The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin

Brent Landau’s online thesis of the Revelation of the Magi contains a Syriac text of this work, extracted from the first part of the Chronicle of Zuqnin.  The third and fourth parts were translated into English by the excellent Amir Harrak.  Landau has some interesting things to say about the manuscript:

II. The Chronicle of Zuqnin—Codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162

The only extant version of the RevMagi has been preserved in Syriac, although it is possible that major portions of the text were actually composed in Greek, as this study will suggest. In its received form, the RevMagi constitutes part of a worldchronicle dating from the late eighth century, a document known as the Chronicle of Zuqnin (henceforth CZuq), or, less accurately, as the Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre.(6) Composed at the Zuqnin monastery in southeastern Turkey (near the present city of Diyarbakir),(7) the CZuq incorporates a number of pre-existing writings of various genres in its compilation of the history of the world from creation up to its time of composition, 775-776 CE. It has simply inserted the entire RevMagi at the appropriate place in its chronological framework, without anything in the way of evaluative commentary. Apart from the text itself, the author of the CZuq, anonymous but probably a stylite named Joshua,(8) has only added the descriptive phrases, “About the revelation of the Magi, and about their coming to Jerusalem, and about the gifts that they brought to Christ” (1:) at its beginning, and “The story about the Magi and their gifts has finished” (32:4) at its end.

The CZuq itself is only extant in a single MS housed in the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, a witness catalogued as codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. Until quite recently, the dominant scholarly opinion was that this MS was most likely a ninth-century copy of the original chronicle, a judgment based upon paleographic grounds.

In 1999, A. Harrak presented compelling evidence that this MS is actually the autograph of the CZuq, and indeed may well have been the only copy of the chronicle ever in existence.(9) The MS is a palimpsest on vellum, with the Syriac text written over fragments of the Septuagint dating from the fifth to eighth centuries. The script is predominantly an unpointed Serto, although some letters resemble an Estrangelo script. The MS currently contains 179 folios, although E. Tisserant, the editor of the Greek fragments, believed that it originally included 190 folios.10 The dimensions of the folios vary, with measurements between 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. There are twenty quires in the extant MS, most of which are quinia, that is, groupings of ten folios.

6. The latter title is the product of J.S. Assemani, who believed that its author was the ninth-century Syrian patriarch Dionysius I of Tel-Mahre, a judgment that scholars have since discredited, giving rise to the appellation “Pseudo-Dionysius.” However, as A. Harrak observes, this identification has no clear basis and is quite misleading: “Moreover, Zuqnin as a concrete location seems somehow a more appropriate anchor for the anonymous Chronicle than a phantom author dubbed Pseudo-Dionysius. The latter is not only an imaginary person, but his name fosters confusion with the real Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, who had no connection whatsoever with the Zuqnin Chronicle,” Chronicle of Zuqnin, 3-4.

7. Although Assemani found the MS in Egypt, at the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in the Desert of Scete, the production of the chronicle at the Zuqnin monastery is clear, since the author mentions that several monks “from our monastery of Zuqnin” died from a pestilence, ibid., 2-3.

8. Ibid, 4-8.

9. Harrak makes two especially strong arguments for viewing the CZuq as an autograph. First, in several places there are blank spaces, as if the chronicler had intended to fill them in once he had acquired the missing information. Second, there are previously unnoticed annotations in the margins, which Harrak interpreted as memory-aids that the scribe wrote in order to remind himself to mention topics at a later point in the text. See his discussion of these features in ibid., 13-15.

10. See the introduction to his edition for codicological data pertaining to the MS, Codex Zuqninensis, vxv.


I wish I had a PDF of Harrak’s translation!

UPDATE: A correspondent has pointed me to this Google books preview.  But … it’s only previewable in the USA!  I didn’t know they restricted previews like that, but they certainly have.

2 Responses to “The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin”

  1. gianpaolo

    hi you can view the preview using google sharing

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you — this is new to me and I must look at it.