YUHANNA IBN ABI ZAKARIYYA IBN SIBA‘
A noted Coptic theologian of the thirteenth century, whose life may have extended into the fourteenth. Ibn Siba‘ was a contemporary of the famous Coptic church encyclopedist IBN KABAR, whose work Misbah al-Zulmah is noted for its treatment of the organization and the liturgy of the Coptic church. In his own right, Ibn Siba‘ authored an important work on the traditions and rituals of the Coptic church, a near approach to Ibn Kabar’s, although it falls short of the theological expanse of the Misbah.
Ibn Siba‘’s comprehensive work, Al-Jawharah al-Nafisah fi ‘Ulum al-Kanisah, consists of 113 chapters. First are several chapters on the Old Testament, which review the period of the creation to the period of Jesus Christ. The next section deals with the rise and spread of Christianity. But the bulk of the material concentrates on Coptic church organization and traditions, as well as on a meticulous review of its liturgies. The Coptic mass is analyzed and Coptic fasts and feasts enumerated, with special attention devoted to major feasts such as those of Holy Week and Easter.
Accurate details are presented on the church hierarchy from deacon to priest, hegumenos (archpriest) to bishop and the patriarch. One chapter discusses the patriarchal duty to assemble the entire priesthood every week in order to instruct them on their moral duties. The patriarch is requested to care for his flock in general, as well. Another special chapter treats the burial offices and the offerings for the souls of the departed.
The final chapter explains the significance of the ringing of church bells during the celebration of church offices.
Manuscripts of Al-Jawharah al-Nafisah fi ‘Ulum al-Kanisah are deposited in many collections. V. Mistrih, editor of the latest critical edition, used eighteen manuscripts in his research, manuscripts that are scattered throughout different world centers of Arabic collections. His principal source is the oldest known version, dated A.M. 20 Tubah 1164/A.D. 1448, housed in the Egyptian Public Library. Mistrih’s text and translation appear in Latin under the title Pretiosa Margarita de Scientiis Ecclesiasticis. It was published in Studia Orientalia Christiana Aegyptiaca, under the auspices of his own Centrum Franciscanum Studiorum Orientalium Christianorum (Cairo, 1966), with an extended introduction in Latin.
- Ibn Kabar. Misbah al-Zulmah fi ’Idah al-Khidmah. Cairo, 1971.
- Ibn Siba‘, Yuhanna ibn Abi Zakariyya. Al-Jawharah al-Nafisah fi ‘Ulum al-Kanisah, ed. and annotated with a Latin translation by Vincentio P. Mistrih, O. F. M., as Pretiosa Margarita de scientiis ecclesiasticis. Cairo, 1966.
AZIZ S. ATIYA