MIKHA’IL, BISHOP OF ATRIB AND MALIJ (13th c.)
A Bishop, theologian. We know little about the life and career of Mikha’il apart from the fact that, in the mid-1240s and before his consecration as bishop, he wrote a series of 12 treatises explaining Christian beliefs and practices to Muslim questioners. He is best known, however, for the connection of his name with two important works: the Copto-Arabic Synaxarion (al-Sinaksar) and a handbook of penitential discipline—“a fine product of a pastoral mind,” according to Coin (“Nomocanonical Literature,” 128)—that has circulated under the title Kitab al-Tibb al-ruhani (The Book of Spiritual Medicine).
Mikha’il’s name is found in a number of Arabic manuscripts of the Synaxarion, and its Ethiopic translation goes so far as to specify that Mikha’il compiled it in 1246-1247. As for The Book of Spiritual Medicine, it is again an Ethiopic translation (Mashafa faws manfasawi, made before 1620) that provides the strongest attribution of the work to Mikha’il.
Although much more research is necessary to illuminate the processes by which these compilations came into existence and Mikha’il’s role in them, both the Synaxarion and The Book of Spiritual Medicine serve to illustrate the importance of Copto-Arabic works in the transmission of the Christian tradition to Ethiopia. Greek to Coptic to Arabic to Ethiopic was the course taken by many hagiographical, ascetic, and canonical texts as they made their way up the Nile.