John, Bishop of Nikiu: Chronicle. London (1916). Introduction
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JOHN, BISHOP OF NIKIU
ZOTENBERG'S ETHIOPIC TEXT
R. H. CHARLES, D.Litt, D.D.
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§ 1. JOHN, BISHOP OF NIKIU AND HIS CHRONICLE.
JOHN OF NIKIU 1 was probably born about the time of the Mohammedan invasion of Egypt. He was the Coptic bishop of Nikiu and 'rector' of the bishops of Upper Egypt who took part in the election of the successor of John of Samnûd in 690 A.D. In 696 he was appointed administrator general of the Monasteries, but was later deposed from these offices on the ground that he had abused his powers.
His Chronicle, though even imperfectly preserved, is of immense value to historians of Egypt. As Butler2 remarks : 'It is the acquisition of John's manuscript by the British Abyssinian expedition which has made it possible to write a history of the Arab conquest of Egypt.' Unhappily, however, his Chronicle has suffered in the course of transmission. Large portions of it have been lost. That some of these losses, were sustained after it had been translated into Arabic is shown by the fact that the rubrics (see pp. 1-14 of this book), which were prefixed by the Arabic translator, do not always correspond to the chapters they profess to summarize. Thus rubric CXIV (CXV)3: 'How the Moslem took Misr in the fourteenth year of the cycle and made the fortress of Babylon open its gates in the fifteenth year', has no relation to the actual contents of that chapter. Again, there is a lamentable gap of thirty years, from 610 to 640, from the accession of Heraclius to the arrival of the Arabs before Babylon in Egypt. Hence we are without John's account of the Persian wars, |iv of the Persian occupation of Egypt, and of their evacuation of it early in 627 under pressure of Heraclius's victories : also of the ten years' persecution of the Copts by Cyrus, patriarch of Alexandria, and of the first acts of the invasion of Egypt by the Arabs. When John resumes his story Theodore the Commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in Egypt has just learnt the defeat of the local levies under John and the death of that general.
Those who wish to gain a coherent and historical knowledge of the contribution made to the history of Egypt by John of Nikiu have only to read the resumé in Butler's The Arab Conquest of Egypt, pp. 8-27. But this work must be read as a whole for the new light it throws on Egyptian history of this date. In this field Gibbon fails us, since he often misconceives the role played by Egypt at this period. Seeing that Egypt took a prominent part in the revolution against Phocas and was one of the most turbulent countries in the whole Empire, as we now learn from John of Nikiu and other less authoritative sources, it is clear that he could not have described the rebellion of Heraclius against Phocas in the terms he did (v. 66-7, Bury's ed.) and declared that Egypt was 'the only province which had been exempt, since the time of Diocletian, from foreign and domestic war' (v. 71) if he had had John of Nikiu's Chronicle at his disposal.
§ 2. VERSIONS OF JOHN OF NIKIU.
John of Nikiu was written originally in Greek, but it is not improbable, as Zotenberg points out, that some chapters which dealt with purely Egyptian affairs were written in Coptic. This hypothesis is supported by the Coptic forms of proper names. But this question needs to be critically and fully threshed out. It is impossible at present to attempt to delimit the boundaries of the Coptic sections.
A Sahidic fragment was discovered in the Berlin Museum, which according to its discoverer, Dr. Schafer, is closely related to John's Chronicle. Future investigation must determine whether this Sahidic fragment is derived directly from the original work or translated from one of its versions, |v or whether it is merely an independent document dealing with the same material as our Chronicle.
From Greek the Chronicle was translated into Arabic, and from Arabic into Ethiopic in the year 1602. The Arabic version is wholly lost, though Amélineau, in his Vie du Patriarche Copte Isaac, p. xxiv, n, states that he knows of an Arabic manuscript of John's Chronicle. But when asked for further information by Dr. Butler, none was forthcoming (see Butler, op. cit., p. ix, n.).
The Ethiopic version gives the student the impression of being a literal reproduction of the Arabic. It is rather of a hybrid description. The Ethiopia itself is very late and unclassical, and exhibits idioms impossible in the earlier period. It contains many transliterations from the earlier languages in which the Chronicle was written. Thus we have 'Iw_ ma&kaira transliterated in 224, pano&pthj in 33, o9 pa&ntarxoj in 5162, h9liakh& . . selhniakh& in 746, a1nagnw&sthj in 7913, filalh&qhj in 8953, &c., &c. The Arabic names of five of the planets are transliterated in 21, and other Arabic words in 8430, 972,16, 10210, 10718,33, 1093, &c., &c. Amharic words appear occasionally, as 962, 10710, 10810, but this is due to the Ethiopia translator's use of Amharic colloquially. The Coptic article has survived in 311, 10714, as Zotenberg has shown.
§ 3. THE ETHIOPIC MANUSCRIPTS.
There are only two manuscripts at present known of this version, which for convenience are designated A and B.
A is No. 146 in Zotenberg's Catalogue of the Ethiopic manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale. It is written on vellum, being about 368 mm. by 296. Each page has three columns of thirty-two lines each. According to Zotenberg it was written in the seventeenth century. Our Chronicle begins on fol. 62 and ends on fol. 138.
B. This manuscript is Orient. 818 in the British Museum (391a in Wright's Catalogue of the Ethiopic manuscripts there). It is written on vellum, being about 14 7/8 in. by 13, and contains 191 folios. Each page has three columns of thirty-six lines each. It is well written, and belongs to the first half of the eighteenth century. |vi
John of Nikiu begins on fol. 48a and ends on fol. 102b. In the last column it is stated that it was translated from the Arabic version in 1602 by Gabriel the Egyptian, son of John of Kaljûb, at the order of the Abyssinian general Athanasius and of Mariam Sena (Malak Mogasa), the wife of Jacob, Malak Sagad the younger (1597-1603 A.D.).
These two manuscripts are not copies of the same manuscript, but are derived, and not distantly, from one and the same exemplar.
§ 4. ZOTENBERG'S ETHIOPIC TEXT.
Zotenberg's text (Chronique de Jean, Évêque de Nikiou, Texte éthiopien publié et traduit, Paris, 1883) is on the whole reasonably good as a first edition. Since there are only two manuscripts, and these are closely related, there was little difficulty experienced in forming the text. But Zotenberg's chief merit lies not in the making of the text, but in the great ingenuity he has shown in deciphering the very corrupt forms under which a considerable number of the proper names are disguised. The corruptions in question are due to the fact that the Ethiopic translators were using an unpointed Arabic text, and were largely ignorant of the historical persons and events described in John of Nikiu's Chronicle. But this merit should be dealt with rather in connexion with Zotenberg's translation than with his text.
We have observed that the text is reasonably good. This qualified praise will become more intelligible as we proceed. Thus, frequently, where the text is unquestionably and sometimes hopelessly corrupt, no attention is drawn to this fact either by the use of obeli in the text or footnotes, and not unfrequently the translation proceeds as if the constructions were quite normal. In footnotes in my translation I have called attention to some of these passages. Here I mention a few cases either where an absolutely corrupt text has been reproduced, or the text has been wrongly emended. First let us take the proper name [Ethiopic] (i.e. Maximian), which is allowed to stand wrongly in 7747,48,73,74,83,88,92, where it should have been emended into [Ethiopic] (i.e. Maximin). |vii On the other hand, he wrongly allows the latter to remain in 772,25. .In his translation, however, these errors are set right silently save in two instances. In 8869 Zotenberg omits the clause 'to set free her mother' ([Ethiopic]), and thus fails to recognize the meaning of this verb in 8867, where he renders it by permettre, i.e. 'de permettre à Vérine de demeurer dans le château d'Isaurie'. But this gives exactly the opposite sense to what we require. See my emendation on p. 117, note 4.
In the passage just dealt with we have a very common kind of error into which Zotenberg falls. He emends a passage in such a way as to make it inconsistent with its context or with the universal tradition on the subject. Thus in 8867 Zotenberg emends the vox nulla [Ethiopic] into [Ethiopic] (='to put her to death'), but the rest of the verse suggests that Zeno only intended to keep the empress under guard. Hence we should read [Ethiopic].
Another instance of Zotenberg's wrong restoration of the text occurs earlier in this chapter. In 8844 he renders his reconstructed text as follows, the words enclosed in brackets being Zotenberg's addition to supply an indubitable loss: 43. 'Quant au patriarche Pierre, on le transporta, chargé de chaînes, dans la ville d'Euchaïtès . . . . 44. [On nomma ensuite patriarche d'Antioche Étienne] qui proscrivait la secte de Nestorius. En conséquence tous les habitants de la ville le détestaient, et il fut massacré par la population d'Antioche et le clergé.' Here, according to Zotenberg's restored text, Peter the Fuller is transported to Euchaites, and his successor Stephen is put to death by the clergy and laity of Antioch because he had persecuted the Nestorians. Now the facts are exactly the opposite. Peter was a persecutor of the Nestorians, but Stephen was charged before a Council of Nestorianism and, when his enemies failed to prove their accusation, the inhabitants of Antioch, who were strong opponents of Nestorianism, took the law into their own hands and put Stephen to death. See my note on p. 113.
In 821 Zotenberg inserts [Ethiopic] after [Ethiopic], and [Ethiopic] before [Ethiopic]. Thus he arrives at the following translation, in which he omits [Ethiopic]: 'Après la mort de Jovien, l'ami de Dieu, |viii [régna] Valentinien. Comme il y avait une grande affliction parmi les officiers, à cause de la mort de 1'empereur Jovien, [il était venu] pour pleurer avec les autres.' I have inserted in square brackets Zotenberg's additions. Now this is not John of Nikiu, but Zotenberg. John's text is literally as follows: 'And after the death of the Godloving Jovian, Valentinian, being the foremost amongst the officers, came to mourn with them over the death of the emperor Jovian.'
In 12046 the text is not defective and is perfectly right historically and grammatically. The literal rendering of the text is: 'This letter was sent by Martina ... to David . . . (urging him) ... to put down the sons of Constantine, who had been emperor with Heraclius, his brother.' The persons referred to are as follows: Heraclius I married first Eudocia and had by her Constantine III here mentioned, and married secondly Martina and had by her the Heraclius II here mentioned. Thus 'brother' in the text means in reality 'half-brother'. Again, 'the sons of Constantine III' in the text were Constantine (i. e. Constans II) and Theodosius. Now it is these grandchildren of Heraclius I that Martina requested David to remove in favour of her own children by Heraclius I. Zotenberg, however, misconceives the passage utterly and emends it. His rendering then is : 'Une lettre que l'on disait avoir été adressée par Martine . . . à David . . . pour l'engager . . . à deposséder les fils de Constantin, c'est-a-dire Constantin (le jeune), qui gouvernait avec Heraclius et son frere.' The phrase 'c'est . . . Constantin' is needlessly inserted by Zotenberg, and 'et' quite wrongly added before 'son frere'. This last addition makes the text unintelligible.
I will content myself with adducing another erroneous emendation. On p. 25 of his text Zotenberg quite rightly follows his manuscripts in reading [Ethiopic], but as a footnote on p. 236 of his translation, and in the list of 'Corrections' on p. 487, he writes that [Ethiopic] must be emended into [Ethiopic] or [Ethiopic]. Thus he takes [Ethiopic] to be a transitive verb and accordingly translates 'tu détruiras bientôt le gouvernement'. But [Ethiopic] is always intransitive. Hence the manuscripts are right, and the text should be rendered: 'the kingdom . . . will speedily be destroyed.' |ix
This list could be largely increased, but sufficient facts have been given to prove that Zotenberg's text needs to be carefully revised.
§ 5. ZOTENBERG'S TRANSLATION AND INDEX.
Though this translation is still more faulty than the text, the gratitude of all scholars interested in this subject is due to this scholar for the immense industry and the great learning he has shown in the illustration and explanation of his author. The student will find the results of such studies in the notes on the French translation as well as in the earlier contributions in the Journal Asiatique, t. x, 1877, p. 451 sqq.; t. xii, 1878, p. 245 sqq.; t. xiii, 1879, p. 291 sqq. I have learnt much from the notes, but I have preferred to work to — a great extent independently with the help of the Greek chronographers. The translation is suprisingly faulty. I will confine my criticism to the later chapters, and select from these only a limited number of typical mistranslations.
In 12044 the text is to be rendered 'whom Heracleonas had taken unto him (as colleague)', as is manifest from 12043. But Zotenberg renders 'qu' Héracléonas avait levé des fonts baptismaux' (!). In 824 he emends the text and reads [Ethiopic], (MSS. [Ethiopic]) [Ethiopic]. This = 'he did not accept gifts and bribes rashly' — a statement which would imply that he exercised great discretion in his acts of maladministration. But this is quite contrary to the context, and so Zotenberg abandons his emended text and likewise the manuscripts and simply writes 'il ne se laissait pas corrompre par des dons'. But [Ethiopic] (='rashly') must be rendered. Hence we have only to emend [Ethiopic] into [Ethiopic] and we arrive at the following excellent sense : 'he refused bribes, and did not give his confidence rashly.'
In 8497 [Ethiopic] and [Ethiopic] are omitted in his translation. In 8851 he renders [Ethiopic] by 'il . . . y fit reconnaître la souveraineté de l'empereur Zenon'. This is an impossible rendering. If the Ethiopic means anything it is: 'he made the city of (or 'to belong to') 'the emperor Zeno.' But, as I have shown in the note on p. 115 of my translation, the key to the text is given by |x John Malalas, and the text must be emended accordingly. Of 8880 [Ethiopic] is given the strange rendering of 'pour être 1'exécuteur fidèle de notre autorité'. The words are literally : 'that he might be chosen for our commands.' But the original form of the phrase occurs in 8882, where Verina declares that she has chosen Leontius emperor 'that he may be solicitous after every good work'. Hence here [Ethiopic] is to be emended into [Ethiopic], and so we have 'that he might be solicitous as regards our commands'.
In 9031 [Ethiopic] cannot under any circumstances be rendered 'certaines femmes firent paraître leurs enfants', but 'others (i. e. men) drew forth certain women'. It is extraordinary that Zotenberg should make [Ethiopic] (feminine) the subject of the transitive verb [Ethiopic] (masculine termination) and omit [Ethiopic] ( = 'others' (masc.) ), which is the real subject of the verb.
In 11918 we have an instance of Zotenberg's paraphrasing the text — a thing he does frequently. 'Après la mort de Constantin, fils d'Heraclius, on fit monter sur le trône Heraclius, son frere d'un autre lit.' The italicized phrase is a rendering of [Ethiopic], which should be rendered literally 'on his father's side'. Heraclius II was a half-brother of Constantine, son of Heraclius, by the same father. But 'd'un autre lit' does not express this fact.
I will only adduce one more of the many errors in translation. In 12013 we find an astonishing misrendering of the text. 'Il fit ouvrir (?) la citerne dans laquelle se trouvait la Sainte-Croix qu'il avait reçue avant son exil du général Jean.' It is true that the query after ouvrir is Zotenberg's. But [Ethiopic] cannot under any circumstances be rendered by ouvrir. It means 'extolled'. As Butler (Arab Conquest, 538 sq.) remarks, Cyrus was here 'recounting the story of the Invention of the Cross . . . with the Eastern Church the Invention and the Exaltation of the Cross were always celebrated on one and the same day, September 14.'
In his Index, which is admirable in its fullness, there are some errors. Constans II is not to be found in 12039-45 as appears in his index, though he is there named 'Constantine the younger' (12045). Constantine (i.e. Constans II), son of |xi Constantine III, though expressly mentioned in 2038,44,45, is not given in the index. Under 'Jean l'Évangeliste' two personalities are confused, i. e. 'John the Fourth Evangelist' and 'John the Theologian or Divine', the author of Revelation. Under 'Jean (Talaïa), patriarche d'Alexandrie' lies another error. The John actually mentioned in 9423 had been patriarch of Alexandria under Tiberius, 578-582 A.D., whereas John Talaia was elected patriarch of Alexandria in 482, and is actually referred to in 8860-61. Maximin is not mentioned in the Index, while Jeroboam, the son of Nebat (935), appears as Roboam. Apparently Zotenberg confuses him with Rehoboam.
§ 6. THE PRESENT TRANSLATION.
Since John of Nikiu is merely an annalist, who records in the simplest language the facts at his disposal, the present translator has made it his aim to translate the Ethiopic version as literally as possible. In this respect his translation differs greatly from Zotenberg's, which is of the nature of a paraphrase, and aims at giving a smooth and rather a literary version of a very rough piece of writing.
In the present translation the roughness of the Ethiopic version is reflected. Form has been sacrificed to accuracy. As respects accuracy, owing to the corruptness of the text this has not been achieved to the extent I could wish. Subsequent translators will carry forward the identification of corrupt proper names, as well as the further emendation of the text.
In the translation words enclosed thus ( ) are supplied by the translator, and words enclosed ( ) are necessary restorations ; while words enclosed + + are treated as corrupt, and words enclosed [ ] are regarded as interpolations.
Amongst the Greek Chroniclers I have chiefly relied on John Malalas (the Bonn edition), John of Antioch (fragments of whose Chronicle are edited in Müller's Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, iv. 535-622), Chronicon Paschale (ed. Ducange). These were undoubtedly at our author's disposal. But I have found the Church History of Eusebius, as well |xii as those of Evagrius and Socrates, of great service, and in a slight degree that of Theodoret. The Chronicles of Syncellus (Bonn ed.) and Cedrenus (Bonn ed.) have also been found helpful as preserving more accurate accounts of events recorded in our author.
On the later chapters regarding the Mohammedan invasion of Egypt, Butler's work—The Arab Conquest of Egypt (Oxford University Press, 1902)—is simply indispensable.
[Footnotes have been moved to the end. Text in Ethiopic font has been omitted. Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.]
1. 1 I have followed the general usage in England, using the Coptic form of the name. In the Ethiopic text, however, this form never occurs. Sometimes we have Nikius and at others Nakius (the Arabic form of the word). The Greek was Niki/on ; but see p. 15, note 2.
2. 2 Arab Conquest of Egypt, p. ix.
3. 3 See p. 13.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 23rd October 2002. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.
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