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September 21, 2018


Moallem Guerguis Koft; a pencil on paper drawing by Michel Rigo (kept at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris)

In a previous study titled “MU’ALLEM JIRJIS AL-JAWHARI, ISLAM, NAPLEON BONAPARTE AND THE COPT’S CASHMERE TURBAN (13 October 2011), I presented for the first time the illustrative depiction of Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari by the French painter Michel Rigo. Al-Jawhari, a Christian saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church (feast on 17 Tut), was the chief archon of the Copts كبير الأراخنة and minister of finance during the French Expedition in Egypt (1798 – 1801). He was appointed by Napoleon Bonaparte by an order dated 30 July 1798, only a few days after the decisive Battle of the Pyramids, on 21 July, in which Napoleon destroyed the power of the oppressive Mamlukes in Egypt. His official title was l’Intendant Général de l’Égypte (kabeer al-mubashirin, in Arabic كبير المباشرين; General Steward of Egypt).

When in Egypt, Bonaparte asked Rigo to paint al-Jawhari; and Rigo, who was a member of the Commission des Sciences et des Arts – a body of learned French people, that included mathematicians, astronomers, civil engineers, geographers, architects and artists – obliged.

Rigo first made a pencil on paper drawing; and with other drawings of leading Muslim notaries, he exhibited these in the salon of the French Commander-in-chief. They were seen and admired by Egyptians, including al-Jawhari himself. When back in Paris, in 1801, he made oil on canvas portraits from the drawings he had made in Cairo, and exhibited them at the Salon, Paris, from 1804-1810.

The pencil on paper original portrait of Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari is 42 cm in height and 34 cm in length; and is currently kept at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, in its Collection Particulière section, with other portraits of leading Egyptian politicians of the time, all grouped under “Element d’une série de portraits de chefs égyptiens”. Jirjis al-Jawahri’s portrait is titled “Moallem Guerguis Koft (Cheikh Maalem Guerguis ou Guerguess El-Gohari)”. In it we see Al-Jawhari (head, shoulders and chest), smoking an elegant, ornamented chibouk, which he holds in his left hand. Al-Jawhari cuts a striking figure: the face is smart and bulky but thinner than what the later oil on canvass portraits show (see below); the forehead is broad; the eye brows are tidy and long; the eyes are oblong; the nose is narrow, straight and a bit curved; the mouth is small and thin-lipped; the moustache and beard are neat. He puts on a splendid garment and wears a large turban embroidered with filigree; and he throws over his left shoulder a similarly filigreed shawl, which is ornamented at the end by little Coptic crosses. Al Jawhari comes across as an honest, sincere, intelligent and competent man. Furthermore, he does not hide his Christian and Coptic identity – he shows it by the crosses on his shawl that he proudly throws over his left shoulder. These are the attributes which I should imagine elevated him to the position of leadership within his Coptic community, and made him trustworthy and successful with Egypt’s various rulers of the time.

I think this original black and white, pencil on paper, portrait captures the features and personality of Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari more accurately than the later coloured, oil on canvass, portraits of him. It appears that there are various versions of the oil on canvas portraits. I have identified four of them kept at the Château de Malmaison (in the city of Rueil-Malmaison), the Château de Versailles (in Versailles), the Château de Grosbois (in Boissy-Saint-Léger), and in the German Embassy in Paris. The first two I could obtain, which I reproduce below:

First, the one kept at the Château de Malmaison: 


Portrait du cheikh Guerguess El-Gohari (? – 1809); oil on canvas by Michel Rigo (kept at the Château de Malmaison)

This portrait is 80 cm in height and 66 cm in length, and is given the title: “Portrait du cheikh Guerguess El-Gohari (? – 1809)” (Portrait of Sheikh Guerguess El-Gohari). Of the two oil on canvass portraits available to us, this seems to be the closest to the original pencil on paper drawing; however, there is no mistake that he is here depicted puffier than in the original and lacking in the lively features that one finds in the original drawing. Perhaps the striking feature of this picture, which is not shown in the original drawing, is that it shows al-Jawhari’s oriental rich costume in all its splendour, with a beautiful ornamented cashmere turban that reflects his officially recognised position of honour, respect and authority within the State under French rule.

Second, the one kept at the Château de Versailles:


Portrait du Cheikh Gawharî Georges, intendant des impôts de l’Egypte au moment de l’Expédition d’Egypte en 1798/1800; oil on canvas by Michel Rigo (kept at the Château de Versailles)

This portrait of al-Jawhari is titled, “Portrait du Cheikh Gawharî Georges, intendant des impôts de l’Egypte au moment de l’Expédition d’Egypte en 1798/1800” (Portrait of Sheikh Gawhar George, steward of tax of Egypt at the Egyptian Expedition in 1798/1800). It measures 79.5 cm in height and 62.5 cm in length. This is perhaps the least accurate in reflecting the real physiognomy of Jirjis al-Jawhari – the face is now almost round; the body obese (fingers short and bulky); the colour pale; the face expression vacant and less lively. One can see that the folds in his clothing are poorly and hastily painted. The chibouk, which looks thick-stemmed and plain, is now held with the right hand. The shawl shows some decoration; but the cashmere turban, even though it is brighter in matching with the general tone of the portrait, is less detailed in its filigree.


But, in this article, I am interested in studying further al-Jawhari’s face. The keen observer will find that there is, in the three portraits above, differences between the left and the right sides of al-Jawhari’s face. These differences in his facial features can be explained by two medical conditions:

First, Left Bell’s palsy. This is a medical condition in which the seventh cranial nerve (facial nerve) on one side[1] is affected, leading to the individual losing the ability to control and move his or her facial muscles on that side. This leads to a general droop on one side of the face. Facial expression is limited: when smiling, the individual can’t pull the corner of his mouth up which creates a contrasting difference with the normal side; when frowning, the individual cannot furrow his brow on the affected side, which affect his ability to express fully his disapproval, displeasure or to appear concentrating. The upper eye lid droops, making the eye in the affected side look narrower, with limited blinking and closing of the eye, and having no tears. The individual also loses his taste sensation in the anterior two-thirds of the tongue on the affected side, and will also have no salivation on that side. Some individuals complain of pain in the ear on the affected side with increased sensitivity to sound.


Illustration of left facial palsy. The unaffected side pulls the weakened side towards it. (From H. B. Chawla, Ophthalmology: A Symptom-based Approach (London, 1999)

The facial features of al-Jawhari – as in Rigo’s drawing and paintings – suggest that al-Jawhari did suffered from left Bell’s palsy, or complete paralysis of the left seventh cranial nerve. This is seen in the general drooping of the left side of his face: the loss of wrinkles on the left side of his brow; the narrow left eye due to its drooping upper eye lid; the flattening of the left nasolabial fold; the drop in the left corner of the mouth.

Causes of the complete paralysis of the Facial Nerve are generally unknown; but it is sometimes caused by identified conditions such as viral infections, diabetes mellitus, head injury, etc. In the majority of cases it resolves after several weeks or months; but it can be permanent, particularly when caused by diabetes or head injury.

We do not know if al-Jawhari had transient left Bell’s palsy or a permanent one at the time Rigo drew his torso. If permanent, and considering the size of al-Jawhari, it might have been that al-Jawhari suffered with diabetes, and that his Bell’s palsy was part of it. This, however, is just a speculation.

Second, squint in the right eye most probably due to the right oculomotor nerve palsy. A squint (strabismus) is a condition when one eye looks directly at you while the other eye (the squinted eye) looks outward, inward, upward or downward. The position of the eye is controlled by six muscles.[2] Sometimes the strabismus is caused by problems in these muscles; other times it is the vision centre in the brain[3]; and yet on other times one or the other of the three cranial nerves[4] that innervate the six muscles is to blame.


Illustration of right oculomotor nerve palsy. (From H. B. Chawla, Ophthalmology: A Symptom-based Approach (London, 1999)

If you look at al-Jawhari’s eyes, you will see that his left eye looks straight at you while the right eye is deviated and displaced outward and downward. This pattern of squint is caused by paralysis of the oculomotor nerve, or the third cranial nerve. The paralysis of this nerve causes also drooping of the eye lid, which in al-Jawhari’s case is not very obvious. That is because patients with this condition usually try to compensate by frowning (the furrow on the right side of his forehead) by lifting their eyebrow on the affected side.[5]  The condition causes also dilatation of the pupil on the affected side, but this is not always case (in these cases, the oculomotor palsy is called ‘pupil-sparing’). We cannot see this in the face of al-Jawhari, probably because his oculomotor palsy is pupil-sparing or because Rigo didn’t pay the dilated pupil much attention and depict it in his work. Some people with oculomotor nerve palsy are born with it but others get it later in life, usually from conditions such as diabetes mellitus and trauma to the head.

There is no way that we can tell that al-Jawhari was born with a squint or that he developed that later. In both conditions (facial nerve palsy and oculomotor nerve palsy) diabetes is a cause in some individuals. It is plausible then that al-Jawhari suffered with diabetes mellitus; but, again, this is only a speculation.

This study is unique in the sense that, as much as I know, it is the first study that identifies a medical condition, certainly of a Copt from the past, based solely on his facial features in a portrait. I have suggested that Mu’allem Jirjis al-Jawhari possibly suffered from diabetes mellitus, a condition that can affect the vascular system and lead to loss of function of the third and seventh cranial nerves. This, of course, cannot be proven beyond doubt.



[1] It can rarely affect both sides.

[2] These are the lateral rectus, medial rectus, superior rectus, inferior rectus, superior oblique, and inferior obligue.

[3] The visual centres in the brain control binocular vision; i.e. the ability to maintain visual focus on an object with two eyes, creating a single visual image.

[4] These are the oculomotor (third cranial nerve), the trochlear (fourth cranial nerve), and the abducens (six cranial nerve). The abducents controls the lateral rectus; the trochlear controls the superior oblique muscle; and the rest of the external ocular muscles are controlled by the oculomotor.

[5] There is no frowning on the left side of the forehead because the facial nerve paralysis on that side prevents that; hence the drooping of the left eye is comparatively obvious.


September 20, 2018

When the Abbasid Caliph, al-Mamoun (813 – 833), came to Egypt to suppress the Coptic Revolt in 831 – 832), he enquired about the origin of the Copts. Al-Mamoun asked his governor in Egypt, ‘Amru ibn Abdulla al-Shibani, “Oh, ‘Amru, do you know where these Copts came from?” And al-Shibani responded: “They are the remnants of the Pharaohs who were in Egypt.”

We are told that in Ahkam Ahal al-Zimma (The Rules of Dimmitude) by the Islamic scholar Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (1292 – 1350).[1]

[1] أحكام أهل الذمة كتاب لابن قيم الجوزية. تحقيق صبحي الصالح. دار العلم للملايين، بيروت. ط٢. جزء اول، ص ٢١٧-٢١٨.


January 25, 2018

The prominent Coptologist, Alin Suciu, from Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, has recently told me that an Amharic version of the Chronicle of John of Nikiu has been found and is due to be published soon! This is undoubtedly great news! I have no clue who is the discoverer of the Amharic manuscript and who is publishing and translating it, but whoever he or she is, they are embarking on a great service to academia, history and the Copts.

The Chronicle of Nikiu has so far been known in only one version, a Qe’ez translation from the lost Arabic version, itself translated from A Coptic version, which has also been lost. The Chronicle, by John of Nikiu, from the seventh century, a bishop of the Coptic Church who had witnessed the Arab invasion of Egypt, is of paramount importance. It starts from Creation and ends when the Arabs had occupied all Egypt. The part that covers the Arab invasion is particularly important. Unfortunately, the Ge’ez manuscript has many lacunae and some chapters have been misplaced. This affects the narrative which John of Nikiu gives.

Now, with the discovery of the Amharic version, one hopes that the full story will be told.


News that should be celebrated by many, but above all, all Copts.





January 15, 2018

Coptic pope consecrating the myron

Pope Tawadros II cooking the Myron before consecrating it. The Myron is no longer consecrating at Alexandria and only on a certain date of the year.


From my previous articles on the subjects of the Lenten Fast and Baptism, we arrived at sufficient evidence to prove two assertions: that, one, the Lenten Fast in the Early Church lasted for six weeks only and that in the last week of Lent – that is the Pascha Week – according to the Egyptian tradition, baptism of children and new converts, the catechumens, occurred; and that, two, the ceremony of baptism in Early Coptic Church was carried out only once in a year, on a certain day and in a certain week, which was the Pascha week.

The exact day on which baptism occurred within the Pascha Week, the Day of Baptism, however, will need further clarification. In two previous articles, I tried to find the exact Day of Baptism:

First, in my article, The time for baptism in early Coptic Church according to Ibn Siba’a, we have seen that Yuhanna ibn abi Zakariyya ibn Siba’a, the 13thcentury Coptic theologian, wrote in his book, The Precious Jewel in Ecclesiastical Sciences (الجوهرة النفيسة فى علوم الكنيسة), wrote that baptism in the early Church was practised on a certain day, once every year. That day, he says, was “the sixth Friday of the Holy Fast”, by which he means Friday of the sixth week of the Lenten fast. As for the reason of choosing this day in particular, he writes:

[T]he reason for choosing that day specifically is that Christ’s crucifixion, his sufferings, his death and his entrance into the grave – I mean by his earthly element – was on Friday, the sixth day, in the six thousandth [year of Creation].  Therefore, the Fathers, Teachers of the Church, made it to simulate what the Lord Christ did in his entrance into the grave to release all who deserved salvation from the progeny of Adam. For that they arranged for baptism to be like the death of Christ on Friday, the sixth day in the sixth Friday of the Fast, in the six thousand Year of the World. They [the Fathers] made baptism release everyone who was immersed in it as the death of Christ for us has released us from the custody of Satan.[1]

Second, in my article, The Time for Baptism in Early Coptic Church at the Time of patriarch Peter I (300 – 311), I produced an earlier evidence than Ibn Siba’a’s that confirms the early Church of Alexandria did perform baptism on only one day each year, and sheds more light into this matter. I used the first part of History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Churchwhich was written sometime in the fifth century by a certain Menas the Scribe. In the Live of St. Peter I (300 – 311), we read the beautiful story of St. Marturia and her two children, Philopator and Eutropius, from Antioch of Pisidia,who lived at the time of Saint Peter I. This story confirms that baptism did occur in the Pascha Week but does not tell us which day. However, another source for the story of Madura and her two children, Brit. Mus. Ms. Oriental, No. 6783 manuscript,[2] titled by its translator, E. A. Wallis Budge, from Sahidic Coptic to English, The Encomium on Demetrius, Archbishop of Alexandria, by Flavianus, Bishop of Ephesus is very helpful. From this manuscript, we learn that Marturia and her children arrived in Alexandria on the fourth day of the Pascha Week, which is Wednesday and that baptism took place on the evening of Good Friday, by which is meant the evening preceding Good Friday day, according to the Jewish reckoning.

It seems then that all these sources agree that the Day of Baptism was Good Friday. But let’s now examine another source to check if it can confirm this. This time we rely on The Lamp in Darkness and the Explanation of Service (مِصْباح الظُلْمة وإيِضاح الخِدْمَة Mișbâḥ al-ẓulma wa-îḍâḥ al-khidma) by the 13/14th century Coptic scholar Ibn Kabar[3].[4] The evidence comes from Chapter 9 of his book – a chapter dedicated to the Myron (Chrism).[5] The Myron, which is special oil that is consecrated by bishops, is used in our Church, as in many other Christian denominations, in the administration of certain sacraments such as the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation. It is made of pure olive oil, balsam and several spices.  Ibn Kabar tells us that the origin of Myron goes back to the time when Christ was buried. After the Crucifixion, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea worked together to take the body of Christ from the cross, shroud him in linen cloth after anointing him with spices made of myrrh and aloes that weighed sixty pounds, and then intern him in a tomb.[6] This holy mix of spices, the Disciples took, and adding to it pure olive oil, prayed over it at the Cenacle[7], and made it to be the “stamp of baptism”. This Myron was distributed to all Christian groups that dispersed geographically in order to evangelise; and they used it to anoint those who believed and got baptised. And the Disciples commanded that the Holy Myron be replenished by adding to the remaining Myron more of the same ingredients, and also some of the bread that Christ had consecrated; and that that it should be repeatedly replenished, and be consecrated by the clergy, until the end of times.

But the relevant part in this chapter is when Ibn Kabar talks about the day when Myron was consecrated. We learn from him that, in Egypt, the ingredients of Myron were cooked and consecrated in Alexandria by the Coptic Patriarch, joined by the bishops from other parts of Egypt;[8] and that that its consecration occurred once every year on a certain date. That date, Ibn Kabar tells us, was the same Day of Baptism! This is the revealing paragraph:

And the Holy Myron continued to be exchanged in all places and replenished in this way, and cooked and consecrated on Friday, the sixth day of the sixth week of the Holy Fast, for it was the end of the Holy Forty Days; and it was the day on which the Lord Christ baptised his followers; and that day became the Day of Baptism and the Day of Joy. That day is the epitome of the sixth millennium in which God the Logos incarnated to save the race of men, and He freed Adam and his progeny from the slavery of Satan; and the sixth day on which He was crucified in, abolishing death by His Death, and giving us life by his Crucifixion.[9]


Here we have, yet another Coptic source that confirms to us that the Day of Baptism in the Coptic Early Church was indeed Good Friday. We learn, from Ibn Kabar, that on this same Good Friday, Myron was cooked and consecrated too.


[1] See: Jean Périer, Ibn Sabba, Yohanna ibn Abi Zakariya, La Perle Précieuse in Patrologia Orientalis. Tome 16, fasc. 4 (Paris, 1922); p. 671-2. Périer publishes only the first 56 chapters of the book of Ibn Siba’a (out of 115) in Arabic accompanied by French translation. The English translation here is mine.

[2] This manuscript was published and translated by E. A. Wallis Budge, in 1914, in his book Coptic Martyrdoms, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. The Coptic Sahidic manuscript was copied by one Victor Mercurius Eponuchos, a deacon from Esna, in Upper Egypt, in AD 1003.

[3] His full name is Shams al-Riʾāsa Abū al-Barakāt ibn Kabar.

[4] For more on Ibn Kabar, see Coptic Encyclopedia (1992), Ibn Kabar by Aziz S. Atiya.

[5] Ibn Kabar dedicates Chapter 15 to baptism but there is nothing there to help us in finding more about our subject. In Chapter 18 about Fasting, Ibn Kabar talks about the duration of Lent and talks about the week in which baptism took place; but since his talk about the duration of Lent is incorrect, we are not left any wiser by his talk on the week of baptism.

[6] On the Burial of Christ, and the roles of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, see: John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:57-60; Luke 23:50-56; Mark 15:43-46.

[7] Or the Upper Room, where Jesus had his Last Supper.

[8] From the consecrated Myron at Alexandria, Myron was distributed to other churches in Egypt.

[9] مِصْباح الظُلْمة وإيِضاح الخِدْمَة للقس شمس الرياسة أبوالبركات المعروف بابن كبر، الجزء الأول، مكتبة الكاروز، ١٩٧١؛ ص ٣٥٠-٣٥١.The English translation is mine.


January 12, 2018

Paris map.PNG

Section of Paris map showing areas in which Yuhanna Chiftich lived and officiated

Yuhanna Chiftichi is one of the most interesting and extraordinary persons in Coptic history. He was a Coptic priest, scholar, interpreter, director and fighter. He was born in Cairo sometime in the last quarter of the 18th century and died in France, most probably in Marseille, sometime after 1825. He first appeared in our history during the French Campaign in Egypt between 1798 and 1801 and fought with General Ya’aqub against the Turks and Mamelukes. After the French withdrawal, he left to France with them. There, he landed in Marseille and seems to have gone early to Paris where he lived until 1825. After that, he returned to Marseille where he most probably died there. In Paris, his knowledge erudition and knowledge of Coptic and Arabic made him indispensable to two main French projects that added to human civilisation: first, The Description of Egypt (Description de l’Ėgypte); and, second, the deciphering of Hieroglyphs by Jean-François Champollion in 1822. This is not the place to write a full biography of this special Copt; suffice it here to review the article on Yuhanna Chiftich by Anouar Louca in The Coptic Encyclopedia (1992), which the reader can access here.

Here, I would like to focus on the area in which Yuhanna lived in Paris. He lived in the 8th borough (arrandissement) of Paris known as Champs-Elysées and then the 1st borough (Louvre, Palais Royale); all north of the Seine River in the most historic and now elegant areas of Paris.

Chiftichi lodged first at the Rue de la Concorde, where the Needle of Rameses II now stands, and the Rue Royale. During that period he was working as priest officiating at the old Church of Saint Roch that is located at 284 Rue Saint-Honoré. Later, he moved to live in Rue Roche; and it seems that is where Champollion visited him to learn Coptic. Apparently, he continued to live there until he moved to Marseille in 1825.

These should be places that every Copt should go and tour upon visiting Paris.



January 12, 2018

An updated version of What Is A Nation?

ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية

A buffalo herd: they instinctively herd together

Nations and national feelings are not new – they are at least as old as history. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians and Hebrews, to take but a few, knew they were nations[1] having come to a consciousness of their unique selves at different points of history – they were proud of themselves and their achievements and heritage; and, in the process of defending themselves, or fighting, against other peoples, whom they called foreigners, barbarians, or gentiles, and who threatened either their existence or way of life, they came to define themselves not only by the innate features of themselves, but also by how much they differed from others.

What is new, however, is the modern social theorists who have made it their habit studying peoples and what they call the objective criteria of nationhood, by which they mean certain characteristics the absence of…

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January 9, 2018

The “kyrie elesison”, the “irini pasi” and its response “kaito ephnigmati so”, and even the Doxology must be translated into Coptic

In a previous article, titled “How the Greek in Coptic liturgy contributed to the decline of Coptic, the Arabisation of the Church, and our language shift from Coptic to Arabic”, I explained how almost one-quarter of the Coptic Divine Liturgy is in Greek; and that 43.5% of all the people’s role in the Liturgy is sung in Greek! I also explained how this has contributed to the decline of Coptic and eventual Arabisation of the Liturgy.

As we speak of making a stop to the use of Arabic in the Church, particularly in the Devine Liturgy, replacing it with Coptic, we must first remove every Greek word in the Coptic Liturgy that has a Coptic equivalent from it, and aim at entirely Copticising it. This should help in reviving our language.

It is a call then to all Coptic nationalists and all who work to revive Coptic to start the work of Copticisating the Liturgy. This will mean replacing the “kyrie elesison”, the “irini pasi” and its response “kaito ephnigmati so”, and even the Doxology by translating them into Coptic.

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