The Monk’s Hell
EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL JAHEEM AL-RAHIB, TRANSLATED BY ROBIN MOGER
Father Charbel: the book priest. So Father Joseph called him. Running the library had been his overmastering passion for years now, only rarely sleeping in his room (his cell) due to his habit of sitting up surrounded by books till late into the night. He had left Mosul after the torching of the cathedral library and the reek of burning books had curled up to his nostrils and creased his face with rage. Had he by some chance stumbled across the perpetrator, he would have eaten him alive. He would wake to the ghosts of books and manuscripts and when such visions visited him he would scream like a man possessed, repeating the same phrase over and over:
“Barbarians! Mongols!” It was after this incident that he wrote to Father Joseph in Lebanon, asking that he might come to the Monastery of the Icons, enclosing a report that listed the rare manuscripts and documents that had been destroyed since the Abbasid period. There were the fertile dialogues and debates with the Abbasid Caliphs from the time of Patriarch Timothy. Yes, indeed, Father Joseph, he wrote, muttering to himself: Timothy I, famed as the pioneer of Islamic-Christian dialogue. Timothy’s debates with Al-Mahdi, Al-Rashid, and AlMa’mun, his recommendations on how to resolve the conflict between the Alawites and the Hashemites, documents on the good relations between the Church and the Abbasids, most particularly Al-Ma’mun, who repeatedly visited the monasteries of Mosul with his retinue, and whose arrival once coincided with Easter and so he stayed fifteen days, ordering the monastery to be rebuilt. The chron-
30 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015
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