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"Creation" - 506/7 CE (All of Parts I and II)

Elat Cores
Sources of Part I and II of the Chronicle of Zuqnin by Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre - Harrak (2017:xv-xvi)

Use of Eusebius as a Source

Eusebius is mentioned by the Chronicler as his source, but does not specify whether it is his Ecclesiastical History or his Chronici canones, in a Syriac translation. The Chronicler relied heavily on the Canones for the period as early as the Creation (following the biblical account) and as late as the time of Constantine the Great, that is the entire history covered by the Canones. Eusebius’ Chronici Canones is no longer extant but it survived in the Latin translation of Jerome (Hieronymus; abbreviated hereafter as Hier.),26 in an Armenian translation (abbreviated hereafter as Arm.),27 and in Syriac translations,28 including a version used by the Chronicler. In the footnotes of our translation some dates and sometimes pieces of information found in the Chronicle are compared with Hier. and Arm. and the discrepancies resulting from these comparisons tell how risky it is to rely on the dates of Eusebius in all these translations. In a symposium on Chronography organized in 2006 in Ottawa by the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies and the Department of Classics, University of Ottawa, Richard Burgess compared dates for every event given in these versions, using for the Syriac Chabot’s Latin translation of the Chronicle of Zuqnīn. His statistics also highlight the unreliability of these versions in reconstructing the original Chronici canones: 14.3% exact match and 32.4% no agreement!29 In fact in the Chronicle some dates were tampered with, as in the case of the original Abr. 1848, which happens to agrees with both Hier. and Arm., but which was changed to Abr. 1850. None of the editors of the Chronicle paid attention to the different ink used in this emendation and or to the failed erasure of some original digits, and thus the year was always taken for 1850, including in Chabot’s Latin translation of the Chronicle. The fact that someone emended that date to agree with the one in the Latin and Armenian versions is quite interesting. Did he use a Syriac translation of the Chronici canones that is no longer extant, and was he at the monastery of Zuqnīn or at the monastery of the Syrians in Sketes when he changed it?

As for Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, it covers early church history in the Chronicle from the time of Herod (year 5 AD) to Constantine the Great, including calamities befalling the Jews after the Passion of Christ, material borrowed by Eusebius from Josephus. Eusebius’ EH is extant in Syriac, but the version used by the Chronicler differs slightly from the one published by Wright and McLean,30 and in any case he was selective in copying events from this largely quoted source.

26 Rudolph Helm, Eusebius Caesariensis Werke, Band 7: Die Chronik des Hieronymus, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte 47 (Berlin: Academy-Verlag, 1956; repr. De Gruyter, 2012).

27 Josef Karst, Die Chronik: aus dem Armenischen übersetzt mit textkritischem Commentar, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte 20 (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1911).

28 The translation of the Canones by Jacob of Edessa survived in a mutilated version; E. W. Brooks, Chronicon Jacobi Edesseni, (in) Chronica Minora III, T. CSCO 5/Syr. 5, pp. 261–330; V. CSCO 6/Syr. 6, pp. 197–258 (Paris, 1905–1907).

29 Richard W. Burgess, “A Chronological Prolegomenon to Reconstructing Eusebius’ Chronici canones: The Evidence of Ps-Dionysius (The Zuqnin Chronicle),” Journal of the CSSS 6 (2006), pp. 29–38. See also on the issue of disagreements Muriel Debié, L’Écriture de l’histoire en syriaque: Transmissions interculturelles et constructions identitaires entre hellénisme et islam (Peeters : Leuven, 2015), pp. 294; id., “L’Historiographie tardo-antique: une littérature en extrais,” in S. Morlet (ed.), Lire en extraits (Paris, PUPS, 2015), pp. 411–12.

30 W. Wright and N. McLean (eds.), The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius in Syriac Edited from the Manuscripts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1898).

298/9 CE - 429/30 CE (Parts of Parts I and II)

Harrak (2017:xvi) lists Pseudo-Dionysius' sources from 298/9 - 429/30 CE as

  • Socrates' Ecclesiastic History
  • A Chronicle of Edessa (unspecified)
  • The Sleepers of Ephesus' (Part II)
  • Plerophoria of John Rufus

527-565 CE (Part 3)

The sources of Part III have already been identified by Witakowski,2 and they are given in the footnotes of the present translation where appropriate. The second part of the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus is the major source of Part III.3 ... Thus in Part III, our Chronicler was a mere copyist, writing down existing statements even in the first person.

2 Witakowski, OrSu 40 (1991) pp. 252ff.

3 See Van Ginkel, John of Ephesus: A Monophysite Historian in Sixth-Century Byzantium

565-775/776 CE (Part 4)

In the introduction to Part IV, he bemoans the fact that he was unable to find "reliable" sources dealing with the period between A.D. 586, which ends the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus, and the year A.D. 775, "apart from some bits and pieces". Despite the Chronicler's claim that he used few sources, Conrad has recently suggested that Part IV is a composition of four layers, each composed by a different author.6a In support of his conclusion, Conrad noticed two misplaced events within the chronological frame of Part IV, the first being the earthquake in Edessa of 717-718, which was placed after the entry for the year 731-732, and the second being the shooting stars episode of 742-743, which was placed after the account of the year 748-749. In these misplacements as well as in the Chronicler's supposed mistranslations of the Arabism musawwadah (even though he knew Arabic),1b Conrad saw a change of authors.

The reasons Conrad gives for his conclusion that Part IV is comprised of four layers are open to question.2b First, misplacing events is a common phenomenon in Part IV, even in the section which has been assigned to the Chronicler by common scholarly consent (see below).3b So, for example, the event of 760-761 (the rebuilding of Malatya of Cappadocia by the Arabs) was placed after an event in 763-764 (epidemic of horses). The flood of the Tigris which occurred in 762-763 was placed after 764-765, the year in which Severus, Bishop of Amida, died. This lack of concern for precise chronological sequence cannot be ascribed to a change of author or authors but must be attributed to the Chronicler himself, who, furthermore, explicitly states in his introduction that he was unconcerned about such trivia: "It is of no consequence to intelligent and God-fearing people if an event is dated one year earlier or one or two years later ..."4b This unorthodox practice of our Chronicler is vividly pointed up by parallel accounts in Syriac, Greek and Arabic, which have been noted in the present translation, and which offer dates of events often at variance with the Chronicler's.

Second, the Chronicler clearly understood the Arabism musawwadah, despite the fact that he partially mistranslated it. In the passage where we find the Arabism, he writes as follows about the 'Abbasids: "All their clothes were black ... and for this reason they were called musawwadah."5b Yet, he failed to give a literal translation of this Arabism into Syriac, translating it simply "black" instead of "black-cloaked", as did Theophanes, the 9th-century Byzantine historian, who more aptly translated it as [Greek text].6b Near the end of his work, our Chronicler committed a genuine mistake, when he confused an Arabic case ending, by rendering Arabic 'yn fin 'bny flny instead of 'yn fin 'bnw flny "where is so-and-so son of so-and-so?".7b

Although it is not possible to determine precisely at what point in Part IV we should begin speaking of the Chronicler's uniquely personal contribution, one can start at least from folio 128 onward. In this folio the Chronicler wrote about the death of the Ummayad Caliph Hisham and the political upheaval that followed it; he dated these events to S. 1055 (A.D. 743-744). He then wrote an account about a famine and a bubonic plague that occurred in Syria in the year Hisham died. It is revealing that in his description of the mid-8th-century plague, the Chronicler used the lengthy narrative of John of Ephesus about the Great Plague of Justinian's reign as a model. Though he had previously copied verbatim the account of John of Ephesus for Part III of his Chronicle, in Part IV, the Chronicler reproduced John's outline, leading ideas, and individual expressions, including even the jeremiad, from John's account of the Great Plague. In other words, John's account was used by our Chronicler as a kind of mould into which he poured his own information about the plague that occurred during his own lifetime.

... In light of the various pieces of information we have been able to uncover, the Chronicler seems to have composed the history of the period between 743 and 775. The fact that in 775 A.D. he wrote from memory about events dated as early as 743 A.D. means that his contribution covered the history of at least 32 years, using oral and personal information. This span of time is well within the range of human memory. The early section of Part IV, comprising events dated to the 7th and early 8th centuries, may well be based on written sources of some kind, as well as on oral tales about holy men. The written items were mostly lists of dates that furnished the Chronicler with conflicting data, about which he himself complains, as we have noted above. Palmer has given some indication as to the nature of the sources from which the Chronicler drew information about the 7th century,1c but nothing more can be said about their authors.

In addition to the scant written sources and oral traditions used in the early portion of Part IV, the Chronicler had recourse to "old people" and other eyewitnesses, including himself, as sources of information for most of Part IV. This explains why his information is so plentiful and often very detailed. Sometimes he explicitly refers to his oral sources1d and at least on one occasion hints at his personal skepticism, when he valiantly attempts to justify their testimony. Such is the case of the rainbow reported to have been seen by some, turned upside down. The Chronicler felt obliged to add the note: "If someone does not want to believe this matter, let him search in the preceding chapters where he will find an occurrence just like it."2d He also discloses when and where he was himself witness to an event, as in the following passage dealing with Christians who apostatised to Islam: "I was in Edessa at this time for some event that took place there ... "3d

Some 58 folios out of the 179 of Codex Zuqninensis were devoted to the writing Part IV of the Chronicle. To write his own personal contribution, the Chronicler filled 51 out of the 58 folios of Part IV. In other words, nearly 29% of the entire Chronicle and almost 88% of Part IV is the author's own contribution.

6a Conrad, "Syriac Perspectives on Bilad al-Sham During the Abbasid Period," 24-26.

1b See below p. 179. 2

2b Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw it, chapter 8, also expressed doubt about Conrad's conclusion.

3b Tisserant noticed the same phenomenon in other parts of the Chronicle; Codex, xii. 4

4b See below p. 139. 5

5b See below p. 179. 6

6b See below p. 178 n. 1.

7b See below p. 330 and n. 11.

1c See Palmer, The seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles, 69f.

1d See below p. 212. 2

2d See below p. 213. The earlier information is found in Chabot, Chronicon I, 263:20-21 and Chronicon II, 4:7-12 (below p. 39).

3d See below p. 328.

743-775 CE (Part of Part IV)

Harrak (1999:31) suggests that the author of Annals Part IV relied on a mix of oral and personal information for the years from 743-775 CE supplying the following discussion:

In light of the various pieces of information we have been able to uncover, the Chronicler seems to have composed the history of the period between 743 and 775. The fact that in 775 A.D. he wrote from memory about events dated as early as 743 A.D. means that his contribution covered the history of at least 32 years, using oral and personal information. This span of time is well within the range of human memory.

... In addition to the scant written sources and oral traditions used in the early portion of Part IV, the Chronicler had recourse to "old people" and other eyewitnesses, including himself, as sources of information for most of Part IV. This explains why his information is so plentiful and often very detailed

Parallels with Al-Azdi

Harrak (1999:20-21) notes the following about parallels between the Chronicle of Zuqnin and al-Azdi

At least one scholar has compared the contents of Part IV of the Chronicle of Zuqnin with that of Tarikh al-Mawsil, written by the Arab historian al-Azdi (died in 945). Dr. F. `Umar1 has called attention to the fact that both histories deal with the political, social, and economic conditions of the same region, Mosul and the Jazira. He further noted that both authors were opposed to the `Abbasid central authority, as were the authors of other local histories, such as the History of Tabaristan, History of Sijistan, History of Bukhara, etc. Both authors moreover agreed that overtaxation and extortion of the 'Abbasid agents were responsible for the migration of the peasantry into the cities, a fact which led to the disintegration of the Jazira, which had an economy based on agriculture. Dr. `Umar also noted that, while the Chronicle of ZucinIn concentrated on the economy of the Jazira, al-Azdi stressed the political history of that region, and sometimes of other regions as well.

There can be no doubt that the Chronicler of Zuqnin and al-Azdi have certain characteristics in common. In addition to the fact that both wrote local histories, their histories are of an annalistic type, the only difference being that al-Azdi used a lunar calendar, whereas the Chronicler of Zuqnin used the Seleucid calendar, which is solar. Accordingly, both authors divided the narrations of the events, when these lasted more than one year, into separate entries. In addition to arranging the material in this manner (e.g. "in year such and such, so and so died / or did this and that"), both authors sub-divided the information for a single year, if it proved to be rather long, into sections with titles. Sometimes such short annalistic entries are strikingly similar, even in wording. An example is the parallel event of the shooting of the stars, which are not only dated to the same year (Seleucid 1076 = H. 147 = A.D. 764-765), but also share very similar (in part cognate) wording: [Arabic text] = {Syriac text] "the stars were `dropping' ".2

Furthermore, both authors were compilers of existing sources, oral as well as written, but al-Azdi normally identified his sources, whereas the Chronicler typically did not. But they certainly agreed that the people of the Jazira and Mosul suffered oppression at the hands of the `Abbasids. Thus, the violence of Haran al-Rashid directed at Mosul as described by al-Azdi3 echoes the same behavior of Abu 'Awn, an `Abbasid agent appointed by al-Mansur, toward the people of the Jazira, which our Chronicler describes.1 Al-Azdi's negative assessment of Yihyah son of Said al-Harshi,2 a governor of Mosul appointed by al-Rashid, is reminiscent of the generally negative opinion the Chronicler had about Musa son of Musab, whom al-Mansur appointed governor of Mosul and the Jazira.

Nonetheless, the two authors differ in their aim and manner of writing. Al-Azdi is a writer who made a serious attempt at transmitting historical information he received from his oral sources.3 He seldom let his own bitterness toward people or individuals interfere. The worst of what is reported about the `Abbasids came not from his pen, but from the lips of an Arab: "By God, a liar is he who claims that these (Abbasids) are Muslims."4 The Chronicler, on the other hand, was an ardent moralist for whom the purpose of history writing was not to furnish information about events, but to have his readers participate in them, in all their dramatic details. He criticised, not to say vilified, everyone who, in his estimation, had committed wrong, whether Umayyad, `Abbasid or a cleric from his own church. What mattered to him was not the religious affiliation of the wrongdoer but the wickedness of his actions. Our Chronicler tended to paint in deep black and pure white, with very little in between. Thus, he called al-Mansur "a tyrannic ruler" and other choice epithets, as seen above, but he described his brother `Abbas as a "merciful and peace-loving man",5 though both were Arabs and Muslims.


1 'Umar, al-Da'wah, 45.
2 al-Azdi 200, Chabot, Chronicon II, 222:26.
3 al-Azdi 284.

1 See below p. 318f.
2 al-Azdi 286-287.
3 See al-Azdi 250:5-6.
4 al-Azdi 151:13-14.
5 See below p. 232.