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The Martyrdom of Bifām Ibn Baqūra al-Ṣawwāf by Mawhūb ibn Manṣūr ibn Mufarrij and Its Fatimid Background

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This paper discusses the primary Copto-Arabic literary source for the history of Fatimid Egypt, and indeed, for much of the history of Egypt in general: known as the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, it was compiled in Arabic in the late eleventh century CE on the basis of earlier, mostly Coptic sources, by the Alexandrian notable Mawhūb ibn Manṣūr ibn Mufarrij, who added original Arabic materials of his own. Later continuations were added by others, from late Fatimid times up to the twentieth century. The first part of the paper is an outline of the textual history of the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, its existing editions and their shortcomings, and the new critical edition that is now being prepared. This part also discusses the fundamentals of a meticulous method of textual criticism, close reading, and contextualization which should help to elucidate numerous problems of historic interpretation. In the subsequent sections of the paper, this same method is applied to a short text sample with an aim of, wherever possible, reconstructing Mawhūb’s original Arabic text, but also with the objective of illustrating how this late eleventh-century text may have been read by later generations. Finally, the freshly coined concept of “internal intertextuality” is employed to point to parallels with episodes that occur in the earlier parts of the Arabic History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, based on older Coptic sources. At the level of content, several new historical interpretations and corrections to older interpretations are offered. The text sample in question concerns the martyrdom of a young Copt, Bifām ibn Baqūra al-Ṣawwāf, during the imamate-caliphate of al-Mustanṣir Billāh (427/1036–487/1094). Throughout the paper, it is argued that narratives such as this, together with accounts of events belonging to the early Islamic period or even to pre-Islamic (Roman, Byzantine) history, are to be seen as emanating from the specific socio-cultural environment of the Coptic urban elite of the mid-Fatimid period.

Affiliations: 1: Institut des civilisations, arts et lettres (INCAL), Université catholique de Louvain Place Blaise Pascal 1, bte L3.03.32, B-1348 Louvain-la-NeuveBelgium


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