Mawhub Ibn Mansur Ibn Mufarrij Al-Iskandarani


A redactor and coauthor of the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, begun by SAWIRUS IBN AL- MUQAFFA‘. This important historical text actually owes its survival to Mawhub, who, with the assistance of others, collected the patriarchal lives written by earlier biographers and compiled them into one book, which he completed by adding the biographies of the two patriarchs of his own lifetime. In this contribution of his own, he stresses the unity with the earlier lives by referring to them regularly and sometimes even by completing them.

The many autobiographical notes scattered throughout Mawhub’s text allow one to reconstruct a fairly accurate picture of his life and personality, in contrast to most other contributors to the History of the Patriarchs, some of whom remain totally anonymous.

Mawhub belonged to one of the most prominent Coptic families of Alexandria. Around 1050, his father was entrusted with the preservation of the skull of Saint MARK. At his father’s death, Mawhub himself inherited this honor. He had a brother, Abu al-‘Ala’ Fahd, who suffered in 1086. Mawhub’s wife is mentioned once, and his son Yuhanna, twice. He also referred to his maternal uncle Sadaqah ibn Surur, who was a nephew of Tadrus, bishop of Rashid.

Mawhub’s wealth and social prestige appear particularly in episodes in which he acts as an intermediary between the Coptic community and the authorities. When the governor manages to keep the church of Mar Jirjis in Alexandria open, despite the closing of churches all over Egypt, Mawhub is among the persons who secretly receive the keys. When the marauding Lawata Berbers take the patriarch CHRISTODOULUS (1047-1077) as a hostage, it is Mawhub who pays the ransom.

Although the name of Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa‘ is usually attached to the History of the Patriarchs, it has been recognized for some time that his contribution, according to most scholars, consisted of the collection of Coptic source texts and their translation into Arabic, whereas the final redaction was the work of Mawhub (Graf, 1947, p. 302; Samir, 1975, p. 157; Johnson, 1977, pp. 106-110, 115-16). Among those authors, D. W. Johnson (1977, p. 108) drew attention to the problem of the striking parallels between the redactional notes ascribed to Sawirus and those of Mawhub.

J. den Heijer, contending that all those notes must be attributed to Mawhub, concludes, therefore, that Mawhub is thus to be considered the collector of the Coptic sources and the main editor of the History of the Patriarchs. Den Heijer was assisted in this task by the deacon Abu Habib Mikha’il ibn Badir al-Damanhuri, by the priest Yu’annis, known as Zukayr, superior of the monastery of Nahya, and by the deacon Baqirah. Nakhlah (1943, p. 20) ascribed to Sawirus the note in which these men are mentioned and therefore regarded them as his contemporaries. (For the text of this note, see Seybold, 1912, p. 132, and 1904-1910, p. 141).

The deacon Abu Habib also acted as translator of the Coptic texts into Arabic. Mawhub started his work in March or April 1088. He apparently completed his edition of Lives 1-65 after the death of the caliph al-Mustansir in 1094. At this point, he started writing his own two biographies of the patriarchs of his own times (den Heijer, 1984, cols. 339-47).

The two patriarch lives of Mawhub’s hand are those of CHRISTODOULUS (1047-1077) and CYRIL II (1078-1092). G. Graf (1947, p. 302) and most later authors erroneously attribute only the first of these to Mawhub and the other to his successor, Yuhanna ibn Sa‘id (cf. den Heijer, 1983, pp. 107-124). For the lifetimes of these two patriarchs, Mawhub’s text is a unique contemporary source, which as such has not yet been adequately appreciated by students of medieval Egyptian history.

Most Arab geographers and historians who dealt with this period (which roughly coincides with the caliphate of al-Mustansir Billah) flourished considerably later. Compared to these later authors, Mawhub’s text is, of course, rather limited from the chronological point of view. And, since he dealt with many events with the authority of an eyewitness, he did not always display the same objectivity that they did toward the events described. Rather, he consciously sought to present not only the official history of the Coptic church but also an expression of allegiance to the Fatimid caliphate and to the amir al-Juyush, al-Jamali.

As for Mawhub’s methods as a historian, he usually made sure to indicate his sources carefully, and his style can generally be called clear and simple. The difficulties one may nevertheless encounter in perusing Mawhub’s two biographies are caused by their associative rather than strictly chronological or thematical arrangement.

Mawhub’s biographies consist of a series of passages of varying length in which three categories of subjects may be discerned: pure ecclesiastical history; relations between the Coptic community and the rulers; and various political, economic, and social affairs.

As for internal church matters, the lives of the two patriarchs in question, which constitute a rough chronological framework for all other topics, are dealt with elaborately. Important are the information on the consecration and the residence of the two patriarchs. Under Christodoulus, the patriarchal see was transferred to Cairo. Furthermore, the of Christodoulus contains the canons composed by this patriarch.

It also provides plenty of information on the bishops and bishoprics of the time, culminating in a historically important list of the bishops in 1086 (presented by Munier, 1943, pp. 27-29; cf. Muyser, 1944, pp. 151-53). Mawhub’s accounts on the monasteries, the monks and their relations with the patriarchs have been studied by H. G. Evelyn-White (1932, pp. 351-70). Particularly noteworthy are the passages on the monk Bisus.

The episodes concerning the position of the Coptic church under the Fatimid caliphate of al-Mustansir and the Armenian ruler al-Jamali have been exploited to some extent in most studies on the subject (e.g., Butcher, 1897, pp. 39-68; Meinardus, 1970, pp. 354-64). The most important aspects of these episodes are the Coptic secretaries and other officials involved in the Fatimid administration, the role of the administration, the role of the Muslim authorities in the election of the patriarch and the nomination of bishops, the closing and reopening of churches, and, in one instance, the of a young man who, after embracing Islam, returned to his former religion.

Mawhub also deals with the relations between Copts and other Christians in Egypt, such as Melchites, Syrians, and especially Armenians, as well as with foreign countries, particularly Nubia and Ethiopia (used in the analysis by Meinardus, 1970, pp. 376-78, 418-19).

The main themes of nonconfessional history treated by Mawhub are the political chaos and the strife between the Turkish and African batallions, the subsequent restoration of order by al- Jamali, the great famine of 1066-1072, the rise of the Nile, agriculture, and natural disasters.


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