimed this continuity, in the anti-Arian, anti-Chalcedonian, and anti-Julianist affirmations of the synodical letters that they regularly exchanged with their Antiochian counterparts. At the point that the actual residence of the patriarch in Alexandria began to become an occasional reality rather than something taken for granted, John the Writer intensifies his references to these great “fighters,” all of whom, of course, endured exile. Mark II, driven from Alexandria by mayhem in the streets, found refuge in a town in the Egyptian countryside—like Severus of Antioch.132 An aged monk had a vision of Dioscorus and Severus holding the Gospel book at the consecration of Mark's successor Jacob; on his deathbed, Jacob was heard to greet the same two fathers, whose jihad his own resembled.133 Much was changing during the Άbbasid period. Foes assaulted the Church from within and without, and the patriarchal residence in Alexandria was in the process of being abandoned. For the successors of the militant patriarchs and exiles Athanasius, Dioscorus, Severus, and Theodosius, however, this was nothing new. Satan might rage, but God would surely prevail.


(1.) The expression is that of Christian Décobert in his “Maréotide médiévale,” 152, n. 101. His point will be discussed below.

(2.) PO 10.5, 472–73.

(3.) Seeden Heijer, Mawhub, 146–49; Swanson, “John the Writer,” in CMR1, 702–705. In fact, it is not entirely certain that this scribe's name was John, but it is convenient to call him that.

(4.) This monastery was a new foundation in the ninth century. See Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wâdi 'n Natrûn, ii, 305–308.

(5.) PO 10.5, 531–32; HPEC 2.1, 49. One wonders whether John needed such a prophecy in order to legitimate his literary activity.

(6.) PO 10.5, 360.

(7.) PO 10.5, 533–34.

(8.) PO 10.5, 543.

(9.) PO 10.5, 360; HPEC 2.1, 76. John describes his call (by means of a dream) to write the biographies of the patriarchs in HPEC 2.1, 49–50.

(10.) This is a constant theme of John's history from its first pages (beginning at PO 10.5, 362).

(11.) HPEC 2.1, 17.

(12.) John quotes or alludes to Matthew 16:18, Christ's statement that “the gates of Hell” shall not prevail against the Church, at least five times: PO 10.5, 371, 399, 512, 522; HPEC 2.1, 71.

(13.) PO 10.5, 473.

(14.) HPEC 2.1, 12.

(15.) See, for example, HPEC 2.1, 77–81, where John goes into gory detail about the arrest, multiple beatings, mistreatment by fellow prisoners, and grotesque disease suffered by a deacon who had been responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of an already ailing Patriarch Shenoute. Shenoute, as always, accepts his trials as the consequences of his own sins, forgives his persecutor, and prays for him; HPEC 2.1, 75–77, 81.

(16.) We have already seen the connection made by the (anonymous) author of the Apocalypse of Athanasius between Muhammad and the Beast of Revelation 13; see above, Chapter Two. The (likewise) anonymous thirteenth-century Martyrdom of John of Phanijoit, written in Coptic, attempts to strengthen the Christian community by characterizing the Muslim community as immoral; see Zaborowski, The Coptic Martyrdom of John of Phanijoit, esp. 28–31.

(17.) See HPEC 2.1, 10, 12, 34–35.

(18.) See PO 10.5, 465 ('Abd Allah ibn Tahir is “a good and merciful man in his religion” who “loved justice and hated tyranny”); HPEC 2.1, 61 (Governor (p.172) Muzahim [ibn Khaqan] was “a man who was pious and continent in his sect, knowing the precepts of his religion, and just in his ways”); HPEC 2.1, 66 (the replacement for the tyrant Ibn al-Mudabbir was “a man careful for his soul, and known for his goodness in the religion of Islam. He … began to do good. … ”).

(19.) See the nine-page chart of the governors (and other chief officials) of Egypt under the 'Abbasids in Lane-Poole, A History of Egypt, 50–58.

(20.) PO 10.5, 507.

(21.) PO 10.5, 369–70. I have emended the spelling of the patriarch's name, “Mennas” in Evetts's translation.

(22.) This text is later quoted by Patriarch Yusab; PO 10.5, 488–89.

(23.) PO 10.5, 500; see similar statements by the same patriarch at pp. 504, 514, and 529.

(24.) HPEC 2.1, 38.

(25.) PO 5.1, 190.

(26.) PO 10.5, 404. I have regularized the transliteration of an Arabic word in Evetts's translation: diwan rather than Divan. The diwan here is a register of government officials.

(27.) PO 10.5, 381. The Greek/Coptic word oikonomos is transliterated rather than translated into Arabic: uqnum.

(28.) PO 10.5, 385.

(29.) PO 10.5, 383: “it was granted to him to be acceptable to all princes and governors, like Joseph the Truthful, … to whom he gave grace and wisdom before Pharaoh.”

(30.) PO 10.5, 383–92.

(31.) PO 10.5, 406–408. The entire scene, in which Patriarch Mark prays for the governor, who “admired the sweetness of Abba Mark's voice and his gracious words and the grace with which he was surrounded” (p. 407), is reminiscent of the meeting of Patriarch Benjamin and 'Amr ibn al-'As; see above, Chapter One.

(32.) PO 10.5, 419. His building projects included: rebuilding the churches of Fustat-Misr (p. 408), rebuilding one of the churches of the repentant Barsanuphians (p. 415), and rebuilding the Church of the Savior (the Soter) in Alexandria (pp. 418–20).

(33.) PO 10.5, 483. His guardian's name was Theodore, whose title was mutawalli kurat Misr (prefect for the district of Misr).

(34.) PO 10.5, 485.

(35.) PO 10.5, 538.

(36.) HPEC 2.1, 27–28.

(37.) HPEC 2.1, 2.

(38.) HPEC 2.1, 3–5, 16; the quoted phrases are on p. 4.

(39.) Mikhail, “Egypt from Late Antiquity to Early Islam,” 195–211. Mikhail rejects the usual distinction between “Coptic” and “Arab” revolts, and counts a total of nineteen revolts in the following years (where boldface type indicates revolts in which there was significant Egyptian Christian participation: 712, 725, 739–740, 750 (two revolts), 752, 767, 773, 784, 793, 801, 806, 809, 811, 813, 818–819, 829, 831, 832.

(40.) The south was ruled by al-Sari ibn al-Hakam and the north by ‘Abd al-’ Aziz al-Jarawi in conjunction with the Yemeni tribes of Lakhm and Judham. Both men were recent arrivals in Egypt. For a very helpful outline of events during the troubled years 806–831, see Kennedy, “Egypt as a Province,” 79–83.

(41.) John's account of events is found in PO 10.5, 427–39.

(42.) PO 10.5, 429. John the Writer reports that Patriarch Mark purchased six thousand captives, set them free, and gave them the choice of returning home or settling down with the Christians of Egypt.

(43.) PO 10.5, 430.

(44.) PO 10.5, 431–34. The official, Macarius, obtained security guarantees for the patriarch from ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-Jarawi.

(45.) PO 10.5, 438–39, 440–41; for more on this “fifth sack of Scetis,” see Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wadi 'n Natrûn, ii, 297–98.

(46.) The “Paradise of God”: PO 10.5, 404, 453, 538. The “Garden of Eden” or the “Holy of Holies”: PO 10.5, 438. The “Holy Jerusalem”: HPEC 2.1, 66.

(47.) Patriarch Mark speaks of himself as living “in exile” in his letter to Patriarch Dionysius of Antioch; PO 10.5, 436. In the same place, John the Writer explicitly links the patriarch's laments to those traditionally attributed to Jeremiah: “Such were the thoughts he expressed, because these events were like that which is written concerning Jerusalem in the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah.” The patriarch's laments may be found throughout an extensive passage, PO 10.5, 432–39.

(48.) PO 10.5, 436. Patriarch Mark's lament echoes Psalm 79:1–3 (a psalm of lament), which he had quoted earlier; PO 10.5, 432.

(49.) PO 10.5, 438–39. Here and in the previous quotation, I have reformatted the text of Evetts's translations in order to emphasize the passages' similarity to biblical lament.

(50.) The first four lines of the quoted passage come from Psalm 39:3–4. For the image of the place inhabited only by wild animals, see the prophetic oracles against Babylon in Isaiah 13:19–22 and Jeremiah 50:39.

(51.) PO 10.5, 440–43. After he became patriarch, Jacob rebuilt the Church of St. Macarius; PO 10.5, 459–60.

(52.) PO 10.5, 451; see also p. 469.

(53.) PO 10.5, 465.

(54.) This situation reflects a new (and oppressive) arrangement for governing Egypt: the local authorities reported to a “super-governor” in Baghdad, who in this case was none other than the caliph's brother, the future caliph al-Mu'tasim. See Kennedy, “Egypt as a Province,” 82–83.

(55.) PO 10.5, 469. John reports that the governor (here 'Isa ibn Yazid al-Juludi) returned the vessels to the patriarch, but still “demanded the taxes with greater severity than before.”

(56.) This revolt is well documented in both Christian and Muslim sources; see Mikhail, “Egypt from Late Antiquity to Early Islam,” 207. John the Writer singles out two especially cruel tax gatherers who were responsible for driving their victims to desperate violence: Ahmad ibn al-Asbat and Ibrahim ibn Tamim; PO 10.5, 486–87.

(57.) PO 10.5, 488–89 (Yusab's preaching before Dionysius's arrival), 493–94 (Yusab and Dionysius together try to dissuade the rebels).

(58.) PO 10.5, 494.

(59.) This was the judgment of al-Maqrizi, writing in the fifteenth century, and modern historians have repeated it: “Egypt now became, for the first time, an essentially Mohammadan country”; Lane-Poole, A History of Egypt, 38. This may oversimplify matters; see below.

(60.) The edict has been preserved by al-Tabari, History (trans. Kramer), 89–91.

(61.) HPEC 2.1, 6. Translation slightly modified. (See the Preface, “Technical Notes,” on the regular modifications I have made to English translations from HPEC.)

(62.) HPEC 2.1, 6. John the Writer curiously calls him al-Ghayr ‘Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq, “Not-a-servant-of-Christ,” son of Isaac. This appears to indicate that John regarded the governor as a Christian named’ Abd al-Masih, perhaps a convert.

(63.) The semantron, a flat piece of metal beaten to produce a gong-like noise.

(64.) HPEC 2.1, 7–8.

(65.) On the history of development of the “Covenant of ‘Umar,” see now Miller, “From Catalogue to Codes to Canon.”

(66.) See below, Chapter Four.

(67.) See below, Chapters Seven-Nine. An interesting feature in the various decrees is the changing significance of particular colors. In al-Mutawakkil's decrees, yellow is the color that marks the ahl al-dhimmah, while in al-Hakim's it is black. Under the Mamluks yellow was reserved for Jews, and blue for Christians. For a detailed discussion, see Miller, “From Catalogue to Codes to Canon,” 115–19.

(68.) HPEC 2.1, 8. Translation slightly modified. See Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:10.

(69.) Ibn al-Mudabbir Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Rastisani, “the most hated man in Egypt, which explains the escort of 100 young guardsmen who accompanied him on all occasions,” according to Bianquis, “Autonomous Egypt,” 92.

(70.) HPEC 2.1, 34–35.

(71.) HPEC 2.1, 35–37.

(72.) HPEC 2.1, 39. Even a five-fold increase in the diyariyah (a church tax originally intended to support the monasteries) was insufficient to meet Ibn al-Mudabbir's demands.

(73.) HPEC 2.1, 45–46. John mentions the well-known monasteries of St. Shenoute and of al-Qalamun, as well as a monastery of St. Pachomius in the district of Taha.

(74.) HPEC 2.1, 52–60.

(75.) HPEC 2.1, 60.

(76.) HPEC 2.1, 68. The new monastery of St. John Kame appears to have been built with a wall. Fortified enclosures were no doubt created for the other monasteries of Scetis during the last third of the ninth century.

(77.) PO 10.5, 420–22.

(78.) PO 10.5, 451–52. The deacon had demanded the usual payments for the churches of Alexandria at precisely the time that, because of disruptions to the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Menas, funds were short.

(79.) PO 10.5, 477–79.

(80.) PO 10.5, 496–97, 502.

(81.) PO 10.5, 519–522.

(82.) PO 10.5, 522.

(83.) PO 10.5, 362–80. Peter presumed on the support of the caliph to the extent that he threatened the governor of Egypt, who clapped him in irons and threw him into a dungeon for three years; pp. 375–76.

(84.) HPEC 2.1, 92–98.

(85.) PO 10.5, 490–92.

(86.) PO 10.5, 497–98.

(87.) PO 10.5, 498–501.

(88.) On the name of this bishop (which Evetts read as Banah), see Samir, “Yannah, dans l’onomastique arabo-copte.

(89.) PO 10.5, 523–27.

(90.) This reconciliation between the two communities took place in 616. See Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy, 111–12.

(91.) Michael, Patriarch of Antioch, Chronique (ed. Chabot), iii, 63.

(92.) PO 10.5, 440.

(93.) PO 10.5, 429.

(94.) PO 10.5, 483.

(95.) HPEC 2.1, 91.

(96.) HPEC 2.1, 24. This appears to be a community of “Phantasiasts,” who denied the sufferings of Christ.

(97.) HPEC 2.1, 30. “God died in the flesh” would be an orthodox statement, but not that the Divinity died.

(98.) HPEC 2.1, 40. The teaching of Cyril of Alexandria is, of course, central to Coptic Orthodox theology. See Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy, 70–84.

(99.) HPEC 2.1, 48–49. Shenoute defends the traditional Alexandrian chronology of the fifth-century monk Annianos, according to which the world was created on 25 March 5492 BC, the Annunciation took place exactly 5500 years later, and the Resurrection thirty-three years after that. See Leclercq, “Ère.”

(100.) HPEC 2.1, 30.

(101.) Décobert, “Maréotide médiévale,” 152, n. 101.

(102.) Décobert's article makes this case for Mareotis, where an “economy of miracle” (based on the shrine of St. Menas) was made progressively more fragile and finally destroyed by a mechanism of government control that was “the first moment in a long and slow process of Islamization”; Décobert, “Maréotide médiévale,” 159–60.

(103.) The caliph 'Umar II (717–720) was the exception to this rule, as we noted in chapter Two.

(104.) See Charfi, “La fonction historique de la polémique islamochrétienne.”

(105.) Notably al-Jahiz and 'Ali al-Tabari. See Gaudeul, Encounters and Clashes, i, 39–48; ii, 24–39, 216–29, 314–21, 328–31, 348–55. See also the entries for them in CMR1: Thomas, “Al-Jahiz,” and Thomas, “‘Ali l-Tabari.

(106.) See above, note 68.

(107.) PO 10.5, 378.

(108.) PO 10.5, 379. I have added the quotation marks around the biblical quotations; these are from Matthew 10:33 and a conflation of Matthew 22:13 and Mark 9:48.

(109.) Décobert, “Sur l’arabisation et ľislamisation,” 278. The two stelae, numbers 59 and 330 respectively of the Muslim necropolis of Aswan, are dated respectively to AD 857 and 920; Décobert reasons that the fathers may have converted to Islam a half-century or so earlier. It may be, however, that Muhammad and Abu l-Harith Bilal themselves are the converts, having changed their names upon conversion.

(110.) Bulliet, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period.

(111.) Mikha'il, “Egypt from Late Antiquity to Early Islam,” 70–71. The contract is preserved in the Egyptian National Library and is known to papyrologists (p.177) as P.Cair.Arab.I.56. The marriage contract of this same mixed couple is preserved in P.Cair.Arab.I.48; see Mikha’il, “Egypt from Late Antiquity to Early Islam,” 65.

(112.) On the story of Peter/Abu l-Khayr, see the comments of Mikhail, “Egypt from Late Antiquity to Early Islam,” 69–70.

(113.) See the studies mentioned above (Mikhail, Bulliet, Décobert), as well as Lapidus, “The Conversion of Egypt to Islam.” Lapidus, who works especially with the Christian chroniclers including the History of the Patriarchs, refers to “the massive turning to Islam which finally occurred in the middle and later decades of the ninth century”; p. 256. At the same time, he recognizes that it was in the Mamluk period that the Copts were “reduced to the small minority they are today in Egypt”; History of the Patriarchsibid., 262.

(114.) Throughout this work I (rather inconsistently) use the more recognizable transliteration of Greek for the singular, archon, along with the Arabic broken plural, arakhinah.

(115.) PO 10.5, 433–34.

(116.) HPEC 2.1, 4–5, 16.

(117.) HPEC 2.1, 46–47.

(118.) PO 10.5, 507.

(119.) Ibid., 503–11.

(120.) John the Writer mentions exchanges of synodical letters (or personal visits) between:

John IV (777–799) and George I (758–790): PO 10.5, 382–83.

John IV and Cyriacus (793–817): PO 10.5, 392–95.

Mark II (799–819) and Cyriacus: PO 10.5, 408–10; another letter is quoted at p. 417.

Mark II and Dionysius I (818–845): PO 10.5, 435–37.

Jacob (819–830) and Dionysius I: personal visit by Dionysius, PO 10.5, 465–67.

Yusab I (831–849) and Dionysius I: personal visit by Dionysius, PO 10.5, 492–96.

Yusab I and John III (846–873): PO 10.5, 534–35.

Cosmas II (851–858) and John III: HPEC 2.1, 5.

Shenoute I (859–880) and John III: HPEC 2.1, 25–26.

(121.) 1. Synodical letter of John IV to Cyriacus: Confession of the Fathers (ed. Dayr al-Muharraq), 262–73. 2. Synodical letter of Cyriacus to Mark II: Confession of the Fathers, 274–80; Cyriacus, Patriarch of Antioch, “La letter synodale de Cyriaque”(ed. Teule).3. Letter of MarkII to Cyriacus: PO10.5, 417–18.

(122.) The most thorough study of this connection is Fiey, “Coptes et Syriques.”

(123.) The “Monastery of the Theotokos of Bishoi” may have come into existence at a short distance from the original monastery of St. Bishoi in the early (p.178) sixth century, when “Severan” monks separated themselves from the “Julianists.” On the period, see Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy, 101–108.

(124.) On the discoveries in the old church at Dayr al-Suryan and their significance, see: Innemée and van Rompay, “La présence des syriens”; Innemée, van Rompay, and Sobczynski, “Deir al-Surian”; den Heijer, “Relations between Copts and Syrians.”

(125.) See the Excursus, “The Library of the Syrian Monastery,” in Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wadi'n Natrûn, ii, 437–58. The library continued to expand throughout the first half of the tenth century under the care of a remarkable abbot, Moses of Nisibis.

(126.) Excursus, “The Library of the Syrian Monastery,” in Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wadi'n Natrûn, ii, 437–58. While the most significant Syriac manuscripts were carried off to London in the nineteenth century and are now found in the British Library, the Syrian Monastery still preserves a fine collection of Arabic manuscripts. A number of important contributions to Arabic Christian studies in recent years have involved the publication of texts transcribed from manuscripts at the Syrian Monastery.

(127.) PO 10.5, 402–40. “He loved good works and the building of churches,” p. 419; on his writings, p. 440.

(128.) PO 10.5, 440–75. On his visions, p. 442; prophecies, pp. 458–59; healing miracles, pp. 460–61, 471–72; cursing, pp. 449, 451–52; “intercessor for the land of Egypt,” p. 487.

(129.) PO 10.5, 476–547. A healing, pp. 533–34; prayers for vengeance, pp. 514–15, 517, 521–22, 530 (and 544–45), 537 (and 546).

(130.) HPEC 2.1, 18–99. On his pastoral ministry, pp. 23–31; his humility and weeping, pp. 21–22; his seeking forgiveness for foes, pp. 33–34, 43, 72, 75, 81–82, 97.

(131.) For examples of jihad language see, e.g., PO 10.5, 376, 380 (Menas I); 393 ( John IV); 446, 545–46 (Yusab I); HPEC 2.1, 98 (where “champion” translates mujahid) (Shenoute I).

(132.) Likewise the Muslim ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, who offered Patriarch Mark protection, may be compared with the magistrate Dorotheus of Sakha who gave Patriarch Severus lodging; PO 10.5, 433–34.

(133.) PO 10.5, 446–47, 474. In addition to these references to Severus of Antioch, on one occasion Patriarch Jacob performs an exorcism using oil from the lamp illuminating Severus's relics; PO 10.5, 471.