Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Free to Download: Irfan Shahid's Books on Byzantium and the Arabs

Dumbarton Oaks has made free for download all of Irfan Shahid's works on Byzantium and the Arabs, an extremely valuable resource documenting Byzantine-Arab relations and Christianity among the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period.


The Arabs played an important role in Roman-controlled Oriens in the four centuries or so that elapsed from the Settlement of Pompey in 64 B.C. to the reign of Diocletian, A.D. 284–305. In Rome and the Arabs Irfan Shahîd explores this extensive but poorly known role and traces the phases of the Arab-Roman relationship, especially in the climactic third century, which witnessed the rise of many powerful Roman Arabs such as the Empresses of the Severan Dynasty, Emperor Philip, and the two rulers of Palmyra, Odenathus and Zenobia. Philip the Arab, the author argues, was the first Christian Roman emperor and Abgar the Great (ca. 200 A.D.) was the first Near Eastern ruler to adopt Christianity. In addition to political and military matters, the author also discusses Arab cultural contributions, pointing out the role of the Hellenized and Romanized Arabs in the urbanization of the region and in the progress of Christianity, particularly in Edessa under the Arab Abgarids. 

The fourth century, the century of Constantine, witnessed the foundation and rise of a new relationship between the Roman Empire and the Arabs. The warrior Arab groups in Oriens became foederati, allies of Byzantium, the Christian Roman empire, and so they remained until the Arab conquests. In Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, Irfan Shahîd elucidates the birth of the new federate existence and the rise of its institutional forms and examines the various constituents of federate cultural life: the phylarchate, the episcopate, the beginnings of an Arab Church, an Arabic liturgy, and the earliest attested composition of Arabic poetry. He discusses the participation of the Arab foederati in Byzantium’s wars with her neighbors—the Persians and the Goths—during which those Arab allies, most notably the Tanūkhids, contributed to the welfare of the imperium and the ecclesia. The Arab federate horse galloped for Byzantium as far as Ctesiphon, Constantinople, and possibly Najrân in Arabia Felix. In the reign of Valens, the foederati appeared as the defenders of Nicene Orthodoxy: their soldiers fought for it; their stern and uncompromising saint, Moses, championed it; and their heroic and romantic queen, Mavia, negotiated for it.
Just as the Tanūkhids rose and fell as the principal Arab foederati of Byzantium in the fourth century, so too in the fifth did the Salīḥids. The century, practically terra incognita in the history of Arab-Byzantine relations, is explored by Irfan Shahîd, who recovers from the sources the political, military, ecclesiastical, and cultural history of the Arab foederati in Oriens and the Arabian Peninsula during this period. Unlike their predecessors or successors, the foederati of the fifth century lived in perfect harmony with Byzantium. Federate-imperial relations were smooth: the Arab horse reached as far as Pentapolis in the West and possibly took part in Leo’s expedition against the Vandals. They were staunchly orthodox and participated in two ecumenical councils, Ephesus and Chalcedon, where their voice was audible. But their more enduring contributions were cultural, and may be associated with Dāwūd (David), the Salīḥid king; Petrus, the bishop of the Parembole; and possibly also Elias, patriarch of Jerusalem (494–516), a Roman Arab. The federate culture gave impetus to the rise of the Arabic script, Arabic poetry, and a simple form of an Arabic liturgy—the foundation for cultural achievements in subsequent centuries.
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 1, part 1, Political and Military History is devoted to the main Arabian tribes that federates of the Byzantine Roman Empire. In the early sixth century Constantinople shifted its Arab alliance from the Salahids to the Kindites and especially the Ghassanids, who came to dominate Arab-Byzantine relations through the reign of Heraclius. Arranged chronologically, this study, the first in-depth account of the Ghassanids since the nineteenth century, draws widely from original sources in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. Irfan Shahîd traces in detail the vicissitudes of the relationship between the Romans and the Ghassanids, and argues for the latter’s extensive role in the defense of the Byzantine Empire in its east.
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 1 part 2, Ecclesiastical History provides a chronologically ordered account of the involvement of the Ghassanids in ecclesiastical affairs in the eastern region of the Byzantine Empire. Tracing the role of Arab tribes both inside and outside the Roman limes, Irfan Shahîd documents how the Ghassanids in particular came to establish and develop a distinct non-Chalcedonian church hierarchy, all the while remaining allies of the Chalcedonian emperors. Ghassanid phylarchs such as Mundir emerge not merely as loyal foederati but devout Christians. Shahîd extensively and critically analyzes the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic sources, including many obscure or unfamiliar texts to illuminate the religious landscape of the Arabs of the sixth century.

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 2, part 1, Toponymy, Monuments, Historical Geography, and Frontier Studies is a topical study of the military, religious, and civil structures of the Ghassanids. Irfan Shahîd’s detailed study of Arab buildings of the sixth century illuminates how Byzantine provincial art and architecture were adopted and adapted by the federate Arabs for their own use. As monuments of Christian architecture, these federate structures constitute the missing link in the development of Arab architecture in the region between the earlier pagan (Nabataean and Palmyrene) and later Muslim (Umayyad). Drawing from literary and material evidence, Shahîd argues that the Gassanids were not nomadic, as traditionally believed, but thoroughly sedentary both in their roots and in the late Roman frontier zone they inherited. The third of four volumes dedicated to the sixth century, this book extensively depends upon the previous two volumes (volume 1, part 1, Political and Military History; volume 1, part 2, Ecclesiastical History).
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 2, part 1, Toponymy, Monuments, Historical Geography, and Frontier Studies is a topical study of the military, religious, and civil structures of the Ghassanids. Irfan Shahîd’s detailed study of Arab buildings of the sixth century illuminates how Byzantine provincial art and architecture were adopted and adapted by the federate Arabs for their own use. As monuments of Christian architecture, these federate structures constitute the missing link in the development of Arab architecture in the region between the earlier pagan (Nabataean and Palmyrene) and later Muslim (Umayyad). Drawing from literary and material evidence, Shahîd argues that the Gassanids were not nomadic, as traditionally believed, but thoroughly sedentary both in their roots and in the late Roman frontier zone they inherited. The third of four volumes dedicated to the sixth century, this book extensively depends upon the previous two volumes (volume 1, part 1, Political and Military History; volume 1, part 2, Ecclesiastical History).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: The Hegemony of Obscurantist Thinking

Arabic original here.

The Hegemony of Obscurantist Thinking

When religious thinkers treat various issues in their writings, they often resort to arbitrary comparisons between religions that are without scholarly or methodological value. They likewise fall into the trap of confusing modern concepts and their insistence on these concepts being rooted in their sacred texts. They do not hesitate to say that all contemporary concepts were described in their sacred texts before the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Recently I read a dossier by one of the monthly Arabic journals containing "studies" on the topic of secularism. My attention was drawn to an article by one of the "great Arab thinkers" named Hasan Hanafi, entitled "The Basis of Secularism is in the Noble Qur'an and its Roots are in the Ancient Heritage."This article was illogical, unsystematic and lacked the scholarly foundation demanded of undergraduates (and so how much more should it be required of one of the "intellectual points of reference"!).

There is a deficiency among some thinkers, which is beginning from an inappropriate starting-point. If the rubric for his thinking is "the basis of secularism is in the Qur'an..." then why does he start out with a fierce attack against Christianity as, "the obscurantist, mythological religion, the religion of sin and salvation, of surrounding rational man with a sin he did not commit, the sin of Adam, a salvation he did not work for, and faith in Christ." Does he, for example, want Christians not to believe in Christ? Is he an intellectual or a religious missionary?

On the other hand, Mr Hasan Hanafi says of Islam, "Since Islam is the last of the religions, it contains within itself all the secular values: reason, science, human rights and democratic governance." What is even more surprising is that he said, "If secularism means the centrality of man in the universe, defense of his freedom of will, and the establishment of a free, socialist, democratic society, then these goals spring forth from Islam, since man is God's vicegerent on earth."

Hasan Hanafi does not turn to philosophy, sociology and the other human sciences in order to support his opinion with evidence and logical proofs. Rather, he turns to the Qur'an as the only point of reference to defend his perspective. Hasan Hanafi permits himself to judge Christianity to be an "obscurantist, mythological" religion, while Islam is "the religion of reason." But he quickly falls into a contradiction since he resorts to obscurantist, irrational discourse in order to support his point of view. Or what should we call using Qur'anic verses in a "scholarly study" that does not treat questions of Islamic jurisprudence in worship and ethics, but rather philosophical and intellectual issues with no connection to the Qur'an.

Then we come to the non-obscurantist reality so that perhaps Hasan Hanafi might come to his senses and open his eyes to reality. Theoretical talk is nice. Indeed, it is magnificent. But the reality that refutes the theory makes theoretical discourse sterile and worthless. Where are the intellect, science, human rights and democratic governance in most of our Arab-Islamic countries? The obscurantist mentality dominates an overwhelming majority of our peoples. We are absent from the competition to produce science on the global level. "Human rights" are constantly violated. Democracy is despised by our peoples who are subservient to their rulers.

We're not going to defend Christianity against Islam and we're not going to enter into useless debates and senseless discussions. We understand secularism on the basis of "the separation of the state and religion," which is the only concept that Hanafi did not treat in his "study". The fundamental reason for this lies in confusing scholarly discourse with religious discourse. The beginning of true intellectual activity is separating scholarly discourse and religious discourse.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Fathers

Arabic original here.

The Fathers

Today we celebrate the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), which defined the veneration of icons. The icons highlight for us people who have become new in Christ. We observe that an icon displays a saint as someone not of flesh and blood. He transcends worldly, bodily existence in order to be seated at in the ranks of light in the heavens, from which he looks down upon us as a new person. Our fathers' every concern is that we become new creatures who have no relation to flesh and blood or to an environment or past time, as though we were created today.

The Apostle Paul said, "You do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15). Each of us comes from a man and a woman. This is the beginning, but we do not stop at that point. After our mothers give birth to us as slaves, we go on to the freedom of Christ. Every person strives to be a Christian. A Christian is a project. He is baptized so that he may strive over the course of his life to become a Christian. But he does not reach perfection, even in eternal life, because in heaven we become perfect together. Together we become a glorious Church for Christ. Christ casts upon us a garment of light and we become creatures of light through this garment that is cast upon us.

But what happens to us on earth after we have become the project of a person in baptism? There come people in the Church who renew us in Christ Jesus. They have been renewed. They have become free. Every link between them and this body, between them and the selfishness of this world, its domination and its slavery has been broken. They are no longer indebted to any of their lusts or people's lusts. The Holy Spirit now moves them and they are no longer moved by the prejudice of village, town, sect or party. The Holy Spirit blows in them and heaven moves them. The heavenly person is treated as ignoble, a stranger, rejected and despised because he is a reminder to the people of the earth that they are called to become heavenly as they move upon the earth.

The people of heaven, the great believers, are hated by the people of the earth. The people of the earth, who are still tied to dust, to the aims of this world, to the deceit of lust, hate heaven and have no communion with the children of light.

Because of the darkness that prevails over this world, God raised up in the Church fathers capable of generating children of God the Father. There are those who break off people's tie to flesh and blood in order to established a new tie between them and the Lord. God establishes for Himself a family in the Church, which is not the human family made up of a man, a woman and children. I do not mean by this all who are affiliated with Christ by baptism. Rather, I mean those who have become conscious anew that they are a member of Christ's body, a part of Christ.

The time has come for us to know that we were born and are born in Christ's Church and in her we become new people because we follow Jesus and we have been made brothers of the Lord and children of God.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Met Saba (Esber): Lord, Do not Rebuke Us Harshly

Arabic original here.

Lord, Do not Rebuke Us Harshly

Master,

Perhaps the most difficult thing in Your Gospel is that you leave the wheat among the tares until the final judgment. You have made us understand that Your Church on earth is not a collection of saints so much as a group of strugglers who seek holiness.

They may not attain it. They may only see it from afar. Many times, they may not ever see it.

You wanted Your Church to be a group of seekers of truth. You are the Truth and in you it is seen. We are amazed that it is persecuted and contested until the end of the age.

Our struggles and our sins which we attach to You cause us to imagine that we are defending You and Your body on earth.

The reality, however, says: we are for this one or that one of Your servants more than we are for You.

You have also taught us that holiness is only given when it is truly sought on the narrow way.

Thus we have learned that we must be hard on ourselves and not on others and that we must require truth and uprightness of ourselves before anything else.

Then You offered Your life so that truth, purity and sacrifice might have the highest place in Your creation. Your sacrifice was a real translation of Your words.

And because You effaced Your person with Your word, Your whole life was a condescension.

You only went up twice.

The first time was so that the enormous crowd could hear Your teaching, when You went up the mountain to give them the new Law.

The second time was upon the cross. On the hill of Golgotha, You let them raise You as a martyr, to embrace the world with Your hands stretched out to it.

Your being lifted up like this was the apex of condescension, because it led you to the tomb, in a cave of earth.

By this ultimate condescension of Yours, You rose again and caused life to dawn, that light of which You said in Your Gospel, that you came in order to give to us, that we may have its fullness.

But we often act in the opposite way to You.

We love to show off and puff ourselves up, for people to see us as leaders more than as servants and fathers!

We want followers, even if we lead them to perdition!

Because we are small, we make ourselves big not through You but through them in order to feel that we are doing something, that we are influential, that we have status.

If Your children, in their love for us, only know us from the outside, what excuse is this for us when we know ourselves and we know how much stupidity, meanness and filth there is within us?

Did You not teach us, Master, how we should go down in order for You to raise us up?

Do You not direct us towards knowledge of the high station that is fitting for Your people and Your servants?

Is it not enough for us to be at Your feet?

Is not all fullness in our listening to You as Mary did, and she attained the good portion that is not taken from her?

Amidst our intoxication with ourselves and our ego, we often forget You, O Master, and we replace You with our followers.

We are occupied with the demon that dwells in us and we follow his whispers, so we no longer see You or hear You. In this way he leads us to false glory, to our doing what we believe to be the truth, when it is really only our own transgressions.

We no longer distinguish, O Master, between our whims and our zeal for Your house.

My Lord, do not let the turmoil drive us to acting against Your Gospel.

Have pity on us and our hardness of heart. Pour out Your abundant mercy upon us.

You have given us a terrible responsibility because You were pleased for Your Holy Spirit to be in vessels of clay, we who are quick to shatter.

How do we keep our vessels uncracked, when it is very easy to slip and imagine that we are Your followers who have been charged with reforming Your Church, when the world is very seductive?

My Lord, how many times have we been tempted to act against Your Gospel in order to best serve Your Church?

And how many times have we violated Your Gospel when we sanctified a means to an end?

And how many times have we betrayed You when we used You as an instrument for our own interests and desires?

Teach us, my Lord, that we are not better than You because no servant is better than his master.

Help us to accept Your example, the example of the servant who is oppressed and does not oppress.

Strengthen our steps so that You may be our first love.

Make us listen to You move than we talk about You, so that we may distinguish well between Your will and our passions.

Master, over history you have often taught us that You permit outward and inward persecution when we evade the truth and stray from the straight path.

Do not rebuke us harshly, my Lord, because we almost cannot bear it.

Preserve for us a remnant that bears witness to You, to the fullness of the life that You desire, and to the joy that Your angels have proclaimed since You honored our earth with Your visitation.

My Christ, the people of Your Church have grown weary on account of us. Forgive us and lead us to the straight path.

We desire You, my Lord. Do not let us distract ourselves from You with the things that pertain to You.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: I Say to You, Arise

Arabic original here.

I Say to You, Arise

Today's Gospel reading is about a miracle that the Lord performed, which shows us once again that the chief reasons for Jesus' working miracles is that He loves people. He took pity on the widow of Nain and raised her son.

Miracles are not, at root, for the Lord to prove something. He did not do them to give us proof of His divinity, since He says, "Believe in Me because of the words I speak to you. Otherwise, believe because of the works." This is the weakest sort of faith, for us to follow Him on account of miracles, while the strongest faith is for us to follow Him because of His words, because of the divine gift of words that no human pronounces, and because of the life that He spent among us, loving to the point of death. Therefore, in the Gospel of John the miracles are called "signs" because He uses them to indicate teaching. He uses them to demonstrate the aims of the Gospel and not to demonstrate might.

Christ did not reveal God's might as the Jews did. He revealed God's power in His own way. God's power was the cross. That is, He revealed a weakness that was, after the resurrection, determined to be in fact a strength. God comes down to humankind and lives with them. This is His power. He can cast aside His glory in order to be hidden among people. People desire power and it is one of their three temptations. Man is confronted with three temptations: the temptation of money, the temptation of power or glory.

Christ stepped down from all this, He refrained from all of this in order to die for something weak, so that His power might shine and so He might triumph in glory.

In this context, Jesus rose the youth from the dead and sent him to his mother. Here we must notice what Jesus said to this youth: "I say to you, arise." He could have just said "arise", but He said, "I say to you, arise."

From behind the event, if each of us looks at his weakness and his spiritual death, at his fallenness, his decline and his abandonment, at the same time he looks at the splendor of Christ, because each of us is dead and Christ says to each of us by name, "I say to you, arise."

What every single one of us must believe that Christ could have come to humankind even if there were only one human. The important thing is not that we say that Christ is the Savior of the world-- and it is true that He is the Savior of all people-- rather, the important thing is that every single one of us says, "Christ is my own savior." Each one of us can say this if he wants to reveal his weakness before Christ and confess it.

People talk about others and say that they steal and kill and lie and cheat. I have never heard someone complain about himself and say publicly, "I lie. I cheat. I take illicit profit. I have murdered." True Christianity is for me to confess before all people that I am a sinner, an adulterer, a liar, a murderer. This is what the early Christians did when confession was public. They confessed their sins and not others' sins.

When someone confesses that he is a sinner, Christ says to him, "I say to you, arise." And at that moment he arises from his sin to become a new person.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Conference in DC This Week: Byzantium, the Arabs, and the Rise of Islam

For more information, a program and abstracts of the presentations, go here.

Colloquium in Memory of Irfan Shahîd (1926–2016) 
 

“Byzantium, the Arabs, and the Rise of Islam” gathers leading scholars to explore areas that interested the late Irfan Shahîd. Within the broad framework of the relations between Byzantium and its Arab neighbors, speakers investigate a wide array of sources, from epigraphic and archaeological materials to the canon of Arabic poetry. Topics include the religion of the pre-Islamic nomads of Arabia, the Christian presence in the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, and the possible pre-Islamic Arabic translation of the Bible.

The morning session takes place at Georgetown University in the CCAS Boardroom (ICC 241), and the afternoon session and reception are held at Dumbarton Oaks in the Oak Room, 1700 Wisconsin Avenue.

Participants
  • Ahmad Al-Jallad (Leiden University)
  • Nadia Maria El Cheikh (American University of Beirut)
  • Sidney Griffith (The Catholic University of America)
  • Robert Hoyland (New York University)
  • Walter Kaegi (University of Chicago)
  • Maria Mavroudi (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Jack Tannous (Princeton University)
  • Alan G. Walmsley (Macquarie University/Dumbarton Oaks)
Organizer: Emma Gannagé, Georgetown University

For information, contact the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University (202-687-2735 or arabic@georgetown.edu) or Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (202-749-8269 or events@doaks.org).

Co-organized by the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Cosponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Medieval Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Olive Tree

Arabic original here.

The Olive Tree

The olive tree has been known in our country from ancient times. It is a symbol of peace and mercy. The word 'mercy', eleos, and the word 'olive', elaia, are similar and we repeat in the Church kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.

The Olive tree is mentioned in the Old Testament, at end of the Flood, when "the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth" (Genesis 8:11). Olive oil and the olive tree are mentioned 140 times in the Bible.

It is mentioned in the Holy Gospel and also in the Qur'an, where a verse says, "God is the light of the heavens and the earth. His light is like a niche in which is a lantern, the lantern in a glass, the glass like a shimmering star,  kindled from a blessed tree, an olive. Its oil almost aglow, though untouched by fire. Light upon light! God guides to His light whomever He wills..."*

Here let us recall that in the Mystery of Baptism, we anoint our children with oil upon which the priest has prayed, saying, "The servant of God (name) has been anointed with the oil of gladness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen... for the healing of soul and body (on the chest and back), for hearing the faith (on the ears), (on the hands and feet) to work and walk in Your ways O Lord." Then the child is plunged into the water and rises three times, as a symbol of death and the resurrection. This reminds us that soldiers' bodies were anointed with oil before going off to battle and death so that they might be saved from the enemy's arrows.

The olive tree can live for over a thousand years and is evergreen. Olive oil is extracted from it, which is good for eating, in addition to being used in the production of soap. Olive wood is used to make household utensils, as well as being used for heating, as is what is left over from the fruit after pressing.

We will also mention here other benefits of olive oil and the olive tree for other occasions and purposes, including welcoming the Lord Christ on Palm Sunday, during the famous procession, with palm and olive branches decorated with flowers.

Additionally, people who fast during days of fasting, when they refrain from animal products, rely on olive oil for meals based on plants that the earth produces in springtime. Last but not least, we will mention that olive oil is used as the oil of chrism, "the oil of holy anointing", which grants the gifts of the Holy Spirit, indicating the divine virtues and eternal life. Let us not forget that it is used as a medicine in prescriptions: remember the Good Samaritan who used oil and wine to dress the wounds of the man who fell into the hands of thieves (Luke 10:34).

I say all of this, beloved, in order to remind you to preserve this tree, the olive tree blessed by God, which constitutes a precious, valuable inheritance for us in al-Koura. We who live on this land must never neglect the olive trees. Let us always have this concern form them, based on faith and not only on financial benefit, so that we may care for our livelihood and participate with our hands in our livelihood from the olive tree. The Lord always rewards us with this work in order to assure our sustenance and, especially, our salvation and the well-being of our country.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

*Here (and always on this blog), I use Tarif Khalidi's translation of the Qur'an. You should too. It's far and away the best in English.