John of Nikiû

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John of Nikiû was an Egyptian Coptic bishop of Nikiû (Pashati) in the Nile Delta and general administrator of the monasteries of Upper Egypt in 696. He is the author of a Chronicle extending from Adam to the end of the Muslim conquest of Egypt. John of Nikiû's Chronicle contains important historical details otherwise unknown.

Life[edit]

According to the History of the Patriarchs by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ashmunyn (Heliopolis), John of Nikiû lived under the Patriarchs John III, Isaac, and Simeon. But when John of Nikiû disciplined a monk guilty of some moral offense so severely that the monk died ten days later, the Patriarch Simeon removed John from his office.

The Chronicle[edit]

John of Nikiû's Chronicle was originally written mostly in Greek. Some of the name forms indicate that John may have also written the sections concerning Egypt in Coptic. The work survives only in a Ge'ez translation.[1] made in 1602 of an Arabic translation of the original. Sections of the text are obviously corrupted with accidental omissions. Most notably, a passage covering thirty years (from 610 to 640) is missing.

John's view of the earliest periods of history is informed by sources such as Sextus Julius Africanus and John Malalas. The Chronicle is most noteworthy for its passages dealing with the early 7th century. John covers in detail the revolt of the Thracian armies in 602 and the subsequent overthrow of the Emperor Maurice by the usurper Phocas. His account adds considerably to our knowledge of the reign of Phocas and particularly to the successful revolt against him begun at Carthage by Heraclius. Unfortunately, the section dealing with the climactic Persian wars waged by Heraclius is not extant.

Perhaps the most important section of John's Chronicle is that which deals with the invasion and conquest of Egypt by the Muslim armies of Amr ibn al-Aas. Though probably not an eyewitness, John was most likely of the generation immediately following the conquest, and the Chronicle provides the only near-contemporary account. John describes the major events of Amr's campaign, such as the taking of the Roman fortress at Babylon and the capture of Alexandria. Though narrative details are often vivid, timeline is occasionally confusing.

John credits the Muslims for not destroying Christian holy places, but he also records some atrocities committed against the Egyptians and the prohibitive new taxes placed on the native population. In some cases, the taxes were so burdensome that families were forced to sell their children into slavery. John also does not fail to mention in harsh terms the numerous Egyptians who abandoned Christianity in favor of Islam.

Writing from an Oriental Orthodox point of view — at odds with the diophysite Christology affirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 — John describes the Islamic invasion of his homeland as divine punishment for the Chalcedonian heresy which held sway in the Byzantine Empire. At the close of his Chronicle, John describes the despair felt by the conquered Alexandrians, writing: "None could recount the mourning and lamentation which took place in that city....And they had none to help them, and God destroyed their hopes and delivered the Christians into the hands of their enemies." However, the account ends on a note of hope and faith: "But the strong beneficence of God will put to shame those who grieve us, and He will make His love for man to triumph over our sins, and bring to naught the evil purposes of those who afflict us, who would not that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords should reign over them, (even) Jesus Christ our true God. As for those wicked slaves, He will destroy them in evil fashion: as saith the holy Gospel: 'As for Mine enemies who would not that I should reign over them, bring them unto Me.'"

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ N.B.: The 1883 Zotenberg's translation into French states, less precisely, ''translated from the Ethiopic''.

References[edit]

  • R. H. Charles, The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text, 1916. Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9. [1]
  • "La Chronique de Jean de Nikioû", ed. and translated into French by H. Zotenberg in Notices et Extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Nationale, t. XXIV, I, pp. 125–605 (Paris, 1883) and also separately (Paris, 1883). (Online version in Gallica website at the "Bibliothèque National Française")

External links[edit]