AWLAD AL-‘ASSAL (13th c.)

Family of scholars. The term Awlad al-‘Assal (“the children of al-‘Assal”) is conventionally used to refer to four brothers who played a major role in the revival of Coptic thought in the decades between 1230 and 1260. Their father, Fakhr al-Dawlah (“Pride of the State”) Abu al- al-As‘ad, was a wealthy and generous Coptic notable who provided his children with an excellent education. He was married twice; al-As‘ad Abu al-Faraj Hibatallah and al-Safi Abu al-Fada’il Majid were full brothers to one another, and half-brothers to al-Mu’taman Abu Ishaq Ibrahim and al-Amjad Fadlallah.

Al-As‘ad, al-Safi, and al-Mu’taman were the scholars who made the name Awlad al-‘Assal nearly synonymous with the 13th-century golden age or renaissance of the literature of the Church. However, the role of al-Amjad must not be forgotten; he was a high-ranking civil servant who was capable of financing the scholarly activities of his brothers. He maintained a house in Damascus that often served as a kind of research center, commissioned treatises of various sorts, and engaged the future patriarch Gabriel III not only as tutor to his son but also as a skilled scribe who copied for ongoing projects. Within the family, patronage and talent met.

The Awlad al-‘Assal were loyal children of the Coptic Orthodox Church who were involved in the struggles of the Church for institutional well-being (e.g., in the struggles surrounding Patriarch III ibn Laqlaq) and who were greatly interested in the Church’s specifically Coptic heritage, as their canonical and Coptic philological production attest. At the same time, they possessed an extraordinary intellectual openness, including a readiness to benefit from earlier Arabic of any Christological confession. These ingredients, added to the mix of patronage and talent just mentioned, helped to fertilize a glorious flowering of Copto-Arabic literature.