AL-MU’TAMAN IBN AL-‘ASSAL (?-last quarter of 13th c.).
A Priest, theologian, encyclopedist. Al-Mu’taman Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn al-‘Assal was probably the youngest of the three authors of the Awlad al-‘Assal, and he is the one whose life is best known to us, thanks now in part to the investigations of Wadi Abullif (see the bibliography). Al-Mu’taman was ordained priest (perhaps by Cyril III ibn Laqlaq), was widowed at an early age, and on several occasions served the Coptic community in Damascus, where he lost his library during anti-Christian rioting in 1260 (following the Mongol defeat at ‘Ayn Jalut).
Al-Mu’taman had already begun his literary production by the 1230s, and a number of his writings—letters, homilies, an introduction to the Pauline epistles, liturgical primers, and a rhymed Coptic-Arabic vocabulary—have been preserved. Al-Tabsira al-mukhtasira (The Concise Instruction), composed in 1260, is an apology for the Christian faith, the Triunity of God, and the Incarnation. Al-Tabsira, however, was simply a foretaste of al-Mu’taman’s masterwork: his theological encyclopedia Majmu‘ usul al-din (The Compilation of the Fundamentals of Religion)—now available in Wadi Abullif’s critical edition. Its 70 chapters are divided into five parts: fundamental theology; the Triunity of God; Incarnation; miscellaneous theological, moral, and liturgical matters; and eschatology. Al-Mu’taman draws on a wide variety of identified sources, thereby not only preserving texts otherwise lost but also allowing the reader to sense the catholicity of his theological vision.