Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Christian Scribe, Muslim Egypt


The following scrap does not speak directly to the reconstruction of a biblical text, but speaks to the life of the ancient scribe.

P.Aberd. 82a
1 +
ν νόματι το θεο πρ.[

“The Christians in the late Byzantine period began their documents in the name of Christ or of the Trinity, and the Mohammedans (after 640) ‘in the name of God the merciful and compassionate.’ The formula with out any further qualification was used by the Christian scribes in the service of the government of Egypt.” (J. G. Tait, unpublished catalogue, vol. 8, p. 373; fragment soon to be published).

The simple lack of καί or το reveals the religion of the scribe and reminds us of the backdrop to medieval Christianity in Egypt.


  1. Hi,

    I didn't quite pick that up properly.

    Christians started their documents in the name of 'Christ/Trinity' and the Muslim 'In the Name of God, compassionate, merciful'.


    both Christians and Muslims used these introductory titles after 640 CE?


  2. Christian scribes in the service of the Muslim government would not have written in Greek, would they?
    Perhaps this was international diplomatic correspondence.

  3. Bilingual protocols containing both Arabic and Greek are in fact common place during the early years of Islam when Arabic was not the 'official' language.

    For a few examples with pictures and translations see here:


  4. One of the scribal hands on the page listed by Anon is very similar to that in P.Aberd. 82a. I am not sure what made the commentator describe this document as "Late" Byzantine as opposed to 7th century. I would assume it, in fact, dates to 640-705 - between the invasion and the beginning of Arabic as an official language.

  5. My link did not work. The picture which I mentioned is here:

  6. Is it an epistle? (Beginning "pros"?)

  7. The ms is (internally?) dated to Jumada I, 22 AH (642 CE).

    Muslims began their documents (including the Qur'an itself) with the formula, "in-the-name of-God, the-compassionate, the-merciful." As do the scribes of these papyri. I don't read any religious significance into the inclusion or not of "the" and "and" to the forumula when expressed in Greek. Apparently Christian, however, has seen evidence for this that he hasn't made explicit in his post.

  8. DB: "I don't read any religious significance into the inclusion or not of "the" and "and" to the forumula when expressed in Greek."

    The point is that we do not have either of these, but rather that we have πρ. If we had the Greek equivalent of "and" or "the" we would assume that the author was about to describe God with either Christian or Muslim terminology (refering to him as merciful or in regard to the Trinity). I am not sure that there is any way to determine what is about to be said, but the lack of any description describes the social context. We have here a scribe who does not want to represent God as a Muslim would, but who is not allowed to reference God in Christian terms. Thus, the genereic reference to "God".

    SJG: It is an epistle, so πρὸς is a possibility.

  9. I took a closer look at the document dated 1 Jumada 22 AH. It begins with what sure looks like a Chi-Rho, then EN ONOMATI TOU QEOU. This is a very literal rendition of "in (the) name of Allah."

    The Arabic translation provided on the website isn't very good; "second son of Apa Kyros" should be "son of the father of Qir the younger." "Have taken" should be 'has taken' or really just 'took'; it's in the singular.

    "Abdullah" is misspelled in the Arabic script--the part that is the Divine Name is missing the extra 'l'. It's marked 'sic'.

    The Scribe is Ibn Hadid--hardly a Christian or even Coptic name. But clearly the author is Arab Muslim and the recipients are Hellenic Christian.

  10. DRB: I am afraid that I confused this with the link which I put up. The linked text paralleled the phenomenon of a Greek document in the time period. It also has a similar hand.

    The fragment with which I was more immediately concerned consists of no more than I transcribed in the original entry. With regard, to authorship and religion and this introductory formula, my source is not suggesting that the author was a Christian, but that the scribe was. Statistically, Egypt was predominately Christian/Coptic into the 12th/13th century, and it would have been a common phenomenon to have a Christian scribe writing for a Muslim. It is likely that the bilingual document found on the internet was also written by a Christian. As you have noted his Muslim environment is quite evident. It is interesting to note that the Greek has God mentioned generically, while the Arabic lists him in Muslim terms.