ABU AL-MAJD IBN YU’ANNIS
A priest at Minyat Bani Khasib (present-day Minya), 150 miles (about 240 km) south of Cairo. When he lived is uncertain—he may have lived in either the twelfth or the thirteenth century—but he was dead in 1357 (cf. Vatican Library, Arabic manuscript 158, fol. 148r). He was a contemporary of Anba Ghubriyal (Gabriel), bishop of Qus; however, information concerning this bishop is lacking, since the only bishops of Qus attested in the Middle Ages are Badr in 1086 and Mina in 1305 (cf. Munier, 1943, p. 29, l. 54, p. 37, l. 7). The opinion that he died in Diyar Bakr in A.D. 992 is treated below. (Although the name Yunus is graphically possible, it is unlikely for an Upper Egyptian Copt.)
Abu al-Majd’s name is linked to the Commentary on the Creed, which he composed at the request of Ghubriyal, bishop of Qus. The purpose was to reply to a Jew who criticized the Creed, saying: “Where did you get this text? And why have you inscribed it among the books of the church?” The commentary is composed almost exclusively of a series of texts from the Old Testament.
This text is quite different from other known commentaries on the Creed from the medieval Coptic church, and it cannot have drawn its inspiration from them. For example, the commentary by SAWIRUS IBN AL-MUQAFFA‘, composed around 940, replies both to other Christian confessions (Melchites and Nestorians) and to the Muslims; it is thus philosophical and theological in character (text ed. L. Leroy, 1911, PO 6, pt. 4, pp. 523-91); cf. Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar, chap. 2 of his encyclopedia, PO 20, pt. 4, pp. 712-28; see also Samir, 1971, pp. 49-58). Another example is the commentary by Ibn Kabar himself, at the beginning of chapter 2 of his encyclopedia (Samir, 1971), composed circa 1310 (cf. PO 20, pt. 4, pp. 696-711; ed. Samir, 1971, pp. 40-48); here Ibn Kabar wishes to demonstrate that all the tenets come from scripture, but his quotations are drawn exclusively from the New Testament. Thus the three Coptic commentaries complement each other in a felicitous manner.
Abu al-Majd’s text was evidently composed directly in Arabic. A study of the numerous biblical citations (especially from the prophets), comparing them with the existing Arabic versions, could help to date this commentary.
Only two manuscripts are known, of which only one is complete, in the Vatican Library (Arabic manuscript 158, fol. 148r- 157), copied in 1357 by TUMA IBN AL-NAJIB LUTFALLAH AL-MAHALLI. The other manuscript is also from the fourteenth century and of Egyptian provenance (National Library, Paris, Arabe 205, fols. 79v-84v). The last third of the commentary (corresponding to fol. 154r, l. 12, to fol. 157v, l., 22, of the Vatican manuscript) is now missing. The other ten manuscripts are given in Graf (vol. 2, p. 450) do not refer to this text.
The following analysis of the commentary is based on the text (not yet published) in the Vatican manuscript. Not all the ninety-five citations have been identified. For each part of the text the “prophets” cited are indicated. In the manuscript neither the parts of the text nor the proper names nor the citations are distinguished from each other; the numbering here is arbitrary.
In the introduction (fols. 148r-49v), Abu al-Majd insists on the fact that the fathers of Nicaea did not compose the Creed on their own authority but that the Holy Spirit inspired them, being the 319th member present at the sessions of the council.
- We believe in one God: he cites the Torah (2 quotations), Isaiah (2 quotations), Jeremiah, and the Gospel (2 quotations; these are the only quotations from the New Testament).
- The Father almighty, [Creator] of all things visible and invisible: quotations from Zechariah (2), Nahum, and the books of Kings.
- And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten, born of the Father before all ages: quotations from Isaiah (2), David, Solomon (2), and
- Light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made: quotations from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and David.
- For us, he came down from heaven: quotations from David, Isaiah (3), Esdras, Jeremiah, David (2), an unnamed prophet, and Isaiah.
- He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary: quotations from Isaiah (2), Ezekiel (2), Nahum, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Daniel, and Isaiah (2).
- He suffered, was crucified, and was placed in the tomb: quotations from Isaiah (4), Amos, Jonah, Zechariah (4), Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Job, Esdras the priest, and David (3).
- He rose from the dead on the third day: quotations from David (3), Isaiah (4), and Esdras the
- He ascended into heaven and sits at the right of the Father in the heights: quotations from David (3), Zechariah, and
- He will come again in his glory to judge the living and the dead: quotations from Isaiah (4), Solomon, David (2), Malachi, and Jeremiah.
- We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who spoke in the Prophets: quotations from Isaiah (2), Joel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
- And the confession of one baptism for the forgiveness of sins: quotations from Isaiah and Ezekiel.
- We hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come: quotations from Isaiah (2), Ezekiel (very long), and Malachi.
Another commentary on the Creed is wrongly identified with Abu al-Majd. G. Graf, the only author to have mentioned Abu al-Majd (cf. Vol. 2, pp. 449-50), confused two similar but quite separate works. He identified Abu al-Majd’s Commentary with another commentary attributed to Abu al-Majdalus (Cheikho) or simply al-Majdalus (Sbath, 1939; Mingana, 1934). Some consider this author to have been a Syro-Jacobite (cf. Graf, Vol. 4, p. 37, sec. 1); Mingana (1924, Vol. 1, col. 586) says the work is “for the use of the West Syrian Uniats”; while others (Mingana, Cheikho) assert that the author was a Melchite priest who died at Diyar Bakr (Diyarbekir) in 992.
However, when comparing the text of Abu al-Majdalus’ Commentary (given by the Milan manuscript) with the text of Abu al-Majd’s Commentary (given by the Vatican manuscript), it is evident that the two texts are different, despite the fact that both quote many prophecies. What is more, Abu al-Majdalus’s Commentary is considerably longer, covering fifty large pages in the oldest complete manuscript (Oriental Library, Beirut 569a, dated 1452).
At the article “he was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,” Abu al-Majdalus’ Commentary cites several messianic witnesses from among pagan philosophers: the Kitab al-Asrar attributed to Plato (cf. Graf, Vol. 1, p. 486, sec. 3); the Kitab al- ‘Ulum al-‘Ulwiyyah and the Letter to Alexander attributed to Aristotle (cf. Graf, Vol. 1, p. 485, sec. 4); the ‘Ilm al-Tanjim attributed to the philosopher Augustus (cf. Graf, Vol. 1, pp. 485, sec. 3, and 486, sec. 4); and a text attributed to a certain Yuniyun or Yuthiyun, depending upon the manuscripts, as yet unidentified.
Abu al-Majdalus’ Commentary is found most frequently in manuscripts of Syrian provenance; however, it could be of Coptic origin. In fact, the oldest known manuscript (not noted by Graf) (Ambrosian Library, Milan, I 10 Sup), is dated curiously 4 Tut/1 Aylul of the year A.M. 38 1 September A.D. 1321; its provenance is probably a Copt in Syria, where there were many Copts at this period.
Graf lists ten manuscripts of this text (cf. Vol. 2, p. 450, sec. 1); from these, of course, we must exclude the Vatican Arabic manuscript (158) and the Paris Arabic manuscript (205), which contain the authentic commentary of Abu al-Majd. To these should be added the Milan manuscript (cf. Löfgren and Traini, 1975-1981 pp. 8-9, no. 8); a manuscript in the Vatican (Arabic 148, fols. 28v- 48v, copied in the sixteenth century and classified by Graf partly in Vol. 1, p. 485, sec. 1, and entirely in Vol. 4, p. 37, sec. 1); two Lebanese Melchite manuscripts, one at the Greek Orthodox Seminary of Balamand, (no. 32; A.H. 1109/A.D. 1697-1698), the other at Dayr al-Mukhallis near Jun (South Lebanon), which probably served as the model for Bacha’s edition. Furthermore, the Mingana Syriac 481 (Western garshuni, A.D. 1689, fols. 221v-25v) appears to contain a fragment of this commentary (cf. cols. 586 and 889 of the Mingana catalog, Vol. 1).
Abu al-Majd’s Commentary was published in 1940 by Constantine Bacha, in Volume 7 of Al-Risalah al-Mukhallisiyyah in several issues, and reedited the same year in a small fascicule of thirty-five pages. Bacha based his edition on the manuscript of Dayr al-Shuwayr, which was the basis for the manuscript Louis Cheikho had copied in 1897 (Beirut Oriental 569b). This manuscript of Dayr al-Shuwayr is no longer to be found there; it may be the uncoded manuscript of Dayr al-Mukhallis, as several of Bacha’s manuscripts passed to Dayr al-Mukhallis after his death.
- Khalil Samir, S.J., ed. Misbah al-zulmah fi Idah al-Khidmah, li- Shams al-Riyasah Abi al-Barakat al-ma‘ruf bi-Ibn Kabar. Cairo, 1971.
- Löfgren, O., and R. Traini. Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Vicenza, 1975-1981.
- Mingana, A. Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library. Manchester, 1924, 1934.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Sbath, P. “Manuscrits arabes d’auteurs coptes.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 5 (1939):159-73.
KHALIL SAMIR, S. J.