Preface, Edition and Translation. By A. Mingana (Tr.), pp.11-12.
I GIVE in the following pages the text and the translation— accompanied by a critical apparatus—of an official Apology of Christianity. The writer of the Apology is the celebrated Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I. (A.D. 780-823), and the man to whom it was delivered by word of mouth is no less than Mahdi, the third `Abbassid Caliph (a.D. 775-785). There is reason to believe that it was delivered in this way towards the end of a.D. 781 or at the latest 782. See below, p. 84. The Apology is mentioned by `Abdisho` of Nisibin in his Catalogue under the title “Discussion with Mahdi.” Assemani, Bib. Orient., iii. 162.
The Apology is in the form of a private theological discussion between Timothy and Mahdi. It is not necessary to suppose that every word in it was uttered verbatim, but there are strong reasons for believing that it contains as faithful an analysis as could possibly be made under the circumstances of the questions and answers of the Caliph and the Patriarch. We may also state with some confidence that the Patriarch’s intention having mainly been to show to his correspondent and co-religionists in general the nature and the extent of his answers to the Caliph’s questions, he may have neglected to record all the words of the latter and contented himself with mentioning only the gist of his objections. This colloquy was naturally conducted in Arabic, but we have it now before us in the Syriac style of one of the most illustrious ecclesiastical dignitaries that have ever honoured a high Patriarchal See of any Church either Eastern or Western.
It is naturally somewhat difficult to ascertain the duration of the time that must have elapsed between the two days of the oral discussion of the two friendly antagonists, and the days in which that oral discussion was first written down in its present form by the Christian protagonist. |12 From the nature of some phrases used in the text I am inclined to believe that that time could not have been very considerable, and I consider that a.d. 783 constitutes the lowest limit to which we might ascribe it with safety, since the author uses in this connection the words “before these days ” (p. 16).
– Copied with the permission of Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2008.