The Issue of the Interrelationship between Abu Qurrah and Theodore of Edessa Mentioned in the Old Georgian Translated Hagiographic Writings

 

The history of the study of the old Georgian translation of the Martyrdom of St. Michael is connected with the name of Abu Qurrah. George the Hagiorite in “The Life of Euthymius and John the Athonites informs us about the works translated by Euthymius from Georgian into Greek which he refers to as Abu Qurrah [Abuladze, 1967: 41]. At first, it was unknown what writings were meant behind it until 1918, when K. Kekelidze published the work preserved in the old Georgian writings The Martyrdom of St. Michael, which was at the Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas” [Kekelidze, 1918: 165-173]. The very introduction to the text mentions the Sabaite monk, Theodore Abu Qurrah who tells the story of Michael's martyrdom to the Sabaite monks who arrived in his cell on Annunciation. The summary of the writings is as follows: Michael was a young monk, a master of spinning baskets and ropes, who became the victim of the intrigues of the caliph's wife, Saida. The woman, after being refused by Michael to have a love affair, slandered him to her husband and demanded his punishment. The caliph sentenced Michael to death, although the punishment was preceded by a dispute between Michael and a Jewish scholar over Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In a religious controversy, Michael defeated the Jewish scholar, and at the behest of an enraged caliph, he was first placed barefoot on hot burning embers and then was given a poison that could not harm him. Eventually, Michael was beheaded. Thus, it turned out that Abu Qurrah mentioned by Giorgi Mtatsmindeli in the Life of Euthymius and John the Athonites is a story of the martyrdom of the Mar Saba monk, Michael, and Abu Qurrah himself is one of the characters in these works, in particular, the narrator of the story of Michael. Due to the name of the narrator, the work was called Abu Qurrah for short. This Mar Saba monk Abu Qurrah was equalled with one of the most prominent representatives of Eastern theology of the VIII-IX centuries - Theodore Abu Qurrah.

The merit of Theodore Abu Qurrah is enormous, on the one hand, for his contribution to the literary activity, and, on the other hand, for the initiation and development of interfaith dialogues. Nevertheless, we have very little biographical information about this person most of which is of a legendary nature, in many cases, mutually exclusive and anachronistic. One of the most obscure episodes of Abu Qurrah's biography is his connection with the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas. Part of the scholars suggested that he spent the early and perhaps later periods of his life in the famous monastery in the Judean desert- Mar Saba, where he led a monk's life. This assumption was shared by such a prominent researcher of Abu Qurrah as Sydney Griffith who thought that Abu Qurrah spent the first period of his life in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas (ca. 775-785), before being ordained Bishop of Haran. By this time he would probably have been 28-30 years old [Griffith, 1993: 150]. The connection of Theodore Abu Qurrah with the Holy Lavra of St. Sabbas was long accepted in the Georgian scientific literature which relied on the only source - the text published by K. Kekelidze in 1918 “Martyrdom of St. Michael”. Scholars in favour of Theodore Abu Qurrah's connection with the Holy Lavra of St. Sabbas, cited this text as direct evidence. However, the opponents of this opinion who consider “Martyrdom of St Michael" as a semi-legendary hagiographic text, believe that it has no great historical value and, therefore, is not considered to be a reliable source.

Another problematic issue with Abu Qurrah's biography is connected to the name of John of Damascus. It was believed that Theodore Abu Qurrah met John of Damascus at the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas and became his student. However, this assumption was later rejected and Abu Qurrah was considered to be a follower of Damascus ideas, a follower of him and not a direct student. Neither S. Griffith himself agrees with the opinion about the simultaneous work of Abu Qurrah and Damascus in the Lavra. Although the hypothesis of direct discipleship-teaching of Damascus and Abu Qurrah was supported by Abu Qurrah scholars such as Georg Graf and Joseph Nasrallah, it was rejected by Griffith [Griffith, 1993: 150]. For some time K. Kekelidze agreed, however, later changed his view due to anachronistic inaccuracies and supported the version that Abu Qurrah must have been a minor [1] at the time of John of Damascus’ being in the Holy Lavra of Sabbas. The connection of Theodore Abu Qurrah, the Bishop of Haran, to the Holy Lavra of Sabbas is not supported either by John Lamoreaux, the English translator and publisher of Abu Qurrah's works [Lamoreaux, 2005]. Lamoreaux also questions the influence of the teachings of John of Damascus in the works of Abu Qurrah. He believes that the argument of scholars with this view is based on the “Martyrdom of St Michael” preserved in old Georgian sources, the text of which may have some historical background, but in general, the content of the works is legendary and it repeats the biblical story of “Joseph and Potiphar”. He, therefore, considers it wrong to cite “Martyrdom of St Michael” as the main argument for declaring Theodore Abu Qurrah as a Mar Saba monk [Lamoreaux, 2003: 30]. This view of Lamoreaux is not fully shared by another contemporary scholar of Abu Qurrah, Najib George Awad who emphasizes that removing Abu Qurrah's name from the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas does not mean denying the connection between the teachings of Abu Qurrah and Damascus. The version that Abu Qurrah never served as a monk in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas does not rule out the possibility that he was an ideological follower of John of Damascus [Awad; 2015: 7].

We will try to summarize but give as many details as possible about all the main ideas that existed around the text “The Martyrdom of St Michael” and its other editions. We have already mentioned above that in the introduction the story of the Martyrdom of St. Michael is told to the monks by someone called Abu Qurrah. But if this future (or former) bishop is a famous writer, figure of the VIII-IX cc. Theodore Abu Qurrah, he could not have been a direct witness of Michael's martyrdom, given that Michael lived in the VII century; According to the text, the martyrdom of Michael took place during the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (685-705). It turns out that Abu Qurrah, who is not a contemporary of Michael, tells the monks the story of a martyr who lived and worked in the Holy Lavra long before he arrived, and presumably he himself has heard this story from someone else.

As for the creation of the text of “The Martyrdom of St Michael”, according to the opinion of the scientific community, it should have happened approximately in the first decade of the IX century. The story was recorded by the head of the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas- someone named Basil (presumably in Arabic), one of the monks, who was among the guests of Theodore Abu Qurrah and who heard the story of Michael directly from Theodore Abu Qurrah. Basil's name is mentioned at the beginning of the story [Kekelidze, 1918: 165]. According to K. Kekelidze, already in the last quarter of the 10th century the Georgian translation of these works, performed by an unknown person, fell into the hands of Euthymius the Athonite, who translated it into Greek [Kekelidze, 1960: 29]. The scholar supposes that Euthymius translated the story to fill in the gaps in Byzantine hagiography and the liturgical calendar because the Greek Church did not celebrate the day of the commemoration of Michael, probably because they had no information about such a saint [Kekelidze, 1960: 31]. As for the original language of the work, K. Kekelidze supported the Arab origin of "Abu Qurrah". In this regard, he shared the Belgian Orientalist P. Peeters’ opinion; Peeters translated “The Martyrdom of St Michael” into Latin, and for the first time among scholars, he suggested the Arabic origins of "Abu Qurrah" [Peeters, 1930: 65-66] [2].

The story about Michael told in the so-called “Abu Qurrah” is found in other Georgian sources as well. In parallel with “The Martyrdom of St Michael, another text is preserved in the old Georgian writings - “The Life of Theodore of Edessa, translated from Greek, as suggested by Ephrem Mtsire. This work includes the so-called narration of Abu Qurrah, however, with significant changes - the introductory part, in which Theodore Abu Qurrah is mentioned as the narrator of Michael's story, is omitted and Michael who lived in the VII century is considered as a martyr of the IX century. More precisely, he is considered to be the disciple and relative of Theodore of Edessa whereas, according to Abu Qurrah, Michael's teacher is someone named Moses and they are not related to each other. “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” was written in the second half of the ninth century, not later than the 50s and 60s, in Greek by Basil of Emesa, who is said to be the nephew of Theodore of Edessa, a Mar Saba monk. Theodore of Edessa later became Bishop of Edessa. Like “The Martyrdom of St Michael”, this text is not considered to have historical significance for science because of the anachronisms, historical inconsistencies, or legends that scholars encounter when studying it. There are also mixed opinions about Theodore of Edessa himself. For example, P. Peeters did not consider him a real person and thought he was the alter ego of the Bishop of Haran, Theodore Abu Qurrah [Peeters, 1930: 89-91; Griffith, 1993: 151]. However, some scientists - including Georgian scientists - do not share this assumption of Peeters and consider Theodore of Edessa as a real person.

The only source that contains the biography of Theodore of Edessa is his own "Life", according to which he was born in Edessa. When Theodore was 20 years old, he went to the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas where he led an ascetic life. Soon his name became well-known and many people visited him for advice or consolation. Theodore spends 24 years in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas, and after that, he became Bishop of Edessa due to his merits in theological affairs [Kekelidze, 1960: 31-40]. K. Kekelidze suggests the year of his appointment as Bishop to be 843. Thus, Theodore Abu Qurrah must have been born in 799. At this time, Theodore Abu Qurrah is already the Bishop of Haran. Consequently, the identity of these two persons is excluded [Kekelidze, 1960: 21-22]. As for Michael of Mar Saba, as we have already mentioned, according to “The Life of Theodore of Edessa”, he is a relative of Theodore of Edessa, as well as a native of Edessa, who became a disciple of Theodore after he was consecrated a monk in Lavra. And according to “Abu Qurrah”, Michael is originally from Tiberias. K. Kekelidze believes that we are dealing with a conscious confusion of facts by Basil of Emesa who seeks to bring the martyr of the 7th century, Michael, into the IX century, to give more authority to Theodore of Edessa, thus, trying to show that “such a great man as Theodore, could have raised such a famous figure and disciple as Michael” [Kekelidze, 1960: 25]. He believes that introduction of “Abu Qurrah” to the text of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” happened later. Part of the scholars maintains that we may be dealing with a transliterated text by an anonymous author. Consequently, the version of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” that has come down to us is not written directly by Basil of Emesa, but the work has undergone some textual changes over time, including the inclusion of “The Martyrdom of St Michael” in the text to enrich the work. However, the present purpose of our article is not to find out who and for what motive included “The Martyrdom of Michael” in “The Life of Theodore of Edessa”, nor will we address the issue of authorship of the texts, as our main interest is the interrelationship between Theodore Abu Qurrah and Theodore of Edessa.

Lamoreaux has his own opinion about these two Theodores, according to which we are dealing with the identification of two persons and Theodore Abu Qurrah mentioned in the introduction to The Martyrdom of St Michael”, is, in fact, Theodore of Edessa. The researcher uses the method of contrasting texts and concludes that the version of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa shows closer proximity to historical truth [Lamoreaux, 2002: 25-40].

Based on the material studied concerning this issue, we share Lamoreaux's assumptions about the identification of two people - Theodore of Edessa and Theodore Abu Qurrah, although we do not support P. Peeters' view of Theodore of Edessa’s hagiographic fiction that Theodore of Edessa is a literary character based solely on the life of Theodore Abu Qurrah [Griffith, 1993: 151]. Indeed, we do not rule out the possibility that over time certain qualities of Theodore Abu Qurrah might have been attributed to Theodore of Edessa, but we believe that “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” is primarily about a real person, the historical Theodore of Edessa. We also consider Lamoreaux's views feasible. According to him, Theodore of Edessa was mentioned in the original version of “The Martyrdom of St Michael” instead of Theodore Abu Qurrah, and that Theodore Abu Qurrah was mentioned later by the person who believed that the two Theodores were the same person. On the other hand, the author of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” may have used the version of Abu Qurrah in which Theodore of Edessa was mentioned; however, in all probability, “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” did not reach us in the original form, but changed over”. We think that in the original version, Theodore of Edessa would not have been attributed the qualities of Theodore Abu Qurrah. The identification of these two people with each other and the mixing of the qualities of Theodore of Edessa with the qualities of Abu Qurrah took place later. The reason for the confusion of the two Theodores must have been the common circumstances that are characteristic of these two people. Both of them are named Theodore and are from Edessa. The copyist, or translator, of the text of “The Martyrdom of St Michael”, trying to establish Theodore's personality, suggested that this Theodore of Edessa might have been the same as Theodore Abu Qurrah, who was also from Edessa and was called Theodore of Edessa before being ordained bishop of Haran. And over time the functions of these two Theodores became so intertwined that we got a kind of union of two personalities. It is this united face that should represent the Theodore of Edessa in our version of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa”. We come to this conclusion based on the following opinions:

As L. Datiashvili notes, “The Life of Theodore of Edessais a typical hagiographic work, created in the churches and monasteries of the time with a pattern typical of religious writing, in which reality and fantasy are confused, although there are also “historical elements” [Datiashvili, 1973: 145]. These historical elements are, in our opinion, Theodore of Edessa and his relative Michael buried in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas, and information about their remains is provided by Pilgrim Daniel, a person of the XII century, who visited the Lavra and Theodore and Michael’s graves [Khitrowo, 1889: 34]. The detailed records and references made by Daniel during the pilgrimage are of the utmost importance. For example, his references to Palestine are considered one of the most valuable documents of the Middle Ages [Beazley, 1900: 175-185]. Therefore, we consider his records to be noteworthy in where he indicates the lineage between Theodore and St Michael. We think that they may be the prototypes of The Martyrdom of St Michael and “The Life of Theodore of EdessaTheodore and Michael. In this regard, John Lamoreaux was probably right when he noted that the version of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” had some advantages over the version of “The Martyrdom of Michael”, which mentions nothing about the kinship between Michael and his teacher, Moses. It is noteworthy that the typicon of the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas of the XII century (Sinai Gr. 1096) commemorates Theodore of Edessa - and his relative - Michael - who were from the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas on the same day. The same is evidenced by the reference to the Melkite Synaxarion who associates Michael not with Amba Moses, but with Theodore of Edessa, his uncle [Lamoreaux, 2003: 29]. Here we would like to focus, in our opinion, on one very significant detail which we also read in the note of the pilgrim Daniel: “There rest the remains of several other Holy Fathers: Bishop, St. John the Silentiary, St. John of Damascus, St. Theodore of Edessa and his relative (nephew) Michael ... ”[Khitrowo, 1889: 34]. Theodore of Edessa and John of Damascus are mentioned side by side in this account. Thus, the remains of both of them are buried in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas, both of them served there. John of Damascus was born in 675 or 676 and died in Lavra in 749. As for Theodore of Edessa, we have no information about the year of his birth, but if we rely on the account of Abu Qurrah, according to which Michael's martyrdom took place during the reign of Caliph Abd al-Maliki (685-705), and if Michael and Theodore were relatives and they were contemporary, then like Michael, Theodore must have lived in the VII-VIII centuries. Thus, at least in the early VIII century, Theodore of Edessa was still alive and working in the Lavra, where John of Damascus became a monk in 732. Consequently, there is a theoretical probability that Theodore of Edessa, who was already old at this time, might still have been alive and that they had met in person. Given all this, we can assume that the established traditional narrative about the disciple-teacher relationship of John of Damascus and Theodore Abu Qurrah comes from the assumption that John of Damascus and Theodore of Edessa lived and worked in the same Lavra. Later, when Theodore Abu Qurrah and Theodore of Edessa were considered to be the same person, the connection with John of Damascus was also attributed to Theodore Abu Qurrah. We believe that, according to the information we have, there is more connection with John of Damascus and the Sabaite monk - Theodore of Edessa - than with Theodore Abu Qurrah, Bishop of Haran. Apart from the text of The Martyrdom of St Michael, the historical credibility of which is disputed by scholars, we find no other documentary source that would attest to Abu Qurrah's work in the Lavra; In contrast, there are the tombs of Theodore of Edessa and John of Damascus side by side, which indicates that they must have lived and worked in the same place where they were buried.

What about the information preserved in “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” about the period of this person's life, which is not chronologically consistent with our assumption that he, like his relative Michael, must have lived in the VII-VIII centuries? According to the text, Theodore must have been born in the last year of the VIII century (according to one version, circa 793), and he was to be ordained a bishop in around 843 [Kekelidze, 1960: 22]. In this regard, we assume the probability that in this case, too, we may be dealing with a mix of facts and data. K. Kekelidze calls “The Life of Theodore of Edessa" an "artificially concocted work" that contains facts from the biographies of two historical figures, but also notes that Theodore of Haran and Theodore of Edessa were also confused in The Martyrdom of Michael Sabaite, published by Phocilides, where it is mentioned that Michael was a relative of Theodore Sabaite, Bishop of Haran [Kekelidze, 1960: 24-25]. K. Kekelidze, in this case, relies on P. Peeter’s article published in Analecta Bollandiana in 1911. However, in this article, Peeters himself notes that at the time of its publication he did not have the hard copy of the publication of Phocilides. We searched this edition and found that the title does not mention the Bishop of Haran at all, and this edition of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa is printed in "Νέα Σιν" with the title - St. Theodore Sabaite, Bishop of Edessa and his relative St. Michael [Φωκύλιδης, 1911: 226]. As for  John Phocilides himself, we were only able to reveal that the publication of Brill mentions him among the scholars of the life of John of Damascus [Sahas, 1972: 37]; In addition, he is mentioned in the appendix of the publication Orienta Lovaniensia Analecta as the main source of information about Sabaite monks [Patrich, 2001: 25]. One thing to note about this is that John Phocilides – “The Sources of Leaders of Mar Saba” connects Theodore of Edessa and Michael the Sabaite, not Theodore Abu Qurrah and Michael the Sabaite, which also responds to the version of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” about their kinship.

Finally, we would like to touch upon, in our opinion, another interesting detail about the personality of Theodore of Edessa. Theodore of Edessa is not mentioned among the bishops of Edessa in the work The Political, Religious, and Literary History of Edessa before the First Crusade by R. Duval published in 1892 work [Duval, 1892: 510-603].  The compiler of the list might have missed the name of Theodore of Edessa, or maybe Theodore of Edessa was not the bishop of Edessa or any of the other dioceses at all? Maybe he was just a Sabaite monk, originally from Edessa, and the title of bishop was attributed to him as a result of his identification with Theodore Abu Qurrah, just as perhaps Theodore Abu Qurrah was equated with the Sabaite monk Theodore of Edessa in his time. As for the late sources referring to Theodore of Edessa as Bishop of Edessa, they rely only on the text of his life and not on any historical document, just as the account of Abu Qurrah's work in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas is based only on the account of “The Martyrdom of Michael and not on any historical document. In this regard, we think it is noteworthy that pilgrim Daniel in his report mentions Theodore only as a saint and nowhere refers to the title of bishop, while St. John The Silentiary is referred to as a bishop. Moreover, apart from Rubens Duval, Theodore of Edessa is not mentioned as Bishop of Edessa nor in the Chronicle of Edessa published by The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record [Cowper, 1864: 28-45]. Thus, there is a written documentary source and, with it, the tomb of Theodore in the Lavra, that confirm the existence of the person with this name, but no historical record or document mentions him among the bishops of Edessa.

To summarize, on the issue of the interrelationship between Theodore Abu Qurrah and Theodore of Edessa, we can say the following: in the original version of “The Martyrdom of Michael” (which did not reach us), instead of Theodore Abu Qurrah, there should have been Theodore of Edessa, who was later mistaken for Theodore Abu Qurrah, based on an mistake of some person. The person who made the mistake may have been a copyist, translator, or even the author of The Martyrdom of Michael”. In this case, it is plausible for John Lamoreaux to assume that the text of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” may have been a compilation by Basil, which must have been based on some early source, and that it was this early source that mentioned Theodore Sabaite, or Theodore of Edessa, who Basil Theodore equated with Abu Qurrah [Lamoreaux, 2003: 32] [3].Therefore, we do not share P. Peeters' view about Theodore of Edessa being a fictional character, we do not agree with the assumption that he is merely the literary alter ego of Theodore Abu Qurrah. We believe that Theodore of Edessa is a real person - a monk who lived and worked in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas.

The traditional account of Theodore Abu Qurrah and John of Damascus - an ideological teacher and ideological disciple - may be based on the fact that Theodore of Edessa  and John of Damascus lived and worked in the same Lavra. And the connection of Theodore Abu Qurrah with the name of John of Damascus may have taken place after the identification of these two Theodores, which was facilitated by the account of Abu Qurrah”, in the introduction of which Theodore Abu Qurrah is mentioned as a Sabaite monk. We would like to emphasize that our assumption is not entirely contrary to the views of scholars who see a clear influence of John of Damascus in Theodore Abu Qurrah's Arabic works. The fact that Theodore Abu Qurrah shared the ideas of John of Damascus is insufficient evidence to prove that he spent some period of his life in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas. We will cite Najib George Awad: "The theological link between Abu Qurrah and John of Damascus stands on intellectual rather than primarily geographical or historiographical evidence” [Awad, 2015: 7].

Since Theodore of Edessa is not mentioned as a bishop in any of the documentary sources, in any of the chronicles, among the bishops of Edessa, and, at the same time, he is not mentioned as a bishop by the Pilgrim Daniel, we do not think of him as a bishop either. The title was either attributed to him by a hagiographer, or was attributed to him after he was equated with Theodore Abu Qurrah.

The prototype of the character Theodore of Edessa in “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” is Theodore of Edessa, a monk living in the Holy Lavra of St Sabbas, the same Theodore of the Lavra who was probably never the Bishop of Edessa.

The account of Abu Qurrah, who refers Michael as a martyr of the 7th century, is more credible than “The Life of Theodore of Edessa”, narrated by his relative and contemporary Basil of Emesa, in which Theodore of Edessa and Michael lived in the ninth century.



[1] We do not know the exact years of Abu Qurrah's birth and death, no written sources have been found where these dates would have been preserved, although historical documents have preserved a record that dates the debate between Abu Qurrah and Caliph al-Mumni to 829.

[2] L. Datiashvili and P. Ingorokva had a different view on this issue, however, discussing their versions goes beyond the current topic of our article.

[3] The author of "The Martyrdom of Michael" Basil should not be confused with the author of “The Life of Theodore of Edessa” Basil of Emesa.

 

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