Fatḥallāh, Elias Fatalla, Fathi (fl. 1770–1798) [Syr. Orth., then Syr. Cath.]

Elias Fatḥallāh was a Syr. Orth. priest from Amid. Following his conversion to Catholicism in 1770, he moved to the Vatican, where he worked as an interpreter for Pope Pius VI and published a second edition of the Syriac Breviary in 1787, based on the first 1696 edition of Athanasius Safar of Mardin, to which he added the Sunday office. From 1793 to 1798, he held the chair of Syriac and Chaldaic at the Collegio de Propaganda Fide. Recruited there in 1798, he became Napoleon’s interpreter and a member of the Commission des Sciences et des Arts as the director of the Oriental section of the press during the Egyptian Campaign. He is referred to as ‘Don Elias Fatalla’ in Napoleon’s correspondence dated 16 Oct. 1798. He is also once mentioned as the interpreter of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the father of the famed author of The Three Musketeers. Western biographers of Bonaparte are not aware of his Syriac heritage, nor do Eastern biographers know of the Napoleonic episode. Among the former, he is sometimes confused with Elias Pharaon, a younger Melk. interpreter from Damascus, called back to France at Napoleon’s request in 1802. Among the latter, Tarrazi confuses him with Elias Amīrkhān, another Syr. Cath. priest from Amid and the chorepiscopos of the Mar Behnam Syr. Church in Cairo, an erroneous account frequently repeated thereafter. Further inaccuracies, such as the report attributing his conversion to the exhortations of Michael Jarweh, the bp. of Aleppo and future Syr. Cath. patr. , may be explained by the desire of early Syr. Cath. historiography to embellish the storyline of this patriarch, who reestablished in 1782 the Uniate patriarchal line started in 1662 and interrupted since 1702. As a matter of fact, Fatḥallāh became Catholic four years before Jarweh, and no reference is made to the patr. in the introduction to his breviary. Two Armenian-Turkish letters exposing the grievance of the Armenian widow Hripsime and addressed to the Doge of Venice, signed and sealed in attestation of content by, among others, his brothers Khawājas Isḥāq Niʿmatallāh and Maqd. Bishāra Fatḥī and the Chald. Patr. Yawsep IV in Amid in 1782, are now preserved in the private collection of the Fathi family (Aleppo). That his family was then leading the Catholic party in Amid may be inferred from a Garshuni epistle addressed by the Amid community to Patr. Jarweh in Mardin on 25 Feb. 1782, regarding the adoption of the Catholic mass, in which the names of his father, Khawāja Fatḥallāh son of the deacon Amīrchāh, also known as Fatḥī, and his two aforementioned brothers appear first among some seventy-four civilian signatories. This letter, today at the Sharfeh Monastery, was also signed by eleven Syr. priests, reflecting the early inroad made by the Syr. Cath. movement in Amid, supported by the local presence of the Chald. patriarchate and Capuchin monks. Catholicism had much less success here, however, than in Aleppo or Mosul, as resistance to it was fierce, since the city was the frequent residential abode of Syr. Orth. patriarchs. In 1810, Khawāja Mikhāyil Fatḥī Zadeh obtained a firman establishing the Catholic bp. Behnam as patr. at Dayr al-Zaʿfarān, in a last attempt to catholicize the entire Syr. church. This attempt was later aborted by the Orthodox party, and the split of the Syrians into two churches has persisted to the present day.


  • Breviarium feriale syriacum SS. Ephrem et Iacob syrorum iuxta ritum eiusdem nationis a feria II. usque ad sabbathum iuxta exemplum editum anno MDCXCVI Typis Sac. Congr. de Propaganda Fide. Nunc accedit Officium dominicale (Rome, 1787).
  • R.  G.  Canivet, ‘L’imprimerie de l’expédition d’Egypte. Les journaux et les procès-verbaux de l’Institut (1798–1801)’, Bulletin de l’Institut Egyptien 5.3 (1909), 1–22.
  • A. Naqqāsha, ʿInāyat al-raḥmān fī hidāyat al-suryān (Beirut, 1910), 201.
  • P. de Tarrazi, al-Salāsil al-taʾrīkhiyya fī asāqifat al-abrašiyyāt al-suryāniyya (Beirut, 1910), 90, 383–84.

| Fatḥallāh, Elias |


Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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