The thirteenth-century bishop of Atrib and Malij. The exact dates of his birth and consecration as bishop or of his death are not known. We are certain only about the dates of twelve small theological treatises written between 1243 and 1247 before he became bishop. O. H. E. Burmester believed that he lived in the fourteenth century, on the ground that IBN KABAR (after 1324) does not speak of him in the catalog of the Arabic Christian authors in his encyclopedia the Lamp of Darkness (Misbah al-Zulmah)); G. Graf remarks that this silence is not conclusive, for Ibn Kabar also omits to mention the patriarch GABRIEL II ibn al-Turayk (1131-1145), to whom, however, several works are attributed, among them the Book of Easter.
The silence can be explained, for Mikha’il is considered to be the author or corrector of the recension of the SYNAXARION from Lower Egypt: Ibn Kabar would have had to speak of him in connection with the liturgical books. His silence in his catalog of writers does not prove that Mikha’il lived after him.
Graf thinks that he must have been consecrated bishop after the death of CYRIL III ibn Laqlaq (1235-1243), a patriarchate that was followed by a vacancy of seven years; he places Mikha’il’s consecration after 1250. It may be noted that the minutes of the consecrations of the holy chrism at the monastery (DAYR) ANBA MAQAR indicate in 1300 a Butrus (Peter) as bishop of Atrib and Malij; he was probably the successor of Mikha’il, who in consequence would have died before 1300 (Muyser, 1944, p. 155). We can thus say only that he was an author of the thirteenth century.
If we have no further information, this is due no doubt to the fact that the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, if it gives a detailed life of the Patriarch Cyril III ibn Laqlaq, has preserved only very brief notices on the later patriarchs.
We have more information about the writings of this bishop. A series of twelve small theological treatises deal with the following themes:
(1) a report by Mikha’il of an interview he had with some Muslim jurists, the object of which was the rejection of the Jews by God, because of their constant idolatry;
(2) a reply to the question of the compatibility of the human activities of Christ with His divinity, debated by the same interlocutors in an interview dated to 1247;
(3) a dissertation on the basic teachings of the Christian religion, and the things common and distinctive in the Christian sects;
(4) a reply to the question of the worship of images dated to 1243;
(5) a reply to the question whether or not the repentant sinner may receive communion;
(6) a reply to the question whether souls receive their recompense for the good or the ill they have done immediately after their separation from the body, or whether their retribution is deferred to the day of judgment;
(7) a dissertation on predestination, or reply to the question, does God reward every man in the same manner, or a little more or a little less, or according to the quantity of virtues and vices?;
(8) a reply to the question, is the duration of life fixed without any possibility of extension or contraction, or does the death of men come by chance?;
(9) a treatise on redemption by the Cross of Christ (this treatise must be identical with the one that he intended for a friend, when he was bishop of Malij, entitled “to refute those who pretend that Christ redeemed only sinners, or those who say that he redeemed only those to whom the good things are attributed”);
(10) a reply to the question, can a part of the body of Christ (that is, a part of the consecrated host) be called the Christ?;
(11) a question and answer on the duration of the fast before receiving communion; and
(12) a question and answer on the subject of the meaning of the tree from which Adam ate. Graf notes that this series of twelve treatises is preserved in two manuscripts (P. Sbath collection, no. 1040, A.D. 1787; Yuhanna Balit collection, which Sbath himself does not otherwise call attention to nor does he indicate the date).
At the end of the fifth treatise he cites one of his works entitled Book of the Exposition of the Union (in Christ). This is preserved in a manuscript belonging, like that of the preceding texts, to the Yuhanna Balit Collection (Sbath, al-Fihris, no. 525, p. 65).
There is also a treatise entitled Book on the Christian Religion. It is preserved only in a single manuscript (Sbath, al-Fihris, no. 524, p. 65), belonging to a Catholic Syrian named Bakhkhash Salim. We do not know if this manuscript still exists.
The authorship of the work entitled Book of Spiritual Medicine, which had a great vogue and was translated into Ethiopic in 1667 (Cerulli, 1968, p. 176), remains problematic. It is a manual of moral and pastoral theology, a kind of penitential: the European editor of this text, J. Coln (1906, pp. 70-237; 1907, pp. 1-135; 1908, pp. 110-229; edition in Garshuni with a Latin translation) thought that the author of this work could be Murqus ibn Qanbar, by reason of the passages that reveal the author to be a Melchite.
In fact, the manuscripts are now of Coptic origin, now of Melchite provenance; some appear to be of unknown origin. U. Zanetti has thought to have rediscovered the book Of the Master and the Disciple by Murqus ibn Qanbar, a book that has some resemblances with the former (1983, pp. 426-33). Despite the title, which its editor gave it, and the fact that it has been plagiarized by Farajallah al-Akhmimi in a Nomocanon, we cannot, like Graf, give it this name, for it is not a true canonical or chronological collection, nor systematic, but is limited to questions of penitential discipline.
A series of thirty-seven questions and responses attributed to a “Michael, bishop of Malij” may be from the pen of Mikha’il, or another of the same name. By its content, this compendium resembles the preceding work, although it is not possible to determine the true author. The language, very vulgar, suggests assigning a later date to this compilation, at the decline of the theological literature of the Copts.
The compilation of the recension of the SYNAXARION of the Copts from Lower Egypt is attributed to Michael, bishop of Atrib and Malij. Two things must be noted. First, the Synaxarion is, in general, written in two semesters. In the most ancient manuscripts of the first part, the name of Michael, bishop of Atrib and Malij, does not appear. Only the beginning of the second part gives his name. We may thus deduce that he worked only on this second part. Second, none of the manuscripts can give us his redaction, for all the manuscripts that have come down to us mention Saint BARSUM THE NAKED, who died in 1317.
This date is given, on the one hand, by the Synaxarion itself, at 5 al-Nasi and by the work of Ibn al-Suqa‘i (ed. Sublet, 1974, p. 210, no. 307). On the other hand, it speaks of the relics of John of Sanhut as if they were still in the church of Damanhur-Shubra. Al-Maqrizi says expressly that they were burned by the order of the Muslim governor in 1354, and notes that the cult of these relics then disappeared. We must then locate the recension of the Synaxarion of the Copts from Lower Egypt between these two dates, 1317 and 1354. For the rest, the Ethiopic version of this same recension does indeed give Mikha’il, bishop of Atrib and Malij, as author of the compilation, which it dates to 1246-1247 (ed. Colin, 1986, p. 326), but it indicates as coauthor JOHN, bishop of Parallos.
We therefore cannot know with any precision what was the work of Mikha’il, bishop of Atrib and Malij. If it was he who compiled what was to become the Synaxarion of the Copts along with John, bishop of Parallos, we cannot know in what Mikha’il’s “compilation” consisted. Notable stylistic differences (vocabulary, syntax) exist between the two parts, but we do not know whether they are due to the pen of Mikha’il of Atrib and Malij or to a later redactor. It would be appropriate to compare this Synaxarion with the twelve small treatises, which have some chance of being from his pen.
- Cerulli, E. La letteratura etiopica. Le letterature del mondo 30. Florence and Milan, 1968.
- Colin, G. Le Synaxaire éthiopien. Mois de Maskaram. PO 43, pt. 3. Turnhout, 1986.
- Cöln, Fr. J. “Der Nomokanon Mihails von Malig.” Oriens Christianus 6 (1906):70-237; 7 (1907):1-135; 8 (1908):110-229. Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Muyser, J. “Contribution à l’étude des listes épiscopales de l’église copte.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 10 (1944):115-76.
- Sbath, P. Bibliothèque de manuscrits Paul Sbath, prêtre syrien, d’Alep, 3 vols. Cairo, 1928-1934.
- . al-Fihris (catalogue de manuscrits arabes). Cairo, 1938. Zanetti, U. “Le Livre de Marc Ibn Qanbar sur la confession retrouvée.” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 49 (1983):426-33.