From the dates of Ta’rih al-Sham, M.B.’s best known work and the only extant source on his life, one can conclude that he was born before 1132/1720 in Damascus and died there sometime after 1195/1782. Unfortunately telling very little about his life in this work, M.B. introduces himself as a priest (huri) of the Damascus-based Antiochian patriarchate (al-Batrakiyah al-Antakiyah) of the Greek Orthodox Church (Kanisah al-Rum al-Urtuduks), who was educated in church schools in Damascus. On 26 Jumada II 1154/8 September 1741, he was appointed as a deacon (shammas) by the archbishop. Ten days later, he was ordained as a priest (qissis) and within two weeks was permitted to hear confessions. In 1163/1750, during the archbishop’s stay in Russia, M.B. was entrusted with overseeing his residence and the operation of the city’s Orthodox cathedral. When the archbishop returned, Burayk was given the titles of priest (huri) and brutubabas (Greek, protopapas), the highest rank within the priesthood (al-kahanah). At the same time, he was charged with preaching at the Bab al-Muluki church. In 1182/1768, he was put in charge of the monastery (dayr) at Saydnaya, one of the most important monasteries in Syria. He served in this position for only a year before resigning due to overwork.
Using both the Christian (masihi) and hijri calendars, M.B. lists events organized chronologically and focuses on Damascus and its hinterland. Like his Muslim counterparts, he regularly notes the comings and goings of the hajj caravan – the lynchpin of Damascus’ economic and political importance – and, like them, complains about rises in the price of staples and the outbreaks of factional fighting between rival militias that plagued the city throughout the eighteenth century. In 1172/1758, for example, he describes three days of factional fighting in the Midan neighborhood in the southern part of the city and compares this bloodshed to one of the battles for Belgrade between the Ottomans and the Austrians. This comment is indicative of one of the most important distinguishing features of M.B.’s chronicle. Unlike his Muslim counterparts in Damascus, he is cognizant of happenings in Europe and of the nuances of inter-European society and politics. He distinguishes between Serbs, Austrians, the French, Poles and Russians. In 1168/1755, he reports on the Lisbon earthquake. Though he never expresses anything but loyalty to the Ottoman state, his comments on the Russo-Ottoman War of 1181-88/1768-74 indicate that he hoped for a Russian victory.
Two issues dominate the narrative and have made this work an invaluable source for historians of Ottoman Syria. In the introduction to his chronicle, M.B. explicitly mentions the spread of Catholicism in Syria and the rise to prominence of the Azm family as the reasons for writing his chronicle and for starting in 1132/1720. M.B. wrote at a time when the Orthodox Church in Syria was shaken by a Uniate (Catholic) schism and his pro-Orthodox sentiments are important for historians as the majority of Christian historians of this time came from the Maronite or Greek Catholic churches.
M.B.’s chronicle also covers a seminal stage in the political history of Damascus, namely the period of the rise and decline of the Azms. Members of this family were the first Syrians to be appointed by Ottoman authorities to the governorship of the province of Damascus. The fact that several members of the Azm family were appointed in succession and for lengthy tenures marked a dramatic change in Ottoman provincial administration. Asad Pasha al-Azm, who ruled for an unprecedented 14 consecutive years (1156-70/1743-57), emerges in M.B.’s account as a protector of the Christian community. M.B. remarks that he has read histories of Damascus from the time of the Muslim conquest and Christians were “never treated with the honor, dignity, and respect they received during the last ten years under the rule of Asad Pasha.”
The last years of the chronicle are occupied with the waning importance of Damascus as it was attacked by Egypt in the south and as the center of gravity in Syria more generally shifted from the interior to the coast. M.B. witnessed the dramatic events of the 1770s in Syria including the Egyptian invasion of 1186/1772, the rise of Zahir al-Umar in the Galilee, and the emergence of Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (d. 1219/1804) in Sidon. These events also signaled the end of the Azms’ dominance in regional politics. Another Damascene chronicler, who is presumed to be Christian but whose identity remains uncertain, picked up where M.B. left off and compiled a chronicle of the years 1192/1782 to 1257/1841.
In his commentary on both the state of Syrian Christianity and the rise of the Azms, M.B.’s account is also important for his use of the term “Arab” as an ethnic identifier. He explicitly identifies both the Azms and an Orthodox patriarch as Arabs at a time when this term was most often used to refer to the Bedouin and not to represent any sense of ethnic solidarity. As an Orthodox Christian and a native Damascene, M.B.’s chronicle offers an important perspective on the better part of a century of significant change in Damascus in particular and in Ottoman Syria in general.
Qustantin al-Basha al-Muh’allisi’s edition of Ta’rih al-Sham was published in 1930 with an introduction in French, notes, and bibliographic references. Basha’s edition was republished with additional notes and indices by Ahmad Sabanu in 1982. In addition to reprinting Basha’s original introduction as an appendix, Sabanu added six documents related to the affairs of the Greek Orthodox community in Syria within the context of the Ottoman Empire. A separate chronicle by an unknown author which picks up where M.B. left off and covers the next 60 years is sometimes mistakenly attributed to M.B. This chronicle was re-edited by Ahmad Sabunu who acknowledges that the author is unknown.
(Ta’rih al-aba’ batarikah Antakiyah or al-Haqa’iq al-wadi’yah fi ta’rih al-kanisah al-Antakiyah al-Urtuduksiyah, also known as Asami batarikah Antakiyah al-uzma min ahd Butrus al-rasul
A history of the patriarchate of Antioch from the time of St. Peter to the end of the tenure of Daniel (1181/1767). It is divided into three parts. M.B. acknowledges that the first part, from St. Peter to Makariyus Zaim (d. 1083/1672), was written by Zaim’s son Paul (d. 1080/1669). The second part covers Zaim’s tenure, those of his immediate successors, and the conflicts that led to a schism in 1136/1724 between those who pledged loyalty to Rome (known today as Melkites) and those who remained loyal to the Orthodox Church. This part of the text was written by a Damascene priest from the Farah family. The third, and final, part is M.B.’s own composition and covers the period 1136-81/1724-67. M.B.’s manuscript found its way into the hands of a Russian Orthodox envoy to the Middle East, Porfirii Uspenskii, who had it translated into Greek and Italian before translating and publishing it in Russian in 1874. There are two editions of this work, the first published in Cairo in 1903 by Sali’m Qab'i'n which, according to both Joseph Nasrallah and Na'ilah Taqi al-Din Qa'idbayh, is deficient. The more recent, scholarly edition was edited by Qa’idbayh and published in 2006.
A history of the world from the birth of Adam to the birth of Jesus in six generations following a Christian interpretation of the chronology of the Jewish Bible: The first generation covers 5508-3266 B.C., from Adam to the Flood; the second, 3266-2041 B.C., from the Flood to Abraham; the third, 2041-1611 B.C., from Abraham to Moses; the fourth, 1611-1096 B.C., from Moses to Saul; the fifth, 1096-581 B.C., from Saul to the destruction of the first temple and the beginning of the Babylonian Exile; and, finally, 581 B.C.-0, from the Babylonian Exile to the birth of Jesus.
(1) Ta’rih al-Sham
Manuscripts: (1) Berlin, Staatsbibliotek zu Berlin, Pet. 188, fol. 1-48, [TBC], copied in 1840. (W. Ahlwardt, Verzeichniss der arabischen Handschriften der königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, vol. IX (Berlin, 1897), p. 284, no. 9786.) (2) Cairo, Taymuriyah, Ta’rih, 2213. [TBC].
Editions: (1) Tarih al-Sham (1720-1782) [Documents inédits pour servir à l’histoire du Patriarcat Melkite d’Antioche, vol. II], ed. Qustantin al-Basha al-Muh’allisi (Harisa, 1930). (2) Ed. Ahmad Gassan Sabanu (Damascus, 1982).
(2) Kitab hulasat al-wafiyah fi ta’rih al-batarikah Antakiyah
Manuscripts: (1) Beirut, Bibliotheque Orientale, Université Saint-Joseph, Ms. 14, fol. 1-82, 15 lines, [TBC], copied in 1885; (2) Beirut, Bibliotheque Orientale, Université Saint-Joseph, Ms. 154, fol. 1-40, 16 lines, nesih, copied in 1889. (3) Beirut, American University of Beirut, Ms. 139, [TBC], 17 lines, nesih, copied in 1767. (4) Kitab batarikah abrashiya madinat Allah Antakiya al-uzma min ahd batarikah al-qiddis Butrus al-rasul ila-l-an: St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Ms. 184, fol. 1r -73v, [TBC], nesih. (5) St. Petersburg, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, B 1229, fol. 41b-116b, [TBC].
Editions: (1) al-Haqa’iq al-wadi’yah fi ta’rih al-kanisah al-Antakiya al-Urtuduksiyah. Ed. Salim Qabin (Cairo, 1903). (2) al-Haqa’iq al-wafiya fi tarikh batarikat al-kanisa al-Antakiya. Ed. Na’ila Taqi al-Din Qa’idbayh with an introduction by Hayat Bualuan (Beirut, 2006).
Translations: Porfirii Uspenskii. “Vostok’ Khristianskii.” Trudy Kievskoi Dukhovnoi Akademii (1874), 346-457; also (Kiev, 1874).
(3) Kitab jami tawarih al-zaman wa-zahrah aajib al-kawn wa-al-awan
Manuscripts: (1) Damascus, Asad National Library, Ms. 5453, 522 pages, 23 lines, nesih, copied in 1767.
General Bibliography: Joseph Nasrallah. “Historiens et chroniqueurs melchites du XVIIIe siècle.” Bulletin d’Etudes Orientales, 13 (1949-1951), 145-160. Abdul-Karim Rafeq. The Province of Damascus (Beirut, 1970). Joseph Nasrallah. Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’Eglise melchite du Ve au XXesiècle. Vol. IV: Tome 2, Contribution à l'étude de la littérature arabe chrétienne (Louvain, 1989). Miha’il al-Dimashqi. Ta’rih hawadit al-Sham wa-Lubnan, ed. Ahmad Gassan Sabanu (Damascus, 1981). Bruce Masters. “The View from the Province: Syrian Chronicles of the 18th Century.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 144 (1994), 353-362. Hayat Bualuan. “Mikha’il Breik: A Chronicler and Historian in 18th Century Bilad al-Sham.” Parole de l’Orient 21 (1996): 257-270. Dana Sajdi. Peripheral Visions: the Worlds and Worldviews of Commoner Chroniclers in the 18th Century Ottoman Levant. Ph.D. Dissertation (Columbia University, New York, 2002).