May 2nd, 2016 by Roger Pearse
Sometime in the 1940s, an Egyptian peasant found a large jar full of ancient gnostic books, at a place today known as Nag Hammadi. The books passed into the art market, and caused a sensation, and various dealers made money on the find. The news made its way back to the region. This stirred other peasants to go looking for more treasure of the same kind.
In late 1952, another peasant made a similar discovery not that far away. A jar was found, which contained something like 31 (?) volumes in various formats, roll and codex, papyrus and parchment, Greek and Coptic, although scholars disagree on the list of what the find originally contained. They passed into the hands of a village strongman named Riyad Jirgis Fam, who lived at Dishna. The collection is therefore known in Egypt as the Dishna “papyri”. Riyad sold material piece by piece to a Cairo dealer, a Cypriot Greek named Phocion John Tano, or locally as “Phoqué”. Tano then smuggled the material out of Egypt using either the diplomatic bag of the Tunisian embassy, or by bribing customs officials.
A large part of the collection was bought by a wealthy Swiss collector named Martin Bodmer. What Bodmer chose not to buy, as of inferior interest, was in the main purchased by another collector, Sir Chester Beatty and is today in Dublin. But the story is far more complex than that, and parts of the collection were also sold to American buyers, and then sold on. Also, on the death of Martin Bodmer his executors began to sell his collection, until a foundation was created and the sales stopped.
But what was in the collection? In the main it was biblical materials, but also rolls of Homer, lost plays by Menander, lost patristic material such as Melito’s De pascha, and much else. It includes a codex of John’s gospel, P66, dated to 200 AD, in Greek. But the older Greek material was rebound in the 4th century in a way that made it impossible to read – the books had become relics. Newer material was in Coptic. And, in addition, there were Greek and Coptic versions of some of the letters of Pachomius, the founder of Egyptian monasticism, previous known only in Jerome’s Latin translation. The collection, plainly, had come from a Pachomian monastery. The latest material was 6th century, and the burial of it in a jar perhaps relates to Justinian’s “tidying up” exercise on heresies of all sorts.
I suspect that many of us have heard of the “Bodmer papyri” and the “Chester Beatty papyri”, without ever being clear that this is a single find, like that at Nag Hammadi, dispersed around the world.
All this I take from reading James M. Robinson’s fascinating account, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri: from the First Monastery’s library in Upper Egypt to Geneva and Dublin. It is very cheap, so very worthwhile for anyone interested in the finds of books in the sands of Egypt.
Robinson also gives a list of what, as far as can be told, the collection contained! This is worth giving here, simpy because the dispersion of the collection means that few today have any context on what it was.
The contents of the discovery, including the quite fragmentary items and those listed only with hesitation, are as follows (they are Greek papyrus codices, unless otherwise indicated):20
1. Homer, Iliad, Book 5 = P. Bodmer I, a roll on the verso of a roll of documentary papyri, = P. Bodmer L.
2. Homer, Iliad, Book 6 = P. Bodmer I, a roll on the verso of the same roll of documentary papyri, = P. Bodmer L.
3. Gospel of John = P. Bodmer II + a fragment from the Chester Beatty Library, ac. 2555, + P. Koln 214, = P66.
4. Gospel of John and Genesis 1:1—4:2 in Bohairic = P. Bodmer III.
5. Menander, Samia, Dyskolos, Aspis = P. Bodmer XXV, IV, XXVI + P. Bare. 45 + Cologne inv. 904 = P. Koln 3 + P. Rob. 38.
6. Nativity of Mary = Apocalypse of James (Protevangelium of James) -, Apocryphal Correspondence of Paul with the Corinthians; Odes of Solomon 11; the Epistle of Jude; Melito of Sardis On the Passover, a fragment of a liturgical hymn; the Apology of Phileas; Psalms 33-34; 1 and 2 Peter = P. Bodmer V; X; XI; VII; XIII; XII; XX (+ a fragment from the Chester Beatty Library, ac. 2555); IX; VIII.
7. Proverbs in Proto-Sahidic on parchment = P. Bodmer VI.
8. Gospels of Luke and John = P. Bodmer XIV-XV = P75.
9. Exodus 1:1—15:21 in Sahidic on parchment = P. Bodmer XVI. (P. Bodmer XVII is generally agreed not to come from the same discovery.)
10. Deuteronomy 1:1—10:7 in Sahidic = P. Bodmer XVIII.
11. Matthew 14:28—28:20 + Romans 1:1—2:3, both in Sahidic on parchment, = P. Bodmer XIX.
12. Joshua in Sahidic = P. Bodmer XXI + Chester Beatty ac. 1389.
13. Jeremiah 40:3—52:34; Lamentations; Epistle of Jeremy; Baruch 1:1— 5:5, all in Sahidic on parchment, = P. Bodmer XXII + Mississippi Coptic Codex II.
14. Isaiah 47:1—66:24 in Sahidic = P. Bodmer XXIII.
15. Psalms 17—118 = P. Bodmer XXIV.
16. Thucydides; Suzanna; Daniel; Moral Exhortations = P. Bodmer XXVII, XLV, XLVI, XLVII.
17. A satyr play on the confrontation of Heracles and Atlas, a papyrus roll, = P. Bodmer XXVIII.
18. Codex Visionum = P. Bodmer XXIX — XXXVIII. (For P. Bodmer XXXIX see the inventory of specifically Pachomian material below.)
19. Song of Songs in Sahidic on parchment = P. Bodmer XL.
20. The Acts of Paul, Ephesus Episode, in Subachmimic, = P. Bodmer XLI.
21. Fragments of the Iliad from a papyrus roll = P. Bodmer XLVIII.
22. Fragments of the Odyssey from a papyrus roll = P. Bodmer XLIX.
23. Mathematical exercises in Greek; John 10:7 —13:38 in Subachmimic = Chester Beatty ac. 1390.
24. The Apocalypse of Elijah in Sahidic = Chester Beatty ac. 1493 = P. Chester Beatty 2018.
25. A Greek grammar; a Graeco-Latin lexicon on Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians = Chester Beatty ac. 1499.
26. Psalms 72:6—23, 25—76:1; 77:1—18, 20—81:7; 82:2—84:14; 85:2—88:20 = Chester Beatty ac. 1501 = P. Chester Beatty XIII = Rahlfs 2149.
27. Psalms 31:8-11; 26:1-6, 8-14; 2:1-8 = Chester Beatty ac. 1501 = P. Chester Beatty XIV = Rahlfs 2150.
28. Tax receipts of 339-47 A.D. from Panopolis (Achmim) in a largely uninscribed and unbound quire constructed from two papyrus rolls with correspondence of the Strategus of the Panopolitan nome of 298-300 A.D. = P. Beatty Panopolitanus = Chester Beatty ac. 2554.
29. Melito of Sardis On the Passover, 2 Maccabees 5:27—7:41; 1 Peter; Jonah; a homily or hymn, = The Crosby-Schoyen Codex = ms. 193 of The Schoyen Collection of Western Manuscripts.
30. Scholia to the Odyssey 1 from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 32 + P. Colon, inv. 906.
31. Achilles Tatius from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 35 + P. Colon, inv. 901.
32. Odyssey 3-4 from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 43 + P. Colon, inv. 902.
33. A piece of ethnography or a philosophical treatise from a papyrus roll = P. Rob. inv. 37 + P. Colon, inv. 903.
34. Cicero, In Catilinam; Psalmus Responsorius; Greek liturgical text; Alcestis, all in Latin except the Greek liturgical text, = Codex Miscellani = P. Barcinonenses inv. 149-61 + P. Duke in L 1 [ex P. Rob. inv. 201].
35. Gospels of Luke; John; Mark, all in Sahidic = P. Palau Ribes 181-83.
The total quantity of material would involve what remains of some 37 books. They consist of 9 Greek classical papyrus rolls (numbers 1, 2, 17, 23, 24, 32-35) and 28 codices (numbers 3-16,18-22, 25-31, 36, 37). The codices maybe subdivided as follows: 21 are on papyrus (numbers 3-6, 8, 10, 12, 14-16, 18, 20, 22, 25-31, 36, 37), 5 on parchment (numbers 7, 9, 11, 13, 19), and of 1 the Bibliotheque Bodmer has not divulged the material (number 22). 10 are in Greek (numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, 15, 16, 18, 28-30), 2 in Greek and Latin (numbers 27, 36), and 1 in Greek and Subachmimic (number 25). 15 are in Coptic (numbers 4, 7, 9-14,19-22, 26, 31, 37), of which 10 are in Sahidic (numbers 9-14,19, 26, 31, 37), 1 in Bohairic (number 4), 1 in Proto-Sahidic (number 7), 1 in Subachmimic (number 20), and of 1 the Bibliotheque Bodmer has not divulged the dialect (number 22). 2 are non-Christian (numbers 5, 30), 21 Christian (numbers 3, 4, 6-15, 18-21, 26, 28, 29, 31, 37) and 4 partly each (numbers 16,25, 27, 36). 11 contain something from the Old Testament (numbers 7, 9, 10, 12-16, 19, 28, 29) and 6 something from the New Testament (numbers 3, 8,11, 21, 25, 37) and 3 something from each (numbers 4, 6, 31).
A distinctive part of this discovery consists of archival copies of official letters of Abbots of the Pachomian Monastic Order:
- Pachomius’ Letter 11b in Sahidic, a small parchment roll, = P. Bodmer XXXIX.
- Pachomius’ Letters 9a, 9b, 10,11 b, from a papyrus codex, in Sahidic = Chester Beatty Glass Container No. 54 = ac. 2556.
- Pachomius’ Letters 1-3, 7,10,11a in Greek, a small parchment roll in rotuli format, = Chester Beatty Ms. W. 145 + Cologne inv. 3288 = P. Koln 174 = three fragments from Letter 7.
- Theodore’s Letter 2 in Sahidic, a small parchment roll in rotuli format, = Chester Beatty Library ac. i486.
- A second copy of Theodore’s Letter 2, a small parchment roll in rotuli format in an unidentified private German collection, published by Martin Krause.
- Horsiesios’ Letter 3 in Sahidic, a small papyrus roll, = Chester Beatty Library ac. 1494.
- Horsiesios’ Letter 4 in Sahidic, a small papyrus roll, = Chester Beatty Library ac. 1495.
- Pachomius’ Letter 8 in Sahidic, a small parchment roll, = Cologne inv. 3286 = P. Colon. Copt. 2 = P. Koln agypt. 8.
- Pachomius’ Letters 10-11a in Sahidic, a small parchment roll, = Cologne inv. 3287 = P. Colon. Copt. 1 = P. Koln agypt. 9.
Dr R. also went to the trouble of going to the site and doing fieldwork among the villagers to find out what was found, when, by whom, and what happened to it. This incredibly necessary task tends to be shirked, when a find has gone underground, and his statements will inevitably be primary source material ever afterwards.
April 23rd, 2016 by Roger Pearse
The British Library assigns its Syriac manuscripts to the “Asian and African Studies” department. The people there are far easier to deal with than the people in Western Manuscripts. They also run a blog which from time to time contains frankly wonderful material.
One such post was made back in September 2013, and I have written about it before. It’s titled Some Syriac Manichean Treasures in the British Library, by Ursula Sims-Williams, and includes a picture of a page from BL Additional 12150:
Final page of Titus of Bostra, Against the Manichaeans. BL Add.12150, f.156r. Ms made in 411 AD!
What caught my eye today was a postscript by Christina Duffy, which must have been added subsequently. It concerns palimpsests, those manuscripts where, in ancient times, the text was washed off the parchment, and a new text written on top. Sometimes the lower text was dimly visible, even so.
In the 19th century, scholars discovered that the under text could be made very clear by painting the page with “reagents” – chemicals, usually acids of one sort or another. This allowed the under-text to be transcribed, but also frequently damaged the manuscript. However what was done precisely, and why it worked, has never been clear to me.
Christina Duffy’s statement is the clearest explanation of the subject that I have ever seen, and I’m going to give it here, word for word.
Sadly the result of chemicals used to make indecipherable script legible is seen in many of our manuscripts here at the BL. While the treatments initially enhanced the faded text greatly it was only a matter of time before the entire passage was left in a much worse state!
In 1969 Restaurator reprinted a report of the St Gallen Conference on the Conservation of Manuscripts from 1898 which listed gallic acid, thiocyanate, ammonium sulphide, sodium sulphide, potassium ferrocyanide and tannin solution as chemicals used to recover text. Essentially the reagents were attempting to balance the ink formulation. By “reagent” we mean a substance or compound used to bring about a chemical reaction.
There is mention of the use of chemical reinforcements as early as the 17th century but it wasn’t until the 19th century when chemistry was more understood that lots of reactions were tried out. For iron-gall ink, a good stable black ink is formed by a black iron-gall ink complex. If the ink production for whatever reason is imperfect, ink can become illegible overtime i.e. fade. Imperfect ink is generally missing one of the essential compounds in the ink ingredient list (such as iron sulphide or gallic acid) so it makes sense that applying these missing chemicals will allow the reaction to take place and the text to become clear again! Which is what they did, but alas the aftermath was less pleasing!
The oldest known recipe for text recovery uses gallic acid. One article suggests making an extract of gall-nuts in white wine and wetting the missing text with a sponge to recover the text. However it isn’t mentioned that the gall-nut extract goes brown itself after a few years and wherever the liquid was applied turns dark brown so nothing is legible!
Other treatments include hepar suplhuris, toning letters blue by reacting iron ions with potassium hexacyanoferrates or placing the text briefly in hydrochloric acid. Some manuscripts treated in this way are now covered in blue dye and completely illegible…which is why using imaging techniques is a much better idea!
There is a good article explaining all this including the chemical formulas by Robert Fuchs, “The history of chemical reinforcement of texts in manuscripts – What should we do now?” in Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 7 (2003): 159–170.
I wonder if multi-spectral imaging would give us something, even now?
April 23rd, 2016 by Roger Pearse
Recently I needed to consult a translation of an ancient author. I don’t own paper copies of very many translations, and I never knowingly buy books that I will not read and reread. But unusually for me, I did own a copy of this volume in printed form.
However when I searched for it, it was nowhere to be found. I had to make do with translating some French version of the original that I found online.
Where could it be? After some searching, I discovered a faint memory of including it in a batch of academic books that I donated to someone, in order to free up some shelf-space. I dispose of unwanted books all the time, as anyone with any sanity must; and in fairness this is only the second book whose loss I have subsequently regretted, so I shan’t change my habit. All the same, it made me realise that I did need access to this particular volume.
Today I borrowed a library copy, and spent a couple of hours creating a PDF of the page images, with searchable text. Abbyy Finereader 12 did its usual job of scanning the pages, and Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 created the PDF and made it searchable.
It’s expensive to borrow by interlibrary loan, mind you. And I had to go into a library to collect them. A recent foot injury made the walk from the car park, and then the wait in a queue for service, particularly uncomfortable. Paper reference books are simply not what any of us need any more.
This sort of process – of conversion of books into PDF – must be repeated up and down the world. Students with no money, and academics with no shelf space, must convert the same reference volumes into PDFs again and again and again. Surely there ought to be a mechanism whereby this could be avoided? After all, nobody is at all likely to buy copies of this work personally, except by a fluke (as I did).
April 21st, 2016 by Roger Pearse
We move now to the second Caliph. Heraclius is still Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. Yezdigerd has managed to become the Sassanid Persian king of kings, after much bloodletting, and enjoys a shadowy authority.
As the Islamic hordes prepare to overrun the world, the nominally Christian ruling class of the Roman empire is engaged in political infighting. But politics is illegal in the empire, which is a despotism; so all politics must take place under pretext of wispy and fantastical “theological differences”. The words sound “religious”; but the conflict is carried on by the terminology of Greek philosophy, and the issues are in fact political. The “religion” merely serves to embitter things.
Such are the perils of banning political disagreement, making “right thinking” obligatory, while changing every minute precisely what “right thinking” consists of. Who says that ancient history has no relevance to today?!
The Italian calls Omar “Umar”. I think Omar is probably more familiar to English readers.
CALIPHATE OF OMAR IBN AL-KHATTĀB (13-23 / 634-644)
1. On the third day after the death of Abu Bakr, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Heraclius, King of Rum, Omar ibn al-Khattab b. Nufayl b. Abd al-Aziz b. Riyah b. Addi b. Ka’ab was made Caliph. His mother was Khathimah, daughter of Hisham b. al-Mughira b. Abd Allah b. Omar b. Makhzūm.
2. At the beginning of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Alexandria George. He held the office four years. When he learned that the Muslims had defeated the Rum, had occupied Palestine and were moving towards Egypt, he embarked on a ship and fled from Alexandria to Constantinople. After him the seat of Alexandria remained without a Melkite Patriarch for ninety-seven years. After his flight, there was made patriarch of Alexandria Cyrus. He was a Maronite, of the same religion as Heraclius. There was, in Alexandria, a monk named Sophronius. Sophronius refused to accept the doctrine of the patriarch Cyrus. Cyrus, in fact, claimed that Christ, our Lord, had two natures with one will, one operation and one person. And this was the doctrine of Maron. Sophronius went to the Patriarch Cyrus, and had a dispute with him on the subject. Sophronius said: “If that’s what you think, that Christ has only one will and one operation, then he must have [also] only one nature, not two. But this is what the Jacobites assert. But we say that in Christ there are two wills and two operations, as well as two natures, because it is impossible that one will can have those two natures. But if he has only one will then he has just a single nature. But just as he has two natures so he has two wills.” Cyrus replied: “The patriarch of Rome, Theodore, and the patriarch of Constantinople Sergius share the same doctrine as myself”. Sophronius then went to Constantinople. Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, gave him audience, and Sophronius told him what had passed between him and Cyrus the patriarch of Alexandria. Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, was amazed. Two days later Sergius received gifts from Cyrus. Sergius then changed his mind and began to confute Sophronius, repeating the arguments of Cyrus, and affirming that Theodore (sic!), patriarch of Rome, considered his  point of view was wrong, and instead shared their doctrine stating: “The nature of Jesus is twofold.” Sophronius rejected this statement by saying: “No. Everything can be twofold, but not that which relates to the person”. Then they said: “We will not say ‘two wills’, nor ‘one will’.” So the doctrine of the church remained discordant for about forty six years.
3. Sophronius left Constantinople and went to Jerusalem. The monks and the inhabitants met with him. Sophronius told his story, and made known his doctrine to them. Jerusalem had no patriarch. They then made Sophronius Patriarch of Jerusalem because of his Orthodox faith. Sophronius then wrote a book about faith, which he sent all over and was well received by the people. This was in the second year of the caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab. In the fifth year of his caliphate, Macedonius was made patriarch of Antioch, in the city of Constantinople. He was a Maronite. He remained at Constantinople for six years and died. He never set foot in Antioch or ever saw it.
April 19th, 2016 by Roger Pearse
I have another piece for you of the ancient literature about St Nicholas of Myra. This is an encomium which is found in the manuscripts among the sermons of Proclus, the 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople. Although it has acquired his name, it is really anonymous. Bryson Sewell completed a draft of the translation, and Andrew Eastbourne revised it and completed it. Here it is:
As usual I make these public domain – use them for any purpose, personal, educational or commercial.
It’s translated from the Greek text published by G. Anrich. Apparently there are quite a number of late encomia which merely retread the earlier material, and this is mostly one of them. Still useful to have, tho!
UPDATE: Dr. E. has drawn my attention to an editorial error with note 14. I’ve uploaded new versions of the files.
April 19th, 2016 by Roger Pearse
Paypal is pretty much the only game in town for online payments. But as with every monopoly, that causes poor customer service.
I needed to pay a translator yesterday, but I fumbled. I entered the wrong password three times. When I did manage to log in, I entered the details of my payment – to someone that I have paid many times before – and got the unhelpful message:
We’re sorry, but we can’t send your payment right now.
Which means nothing. After several attempts, I contacted Paypal customer service via the link – and got back a form letter which told me nothing. I responded to that … and never heard anything more. Poor service indeed.
But 24 hours later, I tried again and … it worked! Yay!
It seems that Paypal lock the account for certain transfers for 24 hours, after which you can try again. But they don’t tell you this! I suppose it helps reduce their losses from fraud. But it’s bad luck for anyone who urgently needs to send money. Effectively Paypal becomes unreliable.
I wish one of the big banks would roll out some competition for them; really I do. It is much the best way to send money overseas.
April 18th, 2016 by Roger Pearse
A correspondent kindly drew my attention to this page on Wikimedia Commons, where there is a drawing published in 1756 by Piranesi, from Le antichità Romane vol. 1, pl. 36, of the Arch of Constantine, and the now destroyed fountain, the Meta Sudans. The scans were made in Japan from a 19th century reprint.
Here is a small version of the whole drawing, for context:
The Meta Sudans is at the right. Here’s a zoomed in version of that part of the drawing:
The nearby figure of a man conveniently gives the scale, which indicates just how tall the monument was in the 18th century; three times the height of a man, and so about twice the size that it appears in 19th century photographs, after the top half was removed. It also confirms the foliage growing on top of it, as is seen in some paintings.
This is a very useful bit of documentary evidence of the state of the fountain before it was truncated.
April 16th, 2016 by Roger Pearse
Via Ticia Verveer on Twitter I came across this unusual item, today held in the Metropolitan Museum in New Year. It is a gem, a beryl, an intaglio – i.e. an incised – portrait of Julia Domna, the wife of the emperor Septimius Severus. According to the museum, it is 2.4 cms in height – just under an inch tall, and dates to 201-210 A.D. Click on the image below for full size.
Beryl Intaglio with Portrait of the Empress Julia Domna. Met Museum.
What interested me was that the hair looked almost real. We have many portraits of the women of that family, with the elaborate hairstyles then in fashion, but they always look utterly artificial and unlike anything a woman would wear.
But the portrait above is not like that. I can easily visualise a woman whose hair is braided like that. It is not too different from what women do even today, although more elaborate.
Which makes this item, despite being a precious art work, invaluable as a way to bring the past to life.
My thanks to the museum for making such a wonderful portrait available online.
April 15th, 2016 by Roger Pearse
A translation of another piece on Nicholas of Myra has arrived. This is the Laudatio S. Nicholai, found in the manuscripts of the sermons of Proclus of Constantinople – early 5th century – but is clearly not by him. Once I’ve paid for it, I will release it online.
April 13th, 2016 by Roger Pearse
My apologies for the test posts. Twitter insists on displaying an image with every notification of a post made here, and it’s always blank unless I include an image. I’ve just been tweaking the theme to ensure that an image is always displayed. It took 3 goes to get right!