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The Chronicle of SeertChristian Historical Imagination in Late Antique Iraq$

Philip Wood

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199670673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199670673.001.0001

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The Church of Baghdad: A New Past for Christian Iraq

The Church of Baghdad: A New Past for Christian Iraq

(p.221) 8 The Church of Baghdad: A New Past for Christian Iraq
The Chronicle of Seert

Philip Wood

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter proposes that there was a major lacuna in history-writing centred on the catholiocsate in the Umayyad period, c.660–750. However, the transfer of the catholicosate from Ctesiphon to Bagdad under the Abbasids prompted a period of unprecedented power and influence for the Church of the East. Missionary success in Egypt and Central Asia was now matched by new histories that retrojected a ‘Nestorian’ presence further back into time. Oecumenical tendencies between Christian confessions meant the incorporation of Melkite and Jacobite histories and the celebration of Roman figures such as Constantine as part of a shared Christian past. The chapter also examines the treatment of Muhammad in the Chronicle of Seert. Here the Christians presented themselves as fellow monotheists and allies of the early Muslims, in a pragmatic recognition of the influence of the catholicos at the courts of the caliph and the rewards that this relationship offered.

Keywords:   missionary, patronage, Baghdad, oecumenism, Egypt, Muhammad, Abbasid caliphate, Timothy I

The Chronicle of Seert presents a very dense narrative for the period between the accession of Hormizd IV and the death of Khusrau II and its aftermath. This period, from c.590–630, represented a time of change for the leaders of the Church of the East, both high-ranking clergy and leading aristocrats. And they, and their supporters, wrote a number of different histories of the period, both as events took place and after the dust had settled, at a time when various rival paths of succession could be traced between the reign of Sabrishoʿ and those of Ishoʿyahb II and Ishoʿyahb III.

For the reign of Khusrau II, we have been able to use the Chronicle of Seert to trace the different political stances taken by churchmen during this difficult time, in part because of these disagreements over authority. This rich and varied perspective is stopped abruptly with the termination of the Chronicle shortly before the section on Ishoʿyahb III. However the Chronicle, like those of ʿAmr and Mari, was a product of the Abbasid caliphate, and was much more than a mere translation of earlier Syriac sources. I have suggested that the compilers’ attitudes were normally conservative, and that many sections make sense as pre-Islamic compositions, although the text is in Arabic. Yet, as Robert Hoyland has observed, the text also periodically looks forward to the Islamic era, especially in its anachronistic use of place names and ecclesiology, calling Nineveh after the nearby seventh-century foundation of Mosul and anticipating the foundation of the Abbasid capital of Samarra.1

Some parts of the Chronicle of Seert can be compared to contradictory accounts in other, earlier texts in Syriac from the Church of the East. These seem to be historical inventions that correspond more closely to the political and cultural agenda of Christians in Abbasid Baghdad than to their predecessors. (p.222) This final layer of additional material, like the material produced around the end of the sixth century, does not merely represent the continuation of the account of the deeds of the catholicoi, but also encompasses the elaboration of earlier sections of a universal history to suit a later political context. As they had done at the end of the Sasanian period, Iraqi ecclesiastical historians retrojected the history of the Church of the East to reflect changing contemporary realities in the context of close relations with a new political power. In so doing, they incorporated hagiographic material relating to fourth-century Egypt, to the reign of Constantine and to pre-Islamic Arabia, giving their church a more respectable pedigree in a background of debate between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and between Nestorians, Melkites, and Jacobites.

An Indian Summer

The reconstruction of how and when this final cohort of new material was added to the earlier historical tradition must be understood against the changing political context of Islamic rule. The shorter compilations of Mari and ʿAmr leave a broad impression of the reduced intensity of historical composition in the generations that followed the conquests.

The Arab invasions saw the rapid disintegration of the Sasanian state, as rival shahs tried and failed to organize lasting resistance to the Arabs. Significantly, many of the lower ranked lords, the dihqāns, seem to have gone over to the Muslims and retained a measure of their influence. But the empire-wide institutions of the Zoroastrian Magi, who served as state-sanctioned bureaucrats and judges, withered away in the course of the seventh and eighth centuries. As Michael Morony has observed, Zoroastrianism was a religion closely aligned to the Sasanian state, and when this state failed it ceased to retain its former importance, especially beyond its heartlands in Fars.2

Yet this period did not see immediate, rapid conversion to Islam: the Arab invaders were, at least initially, cloistered away in miṣrs, new foundations divided along tribal lines where Arab settlers were paid from the booty gathered in war and the taxes raised from the settled population. The most famous of these cities were Basra and Kufa in southern Iraq, adjacent to the sites of Sasanian Perat de Maishan and Hira, but they also included Mosul (adjacent to Sasanian Nineveh), Shiraz, and Merv.3 This settlement process, in (p.223) which certain older locations were favoured as sites of settlement and represented centres for tax collection and the redistribution of wealth, probably made Islamic Iraq more focused on fewer individual cities than the region had been in Sasanian times.4 But it also meant that, at least in the short term, the land beyond the cities was left relatively ungoverned by the new Muslim conquerors: here the dihqāns, Zoroastrian, Christian, and newly Muslim, appear to have been given free reign, in what Chase Robinson has termed the ‘Indian summer’ of the Sufyanid period, when the ‘jihad state’ was focused on the prosecution of war, rather than on the administration and settlement of the conquered lands.5

In some ways the absence of the Sasanian state, and of its support for Zoroastrian mobads, seems to have allowed a religious free market that was highly advantageous for seventh-century Christians. This was the era of John of Daylam’s missions into Fars and the foothills of the Caspian, where the saint is said to have spread Christianity into new, Persian-speaking regions that formerly lay beyond the missionary scope of the church.6 And monastic hagiographies, of the kind that are embedded in the Chronicle of Seert, report an increase in the conversion of polytheists in the former Sasanian world in the aftermath of the conquest.7 The impressive extent of these missions beyond the borders of the old empire is testified by the famous bilingual inscription at Xi’an, written in Chinese and Syriac in 781, which commemorated the beginning of the church’s presence in the Far East in 635.8 Moreover, the advantages of this ‘free market’ were not limited to Christians: the same era also saw the re-establishment of contacts between Manichees in Iraq and Central Asia and attempts to reunite the two groups under a single archegos, who eventually converted the Uyghur Turks to the ‘good religion’ in 762.9

The seventh century also allowed great freedom to the local government of the conquered lands, which, in former Roman territories and parts of Iraq, often remained in the hands of Christian elites. In Egypt, Christian aristocrats used the opportunity afforded by the absence of the Roman state to levy much higher taxes on their subjects, and in Iraq, aristocrats benefited in a similar (p.224) fashion, forcing vulnerable smallholders to appeal to the catholicos Henanishoʿ for his intervention.10 In this environment of light government surveillance, the elites of the former Sasanian empire might operate as tax collectors for the Muslims, while taking a substantial additional income for themselves and expropriating the former crown lands of the shah as their own private possessions.11

It is in this same period of relative absence of external interference that commentators have also placed a growth in the judicial power of bishops over their communities, as they stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the state. John of Phenek (c.690), the apocalyptic writer, objects both to the worldliness of bishops in this period, ‘clamouring like princes…being caught up in public affairs and unlawful dispute’, and to the absence of any constraints on the activities of heretics, the consequence of an undesirable and novel freedom of religion.12 John provides a negative gloss on the retreat of the Sasanian state and older channels for administering justice and enforcing boundaries, but it is clear that this arrangement benefited many of his coreligionists: missionaries, aristocrats, and bishops. These last, as Payne has observed, developed an important role as arbitrators invoking the norms of late Sasanian practice to suit the requirements of a Christian Iranian elite, in an environment where the Sasanian state itself no longer existed as a rival.13

The Catholicoi and the Arabs

The relative political vacuum of the seventh century witnessed Ishoʿyahb III’s great reform of the liturgy and his affirmation of Babai’s Christology, with the condemnation of Sahdona and his compromise formula.14 Ishoʿyahb’s reign also saw extensive efforts to assert the authority of the catholicos over other bishops, most notably the sees of Fars and Beth Qatraye (the Persian Gulf), (p.225) and to restructure the church through the creation of new bishoprics for Central Asia, India, and China.15

Ishoʿyahb sought to position himself as an orthodox leader in the mould of Babai, and his letters show a him eager to intervene in local disputes and to publicize his Dyophysite vision, firmly opposed to the Miaphysites of Takrit or to compromise formulae. And his self-presentation as liturgical reformer, monk of Izla, aristocrat, and scion of Babai the Great may all have left their traces in the histories of the previous decades that we have just examined: it is for his reign that Mari notes ‘the beginning of the composition of ecclesiastical histories’.16

However, we should also be aware that Ishoʿyahb, and his successor Giwargis (661–80), were themselves members of aristocratic, landowning families, and that their powers to organize synods or to exclude opponents must have rested in part on their influence with other aristocrats.17 Giwargis attempted to continue Ishoʿyahb’s efforts to retain authority over Fars, holding a synod at Dairin in Beth Qatraye in 676, but he seems to have met with resistance from other bishops and aristocrats.18 Some of these, Bar Hebraeus narrates, reported him to the Arab governor for collecting tithes, prompting him to imprison the catholicos and destroy churches in Kufa to encourage him to give up his wealth.19

Following ʿAbd al-Malik’s victory over his rivals in Iraq and the Hijaz in the course of the second fitna (civil war), the Marwanid caliphate adopted much more centralized state structures, most notably in a tax census, and in the expansion of infrastructure.20 At the same time, the caliphate also began to issue clear public statements as an Islamic polity, most notably in monumental religious architecture, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and in the issuing of epigraphic coinage that replaced the various figural coins previously in circulation.21 In Iraq, Marwanid rule was cemented by the new foundation (p.226) of Wasit, adjacent to the city of Kashkar, under the notorious governor al-Hajjaj. Wasit served as a base for the Syrian army in the centre of the region, who fought against endemic Kharijite rebellions.22

This tightening of state structures seems to have spelt the end for the influence of many older indigenous aristocracies, who mostly disappear from our sources at this point.23 Some, such as the magnate Sergius of Kashkar, were direct victims of al-Hajjaj.24 The Marwanid period also represents a low point in the abilities of the catholicoi to project their authority beyond Ctesiphon or to develop a positive relationship with their rulers. Giwargis’ imprisonment may be an indicator of how governors of Iraq viewed the catholicosate, as a means of extracting wealth in the short term by intimidation, but not an institution worth cultivating in itself. Similarly, the next governor, Bishr ibn Marwan, deposed Giwargis’ successor Henanishoʿ I (686–98) following an ‘insult’ against Islam and a bribe to Bishr from a rival candidate.25 Al-Hajjaj then suppressed the catholicosate altogether for sixteen years.26 When the office was restored after his death, incumbents continued to have difficulties in asserting their authority over other parts of Iraq, or even Ctesiphon. Sliba-zkha (714–28), the first of the new line of incumbents, failed to reclaim an illuminated service book given by Ishoʿyahb III in an embarrassing standoff with the monks of Beth ʿAbe, and Aba II (741–51) proved incapable of preserving the revenues of the patriarchal school at Ctesiphon from the priests who ran it.27 In sum, the Marwanid period, with rule centred on Damascus, encouraged governors to maximize profits from the Christians to fund an expanded state, or for personal gain. In this situation, Christian leaders within Iraq had no access to the highest-ranking political leaders. Catholicoi were therefore very vulnerable to the accusations of rivals and eventually lost the legitimacy that had allowed their predecessors to maintain authority: the young monks who opposed Sliba-zkha, it must be remembered, might have never known a catholicos, let alone one who tried to exercise his theoretical powers.

(p.227) The Abbasid era coincides with a resurrection of the production of writing within the catholicosate, and this suggests a more general restoration of fortunes, though on a rather different basis to that of the late Sasanian period. Bar Hebraeus observes that the Abbasids were more favourable to the Christians than their predecessors.28 This pattern is especially marked after the transfer of the capital to the new city of Baghdad, which was almost immediately followed by the transfer of the catholicosate and the vigorous rule of Timothy I (780–823), who achieved his position at a very young age and remained incumbent for some fifty-two years, far longer than any of his predecessors.29

The transfer of the catholicosate was a crucial step in the creation of a good relationship with a series of caliphs. A government resident in Iraq meant that the educational expertise of the Church of the East became increasingly important as a political tool for the Abbasid regime: Timothy’s election was helped by a secretary to the caliph, with whom he had been educated, and Christian pharmacists and physicians reclaimed a political importance that they had held in the late Sasanian period.30 This expertise developed older traditions of Christians receiving knowledge from the West and acting as doctors and translators, and Timothy appears to have built on this deliberately by founding a number of monasteries and schools in Baghdad itself.31 In addition to this, Timothy himself was proficient at maintaining Christian difference while remaining inoffensive to Islamic sensibilities (which his predecessor Henanishoʿ had failed to do). Timothy’s Apology to the Caliph, which circulated in both Syriac and Arabic, provides an important illustration of how this balancing act might be performed, as well as being an important waypoint in the sophisticated use of Arabic by Christians.32 Another significant part of the development of a shared intellectual culture by Christians and Muslims was their adoption of religiously neutral forms of logical debate (kalām), a forum in which Timothy’s translation and use of Aristotle was a widely respected achievement.33

The new city of Baghdad may have witnessed significant social mobility by Christians. This may explain the sumptuary laws directed against Christians in (p.228) the city, where their command of ‘middle-class’ professions, as scholars, philosophers, and doctors, gave some individuals an entrée into high society.34 Part of the context for this development may have been the development of a prestigious civilian culture, a world where Muslim Arabs were no longer warriors set apart from the rest of the population, but also prized the technical skills of dhimmīs. Joel Kraemer has written of the period from the foundation of Baghdad to the Seljuk invasions as an Islamic renaissance, where Greek philosophy and sciences were patronized by a socially and physically mobile middle class, who were united across religious boundaries by shared cultural interests, the adab al-kātib (scribal culture).35 The cultural efflorescence of this era bears many comparisons to the paideia of the Second Sophistic in the Roman Empire, but perhaps we should emphasize how novel it was in the former Sasanian world, where the martial values of etiquette texts such as Xusrau ud rēdag were replaced by a much broader and more accessible literary culture, rooted in a new class of administrators with a keen sense of their own prestige and importance as a group.36

It was in this context that individuals who were Christians, or who were associated with Christian institutions, rose to prominence in the caliphal administration, or to other positions of influence, in the ninth and tenth centuries.37 Good examples of this process were the Bokhtishoʿ family of Gundishapur, who, as royal doctors, held periodic royal influence for several centuries following the ascendance of Gabriel Bokhtishoʿ in the reign of Timothy.38 Like his sixth-century predecessors, Timothy recognized the importance of these prominent court laymen as guarantors of ecclesial independence, in an environment where the rewards of cooperation with the state might be very great indeed.39 However, there were also significant differences: (p.229) the Abbasid state was even larger than the Sasanian, and Christian lay courtiers existed in higher numbers and with greater permanence.

Writing Christian History under Arab Rule

The histories that we have examined in previous chapters evolved from a tradition centred on the catholicosate, and this genre sits at the core of East Syrian historical writing. The ecclesiastical historians of the late sixth and early seventh centuries embedded their narratives of a politicized catholicosate into their accounts of the turbulent secular events of their own days. But this stream of material seems to have come to a dramatic halt in the second half of the seventh century. Mari’s chronicle only provides very brief notices for quite prominent catholicoi such as Ishoʿyahb III and Giwargis. This situation is all the more striking when we contrast it to the long notices Mari gives for the usurper Surin in 753 and his successors Henanishoʿ II, Timothy I, and Ishoʿ bar Nun.40 A similar pattern is visible from the sources cited by the eleventh-century chronographer Elias of Nisibis in his Chronicle: there is a dearth of East Syrian sources for all of his entries on the Umayyad period.41 Though it is hard to tell, this may suggest a dry period in the composition of histories centred on the catholicoi in the aftermath of Ishoʿyahb III’s reign. This does not mean that no history was composed: we are, for instance given detailed accounts of Giwargis’s reign by Thomas of Marga.42 But the pattern of later citations does suggest that the focus of composition shifted away from Ctesiphon in the seventh century, so that we only know about Giwargis because of his interaction with prominent monasteries whose histories are preserved.

Mari’s sections for the catholicoi of the Abbasid era are highly focused on their relations with the caliphs and the court, which probably reflects the interests of Mari’s sources. The history for which we have the most information, that of Ishoʿdnah of Basra, written in 850, also seems to have contained large amounts of information relating to Muslim history.43 Though we cannot date his fellow historians very closely, I suggest, based on (p.230) the density of material reused in Mari and Elias of Nisibis, that their works focused on the period after the Abbasid revolution and represent the resurrection of a historical genre based around the deeds of the catholicoi in a court context, and that this corresponds to the revival of the importance of the institution under Timothy and his successors.44 This chronological pattern also corresponds to the ‘ecclesiastical historians’ referred to in ʿAbdishoʿ’s Catalogue: only one historian, Bar Sahde of Karka de Beth Slouq, was active during the Marwanid period, during the 730s.45

If this assessment of the historiography is accurate, it means that the greater power of the catholicosate under Timothy was also accompanied by a return to older forms of ecclesiastical history focused on the catholicos. As we have mentioned, there is no way to reconstruct this production in any detail, but we are given an important insight into the historical interests of the early ninth-century Church of the East by the manuscript from the monastery of Alqosh (169) from whose second volume Chabot edited the Synodicon Orientale. The Synodicon proper was produced under Timothy.46 But the collection of texts in which it is embedded (the Great Synodicon) seems to have been compiled in the eleventh century and includes a wide variety of other historical and pseudo-historical materials that were collected to address a wide variety of related questions of the laws and authority structures of the Church of the East. This medieval collection of texts forms an important testimony to the intellectual and political interests of the catholicosate at Baghdad, especially in terms of how they deployed their historical legacy. And, as such, it also forms an important tool for dating parts of the Chronicle of Seert and understanding their composition and inclusion.

The first volume of the Alqosh manuscript includes the history of Constantine and Helena, the canons of Nicaea, subscription lists for Nicaea, letters from the Roman Popes against heretics, the acts of the Anatolian synods of the fourth century, the Letter of the Western Fathers to Papas, a history of the beginnings of monasticism, and the correspondence between Papas and a variety of semi-fictitious fourth-century figures. The third volume of this manuscript contains the Khuzistan Chronicle, monastic canons of the sixth (p.231) and seventh centuries, the letters of Timothy, and a series of legal judgements that conclude with those of Timothy and Isho‘ bar Nun (d.828).47 A final tranche of material dates from the eleventh-century patriarch Elias I (d.1049) and seems to have been added much later, as an appendix to a document that dates chiefly from the sixth, seventh, and ninth centuries.48

The collection of the Synodicon points to the wish for a comprehensive, encyclopaedic assemblage of authoritative statements by the catholicoi of the past that could be invoked in current debates. In organizing their statements chronologically, it gives the impression of the progressive recognition of their authority, stemming from the missions of the apostles and the recognition of the Western church, and worked out legitimately in laws to regulate the Eastern clergy. This act of collection neatly writes over the challenges made to the authority of Ctesiphon and retrojects the title of patriarch onto all incumbents of the see.49

This movement of collection and codification shows both the self-conception of the authority of the catholicos and the institutional structures that made such a work possible: we must at least envisage the existence of libraries where this kind of diachronic succession could be traced and where the rulings of earlier catholicoi were preserved and reproduced.50 It is an institutional context that would fit Timothy’s patronage of new monasteries and schools during the transfer of the catholicosate to Baghdad. In addition, the content of the collections also shows us the changing importance of the catholicosate as a representative of a group of dhimmīs within the caliphate. The collection of the Synodicon proper was accompanied by the collection of ‘civil law’, dating back to the time of Aba. This was concerned with the behaviour of laymen as much as clerics, especially different rulings on the laws of inheritance and marriage. The contents of these lawcodes points both to the cultural changes that were occurring in this period as Iranian norms were replaced by Islamic ones, and to the central role of the catholicos as the theoretical ‘supreme judge’ of all of his flock.51

(p.232) The Syriac Synodicon produced under Timothy was therefore the start of a textual tradition that affirmed the catholicosate as the site of authoritative lawmaking for Christians of all ranks. But in recognizing its importance we should not lose sight of the (pseudo) historical texts that were transmitted alongside it, in the first and third volumes of the Alqosh manuscript.

These supplementary texts buttress the claims of authority that are implicit in the Synodicon proper, creating a link between the era of Constantine and Nicaea, the great act of lawgiving that is seen in the ecclesiastical histories as the defining moment of orthodoxy, and the synod of Ishaq, via the agency of Marutha of Maypherkat. These pseudo-histories were collected alongside the synodical canons to reinforce the claims being made by catholicoi in the Abbasid era and, given the resurgence of history-writing in this period, they were probably composed at a similar time.

Several sections in the Chronicle of Seert and the Haddad Chronicle correspond closely to this material. In what follows, I argue that these sections, which deal with the Constantine and Nicaea; with Mar Awgin and Egyptian monasticism or with the massive apostolic claims of the catholicos, all correspond to this era of historical invention and codification. I go on to investigate the relationship between the claims of authority made by Timothy and his successors and the pseudo-histories shared by the Alqosh manuscript and the long chronicles. However, before we proceed, a word of caution is necessary on the dating of this relationship. Timothy seems to have been responsible for the collection or composition of a large amount of the material in the Great Synodicon, but there is no way of knowing whether parallel arguments in the historical compilations were produced in this era or reflect the enduring importance of Timothy’s work to future generations. We must therefore keep a deliberately vague definition of Timothy’s ‘successors’, one that takes us up to the generation of the compiler of the Chronicle of Seert in the late tenth or early eleventh century.

Tales of Constantine

The early parts of the Chronicle of Seert devote some eight long sections to the era of Constantine and his successors, material that is paralleled in Mari and in the Haddad Chronicle.52 Some of this material is drawn from Greek ecclesiastical histories composed in the fourth and fifth centuries, but much belongs (p.233) to a later genre of historical fantasy. This cluster of stories relate the accession of Constantine and his conversion to Christianity, followed by the attempted reversal of his good deeds by his wicked nephew Julian. Various additions were made to this central narrative that relate the discovery of the cross, Constantine’s baptism in Rome, the council of Nicaea, and precursors to Constantine’s actions in the reign of Abgar of Edessa (in the Doctrina Addai).53

The textual history of these stories is complex, but it is clear that they arose in a West Syrian environment that concentrated on Edessa. The focus of the narrative corresponds closely to the sixth-century Julian Romance, an Edessene Syriac legend of Edessa’s resistance to Julian, and the stories of Constantine that are included in the Chronicle seem to have been composed within the same tradition. Following the geographical interests of the Julian Romance, part of the agenda of this narrative seems to be to represent Edessa as a great city of the Roman world, alongside Constantinople, Rome, and Nicaea.54

The transmission of this material lies beyond the immediate scope of this study, but I wish to note here the focus on Constantine as an orthodox ruler around whom new stories were freely invented. Fascinatingly, these stories seem to have stimulated a wish for further information about the West. The Syriac Julian Romance represents Rome as a holy city that joins Edessa in defying Julian, and the later historians were moved to transmit various (contradictory) stories about Roman Popes55 and to generate a description of Rome, which is ascribed to the well-known West Syrian figure Jacob of Nisibis. It is, we are told, 28 miles wide and broad, and built around the river Qūsṭanṭīya. Rome, Jacob informs us, holds a thousand bazaars for Easterners and Westerners and its aqueducts, supported by ranges of marble columns, contain sea water and are used by the merchant fleets. The city is also home to 1,270 baths and the great church of Peter and Paul.56

‘Jacob’s’ description is not only fabricated, it is also fantastic. Rome appears like a Western projection of an Iraqi city, rendered on an even more massive scale. Even though the author is aware of the existence of aqueducts, their function can only be imagined on Iraqi lines, where great cities were opened to riverine trade that connected them to the sea. Al-Muqaddasi’s tenth-century geography catalogued cities by their trade and production, by their religious buildings and their baths. This very Abbasid vision of urban greatness has (p.234) been applied here to Rome, with its baths and its great church, whose dedication connected it with the stories of Constantine and the visitation of Peter and Paul.57 Most importantly of all, this Rome has no history: it can only be imagined in connection with Constantine, whose name supplies the identity of the unknown river.

The tales surrounding Constantine also gave weight to the reputations of other Roman cities that were already famous in the East, to Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Nicaea. Here too, historians employed legendary material that had been received from the West or invented to elaborate on the history and geography of a wider Christian world beyond the ‘East’. Jerusalem is the setting for the miraculous transformation of water into oil, a Christianized version of the Maccabean miracle, and for Helena’s discovery of the Cross.58 And both events were used to explain the origins of contemporary celebrations, the date of Easter and the Festival of the Cross, which Muslim commentators saw as a particularly important ‘Nestorian’ festival.59

Constantinople, like Rome, is given an apocryphal geographic description, where it is remembered as the burial place for kings, saints, and patriarchs, in an account attributed to Mar Aba.60 Aba may have indeed visited the city, and we might attribute the invention to a scholar with access to a Syriac library, even if he had little actual information on the city. For him it was chiefly remembered as a city of relics and fabulous wealth associated with Constantine. In any case, the description primarily serves to provide the wider context for an account of Nicaea. Here the historians’ main interest seems to have been Constantine’s veneration for the survivors of persecution and his denunciation of Arius, but the importance of Nicaea also stimulated the invention of numerous different lists of the Easterners thought to have been present. All of these are fictitious, but they indicate both the wish to establish connections between the past history of the Church of the East, especially early catholicoi such as Simeon bar Sebba‘e, Shahdost, and Papas, and the revered orthodox past of the Roman Empire. But the inclusion of a selection of contradictory lists suggests that they were all produced by later historians with access to earlier accounts of the fourth century that were organized chronologically, allowing them to suggest suitable, but different, Eastern representatives at Nicaea.61

(p.235) This interest in the West and its past was not new. The Jerusalem pilgrimage was a significant feature of the reign of Ishoʿyahb I, and some knowledge of Constantine and Nicaea is evident in the council of 410.62 But the Abbasid period does seem to have experienced a greater interest in the West and an accompanying wish to fill in the gaps in the received history of the fourth century. The Syro-Roman law book, a West Syrian translation of laws of Constantine, Theodosius II and Leo I, seems to have entered Eastern collections in the middle of the eighth century, and its appearance may have heightened awareness of Constantine as an orthodox lawmaker and predecessor of the catholicoi in this role.63

The correspondence of Papas that circulated alongside the Synodica, includes his letters to Helena, mother of Constantine, to Judas Kyriakos, the converted Jew who revealed the True Cross, and to Pope Eusebius of Rome, and this content suggests that it represents a series of parallel historical inventions to those seen in the Chronicle of Seert. Though invented letters had been ascribed to Papas in the fifth and sixth centuries, these other letters seem to be inventions of Timothy’s reign, a time when there was a deliberate effort to collect different sources about the past to buttress the claims of the present.64 Moreover, it seems plausible that this correspondence, like the stories in the Chronicle, is also a reaction to the availability and popularity of the West Syrian Julian Romance in this era, meaning that its pseudo-history of the fourth century had to be incorporated into the histories and their protagonists tied to famous figures from the past of the Church of the East.

Timothy’s own correspondence sheds further light on the context and motivation for these pseudo-histories. His Letter 26, composed in 785, is a discussion of the customs shared by the Church of the East and other Christians, but also of the primacy of his own church as a sort of primus inter pares. He begins by emphasizing the unity of baptism among ‘Severans, Nestorians, and Chalcedonians’. All of them, he remarks, believe in the unity of the Trinity, in baptism, Incarnation, prayer to the East, the Eucharist, the testaments of the prophets, eternal life and resurrection, and in the Last Judgement. However, it is the East that has primacy over the other parts of the world, since Nimrod, the first king, ruled in the East and since Ctesiphon is the see of Peter. The East, he goes on to argue, was the first land to embrace Christianity and the point of origin of Christ’s own family (presumably via Abraham).

(p.236) The letter, with its polemical use of history and geography, asserts the position of the Church of the East and Timothy as the centre of all ‘Christendom’. The differences between Christians are minimized as part of a wider project to assert the East’s importance as the origin of civilization and true religion, and the continued focus of prayer for Christians (which distinguishes them from Muslims and Jews).65 The emphasis on connections to co-religionists further west may have been an attempt by Timothy to bolster his prestige within the caliphate. At the same time, Timothy claims a pre-eminent position for his see within this Christian world-system. He asserts the status of the East by concentrating on its claims to antiquity and its importance as the site of Old Testament narrative. But he also seems to be aware of Western claims to Petrine supremacy (which could have applied to both Rome and Antioch). Timothy also claims this for the East and he may have retrojected this idea into the 424 synod of Dadishoʿ to give this idea a greater antiquity.66

The Chronicle’s interest in Constantinople and Rome can therefore be understood against this background. I suggest that the elaboration of the Constantine narratives and the descriptions of the cities of the West that were included in the Chronicle of Seert took place in a context where the catholicosate tried to emphasize the greatness of the Christian past within an Islamic environment, especially through the memory of the Roman world before Islam. Moreover, the pseudo-history of the Chronicle and the ‘fourth-century’ correspondence emphasized the pre-eminence of the see of Ctesiphon as the heir to this Christian heritage, over and above Melkite and Jacobite rivals with a longer history of attachment to the Western sees. Such assertions grew out of an earlier awareness of the Mediterranean patriarchates, but, even if they do not replicate the bombastic claims that Timothy makes in his letter, the sections of the Chronicle of Seert that we have seen here fit a late-eighth- and ninth-century renewal of interest in the cities of the West and in the deeds of Constantine.

An Expanding Church

The claims of dominance made in Timothy’s letter, even if they were not widely recognized, reflect the confidence of an individual in command of court connections, who could generate large donations from the caliph, who fund (p.237) impressive missions deep into the East and buy up land in Baghdad.67 The greater power of the catholicos within the church is immediately visible from the reorganization of dioceses, specifically the expansion of the number of dioceses immediately subject to the catholicos (which went from six to thirteen);68 the creation of a new category of ‘external’ metropolitanates who had no rights of election,69 and the elevation of new metropolitanates in the East and West (especially Damascus, Daylam, Turkestan, Gurgan, and Tibet).70

Timothy is rightly famous for the missionary expansion of the Church of the East under his rule, but it is also notable that this process had already begun in the seventh century, with the missions of John of Daylam and of Alopen in China. But Timothy was personally associated with the missions, in monastic and ecclesiastical histories as well as in his own correspondence,71 whereas the earlier missions are known from hagiographies, and the Xi’an inscription, and are not publicly identified as initiatives driven by the catholicos.72 The catholicosate, therefore, used its material wealth and influence to drive missionary expansion, and bolstered its own prestige among its clerics and monks.

Yet at the same time as the Nestorian church was engaged in expansion in the East and West, so too were the Melkites and Jacobites. Both rival groups developed important communities in Iraq in the course of the seventh and eighth centuries: Takrit, a former Roman army base, emerged as a very important Jacobite centre, alongside their older base of Mar Mattai, and Jacobites in Iraq were organized into a series of dioceses soon after the Arab conquest by their patriarch Athanasius the Camel-driver. Perhaps most importantly, beginning with Marutha of Takrit, the leader of the Iraqi Jacobites was labelled a maphrian, second-in-command to the patriarch at Antioch.73 Parallel developments are also seen for the Melkites, who established a church (p.238) at Kufa in 723 and whose monastery in Baghdad became the centre of the district of Dar al-Rum, which would be the seat of a metropolitan by the tenth century.74

Similar expansion was also seen further east. In Central Asia, Nestorian expansion is seen in the spread of their network of bishops across Khurasan and Segestan, but by the 630s the Jacobites too had established bishops in the same region, where the Nestorians had previously been the only Christians, and these were upgraded to metropolitanates by the ninth century.75 Further east, in the longstanding Nestorian centre of Merv, the Melkites had established an important community that provided the Muslim scholar al-Biruni with informants in the eleventh century.76 This expansion may reflect conversions of local pagans, but the migration of Greeks and Armenians, as prisoners and soldiers, may have also prompted this shift in ecclesiastical organization,77 and, in time, this was followed by the eastward diffusion of Mediterranean centres of Christian scholarship, such as the West Syrian schools of Alexandria and Antioch, which relocated to Baghdad and Merv in the early Abbasid period.78

For all three Christian groups, the creation of the caliphate meant the dissolution of older borders, geographical expansion and a new, more immediate exposure to one another. This overlapping of missionary activity and connections to the same circles of power meant that the different groups were placed in direct competition: another way of understanding the claims made by the Nestorians to the lands of the East is as a means of excluding newcomers from their zone of influence in Central Asia. Michael Morony has portrayed the Umayyad period as an era of conflict between Christian groups, pointing to the Nestorians’ destruction of a Jacobite church in Nisibis in 707 and to the use of Old Testament imagery by historians to present each different church as a chosen people.79 However, in spite of the divisive language of some of these histories, we should also remember that the Abbasid period saw important points of rapprochement between the communities, where, for instance, the Jacobites were permitted to build churches in Nisibis and Mosul in exchange for allowing a Nestorian church in their centre of Takrit. In this 767 agreement, the irenic policies of church elders overcame the prejudice of younger (p.239) church members, angry at compromise.80 I suggest that, though rivalry between groups did not stop, it was increasingly conducted against a background of everyday communication between different kinds of Christians in Abbasid Iraq. This had a direct effect on Christian conceptions of the past, where, in some instances, shared histories from the patristic era (and new inventions inspired by these) represented a body of knowledge that was respected by all. This is the kind of social context we must suppose to explain Timothy’s declaration of the common ground of the three main denominations, at the same time as his assertion of the fundamental pre-eminence of ‘the East’.

Several sections in the Chronicle of Seert are only comprehensible through this kind of ecumenical interchange. In the ninth century, clergy of different churches were prepared to share rare books on philosophy and theology, which corresponded to a shared Christian heritage,81 and to criticize the extremism of their own predecessors in order to generate compromise across theological boundaries.82 This environment fostered two-way pilgrimage between regions which had previously had restricted contact, such as Egypt and Iraq.83 And it also enabled Easterners to gain easier access to writings in Greek through the settlement of Greek-speakers in Baghdad and elsewhere, writings that preserved knowledge about the prestigious Christian history of the later Roman Empire.84

The longest of the ninth-century additions in the medieval compilations are the sections on the deeds of the Roman emperors, which are built around summaries of their church politics and natural disasters. These sections, which are extremely brief until the reigns of Maurice and Phocas, may derive from a West Syrian source, since they are dated by AG, in the same manner as the (p.240) Syriac minor chronicles.85 The lack of detailed information for early emperors implies that they may have been composed in the seventh century, not long after the Arab conquests. The degree to which these sections are isolated from the other narratives that were used in Chronicle indicates that they represent a very late addition that has not been integrated with the earlier sources. However, the anti-Severan bias of these brief histories may also indicate that they stemmed from a Chalcedonian source, and that they were transmitted by the Melkites into a Nestorian environment.86

A second cluster of Melkite material is found in the stories of Constantine and Nicaea. Here a compiler has used the work of Qusṭā ibn Lūqā (d.910), a Melkite from Baalbek in the Lebanon and confidant of the caliphs, whose work, also dated by AG, has been employed to furnish additional details on these central events.87 Qusṭā, the latest of the historians named by the Chronicle of Seert, has been used to provide an account of Constantine’s vision of the Cross at the Milvian Bridge and Helena’s discovery of the Cross.88 Both scenes were probably discussed by Qusṭā as explanations of the origins of the important Feast of the Cross, and it is interesting that the chronicler also includes his explanation of the different dates for the festival. The Nestorians, he says, celebrate the discovery, and the Melkites, Helena’s dedication of the church on the following day, which explains why the two communities keep the feast on different days. Though the different traditions of the churches might have originally served to emphasize the divisions of the two communities, Qusṭā, followed by the Nestorian chronicler who has reused his material, has preferred to emphasize the legitimacy of both dates for the celebration. Both here, and in the anonymous history of the emperors, Melkite sources were used by a compiler keen to marshal all possible information that could elucidate Christianity’s pre-Islamic past in the exotic far West, especially in the deeds of orthodox emperors.

Much less material seems to have entered the Chronicle from Jacobite sources. But even here, though confessional borderlines were bitterly defended in the sixth and seventh centuries, we may be able to detect an improvement in the relationship between the two groups. We saw in chapter 5 how Greek Dyophysite ecclesiastical histories painted a very negative picture of Cyril and his followers. These histories, transmitted into the East, were also continued using other information, such as the deeds of patriarchs of Constantinople89 (p.241) or those of the Jacobite leadership during the sixth-century persecutions, and they continued to pursue the same invective.90 These continuations could have been received at various points from the middle of the sixth century to the ninth, when Chalcedonian anti-Jacobite accounts might have passed into the hands of Nestorian historians. But these accounts should also be contrasted with other sections that present much more neutral descriptions of the Jacobites. In particular, two narratives of the succession of Athanasius the Camel-driver after the death of Khusrau II and his creation of new dioceses, and the account of the spread of Jacobites in Iraq after the war both seem to derive from Jacobite sources.91 The use of neutral information from Jacobite sources to explain current realities did not prompt the chronicler to jettison or alter the deep anti-Jacobite bias of much of the material he inherited, but it does at least suggest that a history of the Jacobite patriarchs was accessible to him or his predecessors, even if used anonymously.92

A New History of Monasticism: The Nestorians in the West

The intermixing of the historical traditions of different confessions in the Chronicle of Seert was a product of the new proximity of these different communities. But this process was not limited to Iraq and lands further east: the Nestorians also acquired a major presence in the West. There had already been a bishop in Damascus at the time of the Arab conquests, but the Abbasid period witnessed the founding of new communities, together with an episcopal structure in Syria, Anatolia, and Egypt.93 Egypt in particular saw Nestorians establish themselves as traders and as government representatives, acquiring a bishop in the region by 750 and a metropolitanate by c.1000 and establishing a large monastery to the south of Cairo. Governance from Baghdad allowed Nestorians an important role as agents of the caliphs in his dealings with other Christians.94

(p.242) As we have seen, Egypt held an important place in the imagination of the Church of the East, as it did across all post-Nicene branches of Christianity, as the home of Antony and Pachomius, the founders of monasticism, known through the ecclesiastical histories. Its fame made it a point of interest for visitors to the West such as Mar Aba and Abraham of Kashkar, and an Egyptian cenobitic model of monasticism was an important feature of the Abrahamic reformation of the sixth century. However, just as Iraqi historians retrojected the authority of the catholicoi, they also desired a deeper history for the cenobitic monasticism of the East. The first stage of this elaboration of the past of Abrahamic monasticism was the early seventh-century translation of Palladius’ Lausiac History by the monk Ananishoʿ, a friend of Ishoʿyahb III.95 These tales of Antony and Pachomius gave an older, and therefore more legitimate, pedigree to Abraham’s reformation, and are placed at the beginning of Thomas of Marga’s Book of the Governors. The acquisition of this new history meant that Abraham no longer stood at the beginning of the historical tradition: like the ancestry of the church’s theology, this translation meant that its monastic practices too could be traced back to an authoritative Western source.

The second step in the elaboration of the church’s monastic history was the presentation of Abraham as a restorer of cenobitism. The translation of Ananishoʿ shows curiosity about the past and a wish to give monastic history the same credentials as ecclesiastical history in general. We might also speculate that the invention of an earlier cenobitic revolution in Iraq may have been stimulated by the criticisms of rivals, by ‘Messalians’ who objected to the controls of the Abrahamic monastic structures or by Jacobites who claimed to have brought cenobitic monasteries into the East themselves. This second level of monastic histories represented a new wave of hagiographies devoted to the fictional Egyptian monastic founder Awgin, and to his disciples Shallita, Phinehas, and Yonan, all of whom are the subjects of long Syriac hagiographies.96

These saints’ lives give their heroes suitable fourth-century pedigrees, as opponents of Arius and Egyptian paganism, and it may be that this was intended to enhance their appeal and importance across confessional boundaries. I do not intend to examine these lives closely here, but it is clear that a compiler whose material was included in the Chronicle of Seert was chiefly interested in embedding these heroes into the pre-existent history of the Church of the East. Thus Awgin is portrayed as an opponent of Shapur II who, like the heroes of the fifth-century hagiographies, endures standing in a fire to prove the truth of his belief and the falsehood of the shah’s religion.97 Other stories, which follow this one immediately, recount how Awgin’s (p.243) disciples paved the way for their successors in the seventh century, how Mar Yonan appeared in a dream to ʿAbda bar Hanif and commanded him to bring his body to Anbar, or how the disciple Aha founded the monastery of Zarnouqa, which was refounded by one of the companions of Sabrishoʿ.98

These stories connect seventh-century figures to the fourth century, and they may well indicate that the authors of foundation stories in the seventh century were aware of earlier heroes in a barely known past. But these primordial founders had not yet been connected to Awgin as a body of disciples, and they are absent from the Book of the Governors. It is only with the composition of Ishoʿdnah of Basra’s Book of Chastity in 860s that they appear as a group, incorporating several martyrs of the fourth and fifth centuries as monastic founders, in a list that probably stands as a later addition to the rest of the text.99

The appearance of Awgin in the Chronicle of Seert, therefore, represents part of the ‘backwards’ expansion of the text’s monastic history, in parallel with the retrojection of its ecclesiastical history, where an author with knowledge of the hagiography and history of his own church has inserted this primordial monastic founder at the relevant point in his collected material. Employing a wide knowledge of the early period in which these new hagiographies were set, the authors of such hagiographies connected their saints to prestigious and notorious figures of the past, to the family of Constantine,100 the fictional monastery of Pachomius,101 and the Shapurian martyrs,102 as well as to sixth- and seventh-century monastic stories. In addition, this invention did not only supplement the authority of the monastic movement within Iraq, but also emphasized its connections to Egypt, where its members’ newfound influence might be presented as a restoration of a very old connection between the two regions. The creation of a deeper history for cenobitic monasticism in the Church of the East, therefore, also created legitimacy for its colonies in Cairo and the Fayyum.

Remembering Muhammad: Taxation and Narratives of Surrender

The creation of new passages of fourth-century history in the Abbasid period was connected to the changing relationship between the Church of the East (p.244) and other Christian groups: the fourth century represented an era that all major Christian groups respected, and historical invention here might generate the kind of legitimacy that could transcend inter-confessional boundaries. The events of the early seventh century, the life of Muhammad, and the conquests of the early caliphs, represented a similar formative period for Muslims, where assertions about the past could also create paradigms for the behaviour of contemporary Christians and Muslims.103

Some sources written within the Church of the East, and embedded in the Chronicle of Seert or Thomas of Marga, represent the Arab conquests as a violent experience, where the intervention of holy men was necessary to save the common people, as if from a natural disaster, and where the Arabs are included in prophecies of the destruction of convents.104 These texts, especially the monastic hagiographies among them, were probably composed in the mid-seventh century, and, in a few cases, updated later.105 They may well reflect the turbulent situation of the invasions. Yet they contrast radically with the accounts of Muhammad and the Rashidun (the first four caliphs) given later in the Chronicle, where the Christians are represented as important allies of the Muslims, and are recognized by Muhammad in a lengthy document, apparently discovered in 878 by a monk named Habib.106 This difference, I suggest, reflects the Abbasid-era rewriting of the past to remove images of Arab violence and to emphasize cooperation between Christians and Muslims through an invented seventh-century past.

The Chronicle contains four sections of varying lengths on the beginnings of Islam. The first (CI) is an abbreviated account of the rise of Muhammad, dated to the reigns of Heraclius, Ishoʿyahb II, and Ardashir III. Notably it also includes the Islamic praise formula for Muhammad, his Abrahamic descent, his flight to Yathrib (Medina), and his war with Meccans, so the account has used an Islamic source.107 It has then located the material in a pre-existent account of the war of 604–28. This addition of Islamic material to an older structure implies that this episode was written in an era when history writing in Arabic was accessible to a Christian author, rather than being an ‘indigenous’ account of the new prophecy, such as the one found in the Khuzistan (p.245) Chronicle.108 As such this text was probably originally composed in Arabic, rather than in Syriac.

However, the focus of this one page section is not really on the deeds of Muhammad, but on his relationship to the Christians of Najran in Yemen in southern Arabia. We are told how the Yemenis, unlike the Meccans, supported Muhammad and how he corresponded with the Christian leader, Sayyid Ghassani, who helped him and brought him presents, and how he, and his successor Umar, wrote a treaty for them.

This account is magnified in later sections by a full description of this treaty and the deeds of the caliphs, a description that was written by a second author. CII is the text of Muhammad’s letter, in which he bans Muslims from imposing any additional requirements on Christians, since they ‘refused to fight God and his messenger’. The Christians are contrasted to ‘those people who follow the old sects and ancient books who are enemies of God and his messenger and opposed to the mission set out in His Book [i.e. the Qur’an]’. These people, the letter adds, assault men with false arguments, as well as allying with the pagans of the Quraysh (the pre-Islamic guardians of the Ka‘ba) and trying to kill ‘the Prophet’. For this, they deserve ‘to be stripped of God’s covenant, because of their activities against Muhammad in the days of the Banū Qaynuqā‘, the Banū Qurayẓa and the Banū Naḍr (the Jewish tribes of Medina)’.109

These people, thus far unnamed, are only identified as Jews at the end of this narrative: while the Christians help the ‘messenger of God’, ‘the Jews and pagans have the greatest hatred for the believers and those who love them most are those who say “we are Christians” (Qur’an V, 85–7). The Christians are said to be allies in war against the Jews and to have proved faithful allies and obeyed the pact that they have drawn up, at the request of the leaders of Najran, which ‘is compulsory for all believers and Muslims’, an alliance that should be followed by all who wish to follow in ‘my [Muhammad’s] footsteps’ and which applies to ‘all Christians’. Bishops and monks, he says, have been loyal to my cause, while Jews have only been motivated by greed.110

The letter is extremely lengthy and repetitive, far too much so to be anything other than an invention. It was composed by an author who was familiar with the accounts of the Life of Muhammad, such as that composed by Ibn Ishaq in the 780s, and with the Qur’an. The core of the narrative that he describes is Muhammad’s conflict with several of the Jewish tribes of Medina, who were initially included in a treaty with Muhammad, but who later fell out with him and allied themselves to his pagan enemies in Mecca. Christians were essentially absent from Ibn Ishaq’s story as a political force, though Yemenis (p.246) did become important members of the umma (community) after Muhammad’s victory over the Meccan pagans. The Najranite embassy, and the story of the treaty, has been added to the rest of the story by the Christian author, inspired in part by verses in the Qur’an that compare Christians favourably to the Jews.111 His agenda was to insert the Christians, undifferentiated by denomination, into early Muslim history, and into an Arabian context, as allies of the Muslims and opponents of the Jews, that is, as good dhimmīs who are rewarded by Muhammad for their loyalty.

This reward consists of a series of promises made by Muhammad to Sayyid Ghassani and ‘all members of the Christian religion, in East and West’. This ‘authentic diploma’ represents itself as an unbreakable contract: ‘whoever observes it, demonstrates his attachment to Islam and deserves its benefits, but whoever breaks it or alters its commands, violates God’s covenant’. The letter asserts the requirements of Muslim armies to defend the Christians. It forbids them from forcing a bishop from his see or a monk his monastery, and demands a from of 4 dirhams per person or an embroidered Yemeni cloth, with a 12 dirham tax for landowners, merchants, or owners of mines. Christians are to be exempt from military service, or additional war taxes, and they are to be treated with justice and not subject to forced marriage or to marriages that contradict the wishes of their parents. Muslims are also required to respect the faith of their spouse and to help Christians rebuild churches or monasteries in disrepair. Finally, the letter is concluded by a long list of signatures, all of whom are well-known Companions of the Prophet.112

The stipulations made here fit into a wider discourse about the duties of Christians (and other dhimmīs) towards their rulers, especially in terms of taxation and public religious behaviour. These debates took into account the different status of territories across the caliphate, of whether they had been seized by force or through a negotiated treaty with inhabitants, as well as considering the requirements imposed upon dhimmīs who emigrated to the newly founded cities, where there were no established rules for their treatment. Different Islamic jurists took a variety of positions on the ability of Christians in particular to hold processions, rebuild churches or ring bells, as well as debating the level of jizya (poll tax) and kharāj (land tax) that they were subject to. It was a discussion that gradually veered towards intolerance by the end of the tenth century.113

(p.247) This was a debate in which historical reports were extremely important, since they established precedents for how relations with dhimmīs, or those who had acquired conquered land, should be managed. The arguments about tax status in particular hinged upon accounts of the seventh-century conquests: it is this interest that seems to motivate the ninth-century historian al-Baladhuri in his Kitāb Futūḥ al-Buldān (Book of the Conquest of the Nations) where he records the conditions under which different settlements were conquered. Robinson proposes that the material that al-Baladhuri drew upon reflects ‘the production of knowledge’ as the significance of these arrangements grew, as citizens opposed tax collection and the state tried to raise revenue.114 In the same vein, a manual on taxation from the same era, Abu Yusuf’s Kitāb al-Kharāj (Book of the Land Tax) includes a number of discussions of the conquest in order to justify its novel application of set levels of poll tax and land tax across the entire caliphate. Nigel Calder observed how this compiler strung together juristic fragments and ḥadīth (sayings attributed to Muhammad) to legitimise this innovation and did so in the face of ‘locals skilled in argument’ who put forward stories of agreements with Muhammad or tax assessments under early caliphs to justify lower rates of payments in goods (in the case of Najran), payment according to means, or payment at a lower fixed rate (in the case of Edessa).115

Debates over taxation pitted the claims of such locals against compilers like Abu Yusuf, both sides marshalling their own proof texts of history, real and invented. This was an Islamic debate, in the sense that al-Baladhuri’s proof texts are all futūḥ (conquest) narratives, stories of a divinely ordained conquest. But Christians were also capable of producing such histories, to defend their religious activities and their tax rights through collecting their own bodies of proof texts, in the acts of caliphs in more recent times116 and those of their predecessors, especially Muhammad and the Rashidun, who provided the most prestigious examples (stories which are also most likely to be invented).117 Several examples of the latter are presented in the ecclesiastical histories for individual cities: Bar Hebraeus notes how Marutha of Takrit, the first maphrian, surrendered the city to the Arabs and assured the property (p.248) rights of its citizens and the Melkite Theophilus of Edessa, preserved in the Greek history of Theophanes, gives a similar account of peaceful surrender for Edessa.118 All of these accounts emphasise peaceful surrender in the past to press for lower taxation in the present. As Robinson observes, there would have been no advantage to preserving histories of resistance for demilitarized Christian communities.119

The surrender accounts preserved in the Chronicle of Seert tend to be more generalized than the stories for Takrit and Edessa. Though they may have originated as treaty narratives for individual places, they have been transformed into promises made by Muslim commanders to holy men on behalf of entire religious groups. Thus, the holy man Theodore is granted an exemption from the jizya for all priests by the caliphʿ Umar, and Sabrishoʿ of Beth Garmai is promised a similar exemption for all monks (‘those who wear wool’).120 Both of these accounts seem to be adaptations of monastic hagiographies, but the most extensive conquest narrative in the Chronicle is ʿUmar’s meeting with Ishoʿyahb II, in a continuation of the blend of Islamic and Christian history that we saw in Section CI. Here we are told that Ishoʿyahb dispatched a messenger, Gabriel of Maishan, to Muhammad, to bring presents and announce that the Christians are tributaries of the Persians. Later, after Muhammad’s death, he is succeeded by Abu Bakr and then ʿUmar, who sets the level of the poll tax according to wealth. Ishoʿyahb comes to see ʿUmar in person, and he receives a letter from him, ‘to Seleucia, its catholicos, priests, and deacons’ that proclaims the protection of Christians and announces that any who break this pact are separated from their covenant with God. ʿUmar promises Ishoʿyahb security, stating that no churches will be stolen for use as mosques or private houses, and that Christians will not be obliged to fight in war, in return for the Christians’ loyalty in their alliance.121

The agreement with ʿUmar, to whom Muslim jurists also attributed normative agreements with dhimmīs, touches on several of the issues seen in the treaties discussed by Abu Yusuf.122 Ishoʿyahb’s agreement confirms that tax should be paid according to ability to pay and that the Christians should have freedom of worship. The former in particular is a detail that appears in the arguments rebutted by the Kitāb al-Kharāj. The claims of Christians in (p.249) these conquest narratives are not consistent: there is, for instance, nothing said here about the freedom of priests or monks from the jizya.

The agreement between ʿUmar and Ishoʿyahb is also concerned with the role of the catholicos and his clergy as representatives of all the Christians before the caliph, a claim that was realized, in theory at least, in the course of the ninth century. In these sections on the conquest, the compiler of the Chronicle has brought together a series of different conquest narratives, some written from the perspective of the catholicosate or individual monasteries and others inspired by pro-Christian (or anti-Jewish) sections of the Qur’an and the Life of Muhammad, and used them to generate the illusion of a consistently tolerant paradigm of good Muslim rule, which, as Calder argued, opposed the rival production of legal paradigms in the ‘juristic contrivance’ of men such as Abu Yusuf.

Remembering Muhammad: The Histories of Najran

In addition to the interest in tax that is apparent in these stories of the Arab conquest, two other features that mark them out are their opposition to the Jews and the emphasis on the presence of Christians in the Arabia of Muhammad’s day. Heightened tensions between Christians and Jews were a notable feature of Islamic rule. In the former Roman Empire in particular, Jews were now exempt from the discriminatory laws they had once been subjected to. The interest in the Najranites and in very early contact with Muhammad is, of course, connected to the prestige of such an early example, over and above encounters with later Muslim leaders. But it also corresponds to a wider interest of Abbasid intellectuals in Arabia. For Arabic-speakers long settled in Iraq, both for poets and religious scholars, Arabia represented a glimpse of the jāhilīya, of the pure language and customs of Arabs uncorrupted by exposure to the cultures of the Fertile Crescent.123

Adam Talib has emphasised the special role of the former Lakhmid capital of Hira in this imagination of the past. Its history as a Sasanian satellite with Arab history and culture, set apart by its courtly culture and its Christianity, made it an appropriate site for poetic ruminations on the fragility of men’s fortunes. Hira presented a timeless place where Muslim authors such as al-Isfahani and Yaqut, could situate stories of the city’s fall to contrast a Lakhmid Christian Arabia with their Muslim conquerors. These stories ranged from the refusal of Nuʿman’s daughter Hind to marry a Muslim suitor, to Khalid ibn al-Walid’s (p.250) assurance that he will respect and defend the Christians. Yet, as Talib argues, these stories do not only show a poetic fondness for the bittersweet, but may also incorporate native Hiran reactions to the conquests, defending their property and religious freedoms through their own Arabic poetry, that have been taken up and disseminated across religious boundaries.124

Interest in Hira’s fame, and its tribal alliances in the pre-Islamic period, are a feature shared by the Haddad Chronicle and by Muslim historians such as al-Tabari. For al-Tabari, the history of Hira was an important source of the prestigious legends of the jāhilīya, and a site of pre-Islamic monotheism. For the compiler of the Christian history, it represented a means of showing off the genealogy of its ascetic kings and connecting the deeds of the bishops and monks of the city to a site that was already famous as a home of warriors and poets.125 For both historians, Hira was a shared site of interest, a prestigious source for an obscure pre-Islamic past.

A similar pattern, of Christian participation in the Abbasid construction of a pre-Islamic past, is also visible for the southern city of Najran, the source of the embassy to Muhammad in the Chronicle of Seert. The story of the Najranite embassy in the Chronicle represents a claim to Christian support for Muhammad’s conquest. It is rendered convincing through its early date, and the aristocratic Arab credentials of the Najranites’ embassy. Though it goes unmentioned in the Chronicle, the Najranites were presented in the Islamic histories as early allies of Muslims, paying a tax to Muhammad and supporting his successor Abu Bakr against rebellions in the Yemen during the Ridda wars, and this may have increased the town’s importance in the eyes of an Abbasid-era audience.126 These features of Arab ancestry and participation in the wars of the Muslims lie behind the assertions of the story in the Chronicle that the Najranites were allies of the Muslims, representatives of a brother religion. Furthermore, this story of the seventh century was written against a context of a continued Christian presence in Arabia at the time of writing. As recent ceramic studies have emphasised, Christian monasteries such as al-Qusur and Kharg flourished along the western seaboard of the peninsula in the eighth and ninth centuries, and Nestorian bishoprics were created here, and in San‘a and Socotra.127

(p.251) But if Najran was important as a symbol of the presence of Christians in Arabia, past and present, it was even more famous, across religious divides, as the site of a famous martyrdom of local (Miaphysite) Christians by the Jewish king Dhū Nuwās in 522, who was eventually defeated by an invasion of the Christian kings of Axum. These events were widely described at the time in Syriac, Greek, and Ethiopic and went on to form the inspiration for Sura 85 of the Qur’ān, a sign of how far Muslim memory production was rooted in ‘older, more pervasive systems of memorializing’.128 Significantly, the sura represented the Christian martyrs of Najran as Muslims, martyred for their faith by their (Jewish) persecutors, in a scene that would be embellished by later Muslim historians.129 It was, as Sizgorich has observed, a troubling story because it presented other monotheists as part of the umma (community), a detail that may have been close to the reality of the fluid boundaries of the political–religious alliance that crystallized around Muhammad, and which later scholars, such as the great jurist Ibn Hanbal, tried hard to suppress.130

Najran, then, provided an important vehicle through which Christians could emphasise their own presence in pre-Islamic history, with its prestigious genealogies that connected the town to other Arabs of real or imagined Yemeni origin throughout the caliphate, as well as giving Christians a place as members of the umma, a situation that is invoked to justify the terms of the treaty embedded in the Chronicle of Seert. However, we must also recognize that the history of the real Najran did not have the neat and continuous history that Christian commentators wished, and that the story in the Chronicle involves considerable suppression of inconvenient details and falsification to appropriate this example for its own use. Firstly, stories of Najran in the Yemen were applied in the taxation debates to a second city of Najran, founded near Kufa and Hira in the village of Nahr Aban, where descendants of the Najranites claimed the special tax rights that had been given to their ancestors.131 Claims to special tax rights for the Najranites in Abu Yusuf pertain to this city, and not to the older city in Arabia, and the suppression of the claims of these exiles are given as an example of the tyranny of al-Hajjaj.132 By (p.252) invoking the story of Najran, the chronicler is presenting their arrangement as a normative claim on behalf of all Christians, when it had formally been used to put forward the claims of one settlement.

Secondly, the inclusion of the story in the Chronicle of Seert represents a Nestorian appropriation of a place and of a story that was much more firmly connected to Miaphysite circles and to writing in western Syriac: the first testimony of the martyrdom is, after all, attributed to the sixth-century Miaphysite missionary Simeon beth Arsham.133

In spite of its fame as a city of martyrs, Najran, perhaps because it was located so far from major Christian polities, became a place of refuge for the Julianists, the Miaphysite opponents of Severus of Antioch who were rejected by the Jacobite church of the seventh century and beyond.134 The Julianist presence here is explained as a result of their earlier expulsion from Hira, and Timothy continues to lament their presence until a missionary drive ‘reunites’ thirteen of their churches to the Nestorians, when a bishop is appointed for the city in 790.135 Even so, it is clear that Najranite Christianity was divided between several different authorities, since Bar Hebraeus and Michael the Syrian claim that there were Jacobite bishops of Najran in the ninth and tenth centuries who were periodically also styled bishops of the Banu Tanukh or the Ma‘ad, tribal confederations of northern Arabia.136

Part of the unseen historiographical context of the Chronicle’s account lies in a cluster of Nestorian missionary stories for Najran that have survived embedded in Muslim sources. Hirschberg collected three of these accounts, which tell how saintly heroes in the distant past destroyed the palm tree that the people worshipped or survived persecution from the king and converted all the people.137 Though there are three distinct accounts, all share several features in their narrative, most importantly the impression that Najran was subsequently taken over by heretics. The Chronicle of Seert’s section on Najran, drawn from the historian Bar Sahde (c.730) and placed in the middle of the fifth century, though it is much less detailed, also claims the precedence of the Church of the East as missionaries to the south.138

We should not follow Hirschberg in seeing these later sources as a guide to fifth-and sixth-century realities. It seems more likely that they represent (p.253) eighth- and ninth-century attempts to write over the sixth-century Jacobite accounts of the persecution of a very young church in Najran, and to assert an earlier Nestorian claim. Bar Sahde’s story, and others like it, represent post-Islamic attempts to appropriate a ‘southern’ past for the Nestorians, to match the expansionist claims of their own episcopal structures under Muslim rule, in parallel with the claims of a western connection in the Awgin legend. Furthermore, it was especially important for the Church of the East to appropriate Najran and its memory because of its role as a symbol of Muslim cooperation with the Christians, a means of asserting a pro-Christian paradigm for Muslim rule.

Najran in the Chronicle of Seert has been rendered as a symbol of this cooperation with all Christians. It was not a story that was only useful to one denomination or only to the Najranites themselves. However, by claiming precedence in Najran, and by establishing it as a bishopric, the Nestorians may have also sought to emphasise their own role as intermediaries with the Muslim authorities. In an era when Timothy asserted the unity of belief of the main Christian groups in order to increase his own prestige, his church generated stories of Najran that were translated into Arabic and that eclipsed the older Syriac stories of Najran that had been written by the Jacobites.

Remembering Muhammad: Christians, Jews, and Muslims

The final feature of the narratives of surrender in the Chronicle of Seert that we will examine here is the juxtaposition of Christians and Jews as good and bad dhimmīs. The treaty between Muhammad and the Najranites contrasts the Muslims and their Christian allies with the tribes of Jews and pagans known from the Life of Muhammad, tribes who are then represented as standing for all Jews in general.139 In the account of the conquest that follows this polemic, the relationship between Christians and Jews within the caliphate is discussed by a second means, through the figure of a distrusted Jewish convert to Islam, Kaʿab al-Aḥbār, who tries to influence the caliph Abu Bakr against the Christians and is rejected.140

The use of Najran as a symbol for Muslim–Christian cooperation already has an anti-Jewish background. The martyrs of Najran, famous to both communities, were widely seen as victims of a Jewish persecutor, Dhū Nuwās, and al-Tabari even reports a connection between this king and the (p.254) Jews of Medina who opposed Muhammad.141 The persecution of Christians here could be represented as a forerunner of the struggle of the Prophet, a story where Christians and Muslims were both participants.

The insertion of Kaʿab al-Aḥbār fills a parallel role to that of the Jews of Najran and Medina, except that it here it allows the Christian historian to make a tacit criticism of certain attitudes held by Muslims as un-Islamic, as innovations introduced by a Jew into Islam and opposed by the caliph. Kaʿab plays an important role in the ḥadīth of the caliphs Abu Bakr and ʿUmar and in the faḍā‘il of Jerusalem, the legends of the city and its monuments.142 Sizgorich has observed that Kaʿab represents ‘a tradent for the stories of pre-Islamic prophets…a means [of] emplotting the Muslim community into an older Abrahamic tradition’. Kaʿab is used, for instance, as a vehicle for providing access to earlier monotheist prophecies of Islam in the Old Testament, and accounts of this Jewish convert to Islam incorporate Biblical and midrashic ideas and ascribe them to him, justifying their presence in Islamic exegesis through this Muslim Jew. Yet, alongside this positive image, Kaʿab also represented a foil for the caliphs to demonstrate true orthodoxy against a false opinion, an opinion that is shown to be Judaizing through its association with Kaʿab. Thus ʿUmar is said to have refuted Kaʿab’s suggestion that the qibla at Jerusalem (the direction of prayer) should be oriented through the site of the Temple as well as towards Mecca, and polygynous Muslims who are reprimanded by the caliph are said to have imported Jewish practices into Islam.143

Timothy famously referred to the Muslims as ‘the new Jews’ in a private letter, and emphasised the degree to which Muslims were influenced by the Jews in terms of dietary laws and circumcision.144 Yet, speaking before the caliph, he gave a more positive view of Islam: here he said that Muhammad, while not a prophet, was one who walked in the way of the prophets, one who had brought the pagan Arabs towards belief in the one God.145 Both views were available to the catholicos, for whom the Muslims might be depicted as Judaizers or as fellow monotheists.

The carefully balanced account in the Chronicle of Seert makes both of these assertions simultaneously, as part of a wider intervention in Islamic political thought by Christians. Muslims were already divided over how to treat a liminal figure like Kaʿab, who could represent a conduit of Abrahamic (p.255) legitimacy or a source of Jewish pollution for the new religion. By placing the disagreement of Kaʿab and Abu Bakr over the treatment of the Christians into a narrative that concentrated on the betrayal of the Jews of Medina and the loyalty of the Christians of Najran, the author emphasises this negative interpretation of Kaʿab.146 Within this discourse of Jewish falsehood within Islam, which was common to Timothy and to the Muslim Arab histories, mistreatment of the Christians is ranked alongside polygyny or the Jerusalem qibla as a Jewish practice that had been introduced into Islam. The subtext that this debate evokes is therefore the eternal struggle between Jews and Christians, a struggle that, the reader infers, should leave good Muslims on the side of the Christians, protected by the precedent of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar themselves.


The compilation of the synodica and the great histories, of which the Chronicle of Seert is the longest and most detailed, was part of a wider expansion of scholarship that occurred in the reign of Timothy and his successors. The collection of a wide variety of texts from different sources and traditions is part of a broader encyclopaedic interest, where literate Christians, Muslims, and Jews came together in the new cities of the caliphate. But the role of the patriarchate itself as an institution that collected texts also allowed certain patriarchs great powers to shape the communal memory of the Church of the East. The absence of any Sasanian precursors to the Great Synodicon that could rival it for its length or diversity of material suggests that the linking of different ways of writing about the church through representations of the past, through synods, letters, histories, and laws, was a product of the Islamic period and the flourishing of Christians in the cities of Abbasid Iraq.

In the Church of the East, the process of compilation was accompanied by the invention of new strands of historical writing that extended the church’s history to give it a prestigious connection to the West, as well as incorporating historical material gathered under rival Christian denominations. In both cases, these new pasts reflect a broader field of activity for the Church of the East within the Abbasid caliphate, whereby new bishoprics were established beyond the former Sasanian Empire. There are also important signs of cooperation between Christian groups in the contents of the medieval compilations, which show that different denominations shared prestigious histories, invented and real, such as the deeds of Constantine or the glories of Rome. (p.256) Moreover, in a Muslim context, appeals to the shared Western past of all Christians underlined the roles of Christians as the gatekeepers of a world of exotic lost knowledge, as well as presenting the fundamental unity of the religion.

At the same time, the Abbasid context of the Church of the East necessitated a relatively ‘ecumenical’ attitude to Islam, and the imagination of the shared past of Muslims and Christians. Here too, the Nestorians’ missionary expansion, this time to the Arabian peninsula, was used to anchor these invented histories and to imagine events in Najran as part of the wider history of the Church of the East. In the narratives of Muhammad’s career, the Chronicle of Seert presents Najran as a metonym for Christians everywhere. The Christians as a whole are presented as the allies of the Muslims, and this ‘fact’ is used to provide a justificatory narrative for Christian demands for protection as dhimmīs and to use a discourse of ‘Islamic’ taxation to argue for the exemption of monks from the poll tax.

Through the reworking of the Life of Muhammad, a Christian author expressed his needs in Islamic terms. He seems to have been well aware of the proof texts for this debate on taxation. Like Timothy’s diplomatic defence of Christianity before the caliph al-Mahdi, the production of this story shows us a patriarchate that had become highly sensitized to the attitudes and language of its Muslim rulers and neighbours, from whom it also derived substantial material rewards. Strikingly, it was the environment of Abbasid rule, with the patronage that it brought to Iraq, that facilitated the greatest expansion of the church, and that, concomitantly, generated the great classifying projects of the catholicoi of the ninth and tenth centuries.


(1) For Mosul see e.g. Chronicle of Seert, II/i, XII (125); XXXVIII (197). It is anachronistically called a metropolitanate at II/ii, XCIX (597). Sometimes the Chronicle’s source is aware of the distinction between Mosul and Nineveh, as at II/ii, CVIII (630), where Mosul is reserved as a term for the region, and at II/ii, CVII where the source describes the foundation of Mosul and Kufa. For Samarra see II/ii, XLVII (450–1). See further Hoyland, Seeing Islam, 443.

(2) Morony, Iraq, 300–2.

(3) Kennedy, ‘From shahrestan to medina’, 23–7. Also note Morony, Iraq, 52 on the distribution of taxes as payment to the troops in Basra. On Shiraz see D. Whitcomb, Before the Roses and the Nightingales: Excavations at Qasr-i Abu Nasr, Old Shiraz (New York, 1985).

(4) Kennedy, ‘From shahrestan to medina’, 22–3.

(5) C. Robinson, Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia (Cambridge, 2000), 50–62; For early Islamic prohibitions on purchasing the ṣawāfī, (in this instance) the conquered land of the alluvial plain of southern Iraq, the sawād, see M. Kister, ‘Land, property and jihad: a discussion of some early traditions’, JESHO 34 (1991), 270–311.

(6) Life of John of Daylam, 19, 25, and 39.

(7) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, LXXVI (516) for the Kurds near Izla; XCVII (587–8), for the Khurasanis of ʿAin al-Namir; CIX (631) for two pagan villages near Shahrzur.

(8) Baumer, The Church of the East, 168–74 (on Central Asia) and 179–86 (on China); E. de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders: A History (Leiden/Boston, 2005), 314–15 on the ninth-century peak of this Nestorian presence in the East.

(9) F. de Blois, ‘Zindik’, in EI2.

(10) In general see C. Robinson, Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: the Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia (Cambridge, 2000), 91–17. For Egypt, John of Nikiu, CXXI, 5 for the excessive taxation of the aristocrat Menas, theoretically acting on behalf of the Muslims. See also P. Sijpesteijn, ‘Landholding patterns in early Islamic Egypt’, Journal of Agrarian Change 9 (2009), 120–33 on the retention of Christian pagarchs until the Marwanid period. For Iraq, see R. Payne, Christianity and Iranian Society, 233–5.

(11) See Morony, Iraq, 113 and 205. For the use of dihqāns to collect taxes, al-Tabari, II, 458 and for the use of the Christian ʿIbad of Hira, Synodicon Orientale, 225.

(12) John of Phenek (ed. and tr. Mingana), 148–9/176–7.

(13) Payne, Christianity and Iranian Society, 191–235. Also see Wood, We Have No King but Christ, 262 on material prosperity and academic production in Mesopotamia.

(14) J.-M. Fiey, Mossoul chrétienne: essai sur l‘histoire, l‘archéologie et l‘état actuel des monuments chrétiens de la ville de Mossoul (Beiruit, 1953), 127–8; J.-M Fiey, ‘Isho‘yaw le grand’, OCP 35–6 (1969–70), 305–33 and 15–46.

(15) Fiey, ‘Ishoʿyaw’, 36–46 and J.-M. Fiey, Nisibe, métropole syriaque orientale et ses suffragants, des origines à nos jours (Louvain, 1977), 1–2.

(16) Mari, HE, 62/55.

(17) Ishoʿyahb was ‘of the line of Bastomagh’ (Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, XCVI (584), which would produce other contenders for the catholicosate (Book of the Governors, IV, ii (194/378)), and Giwargis was ‘descended from a noble family of Kaphra in Beth Garmai’, whose father owned several large estates (Book of the Governors, II, xii (80/179) ). Ishoʿyahb’s correspondence dwells on the role of Yazdin as a protector of the Christians (B 8) and relies on persuasion to keep fellow aristocrats on the Dyophysite side (e.g. B 19–20 to Yazdshapur and B 22 to Yazdegard). The personal names here may suggest the continued Iranian culture of these Christian magnates.

(18) Such as Giwargis of Nisibis and Giwargis of Perat de Maishan, both of whom were Persians unreconciled to the election of this Giwargis. Book of the Governors, II, xiii–iv (83–5/183–7).

(19) Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 131.

(20) C. Robinson, ʿAbd al-Malik (Oxford, 2005), esp. 77 and 116–17 on construction in Jerusalem and the creation of uniform infrastructure.

(21) O. Grabar, The Dome of the Rock (Cambridge, Mass., 2006); Robinson, ʿAbd al-Malik, 77–9, 102–3, 113–20.

(22) Al-Tabari, II, 869–70 and M. Sakly, ‘Wasit’, EI2. The foundation is mentioned by Mari, HE, 157/65.

(23) P. Sijpesteijn, ‘New rule over old structures: Egypt after the Muslim conquest’, in H. Crawford (ed.), Regime Change in the Ancient Near East and Egypt (Oxford, 2007), 183–200, at 196–8 for the situation in Egypt. The defeat of Ibn al-Ash’ath’s revolt marked a similar threshold for the converted dihqāns of Iran. For Christians, partial exceptions may be the dihqāns of Adiabene and shahrigan of Mosul (Book of the Governors, II, xxxvi; III, iii): see the discussion in Robinson, Empire and Elites, 108.

(24) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, LXXXI (525).

(25) Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 136–40; John of Phenek, 156/184.

(26) Called ‘a persecution of the church’ in the prophecy of one holy man: Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, XCVIII (593).

(27) Book of the Governors, II, xxvii (102/229); Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 152–4.

(28) Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 153–5.

(29) On Timothy see V. Berti, Vita e Studi di Timotheo I: Patriarca Cristiano di Baghdad (Paris, 2009).

(30) J.-M. Fiey, Chrétiens syriaques sous les Abbasides, surtout à Baghdad (Louvain, 1980), 12 and 36.

(31) M. Allard, ‘Les chrétiens à Baghdad’, Arabica 9 (1962), 375–88, esp. 377–9. Fiey, Chrétiens syriaques, 38–9 also draws attention to Timothy’s personal role as a translator.

(32) Note L. Cheiko, ‘La discussion religieuse entre le calife al-Mahdi et Timothée le catholicos’, Al-Machriq 21 (1921), 359–74, 408–18.

(33) S. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque (Princeton, 2008), 46–7 and 117. Also note Timothy’s Letter 25, where he demands a logician to be made bishop of Herat to debate with the Jacobites.

(34) For these laws, see Fiey, Chrétiens syriaques, 46 and M. Levy, A Baghdad Chronicle (Cambridge, 1929), 66. Griffith, Church in the Shadow, 63 observes the shock of provincial Muslims at the use of kalām in arguments with dhimmīs.

(35) J. Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival during the Buyid Age (Leiden, 1993), 2–10. The immense Fihrist of al-Nadim, a commentary on writers, writing, and scripts in many different languages is perhaps the most impressive testimony to this literary culture.

(36) On kitāba see S. Toorawa, Ibn Tāhir Tayfar and Arabic Writerly Culture: A Ninth-century Bookman in Baghdad (New York, 2005), 8. B. Shoshan, ‘High culture and popular culture in medieval Islam’, Studia Islamica 73 (1973), 66–107 emphasises the role of littérateurs in the dissemination of ‘polite’ culture down the social spectrum, beginning in this era.

(37) See H. Putman, L’église et l’islam sous Timothée I (Beiruit, 1986), 93–108 and C. Cabrol, ‘Secrétaires nestoriens sous les Abbassides (762–1252) à Baghdad’, PdO 25 (2000), 407–91 for the importance of scribes, doctors, and translators under Timothy and his successors.

(38) Baumer, Church of the East, 155 and 158; Mari, HE, 78/69.

(39) T. Hurst, The Syriac Letters of Timothy I: A Study in Muslim-Christian Controversy (Catholic University of America, unpublished PhD thesis, 1988), 20–1, citing an unpublished letter in MS Vat. Syr. 605. See chapter 4 for the involvement of court doctors in the election of sixth-century catholicoi.

(40) Mari, HE, 67–79/59–67.

(41) Elias of Nisibis, I, 160 and 165, probably uses Ishoʿdnah for his notices on Sliba-zkha (his ordination in Wasit and his death) and, at 168 and 179, he uses Pethion for an account of a Jacobite episcopal election and the court influence of the doctor George of Gundishapur. Neither account need have been very detailed.

(42) Book of the Governors, II, xii–xvi (80–9/179–209).

(43) Extant portions of his history extend to 793 (W. Wright, A Short History of Syriac Literature (London, 1894), 195), but he must have written at a later date since he is also the author of the Book of Chastity.

(44) This new focus in Mari’s history may show his use of the historian Simeon the Treasurer (Bar Tabache), whose history extended c.754–c.900 and described the prominence of doctors and secretaries at court. See BO IIIa, 215.

(45) BO, IIIa, 229, note 3. See also Fiey, Jalons, 9–10 for his list of historians (drawn from Assemani).

(46) It claims to be comprehensive and, since its last synod is that of Henanishoʿ II in 774, it must have been produced between 774 and Timothy’s first synod in 790. See further, W. Selb, Orientalisches Kirchenrecht: Band I, Die Geschichte des Kirchenrechts der Nestorianer (von den Anfä ngen bis zur Mongolenzeit) (Vienna, 1981), esp. 165 and Assemani, BO, IIIa, 162. Timothy’s own synodal canons are preserved in a later part of the Alqosh manuscript and are repeated in ʿAbdishoʿ’s thirteenth-century compilation: A. Mai, Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, Vol. X (Vatican, 1838), 98–105.

(47) Selb, Orientalisches Kirchenrecht, 59–63 for a detailed list of the manuscript’s contents. Also note J. Chabot, Synodicon Orientale (Paris, 1902), 4–9.

(48) Selb, Orientalisches Kirchenrecht, 175.

(49) Gero, ‘The status of the patriarchs’, 49, suggests that the claims of autocephaly in Dadishoʿ’s synod of 424 were altered under Timothy I using the idea of succession from the apostle Peter. He draws on Westphal, Untersuchungen, 162.

(50) On Timothy’s efforts to collect books on a variety of topics, seen through his own correspondence, see Berti, Vita e Studi, 217–20.

(51) For the different law codes and their dating see J. Dauvillier, ‘Chaldéen (Droit)’, Dictionnaire du droit canonique, 346–50 and Selb, Orientalisches Kirchenrecht, 174–8. On the social significance of this legislation see, in general, U. Simonsohn, A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews under Early Islam (Philadelphia, Pa, 2011), esp. 109; H. Kaufhold, ‘Der Richter in den syrischen Rechtsquellen: Zum Einfluss islamischen Rechts, auf die christliche-orientalische Rechtsliteratur’, OC 68 (1984), 91–114; R. Rose, ‘Islam and the development of personal law among Christian dhimmis’, MW 72 (1982), 159–79; N. Edelby, ‘L’autonomie législative des chrétiens en terre de l’Islam’, Archive d’histoire du droit orientale 5 (1951), 307–51; Payne, Christianity and Iranian Society, 191–235.

(52) Westphal, Untersuchungen, 67–81 discusses this material in Mari (where it has been placed in the reign of Papas).

(53) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XIII–XXIV; I/ii, XXIII–XXIV. See S. P. Brock, ‘The transformation of the Edessa portrait of Christ’, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies 18 (2004), 46–56 for a useful summary of the Edessene story.

(54) On these geographical interests, see Wood, We Have No King but Christ, 150–7.

(55) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XIII–XIV (255–6); XVII (268–9) for the confusion over Sylvester and Eusebius as Popes of Rome. The latter is the name given in the Julian Romance. The history of these legends is given by G. Fowden, ‘Last days of Constantine: oppositional versions and their influence’, JRS 84 (1994), 146–70.

(56) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XX (284–5).

(57) E.g. the works of al-Yaqut or al-Muqaddasi (discussed in Le Strange, Eastern Caliphate, ch. 1). For Peter and Paul, Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XIV (256) and XV (261).

(58) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XVII (270–1) and XXII (287).

(59) See M. Espionnier, ‘Al-Nuwayri: les fêtes islamiques, persanes, chrétiennes et juives’, Arabica 32 (1985), 80–100, at 94–5: al-Nuwayri also offers a historical explanation for the feast of the Cross, based on a garbled record of the battle of the Milvian bridge.

(60) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XIX (281–3).

(61) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XVIII (276–7). The only one of these figures who is real is probably John of Beth Garmai (John the Persian in the Greek lists): see the discussion in J. Kollaparambil, ‘The identity of Mar John of Persia and Great India who attended the first council of Nicaea’, in VI Symposium Syriacum, 281–97 (though his assertion of an Indian connection is not credible).

(62) Synodicon, 183–4 (canon 15). See further the comments of J.-M. Fiey, ‘Le pélérinage des Nestoriens et Jacobites à Jerusalem’, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 12 (1969), 113–26 and L. Perrone, ‘Christian holy places and pilgrimage in an era of dogmatic conflict’, POC 48 (1998), 4–37.

(63) Dauvillier, ‘Chaldéen’, 355. Constantine is still celebrated by ʿAbdishoʿ of Nisibis as a lawgiver, ‘who bound the church together by a single chain’ (Mai, Scriptorum, X, I, iii: 31).

(64) Westphal, Untersuchungen, 55 argues for Timothy’s invention of stories of the early catholicoi found in Mari, which correspond to later ideas of canon law.

(65) For Timothy’s emphasis on Eastern prayer in his unpublished letters see Hurst, ‘The Syriac letters of Timothy’, 202–15.

(66) On this letter, see the useful translation and commentary of F. Briquel-Chattonet et al., ‘Lettre du patriarche Timothée a Maranzekhā’, Journal Asiatique 288 (2000), 1–13. On the Petrine succession, see S. Gero, ‘The status of the patriarchs’, 49.

(67) See Letters 8 (the caliph’s donation) and 44 (purchasing land).

(68) Fiey, AC III, 148–9.

(69) Fiey, Nisibe, 2 on the ‘external’ metropolitans. This division remains apparent in the list of metropolitans at the end of ʿAmr’s chronicle (126/73).

(70) Letter 47. Fiey summarises all of his administrative reforms in Pour Un Oriens Christianus Novus: répertoire des diocèses Syriaques orientaux et occidentaux (Beiruit, 1993). This expansion was also reflected in ‘updated’ apostolic claims. Where some texts in the Haddad Chronicle report that the apostles made Mari ‘patriarch of Babylon, Ahwaz [Khuzistan] and the Tigris region, up to the borders of Fars’ (Haddad Chronicle, LXXVI (110), reflecting the pre-Islamic situation, other, later accounts in this Chronicle made him ruler of ‘Fars, Ahwaz, Iraq, China, Turkestan, India and the islands [the Persian Gulf]’ (Haddad Chronicle, LXXII (122). These claims also became attached to the thirteenth-century canonical collections, e.g. Mai, Scriptorum, 8 for the missions to the borders of India.

(71) Mari, 73/64 (missions to Turkestan); Book of the Governors, V, iv–vii (missions to Daylam).

(72) This volume, chapter 6.

(73) J.-M. Fiey, ‘Les diocèses de maphrianat syrien, 629–1860’, PdO 5 (1974), 133–65; J.-M. Fiey, ‘Syriaques occidentaux du Pays des Perses’, PdO 17 (1992), 113–27; J.-M. Fiey. ‘Tagrit: esquisse d’histoire chrétienne’, OS 8 (1969), 289–341. For the Iraqi dioceses see Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, LXXXVIII (543). Also see M. Allard, ‘Les chrétiens à Baghdad’, 379 for the Jacobite church of Mar Tuma.

(74) J. Nasrallah, L’église melchite en Iraq, en Perse et en Asie Centrale (Jerusalem, 1976), 41, 58, and 64.

(75) J.-M. Fiey, ‘Chrétientés syriaques du Horāsān et Ségēstan’, LM 86 (1973), 75–104, esp. map at 78.

(76) Nasrallah, L’église melchite, 45.

(77) See Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, LXXXIX (545–6).

(78) S. Samir, ‘Rôle des chrétiens dans la nahda abbasside en Irak et en Syrie (750–1050)’, MUSJ 58 (2002), 541–72, esp. 555.

(79) M. Morony, ‘History and identity in the Syrian Churches’, in J. J. van Ginkel, H. L. Murre-van den Berg, and T. M. van Lint (eds.), Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction in the Middle East since the Rise of Islam (Leuven, 2005), 1–33, esp. 1–5.

(80) Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 157. Also see the narrative in J.-M. Fiey, Mossoul chrétienne (Beiruit, 1959), 19. The church in Mosul (Mar Zuma) continued to be known as the ‘church of the Takritis’.

(81) Timothy, Letter 19 to Sergius asking for books on logic and Greek grammar; Letter 43 to Pethion for philosophy; Letter 48 asking Sergius of Elam to act as a go-between with the Melkite patriarch on a scholarly problem. See the discussion in S. P. Brock, ‘Two letters of Timothy from the late eighth century on translations from Greek’, Arabic Science and Philosophy 9 (1999), 233–47.

(82) A. Saadi, ‘Moshe bar Kepha and Christian communities’, The Harp 15 (2002), 161–73 writes that Moshe emphasised the ‘incomprehensibility’ of Christology and criticised Philoxenus as well as Theodore of Mopsuestia. He restricted the term ‘heresy’ to ancient heresies such as Arianism. Timothy, Letter 1, asserts that it is not desirable to rebaptize ‘Cyrillians’, contradicting the more extreme stance attributed to Rabban Hormizd in the seventh century (Life of Rabban Hormizd, 70/103).

(83) E.g. the Life of John the Little, which records Coptic pilgrimage to sites in Baghdad and Khuzistan in the ninth century.

(84) See G. Strohmaier, ‘Hunayn ibn Ishaq: an Arab scholar translating into Syriac’, Aram 3 (1991), 163–70 for Hunayn’s education in Baghdad. For the wider context see D. Gutas, Greek thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ‘Abbā sid Society (2nd4th/8th10th centuries) (London/New York, 1998).

(85) Such as the Chronicle of Edessa or the Chronicle of 724. None of the pre-Islamic East Syrian histories, such as Barhadbeshaba, include any dates at all, and they are rare in the Chronicle of Seert.

(86) For this bias, e.g. Chronicle of Seert, II/i, X (118–19) on Anastasius.

(87) On Qusṭā see J. Nasrallah, Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’église melchite du Ve siècle au XXe siècle (Paris/Louvain, 1981), II, ii, 52–64.

(88) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XVII (267 and 273–4).

(89) Chronicle of Seert, II/i, III, VI, XI, XIX, XXII.

(90) Chronicle of Seert, II/i, X(?), XX(?), XXI, XXII. The first two sections in the list have probably been mixed with the Melkite history of the emperors.

(91) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, LXXXVIII–LXXXIX (542–5); CX (634). Also see II/i, XXXII (184) for an anecdote on the plague of the 540s drawn from the historian John of Ephesus (wr. 580s) without attribution.

(92) Compare the anonymous circulation of the West Syrian ascetic John of Apamea in East Syrian circles: B. Coless, ‘The biographies of John Saba’, PdO 13 (1972), 45–65, at 53.

(93) J. Dauvillier, ‘Les provinces chaldéennes de « l’extérieur’ au môyen âge », in Mélanges Cavallera (Toulouse, 1948), 261–316, at 273–4 lists a metropolitan at Damascus and bishops at Aleppo, Jerusalem, Manbij, Mopsuestia, Tarsus, Melitene, Cyprus.

(94) O. Meinardus, ‘The Nestorians in Egypt’, OC 15 (1967), 114–29.

(95) Book of the Governors, II, xi (78/174–5).

(96) N. Sims-Williams, ‘Eugenius (MarAwgen)’, in EIr, notes that the Awgin is first attested as a monastic founder in East Syrian sources in the seventh century.

(97) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, XXXV (247–9).

(98) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, XXXV (250) and XXXVIII (252). Also see Book of Chastity, §3, 7, 10.

(99) Book of Chastity, §1–13. One of this group (9), added to the beginning of the collection, refers to the relocation of a saint’s body in 128 AH, which provides a terminus a quo for their inclusion. These short lives focus on different episodes than the longer stories used in the Chronicle of Seert.

(100) Book of Chastity, §4.

(101) Book of Chastity, §5.

(102) Book of Chastity, §8.

(103) On the ‘intercultural transmission’ of historical scenes between Greek, Syriac, and Arabic in this period note especially the contributions of L. Conrad, ‘Theophanes and the Arabic historical tradition: some indications of intercultural transmission’, Byzantinische Forschungen 15 (1990), 1–44; R. Hoyland, ‘Arabic, Syriac, and Greek historiography in the first Abbasid century: an inquiry into inter‐cultural traffic’, Aram 3 (1991), 211–33; Borrut, Entre mémoire et pouvoir.

(104) Chronicle of Seert, II/i, XL (200–1); II/ii, LXI (470). Also Book of the Governors, II, xxix.

(105) This volume, chapter 6.

(106) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, CII (601–10).

(107) Probably transmitted via the Melkite Theophilus of Edessa. See Hoyland, Seeing Islam, 400–9 and 631–5.

(108) Khuzistan Chronicle, 38.

(109) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, CII (602–4).

(110) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, CII (605–10).

(111) Al-Jahiz complains that Christians ‘won over the riff-raff’ by invoking the Qur’an (e.g. 5.82: ‘The Christians are closest in love to the believers.’). Cited in S. Griffith, ‘Jews and Muslims in Christian Syriac and Arabic texts of the ninth century’, Jewish History 3 (1988), 65–95, at 66.

(112) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, CIII (610–18).

(113) M. Levy-Rubin, ‘Shurūt ‘Umar and its alternatives: the legal debate on the status of the dhimmīs’, JSAI 30 (2005), 170–206. She observes that these formulae moved away from an emphasis on Christian loyalty to the caliphate to protecting the superior status of Muslims over Christian immigrants to the miṣrs.

(114) See the comments of Robinson, Empire and Elites, 1–10.

(115) N. Calder, Studies in Early Muslim Jurisprudence (Oxford, 1993), ch. 5, esp. 137–44. Also see F. Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation in the Classical Period (Copenhagen, 1950), 16 for Abu Yusuf as a defender of the state’s rights over all forms of property.

(116) E.g. Chronicle of 1234, II, 3, for the Edessenes’ success in persuading Harun al-Rashid not to demolish a church associated with the Roman emperor, a scene that may have served as a valuable precedent for later Muslim rulers, and the Life of John of Daylam, 26–31 (138) for ʿAbd al-Malik’s promise to John to spare monks, priests, and teachers (malfāne) from taxation.

(117) On the clustering of stories of ideal behaviour around early caliphs: A. Hakim, ‘Death of an ideal leader: predictions and premonitions’, JAOS 126 (2006), 1–16 (on ʿUmar I) and A. Borrut, ‘Entre tradition et l’histoire: genèse et diffusion de l’image de Umar II’, MUSJ 53 (2005), 329–78.

(118) Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 123–6; Theophanes (ed. de Boor, 340, tr. Mango and Scott, 473). Al-Tabari, I, 2474–7 notes that the Takritis possessed a document that recorded their treaty with the Muslims.

(119) Robinson, Empire and elites, 20.

(120) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, C (598) and CIX (633).

(121) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, CIV (619–23). Another account of the Islamic conquest embedded in the Chronicle (II/ii, CVI (628) also observes that the Muslims favoured the Christians over other religions, especially Zoroastrianism.

(122) See Levy-Rubin, ‘Shurūt ʿUmar’, 179–88 and Calder, Early Muslim Jurisprudence, 116 (for the importance of ʿUmar).

(123) See R. Dory, ‘The Abbasid construction of the Jahiliyya: cultural authority in the making’, Studia Islamica 83 (1983), 33–50.

(124) A. Talib, ‘Topoi and topography in the history of al-Hirah’, in P. Wood (ed.), History and Identity in the Middle East, 500–1000 (New York, 2013), 123–48.

(125) Al-Tabari, I, 822, 834, 850–3; Haddad Chronicle, LXXXIV–LXXXVII (130–42).

(126) See al-Tabari, I, 1854–5 (on the rebellion of Al-Aswad) and 1998 (on Najran providing troops to fight the rebels). These events are discussed in E. Shoufani, Al-Riddah and the Muslim Conquest of Arabia (Toronto, 1973), 77, 90–1, and 137.

(127) R. Carter, ‘Christianity in the Gulf during the first centuries of Islam’, AAE 19 (2008), 71–108. For bishoprics see entries in J.-M. Fiey, Pour un Oriens Christianus Novus: répertoire des diocèses Syriaques orientaux et occidentaux (Beiruit, 1993), on ‘Socotra’, ‘San‘a’, and ‘Najran’. J.-M. Fiey, ‘Diocèses syriens orientaux du Golfe Persique’, in Memoria G. Khoury Sarkis (Louvain, 1969), 177–219 is probably overly pessimistic and must be read in the light of the redating of the archaeology. Notably (211–12), the bishops of Fars retained their title to ‘the isles’, which need not be an anachronism. Christian expansion may have accompanied a broader expansion of settlement in eastern Arabia: D. Kennett, ‘The decline of eastern Arabia in the Sasanian period’, AAE 18 (2007), 86–122.

(128) The sixth-century sources are discussed in I. Gadja, Le royaume de Himyar à l’époque monothéiste (Paris, 2009). The Islamic reception of these narratives is discussed in T. Sizgorich, ‘Become infidels or we will throw you into the fire: the martyrs of Najran in early Muslim historiography, hagiography and Qur’anic exegesis’, in A. Papaconstantinou, M. Debié, and H. Kennedy (eds.), Writing True Stories: Historians and Hagiographers in the Late Antique and Early Medieval Near East (Leiden, 2009), 125–47.

(129) E.g. Al-Tabari, I, 919–22 and 927–9.

(130) T. Sizgorich, ‘Kaʿab al-Aḥbār’ (unpublished document).

(131) Al-Yaqut, Muʿjam al-Buldān, V, 269–70. See also R. Aigrain, ‘Arabie’, in DHGE, col. 1315.

(132) Calder, Early Muslim Jurisprudence, 141.

(133) Wood, We Have No King but Christ, 224–6.

(134) On the Julianists in general see M. Jugie, ‘Gainanites’, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique.

(135) Chronicle of Seert, II/i, XXII (142–4); Timothy, Letters 27 and 41; Fiey, Pour un oriens christianus novus, s.v. ‘Najran’.

(136) See Fiey, AC III, 227–30. It may be that bishops of Najran were located in both the old and the new settlements (in Arabia and Iraq respectively).

(137) W. Hirschberg, ‘Nestorian sources of north Arabian traditions on the establishment and persecution of Christianity in the Yemen’, Rocznik Orientalistyczny 15 (1939), 321–38, citing al-Tabari, I, 920–5. Also see the discussion of R. Tardy, Najran: chrétiens d’Arabie avant l’islam (Beiruit, 1999), 84–108.

(138) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXXIII (330–1).

(139) Note the shift in language in section CII, where the author moves from the specifics of the deeds of the Banū Qurayẓa (604) to the general characteristics of the Jews as greedy and deceitful (607).

(140) Chronicle of Seert, II/ii, CIV (619).

(141) See Tardy, Najran, 84.

(142) On these legends in general see J. Johns (ed.), Bayt al-Maqdis II: ʿAbd al-Malik’s Jerusalem (Oxford, 1999).

(143) Sizgorich, ‘Kaʿab al-Aḥbār’ (citing al-Tabari, I, 2408); U. Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder: The Life of Muhammad as Viewed by the Early Muslims, A Textual Analysis (Princeton, 1995), ch. 1.

(144) Cited in Griffith, ‘Jews and Muslims in Christian Syriac and Arabic’, 65.

(145) Timothy, Apology to the Caliph. A similar image is found in the Khuzistan Chronicle, 32.

(146) For other Christian legends of Kaʿab see Griffith, ‘Jews and Muslims in Christian Syriac and Arabic’, 81.