The British Library holds some of the most ancient Syriac manuscripts in the world, brought there in 1842 by Archdeacon Tattam from the monastery of Deir al-Suryani in the Nitrian desert in Egypt. Last Saturday I went down there, along with Syriacist Steven Ring, and examined four of them for evidence of chapter divisions. This sort of thing is not recorded at all well in critical editions, so personal inspection was necessary.
The first item examined was Ms. Additional 12150. This is a large folio manuscript, containing translations from Greek, and dated (by the scribe) to 411 AD! That is, it was written the year after the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Goths. I used Wright’s Catalogue, p.632 f., as a finder’s guide. The text is written by a single scribe.
It begins on folio 1r with scribbles in Syriac and Arabic. The page must originally have been blank, which is curious; for the text begins on folio 1v with no heading. However a running header in red, apparently by the same scribe as the text, appears on the verso of each leaf; in this case, saying “.o. Clement .o.”, because the volume begins with discourses and homilies from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions; labelled as “I” by Wright.
Folio 1v shows the start of chapters 1, 2 and 3 of discourse 1, or so I find from De Lagarde’s 1861 edition of the text.
There are no chapter numbers. Each chapter begins on a new line, and ends with a series of “o.o.o.o”, sometimes all in black, sometimes alternately in black and red. This fills up most of the remainder of the line; and a blank line sometimes follows. De Lagarde shows the item in his edition, but for some reason has omitted the newlines.
The subscriptio to the first discourse is in red on f.53r. There it is followed by a blank line, then “.oo. .oo. .oo.”
I found that:
Discourse 1 is divided into chapters throughout.
- Discourse 3 is not divided at all.
- Discourse 4 is divided throughout.
- Homily 12 has a few divisions only towards the end.
- Discourse 14 is not divided at all.
The next item in the codex, II, is the work of Titus of Bostra against the Manichaeans. This has chapters, ending with three examples of a marker, consisting of four dots in a diamond shape; later on reverting to the same end-of-chapter marker as used for Clement. Again a new chapter means a new line.
I curse, by the way, that the British Library would not allow me to take snaps of the pages with my mobile phone; thus I am reduced to verbiage, where an image would show what I mean.
After Titus we find (III) the treatise of Eusebius on the Theophania, in five books. This also is divided into chapters by the same markers. However, part way through book 4, the ninth chapter — there are no numerals, remember — begins with a heading in read, and each chapter then has a heading for the remainder of the book. Book 5 also has some.
Item IV is Eusebius, The Martyrs of Palestine. This is divided into sections with red headings. Inside each section are chapter divisions as before. E.g. f.235v, 236r.
Item V is Eusebius’ Encomium on the Martyrs, divided into chapters like the rest of the ms.
Nowhere are there any numerals.
It is interesting that some of the Clementine material is divided, and some is not. I would infer from this that the divisions are not by the scribe, who would otherwise have done the same thing all through. The differences in the Clement material may be accounted for most easily, if we suppose that the scribe had a box full of rolls, each containing one item, which he proceeded to copy into his brand new codex. He only had a rag-bag of rolls, which is why discourse 2 is missing — the discourses are headed with their number in the subscriptions — and some of these came from sources that were divided, while some were not.
The same applies to the Theophania; while all the rolls were divided into chapters, the last two had headings in the roll.
The next manuscript examined was a quarto, Additional 14639. This dates to the 6th century AD, and contains a Syriac translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica.
I noted that on f.11b there was a red heading. F. 18 has chapter divisions, marked by filling up the line with a diamond of 5 dots, then newline.
The table of contents to book 2 appears on f.18v. It is not numbered. Each table element is on a new line, and alternate elements are in different colours, black and red text. At the end of each element the scribe has filled up the line with dots or diamonds. Divisions in the text are mainly by means of red headings.
There is a deviation in the table of contents. The one on f.70a starts with alternate red and black elements, as before; but the scribe then changes to first word of each entry in red, with the rest of the words in black. However the table of contents on 96v is back to full alternating as before.
I then looked at Additional 14542. This dates to 509 AD, and contains Basil the Great’s work on the Holy Spirit. It is a quarto volume.
A chapter division is visible on f.7r., and on f.5r. 10r 13v, with coloured dots. There are no headings, but definitely chapter divisions of the form we saw earlier. The subscriptio is in red.
My final manuscript was Additional 17182, containing the homilies of Aphrahat. It dates to 474 AD. It too is quarto.
There are infrequent chapter markers. One appears on f.3v; another on f4r. There are no blank lines when a new chapter begins, but there are newlines. F.7v has two diamonds at foot of page. There is a red heading on f.11v and f23r. There is also a running title on the verso, but this time only at the end of each quire. Presumably this means that the book was written in quires, and the running heading told the binder what order to assemble the book.
In short we find, in these very early manuscripts, copious evidence of division into chapters.