as such in the biographical dictionaries of the time. They were often suspected of only being nominal Muslims, having converted under pressure.37 Though much diminished and more introspective, the Coptic community still remained important in some areas and continued to play an active role in Egyptian society.
Arabisation and the emergence of an Arab Christianity
One general feature characterised the future development of Christian communities in the lands of Islam. This was arabisation, by which I mean the adoption of Arabic, not just as a vernacular, but as a literary and liturgical language, which in turn led to the emergence of a truly Arabic Christianity. When the Byzantines annexed Edessa in 1031, some Jacobites left the city along with the other Arabs', because, in the words of Michael the Syrian, 'in language and writing they were close to the Arabs'.38 The ties linking Christianity to the Arabic language are ancient and complex. Christians contributed to the development of the Arabic script, language and culture.39 From the turn of the eighth century there appeared the first translations of the Bible into Arabic. By our period Christian communities were largely, but not completely, arabised. It depended on a number of factors: original language, region, ecclesiastical tradition and social setting.
Coptic, the language written and spoken in Egypt at the time of the Arab conquest, gave ground to Arabic. The different Coptic dialects40 were replaced by Arabic ones, so much so that the eleventh-century compiler of the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria decided to translate the biographies of the patriarchs from Coptic into Arabic, giving as his reason that 'today Arabic is the language that the people of Egypt know . . . most of them being ignorant of Coptic and Greek'.41 Coptic did not totally disappear, however, as a spoken language. There are some interesting pointers from the work of the twelfth-century Coptic author Abu Makarim, who writes of one village
37 D. P. Little, 'Coptic converts to Islam during the Bahrí Mamluk Period', in ibid., 843-61.
38 Chronique de Michel le Syrien, III, 280.
39 It was in the Christian kingdom of the Lakhmids that the northern Arabic script was created. With the rise of Islam this eclipsed the southern Arabic script. The role of Christians as translators from the Greek and the Syriac, mainly at Baghdad in the ninth century, is very well known.
40 Coptic divides into two major dialects: Sahidic in Upper Egypt (from the Arabic Sa'íd) and Bohai'ric in the Delta (from the Arabic for sea, baharl).
41 History of the patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, ed. B. Evetts (Paris: P. Fages, 1904), 1, 115.
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