Archive for the 'Syriac' Category

“I have outflanked these miserable insects…”

An interesting email came to me today from David Wilmshurst, discussing the problems that a scholar has in editing Wikipedia, with a very nice turn of phrase in it:

No agreement will ever be possible in a democratic forum like Wikipedia, because Assyrians and Chaldeans cannot agree on the basic premises.  Instead, I have outflanked these miserable insects – as the Nestorian patriarch Elisha  (524-39) amiably termed his opponents – by writing my own book on the subject, in the hope that after it is published I can bludgeon them into submission by citing it as an authority.  I confess, though, that I am not optimistic of success.

The phrase “miserable insects”, for the dogs in the manger, is a delightful one.  My correspondent also kindly sent over a translation of the passage in which Elisha said this.  It comes from the Nestorian Chronicle of Seert, Part II, Chapter 25, apropos of the schism of Narsai and Elisha.  Elisha has suppressed Narsai’s supporters in most of Mesopotamia, and only Kashkar in Beth Aramaye still openly defies him.

Elisha, on his return to Seleucia, reached an agreement with the metropolitans and bishops who supported him to take his revenge on the inhabitants of Kashkar.  He then consecrated a bishop named Barshabba in place of Samuel.  This bishop, who was rejected by the people of Kashkar, returned to Elisha. 

Thanks to the doctor Biron, who obtained for him a royal edict aimed at giving him support, and to the militia commanders, who were ready to act upon his orders, Elisha resolved to attack the people of Kashkar to take his revenge on them.  They, having got wind of his plan, prepared to defend themselves, to fight, and to repel whoever attacked them.  They were supported by many men from Beth Huzaye and Beth Garmai, who opposed Elisha. 

The latter was extremely angry at this.  ‘How,’ he said in the presence of the people of Seleucia, ‘do those those miserable little insects, who claim to have rejected and humiliated me, think that they can get the better of me, since I have been victorious everywhere else?’  This speech reached the ears of the people of Kashkar, and inflamed their anger. 

Elisha returned to his residence, holding the royal edict in his hand.  One of the people of Kashkar approached him in the middle of the crowd to kiss his hand.  When the catholicus held it out to him, the man of Kashkar seized the edict from him and gave it to someone else.  A strict search was made for this man, but he was never found. 

The quarrel worsened.  One group of supporters would tear the clothing from their opponents, or the two sides would come to blows.  Elisha was mortified to have lost the royal edict, which had cost him so much to obtain, and to have been the object of the offensive mockery of the people of Kashkar.

I fear that the Chronicle of Seert is not a pro-Elisha source!  But the impatience of a great man with foolish opposition is apposite.

The text was published with French translation in the Patrologia Orientalis series by Addai Scher, who was done to death in 1915 as part of the massacres of Christians by the Turks.  I don’t know of an English translation, however.

Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum vol. 2 now on

I’ve just created and uploaded a PDF of the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum of Bar Hebraeus, vol.2, to  The url is here:

Many blessings on Glasgow University Library who kindly photocopied this 19th century volume for me.  It arrived this evening, so I have spent the time since productively!  It cost about 25GBP to get the copies, or around $40 (the invoice has yet to reach me, but will probably include a charge for postage).

For those not familiar with the work, the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum of Bar Hebraeus is a history of the church in a series of chapters, each covering an ecclesiastical figure.  Usually the figure is a patriarch.  The work is in two parts.  It runs up to his own time, in the 13th century.  He wrote in Syriac; the editors Abbeloos and Lamy include a simple Latin translation alongside it.

I uploaded volume 1 some years ago.  Now only volume 3 remains.  As far as I know, this 1872 edition is the only one that the work has ever received.  Yet it is the fundamental source for all Syriac studies.

I will obtain and scan volume 3 as well.  It’s too important a text to be inaccessible.  Any errors, do let me know.

Bibliotheca Orientalis online!

An email from a correspondant brings great news: Assemani’s Bibliotheca Orientalis is online!

You have here the list of the 4 volumes from Bonn’s University :
And the pdf for each volume is here (I had no time to download them):

Vol. 1 = 
Vol. 2 =
Vol. 3 =
Vol. 4 =
The Goussen’s Library is very rich in Oriental Texts. Look here:

A gospel manuscript that depicts the telegraph

Yes, there is indeed a gospel manuscript which has a picture of a set of telegraph poles, running from Constantinople to “Babylon” — i.e. Baghdad.  Adam McCollum has written a fascinating post on it at the HMML blog.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to link to specific articles, but it’s here.

The manuscript is a Syriac manuscript, written in 1867 in the Ottoman empire.  The picture labels all the bits — the poles, the wires, etc.  

Adam also outlines how the telegraph came to run through the Ottoman lands (because our people wanted to be able to telegraph to India, basically).

Read it.  You’ll love it.

Clavis to the letters of James of Edessa

This is J. J. van Ginkel’s list of all the extant letters of James of Edessa.  Since he has drawn it up, and it is visible online in toto, I hope he will not mind if I post it here.  My purpose in doing so, of course, is to bring this numbering into general use.  The numbering as far as #17 is ancient; beyond that is modern.

I need to go back and retrofit the Ginkel letter number to material from the letters which I have online.  Note that there are certainly some scanner artefacts in this, so use with care.

1. To John of Litarba: on two homilies of Jacob of Serug, which are not by Jacob nor Ephrem (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 79a 81a).
2. To John of Litarba: on medicine and its spiritual interpretation (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 81a-81b).
3. To John of Litarba: on 2 Pet. 2:5 referring to Noah as the eighth person (BL Add. 12172(b). fols. 81b-83a).
4. To George the deacon: on Ephrem’s Madrasha 25 on the Nativity of our Lord (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 83a-85a).
5. To John of Litarba: on the feast of the Invention of the Cross and on Ephrein s Madrasha 44 on Faith (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 85a-87b).
6. To John of Litarba: on problematic passages in the Gospels, e.g. descent of Christ from David (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 87b-91a).
7. To John of Litarba: on calculating the age of the world (discrepancy between Eusebius and the calculation of Jewish Passover) and on why Jacob dated Christ’s birth in A.Gr. 309 (against Eusebius A.Gr. 312: BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 91a-91b).
8. To John of Litarba: on the number of books by Solomon (five or three): why the books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Esther, Judith, and (1-3) Maccabees are not canonical: on the additional year in the calculation of the Alexandrians (AM 5181 or 5180); chronological, theological, and exegetical topics: on earlier authors (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 94b-96b: followed by: Scholion on the book of Wisdom (fols. 96b-97b)).
9. To John of Litarba: on prayers, offerings, and alms on behalf of impious and sinful believers (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 97b-99a).
10. To John of Litarba: on Predestination (BL Add. 12172(b). fols. 99a-104a).
11. To John of Litarba: on Predestination (addition to previous letter; BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 104a-110a).
12. To John of Litarba: on Ephrem’s Madrasha 2 against false doctrines (Shabblaye, Quqaye. Palut) (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 110a-111b).
13. To John of Litarba. reply to eighteen questions: on Gen. 15:13, on literacy before Moses, on the Nubian woman in Num. 12:1, on the cause of Satan’s fall, on Job 2:6, on Behemoth, the bird in Job 30:13 and Leviathan, on Zachariah in Matt. 23:35/Luke 11:51, on Jonah, Tiglath-Pileser and Jonah 3:4 (40 or 3 days), on the wild gourds (2 Kgs. 4:39), on Obadiah. on the articles carried away from the temple by the Babylonians, on the rock spouting water, on the authors of the Psalms, on the Hebrews and the antiquity of their language, on 1 Kgs. 4:32-33. on Song of Songs 3:7-8, on 1 Sam. 17:55. on Gen. 18:32 (BL. Add. 12172(b), fols. 111b-121b).
14. To John of Litarba. reply to thirteen questions: on the composer of the Quqite hymns (Simeon the Potter): on the man in whose house our Lord celebrated the Passover: on 2 Cor. 12:7: on Philip, who baptised the eunuch of Candace: on John 19:25: on Peter the Fuller: on Timothy Ailouros; on the three people called Mar Isaac: on the Magi from Persia at the birth of Christ: on the direction of worship of Jews and Muslims: on Ezek. 37:1 14: on the distinction between XXX, XXX and XXX: and on the clause ‘to judge the living and the dead’ and Phil. 2:10 (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 121b-120b).
15. To John of Litarba: on Acts 10:34 35 and Rom. 2:10-11 (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 126b-129b).
16. To John of Litarba: on 1 Sam. 18:10; 15:35; 19:22-24: 28:3-20: 16:1-1-23; and 17:55 (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 129b-134a).
17. To John of Litarba: on chronological, theological, and exegetical topics; on earlier authors (BL. Add. 12172(b): also Mingana 4: on the sinner and wicked: Mingana 9: Moses bar Kepa (quotations)).
18. To John of Litarba: introductory letter to a collection of canons (BL. Add. 14493: Harvard Syr. 93: Mardin Orth. 322: Damascus Patr. 8/11).
19. To George of Serug on Syriac orthography (BL. Add. 7183. Add. 12178, Add. 17134; Mingana 101: Berlin 174 (Sachau 70): Vat.sir. 118).
20. To an anonymous person: poetic exhortation to seek wisdom, not only in words, but also in deeds after reflecting on the three creative agencies: God. Nature, and Mind, and Jacob as a poet (seven-syllabic metre: fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 65a-70a).
21. To Eustatius of Dara: on Jacob as an ascetic or a man of the world (fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 70a-72b).
22. To Eustatius of Dara: reply to an invitation to visit (fragment: BL. Add. 12172(a), fols. 72b-73a).
23 To Eustatius of Dara: explanations to a previous poetic (twelve-syllable metre) letter (fragment: BL. Add. 12172(a), fols. 73a-73b).
24. To Eustatius of Dara: on two letters of the Greek alphabet (i and k: fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 73b-74b).
25. To Eustatius of Dara: on Gibeonites and Joshua bar Nun (fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fol. 74b).
26. To Eustatius of Dara: on the pros and cons of ‘East’ and ‘West’ (i.e. Byzantine Empire) (fragment (?): twelve-syllable metre: BL Add. 12172(a). fols. 74b 77a).
27. To the priest Abraham: allegory on viticulture (BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 77a 77b).
28. To the sculptor Thomas: questions to be put to Nestorians (BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 77b-78a).
29. To Kyrisuna of Dara: (fragment, in twelve-syllable metre; BL Add. 12172(a), fol. 78a).
30. To Kyrisuna of Dara: contains references to philosophy (Aristotelian ὅρος) and contains Greek sayings (fragment: referred to in a letter by George of the Arabs).
31. To the priest Simeon the Stylite: on he who has doubts about his profession (BL Add. 17168).
32. To the deacon Barhadbshabba: on Chalcedonians (BL Add. 14631: compare George of the Arabs to Barhadbshahba).
33. To the priest Addai: baptism and blessing of water in the Night of Epiphany (BL Add. 14715).
34. To an anonymous person: brief sketch of history (BL Or. 2307).
35. To the priest Thomas: Syriac liturgy (BL Add. 14525. Vat. sir. 581. Mingana 3: also used by Dionysius bar Salibi (H. Labourt, Dionysius bar Salibi. Expositio Liturgiae (CSCO 13-14, Syr. 13 14; Paris 1903), ed. 6-12. trans. 36-40).
36. To Daniel (fragment: possibly a pupil of Jacob of Edessa and later (after Constantine) bishop of Emesa; Michael the Syrian. Chronicle 11.15, ed. Chabot, 2:472: 11.17. ed. Chabot, 2:480).
37. To Moses (fragment): Paul reaching the third heaven (possibly Moses of Tur Abdin: Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis 1, 607: also quotation in Mingana 4).
38. On the day of Nativity of Jesus (to Moses of Tur Abdin according to Dionysius bar Salibi. Expositio Liturgiae, ed. Labourt. 49, trans. 67).
39. To Bar Hadad, Bishop of Tella (BL Add. 14731: quotation by Moses bar Kepa).
40. Addressee unknown (ending of a letter: Berlin 201 (Sachau 165)).
41. To Constantine (quoted by Moses bar Kepa: cf. the Hexaemeron which is dedicated to Constantine; possibly a pupil of Jacob of Edessa and later bishop of Bithynia, Emesa. later Edessa: cf. Michael the Syrian. Chronicle 1 1.15, ed. Chabot, 2:472: 11.17, ed. Chabot. 2:480: 11.20. ed. Chabot, 2:496: Oxford Syr. 142 (Marsh 101)).
42. To George the Stylite (although possibly spurious: Jacob third person) (Berlin 188 (Sachau 218). Mingana 317).
43-5. Three letters to Stephen (Seert 81; now lost (?)).
46. To Lazarus: on the mysterium of the Incarnation (fragment: Mingana 4: Charfet Patr. 79. fol. 27a).
47. To Isho`yahb (fragment: BL Add. 7190).
48. To Harran (‘Malakites’) (Berlin 116 (Sachau 12). Cambridge Add. 2889).
49. On the Divine Economy (Oxford Syr. 142 (Marsh 101): Mingana 105. Mingana 152. Mingana 480 (1-13). Mingana 522: Vatican Borg. 147 and 108 (possibly related to Damascus Patr. 8/11).
50. To Paul of Antioch (fragment: Assemani. Bibliotheca Orientalis I. 477-478).

James of Edessa on the Old Testament apocrypha

Ca. 700, the Syriac writer James of Edessa had this to say in response to a question:

Let’s look at the second question: Why are these books not counted among the canonical books of the Church? I speak of the great Wisdom and of Jesus son of Sirach, and of many others which are rejected, like Tobit and those of the  women Esther and Judith, and the three (books) on the Maccabees.

I will answer again, that the truth is exactly known to the prophetic, apostolic and learned Spirit. I also would like to tell you the opinion of my feeble intelligence: it is that they are not entirely composed of words revealed by the (Holy) Spirit or of prophecies from God, but that they contain either words of human wisdom written by pious men, or stories about holy and pious men themselves, which is why  they were separated from the number of the canonical books of the Church, and were placed for special reading outside of the (books) for regular use in the correction and correcting of morals, actions and deeds, for those who are of a very teachable spirit, and want to hear some useful and loving advice for word and deed and for the knowledge of good conduct.

I hope to place the whole of this letter online soon.

Syriac manuscript dated 1992 AD

On Facebook, Adam McCollum of the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library posted an extraordinary snippet which I think deserves wider attention:

Yesterday I came across a Syriac manuscript written in 1992—yes, just 18 years ago—that was copied from an 1184/5 manuscript, i.e. a leap of eight centuries!

It’s a hagiographic ms containing the stories of Jacob of Nisibis, Ephrem, and Awgen. In addition to the 12th c. ms, it was compared (according to the colophon) with a ms. “apparently of the 15th generation of the Lord”.

It was copied at Dayr Al-Za’faran, where it remains, and the older copies were there, it seems, in 1992, but are so no longer.

Finally, believe it or not, the manuscript is written on the empty lines of a Turkish-English-German calendar book!

The ms date is given in the colophon in AD (and the calendar book itself is for 1992), and the date of the early exemplar is also given there as 1496 AG (= 1184/5 AD).

We must never disregard a manuscript simply on account of its age.  Who knows what it may be a copy of?

The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin (Ps.Dionysius of Tel-Mahre)

Amir Harrak, who published an English translation of parts 3 and 4 of this world chronicle, introduces the manuscript in the following, very interesting way.

The Chronicle of Zuqnin is a universal chronicle which begins with the creation of the world and ends with the time of writing, A.D. 775-776. The Chronicle is known from a single manuscript of 179 folios, 173 of which are now housed in the Vatican Library (Codex Zuqninensis, Vat. Syr. 162), and an additional six are currently in the possession of the British Library (formerly British Museum), labelled Add. 14.665 folios 2 to 7. Each folio is circa 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. The Vatican folios have been bound in 1881 into a single volume, protected by a hard red cover, whereas the six folios in the British Library have been included with fragments belonging to other manuscripts. According to Tisserant’s reconstruction of the Codex, it originally comprised at least 190 folios.

Of the folios of our manuscript 129 are palimpsest—one a double palimpsest (BM fol. 3), the originally inscribed text representing a number of books of the Old Testament in Greek (the Scptuagint). In fact, the folios once belonged to six distinct manuscripts with text from five biblical books (Judg, 1 Kgs, Ps, Ezek, Dan), which have been assigned dates ranging from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

In 1715 the famous Maronite bishop and scholar J. S. Assemani found the Vatican portion of the manuscript in the Syrian Monastery of Saint Mary in the Egyptian desert of Natrun, and purchased it for the Vatican Library. The other six folios were acquired by the British Museum between 1839 and 1842. That both were part of one and the same manuscript was confirmed on the basis of the Septuagint texts by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Tisserant, however, dated the manuscript to the 9th century in light of the Syriac script.

According to J. S. Assemani the manuscript was written in Egypt by a monk of the Desert of Scete (Wadi al-Natrun) at the beginning of the 10th century. By the time he wrote his Catalogue with his nephew S. E Assemani, however, he had changed his mind and believed that the manuscript had been brought, along with others, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, by the abbot Moses of Nisibis (died in 944) in 932. Although this statement is only an assumption, it makes sense, since the manuscript was the product of the monastery of Zuqnin, located near Amida now in south-east Turkey, judging from a note inserted by a monk of the same monastery. This monk, Elisha by name, was a contemporary of Moses of Nisibis (see below for more details). Tisserant further observed that since the sub-script was Greek and not Coptic, as Assemani had first asserted, Syria rather than Egypt must have been the place of origin, seeing that most of the manuscripts in the possession of the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in Scete (of which Moses of Nisibis was the abbot) came from Syria.

As is often the case, the first and last folios of the manuscript of Zuqnin have been lost. The preface of the work, however, has survived, albeit in a very damaged condition. It was written in S(eleucid) 1087 (A.D. 775-776) “in which (year) Mahdi son of `Abd-Allah is ruling over Syria, Egypt. Armenia, Azarbayjan, all of Persia, Sind, Kho[rasan], as well as over the Arabs, and over the Greeks Leo son of Constantine, and over the Romans Pepin”. The addressees in the preface are the “spiritual fathers (of the writer), George, chorepiscopus of Amida. the abbot Euthalius, Lazarus the Visitor, the honourable Anastasius, and the rest of the monastic community (of Zuqnin)”. Unfortunately, the Chronicler’s name, and perhaps indications of his status and origin have not survived. Moreover, the manuscript per se is scarcely in a perfect state of preservation, since several folios—especially of its first half—have either suffered erasure or are damaged in varying degrees. For some reason, the second half of the manuscript, which contains Parts III and IV, fared better, even though here, too, many folios have suffered erasure and/or are fragmentary. Furthermore, the folios housed in the British Library are worm eaten, a fact which explains why the last account of the Chronicle—the martyrdom of Cyrus of Harran—is very fragmentary and comes to an abrupt end.

As I have remarked before, manuscripts are not static things.  In fact they lead a full and interesting life, and move around like bumble-bees.

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.

The Revelation of the Magi

Quite by accident I came across an online dissertation of an interesting yet obscure text here, via Flow of Consciousness:

Oklahoma has been hiding one of its most interesting secrets for two years, namely its very own Syriac scholar. Dr. Brent Landau, graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is Assistant Professor at University of Oklahoma’s Religious Studies Program.

Dr. Landau is noted for providing the first English translation of what has been named the “Revelation of the Magi”, a Christian apocryphal work and the most extensive Magi account from the ancient world. The Syriac narrative is preserved in a longer work comprising Vaticanus Syriacus 162, a codex housed in the Vatican Library.

Landau estimates the original “Revelation of the Magi” (ROM) was composed in the late second or early third century and was written from the perspective of the Magi themselves. It was then redacted in the third or fourth century to include the Apostle Thomas in a third-person account. The Vatican manuscript used by Landau for his English translation is from the 8th century.

With the Nativity approaching it is no accident that Harper Collins has released Landau’s research entitled Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem, based on his dissertation and edited for the wider audience in mind. The press releases and articles begin with the usual dramatic titles about lost scrolls and Christian origins.

If you are interested in seeing the Syriac text (nicely vocalized) and a more technical treatment of the ROM, Landau’s dissertation can be downloaded here at

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon

A critical edition will be available to the scholarly community when Landau publishes the Syriac text as part of Brepol’s Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum.

The nice vocalisation of the Serto text validates my own decision to do the same with the Syriac in the Eusebius book.  It forces the editor to commit to an understanding of the text.

The text is found in Syriac and Latin (from which Dr. Landau sensibly supposes the existence of a Greek version linking the two):

The first chapter is a critical edition of the Syriac text of this apocryphon as found in the Chronicle of Zuqninan eighth-century world chronicle preserved in a single manuscript, codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. The corresponding annotated English translation is the first of its kind for this text. …  a much shorter version of the narrative [is] contained in the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, an Arian commentary on the Gospel of Matthew from the fifth century. It concludes that the Opus is a witness to a Greek version of this apocryphon, basically equivalent to the received Syriac.

An extremely important point is made in the thesis:

This edition of the Syriac text of the RevMagi as found in Vaticanus Syriacus162 relies upon three principal sources, listed here in order of their importance: the 1850 edition of Tullberg, the 1927 edition of Chabot, and my first-hand observation of the MS at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in November of 2004. Because of the significant deterioration in the MS that took place in the period between Tullberg and Chabot, Tullberg is extremely valuable for the quality of his readings, many of which Chabot has followed.

We tend to think manuscripts are static objects.  But the books taken from the Nitrian desert to the damp climate of Europe are unlikely to remain intact.  I wonder how widespread this problem is?

Another useful comment appears at the end:

Beyond these problems associated specifically with the   RevMagi itself, this study has also called attention to several obscure apocryphal texts related to the birth of Jesus in which the Magi play a significant role. These texts include the “New Source” of M.R. James, the pseudo-Eusebian Syriac work “On the Star”, and the “Legend of Aphroditianus”, falsely attributed to Julius Africanus. Research on such texts has remained at a very basic level, not because of the dullness of their narratives, but because of the difficulties in their textual transmission and the theological biases that hamper the study of all noncanonical writings.

Actually I’m not sure what “theological bias” Dr Landau has in mind.   I’m as fundamentalist as they come, and I see no issue with studying these pieces of literature as the fiction that they are.  The only real theological barrier I can see is the dreary tendency of notoriety seekers to treat the veriest ancient tosh as equivalent to the canonical texts, which naturally irritates Christians and encourages them to ignore the texts.  But the tedium is undoubtedly a problem.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised in the Religionsgesprach as to how much interesting material there was — a citation of Josephus, a collection of pagan oracles predicting Christ, quotations from Philip of Side — and I think that other texts will also contain treasures.

Well done, Dr. L., for attacking something of real interest and making it available (if not in finished form) online.