A collection of fables widely diffused in the East; it is also known among Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews.

In Arabic, these fables are found from the beginning of the ninth century. Other recensions or reworkings of the lost Arabic original are known. Two of these are in Georgian, and these gave rise to the Greek metaphrastic version. The early Arabic version known to us probably derives from the Greek, and was no doubt made in the eleventh century. The earliest known manuscript of this version (Sinai Arabic 540) can be dated to the twelfth century.

The Arabic version soon spread among the Copts. We find it in a thirteenth-century manuscript (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 43; Graf, no. 530; Simaykah, no. 605). At the end of the thirteenth century, the Abu al-Barakat IBN KABAR (d. 1324) mentions the Kitab Barlam or Barla’ al-Nasik wa-Yuwasaf in his Arabic bibliography, among the Coptic medieval works.

Indeed, two fourteenth-century Arabic manuscripts of Coptic provenance attribute this novel to a certain Yuhanna of Dayr Mar Musa. This is probably the monastery mentioned by ABU AL- MAKARIM beside Dahshur, opposite Hilwan. This might be the name of the author of a reworking, or else simply a Coptization of Melchite traditions that attribute this novel to Yuhanna of the Monastery of Saint Sabas, or to Yuhanna al-Dimashqi, or to Yuhanna of Mount Sinai. This question has not yet been studied. There are at least three manuscripts giving this attribution, all of them Coptic (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 41, Graf, no. 566, Simaykah, no. 647, fourteenth century; National Library, Paris, Arabe 271, also fourteenth century; and Arabe 272, copied in 1643).

In the seventeenth century another attribution to “a monk of the Mount of Gethsemane” (al-Jasmaniyyah) made its appearance among the Copts. This is found in three manuscripts, all of Coptic origin (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 4, Graf, no. 565, Simaykah, no. 619, copied in 1605; National Library, Paris, Arabe 273, copied in 1752 and restored in 1763; Arabe 274, copied in 1778).

Other Arabic manuscripts of this novel are of Coptic provenance, witnessing to the diffusion of this text up to the modern period (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 42, Simaykah, no. 604, copied in the fourteenth century or at the beginning of the fifteenth century; Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 86, Simaykah, no. 669, first text, dating unknown, but bequeathed to the patriarchate in 1814; National Library, Paris, Arabe 4792, copied in the nineteenth century; Arabe 4891, copied in 1864). At the beginning of the twentieth century, two Copts, Wahba Bey and Jirjis, edited the only published Arabic version.

The Melchites often illuminated the text of this novel with numerous miniatures (see, for example, the Paris Arabe manuscripts 273 and 274, the Vatican Arabic manuscript 692, the Dayr al-Sha‘ir 953, etc.); we know of only one illuminated Coptic manuscript, however (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 19, Graf, no. 531, Simaykah, no. 611, copied in the sixteenth century with some clumsy illuminations: “poorly designed pictures of people,” according to Simaykah).

Last, from the Arabic recension of the Copts, an Ethiopian translation was made, under Sarsa Dengel (1563-1597), the work of ‘Enbakom, or Habaqquq, an Ethiopian of Yemenite origin. One of the manuscripts of this translation (British Library, London, Ethiopian 275), copied between 1746 and 1755, mentions Barsawma ibn Abi al-Faraj as the author of the Arabic recension. This person is otherwise unknown.

  • Dodge, B. The Fihrist of al-Nadim, Vol. 1, pp. 260, 359. New York, 1970.
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  • Wahba Bey and Jirjis. Sirat Barlam wa-Yuwasaf. Cairo, 1909.