Idiot of the week award goes to …

…, erm, <cough>, me.

“Why so?” I hear you cry.  (At least, I hope that’s what you’re saying.)  Well, it’s like this.

I’m interested in the Coptic catena on the Gospels, published without a translation by Paul De Lagarde back in the 1850’s-ish.  I knew that an Arabic translation exists of that catena, and that the Arabic version is more complete.  For the sole surviving Coptic manuscript has lost many of its pages in the years.  But as far as anyone knew, the Arabic was unpublished.

Some time back I discovered that an edition with Italian Spanish translation existed of part of the Arabic catena, covering Matthew.  The Arabic was edited by Iturbe, around 50 years ago, and attracted no attention, and I only stumbled on it through my habit of compulsive reading of patrology bibliographies.  I wanted to include the Arabic fragments of Eusebius in my book.  So I got hold of a copy of Iturbe, in two volumes, and had the fragments included in my book.

Recently the translator of the Coptic fragments has told me that she and her team fancy doing more of the De Lagarde catena into English.  That’s very good news, of course, and I want to help.  Apparently they also have some Arabic skills, so are interested in the Arabic version.  I’ve offered to supply them with a copy of one of the manuscripts — because most of the Arabic catena is still unpublished.  So I thought I’d look in Iturbe and find out what mss. exist.

She was also asking for details about the Arabic catena.  Now I have a couple of PDF’s of selected pages, which I sent her, telling her that I borrowed the book.  That’s what it usually means, when I have a PDF of a few photocopied pages.

Just now, then, I was looking for stuff about Iturbe online, and came across my own post above.  It turns out that actually I did NOT borrow the book, contrary to my statements in several emails.  It seems that, erm, I bought the book.  In fact, once I realised this, I realised that I knew where they were as well.  Yup: that’s them on my shelf. 

Ah, what a fallible creature is man!  “Quick Watson, the straight-jacket!”

Christophe Guignard on the catena of Nicetas

Continuing from yesterday, here is another excerpt from Christophe Guignard’s book La lettre de Julius Africanus à Aristide

As I remarked, one of the charms of this book is that, in order to establish a text of the fragments of the letter of 2nd century writer Julius Africanus to Aristides on the genealogy of Christ, it provides a modern overview of all the sorts of sources of the fragments of lost patristic works.  These sources crop up in a rather hangdog, shamefaced manner in so many books, briefly referred to as if everyone knew everything about them, when in truth no-one knows much.  Dr. Guignard is, of course, surveying the scene for bits and pieces of the letter to Aristides, which has not reached us in its own right.  But the same sources are used, or not used, for most patristic authors, and are the source of all those “fragments” that tend to appear at the back of editions of authors.

One of the great failures of scholarship over the last two centuries is the failure to provide editions of the catenas.  These medieval Greek bible commentaries, composed entirely of chains (catenae) of quotations from the Fathers linked together, remain our brightest hope for extracts from many now lost authors.  Yet they remain unpublished, for the most part.  If they were published, it was in pre-critical editions of the 16-17th century.  The attempt by J. Cramer, in eight volumes in the mid-19th century, to remedy this for the New Testament, was met with much criticism.  I believe one or two scholars have attempted to edit a catena today, but if so their work has not come my way.

Let us return to Dr. G., p.56.  The translation is mine.

The catena of Nicetas on Luke

An immense work in four books,210 gathering more than three thousand extracts, the catena on Luke composed by Nicetas of Heraclea (11-12th century)211 is today still unpublished, even if fragments of many authors or works have been published.212   In the absence of an edition, the description of its content given by Ch. Th. Krikonis based on the manuscript Iviron 371 is of signal service, despite its imprecisions.213

The catena of Nicetas is an essential witness for the Gospel Problems and Solutions of Eusebius: it was in one of its manuscripts that Cardinal Mai discovered the most important fragments of the Eusebian text outside the ecloge.  It is, together with the latter, the sole witness to the first part of the Letter to Aristides (§1-9 of our edition), and also includes further extracts.  However it would be hasty to conclude that it is simply one of the witnesses to the text of the Gospel Problems, since Nicetas also had access to the Ecclesiastical History [of Eusebius].214  We must, therefore, consider this point.  For the moment, let us present the catena and its manuscripts, and indicate the content of the part which interests us.

I will also give the footnotes for this short section, which must have involved incredible labour to compile and are full of good things.  TU is the series Texte und Untersuchungen, in which this volume appears itself as TU 167.

210 The gospel of Luke was divided into 80 chapters in the time of Nicetas.  The first book of the catena covers the first 16; book 2 begins with the 17th (Luke 6:17 ff.); books 3 with the 40th (11:27ff); book 4 with the 63rd (18:18ff.).  All the same it is not certain that this division, which appears in the manuscript Vaticanus graecus 1611 and its descendants is by Nicetas (see J. Sickenberger, TU 22/4, p.34-36 and 80).

211 CPG C 135 (type IV of Karo and Lietzmann).  The Greek title is, according to the Vaticanus gr. 1611 (folio 1r): Συναγωγὴ ἐξηγήεων εἰς τὸ κατὰ Λουκᾶν ἅγιον εὐαγγέλιον ἐκ διαφόρων ἐρμηνευτῶν παρὰ Νικήτα διακόνου τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ μεγάλης ἐκκλησίας καὶ διδασκάλου γεγονυῖα (Sickenberger, TU 22/4, p.34)

212 See the references given by R. Devreese, “Chaînes exégétiques grecques”, DBS 1 (1928), col. 1184 ff; among the more recent publications, we cite as an example M. Richard, “Les citations de Theodoret conservées dans la chaîne de Nicétas sur l’évangile selon saint Luc”, Revue biblique 43 (1934), p.88-96 (reprinted in Opera minora, vol. 2, Turnhout: Brepols, 1977, no. 43) or P. Géhin, SC 514 (Chapters of the disciples of Evagrius).

213 Χ. Θ. Κρικώνης, Συναγωγὴ Πατέρων, (cited as: Krikonis).  See the criticisms of W. Lackner, Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik 24 (1975), p.287-289 (equally useful for the identification of a certain number of extracts which were dismissed by Krikonis), of M. Aubineau, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 70 (1977), p.118-121, and of A. A. Fourlas, “Die Lukaskatene des Niketas von Heraclea”, p. 268-274, more positive.  The studies of J. Sickenberger remain equally useful (“Aus römischen Handschriften”, p.55-84, and above all TU 22/4; see likewise TU 21/1).

214 The lemma Εὐσεβίου ἐκκλησιαστικῆς ἱστορίας appears against Luke 3:1-3 (extract no. 540 Krikonis: Iviron 371, fol. 124-5; Vaticanus gr. 1611, fol. 48).  According to the description by Krikonis, these are extracts from chapters 6 and 8-10 of book 1 [of the HE] (see also J. Sickenburger, TU 22/4, p.87).

I ought to add that the articles by Karo and Lietzmann, which classify catenas, are on, and, if you prefer a paper copy, I made one available at here for a nominal price.  I always felt that I should have added some material in English to that, by way of a guide to readers, but who has the time?

That’s part of one page, that lot!  Dr. Guignard promises us more on the manuscripts of this work in the next section or two, which I have not yet read.  But I think it will indeed be useful to have a list of these, over and above the three mentioned here. 

More on Armenian catenas

In my last post, I mentioned the existence of an Armenian catena on Acts, published in Venice in 1839, and evidently of interest for the study of the so-called ‘Western’ text of Acts.  Since then I have been attempting to locate a copy online, or, indeed, to determine its title.  This is no easy task, but I seem to be making some progress.   Can anyone help find a copy online?  Here is what I have.

In Siegbert Uhlig’s Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C, p.679, I found this, which I do not attempt to transcribe: 


Armed with this information, a search in COPAC gave me this: 

Main author: John Chrysostom, Saint, d. 407. 
Title Details: Meknutʻiwn Gortsotsʻ Arʻakʻelotsʻ / Khmbagir arareal nakhneatsʻ Hoskeberanē ew Hepremē.
Series: Matenagrutʻiwnkʻ nakhneatsʻ
Published: Venetik : I Tparani Srboyn Ghazaru, 1839. 
Physical desc.: 458 p. ; 24 cm.
Subject: Bible.N.T. Acts — Commentaries.
Other names: Ephraem, Syrus, Saint, 303-373. 
Language: Armenian

Which is undoubtedly our volume, and this copy is in Cambridge University Library in the UK in the Rare Books room, shelfmark 825:1.c.80.23.  Of course that does not help much, but it is something.

Clicking on the title details gives the information that the editor (or something) is Hovhannēs Oskeberan.  Clicking more of the links finds another copy at Oxford, in the Oriental Institute, shelfmark 694.11 Act.j S, published “Venetik : S. Ghazar, 1839” — we can see how this is the island of San Lazaro, the Mechitarist base, I think.   The main author again is given as Chrysostom.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I give these details, and variations, because these strangenesses and varieties are the reason why locating the volume is so difficult.  The more data we have, the better chance of finding a copy.

I also discovered an article by F. C. Conybeare, On the Western Text of Acts as evidenced by Chrysostom in the American Journal of Philology, 1896, 135f, where our interest begins with p.136 f.. This gives a number of interesting details on the book.  Since this will not be accessible outside the US, here are some salient details.

In the December of 1893 I translated from Armenian for Prof. Rendel Harris’s use a number of fragments of the commentary on the Acts written by Ephrem Syrus. These are contained in an Armenian catena on the Acts printed at the Mechitarist press of Venice in the year 1839. They are important because they attest that the text of the Acts used by Ephrem contained many of the glosses peculiar to the Codex Bezae. In his appendix, however, Prof. Harris threw out a hint which I have taken up and worked out in the following pages. For he recognised that one or two passages in the Greek commentary ascribed to Chrysostom are identical with fragments of Ephrem’s commentary as preserved in the Armenian. Chrysostom’s Greek does not, indeed, present many such points of contact; but I had already observed that the long and numerous extracts of Chrysostom preserved in the same Armenian Catena were different from the Greek text printed by Henry Savile; and that these differences were not attributable to the Armenian translator, but must have characterised the Greek which lay behind the Armenian. It then occurred to me to examine the Armenian text of Chrysostom with a view to see whether there were not more traces in it, than in the existing Greek, not only of an admixture of Ephrem, but of Bezan or Western readings. I was rewarded by finding many traces of Ephrem other than the two or three which Prof. Harris’s keen eyes had already detected; while of Bezan readings I found a copious harvest. These I now make public, along with some passages of the commentary which, though not reflecting a Western text, have an interest and are not found in the Greek form.

But first I may say a few words about the Catena itself. It consists of 458 closely printed pages octavo; and the matter is divided into 55 chapters, as is the existing Greek commentary of Chrysostom. A table of contents is prefixed also identical with the τῶν εις τὰς πράξεις ἠθικῶν πίναξ printed by Savile in volume IV, at the end of the work on the Acts. The arrangement of the Armenian Catena is thus based on Chrysostom. It is, as a rule, with a bit of Chrysostom that each chapter opens; and his excerpts occupy nine-tenths of the book. The Catena is printed from two codices, of which one is dated 1049 of the Armenian era, = A. D. 1601, and it contains, beside excerpts of Chrysostom, Ephrem and Cyril of Jerusalem, a few passages from Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Nerses Catholicos (Lambronatzi), Kiurakos and David the Philosopher. Nerses was born 1153, and his literary activity occupied the last 25 years of the century. Kiurakos belonged to the eleventh century. David the Philosopher was the translator of Aristotle and lived in the fifth century. The Catena therefore cannot have been compiled before the thirteenth century; nor is there good reason to suppose that all these writers had written commentaries on the Acts.

The anonymous compiler, however, does seem to have used classical Armenian versions, long anterior to his own age, of the entire commentaries at least of Chrysostom and of Ephrem; for in his dedicatory address to the Lord John, brother of the king and bishop of the province of the divinely preserved fortress of Maulevon and of some part of the lofty castles, and also overseer of the renowned and holy congregation of Goner, he writes thus (p.9):

“Thou badest me set before myself the original, and from the broad and copious interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles with level judgement (or ? taking passages of equivalent meaning) contract and arrange in brief the longer treatises .. . However, though intricate, ’tis nevertheless a plain and trodden path and likewise smooth and firm, which I was bidden by thee to pursue, more particularly because I have to guide me, as it were, bright torches and unapproachable suns—namely, the skilful Lord Ephrem, taught of God, and the famous Chrysostom, fountain of Christian lore. Clasping whose heavenward feet in fear, I humbly pray that they first pardon my temerity and then assist my weak faculties, so that I may cope with their profound and brilliant interpretations of the Acts of the holy Apostles; that I may string together and interweave like precious pearls their interpretations in some places differing and sometimes concordant . . . But they that have wider capacity and are strong in understanding will, in order to slake their thirst, have recourse to the fountains of the wise which stretch like a sea—I mean to the extensive original commentaries, from which the following exposition has been so much abridged and summarised.”

The above proves (i) that the Armenian compiler had the longer commentaries in his hands, and (2) found that they sometimes differed from one another, but sometimes agreed. The former of these facts is more explicitly avowed in the title which, after the above preface, is prefixed to his work: “From the original and extended commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles of the Saints, the Lord Ephrem and the blessed John Chrysostom, the following abridgement has been compiled. As thou perceivest, in their several places are written in against their respective comments the names of the Saints, by order of the Lord John,” etc.

It is therefore not vain to hope that the whole of Ephrem’s commentary on the Acts may yet be recovered in Armenian. It must surely be lurking in the monastic library of Edschmiadzin or of Jerusalem. The Mechitarists of Venice, however, declare that their library does not contain it, and it could hardly have escaped their eyes. This Catena is the only commentary on the Acts which I myself could discover there. In view of the peculiar differences which there are between the Armenian and the Greek forms of Chrysostom’s commentary, it is not superfluous to add here the gist of the colophon appended to this Catena. It is entitled

“The prayer of the new possessor and labour-loving renewer of the original commentary (or interpretation) from which this (i. e. the Catena) was abridged.” It runs thus: “In the year of the creation 6501, of the advent of the Saviour 1077, of the Chosrovian reckoning of the race of Hajk (i. e. of the Armenians) 525, in the reign of Michael, son of Dukas (spelt Dukads), and in the patriarchate of Kosmas and Gregory, son of Gregory Palhavouni; I having been elevated to the throne of my forefather, Saint Gregory, and according to the providence (or foresight) of Saint Isaac, being hard put to it by the persecution with the sword of the Scythians, came to the sumptuous resting-place (or abode = μονή) of Saint Constantine. And after eager search I found the guerdon of many, the magnificent interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles of the great John Chrysostom, (full of) brilliant and helpful teaching. And having met with a learned rhetor Kirakos advanced in Greek and Armenian studies, I caused him in his generous zeal to translate the desired prize of my spirit. And having received it with hearty joy, as if it were the tablets of the first prophet, I crossed with great toil the wide stretch of Libya and of the Asiatic gulf, and by the providence of the Spirit I came to the portion of Shem in the lower slopes of Taurus, to the abode of the saints wherein angels dwell. And there I found the learned and grace-endowed Kirakos, my son in spirit and pupil of the great scholar George, my successor (or vicar). And he eagerly undertook, according to the gifts of the Spirit richly bestowed on him, to restore anew the adulterated (i-odeim/upa) language of the rhetor, changing it into the fluent and harmonious idiom of our race . . .”

From the above it is clear that the version of Chrysostom from which this Catena was compiled was made in A. D. 1077 from a Greek copy found in a monastery of S. Constantine; and that this first version made by the rhetor Kirakos was remodelled and changed into pure Armenian by another Kirakos in the region of Taurus. Where the monastery of Constantine was, I know not; but as the writer crossed Libya and the Asiatic gulf on his way to the Taurus therefrom, he probably started from Cyrene, went by land to Alexandria and thence by sea to Iskanderoun. If so, we have here a text of Chrysostom’s commentary coming from Cyrene in the eleventh century.

The version of Ephrem’s commentary used by the compiler of this Catena may have been made along with the rest of the versions of Ephrem in a still earlier epoch of Armenian literature, perhaps in the seventh or eighth century. It was made by some one who had the Armenian vulgate at his elbow, for the citations are always given according to the text of that vulgate. So also are the citations of Chrysostom.

The article, which is full of interesting material, goes on to quote selections from the catena.  Conybeare was rather an eccentric, and his conclusions must be taken cautiously in general, but it is good to see someone who has not merely copied information from some secondary source.

Some notes on Armenian catenas

Medieval commentaries (=catenas) on the bible were composed out of chains of quotations from earlier writers, with each verse of the bible having a chain of comments.  The Greek catenas have been classified by Karo and Lietzmann, but I have often wondered about Armenian catenas.

Robert W. Thomson refers to “the first Armenian catena of patristic quotations” from the 7th century as containing several excerpts from Gregory the Illuminator, as might be expected of the founder of Armenian Christianity.1

 There is a reference to an Armenian catena on Acts in an encyclopedia,2 which may have been printed in Venice in 1839.3  There are Armenian catena fragments of Irenaeus, it seems, one of which indicates that it comes from a lost work, On the Lord’s Resurrection.4  I learn that Yovhannes Vanakan (1181-1251), a monk of the Armenian monastery of Getik, compiled an Armenian catena, preserved in more than 50 codices, under influence from Greek models.5

And that is all that I could find in a search online.  We really need a scholarly survey of what exists, I suspect.

1. Robert W. Thomson, Agathangelo’s History of the Armenians, (1974), p.lxxvii.
2. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D, article on Acts, (1995)  p.33.
3.  Theodor Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 1 (1909), p.215.
4. ANF frags. 53 and 54 (=Harvey, Sancti Irenaei, fr. 30 and 31).  Via here.
5. A. Berardino, Patrology, (2008) p.637.

The origins of scholia

Homer and other poetical texts were used in school rooms during the classical period, and after.  Inevitably this led to a need for explanation of unusual or obsolete words, summaries of books, and explanations of mythological events — the same sorts of things that modern students seem to require in order to read Jane Austen or Shakespeare.

Ancient texts were written on papyrus rolls or scrolls.  These had narrow columns, and narrower margins.  It was possible to place a letter or symbol in the margin, but little more, although we do have examples of attempts to write in margins.  Consequently these explanations had to be written in separate rolls.

These commentaries were composed early in the classical period, and continued to be composed and compiled throughout antiquity.  They often consisted of a series of entries, beginning with the word or words under discussion, or the beginning of the line of poetry concerned, or the start of the first line of a passage, followed by the comments.  These comments would often include comments from older commentators, often separated by “allws” (“alternatively”). 

Inevitably such commentaries could swell to a considerable size, and might therefore be epitomised in turn, and then the epitome augmented.  Copyists might feel able to change the comments, far more than with a normal literary text.  Many of the commentaries are lost, subsumed into subsequent compilations of comments, but a considerable number survive.

In the Hellenistic period, at the museum of Alexandria, the staff worked on the text of Homer and other classical texts, producing considerable quantities of commentary on textual and other issues.  None of this material has survived directly, as stand-alone commentaries — our earliest extant commentaries are 2nd century BC — but they are quoted again and again in subsequent compilations.

The invention of the modern book form — the parchment codex — made a considerable change to the practice in this area.  A codex could contain considerably more text than a papyrus roll, and nearly all codices have wide margins.  It was therefore perfectly practicable to take material from commentaries and write it in the margin; and this practice seems to have become endemic at some period between the 4-6th centuries AD, and continues down to the end of the Byzantine period of Greek texts.

These marginal comments are known as “scholia”, although in some branches of classical studies the term is also applied to the stand-alone commentaries, which, after all, contain the same sorts of material and are usually the sources of the scholia.

The “old scholia” were soon supplemented by Byzantine scholia.  These themselves were often based on older sources, directly or indirectly, and therefore can preserve ancient opinion about ancient texts.

A thorough introduction to the subject, and what commentaries and scholia exist for classical Greek texts, with references, can be found in Eleanor Dickey’s Ancient Greek Scholarship, which I thoroughly recommend and which is the source for these remarks.  She also details how to read a critical edition, the Latin abbreviations used, and gives exercises in how to read and translate scholia.  And the book is very cheap as well!  Anyone with an interest in the subject should buy one.

I am amused to see Cramer editing various scholia in the 19th century.  We have discussed his work before, in this blog, in the context of catena-commentaries.  The connection between the two is perhaps something that should be explored.

Polychronius, Porphyry and Daniel

One of the 5th century commentators on scripture was Polychronius, brother of Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 430 AD).  He belonged to the Antioch school of biblical interpretation, who took a fairly literal approach to scripture.  His works are lost.   But the interpreters of that school were used extensively by the compilers of catena-commentaries from the 6th century onwards, and Polychronius was among them.  The result is that the Patrologia Graeca contains hundreds of pages of fragments culled from these catenas.

It’s fairly obvious why someone compiling a commentary on scripture from the Fathers would tend to prefer Antioch to Alexandria, literal to allegorical.  An allegorical interpretation might be interesting, but as a comment on a passage is much less useful than someone who is dealing directly with what the passage says.

Polychronius is interesting because he was one of the few Fathers to agree with Porphyry — “the impious Porphyry” as he is universally referred to — on the subject of the date of portions of Daniel.  These he considered were additions made in the Hellenistic period, in the times of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  The latter monarch led the attack on Judaism and is the subject of the books of Maccabees.  The portions are Bel and the Dragon, Susannah, and the Song of the Three Children.  In Daubney’s Three additions to Daniel I read:

Polychronius, Theodore of Mopsuestia’s brother, refused to comment on this piece because it was not part of the original Daniel, nor in the Syriac, ο  κεταιν  τος  βραϊκος    ντος  Συριακος βιβλίοις.

I’ve had a proposal to translate the fragments on Daniel, amounting to some 50 columns of Migne.  This is quite a bit, and would cost quite a bit too!  I’ve queried whether perhaps we might cherry-pick some of the best bits, solely from a cost-saving point of view.  But it’s not an impossible sum.

The fragments of Daniel were published by Mai in Volume 1 of Scriptorum Veterum Collectio Nova, in part 2, p.105.  They start on p.556 of the Google Books PDF.

The commentaries of Theophlyact and their reference to Papias

People online asking about fragments of Papias, who knew the apostles, lead you to obscure authors.  I had heard the name of Theophylact before, but never knew much about him until today.

The biblical commentaries of Theophylact — who was Byzantine Archbishop of Bulgaria — fill four volumes of Migne, 123-6.  Somewhere in one of them is a quotation from Papias, discussing the fate of Judas.  It seems reasonable that this is in the commentary on Acts, in vol. 125, and so indeed it is, on cols. 521C-523D.  The “commentary” seems mainly to be a catena, in fact, as might be expected.  Chrysostom Press has produced an English translation of his commentary on the gospels; I don’t know of an English translation of the commentary on Acts.

Here are the relevant portions of Migne:



A passage of Papias in Cramer’s catena

There is a fragment of Papias, quoted by Apollinaris, in Cramer’s catena on Acts.  It’s on page 12, against Acts 1:17 (p. 33 of the Google books PDF).  It is translated by Lightfoot and Harmer:

Fragment 3 (Preserved in Cramer’s Catena ad Acta SS. Apost. [1838])

1  From Apollinarius of Laodicea. `Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before he was suffocated. And the Acts of the Apostles show this, that _falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out._ This fact is related more clearly by Papias, the disciple of John, in the fourth (book) of the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord as follows: —

2  “Judas walked about in this world a terrible example of impiety; his flesh swollen to such an extent that, where a waggon can pass with ease, he was not able to pass, no, not even the mass of his head merely. They say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all, while as for his eyes they were not visible even by a physician looking through an instrument, so far had they sunk from the surface.  His genital was larger and presented a more repugnant sight than has ever been seen; and through it there seeped from every part of the body a procession of pus and worms to his shame, even as he relieved himself.”‘

3 After suffering an agony of pain and punishment, he finally went, as they say it, to his own place; and because of the horrible smell the area has been deserted and no one has lived there up until now; in fact, even to the present no one can go by that place without holding his nose.  This was because the discharge from his body was so great and spread so far over the ground.”‘

The Greek is thus:



Iturbe on Arabic Gospel Catenas

I had to scan the introduction to Francisco Javier Caubee Iturbe’s edition of a Christian Arabic catena on the gospel of Matthew.  I found myself wondering how well Google translate would handle Spanish.  After all, it gives Spanish as the default foreign language, so I hope it might be good!  So I experimented a bit. 

The following notes are abstracted from Iturbe’s comments.  Since both volumes of his work have a 50-page introduction, these are very much short notes!  Anyhow, he introduces his edition thus:

Studies and research on gospel catenas – comments by various fathers listed successively around the text of the Gospel – to date have been limited almost exclusively to those conveyed to us in Greek. As regards those preserved in Arabic, we can say that, nothing exists apart from some brief references in a few authors.  And yet there are several Arabic manuscript codices containing exegetical catenas on the Gospels, with markedly different characteristics from Greek catenas. The problems that these codices present with regard to their origin, their language, the patristic extracts used, the method and means by which they have been transmitted, and so on, are various, and often difficult. There are some differences, more or less marked, in the text of the comments found in the manuscripts, but fundamentally, at least for the Gospel of Matthew, they are all the same catena, conceived as an organic whole, with proper proportions, in this surpassing many of the Greek catenas, which sometimes comprise lengthy scholia joined with other tiny extracts by many different fathers juxtaposed against the same verse. The copies of almost all these manuscripts were made in Egypt, in the Coptic Monophysite church, and they were long in use, especially in the monasteries of Scetis.

 Of all the existing Arabic manuscripts, of which thirteen are known to contain gospel catenas, four are in the Vatican Library, three in Cairo, two in Paris and one in each of the following cities: Strasbourg, Oxford, Gottingen and Baghdad. All have the catena on the Gospel of Matthew, except for one in Cairo and another in Paris.

A description of the manuscripts containing the catena on Matthew is presented in this volume, beginning with the oldest of them, ms. Vatican Arab 452, which is the basis for the text published here; in the notes of the apparatus are the variants of the other manuscripts that rely on the same textual tradition.

He then lists the sigla for his edition.  It is interesting to learn of so many manuscripts.  M and P belong to a different family to the rest.

B  = Ms. Vatican Arab 452.
C = Ms. Arab Cairo 411.
D = Ms. Arab Cairo 195.
G = Ms. Gottingen ar. 103.
K = Ms. karsuni Vatican syr. 541.
L =  The catena in the coptic ms. of Curzon, as printed in the edition by P. de Lagarde, Catenae in evangelio aegyptiacae quae supersunt,  Gottingae 1886.
M = Ms. Vatican ar. 410.
O = Ms. Arab Bodleian Hunt. 262.
P = Ms. Paris ar. 55.
S = Ms. Arab Strasbourg or. 4315.

The copies all derive from the Coptic catena printed by De Lagarde, which is now sadly missing many of its leaves. 

Iturbe begins by describing the first of these.  Since Arabic catenas are probably almost unknown to anyone, I think it’s worth translating this as a sample of what the manuscript contains.

MS. VATICAN ARABIC 452 – Siglum B.

1214 AD. Paper, 250 x 165 mm., the written area is 175 x 110 mm., 376 folios, 17 lines per page.

The manuscript is divided now into two volumes, bound in white leather: one has 196 pages and the second 180. The missing folios at the end, probably about thirty-five, are more or less what is needed to complete a version of the Gospel lessons of the holidays, Sundays, Saturdays, and so on, for the whole year, introduced and started on f. 369v  at the end of the manuscript; as it currently is, it only goes as far as 4th Hatur, which is the third month of the Coptic calendar.

On the first page, in the center of a large rectangle, to whose sides are attached 16 identical circles, enclosing as many Coptic crosses – four circles with crosses, one on each of the horizontal sides, two on the vertical, four more identical at the corners of the rectangle all drawn in red and black –, the manuscript title is written in black ink, indicating its contents: Book of the Gospels, its explanation and calendar.

On most of the rest of the page, above and below the rectangle, there is a certificate of ownership of the book, dated 55 years after the composition. We will discuss this document later.

A few short sentences in Arabic, which can barely be read — some of which seems to be an essay written by an ignoramus — plus two seals of the Vatican Library and the indication “452 Arabic”, occupy the remaining free space on the page, which because of that, plus humidity and other stains, presents a sorry state, which is felt in part on the verso of the same folio. This folio 1 is the most deteriorated of the manuscript, except folio 135v. The latter was originally left blank, before the commentary on the Gospel of Mark.  But then four lines were written in Karshuni, also repeated in Arabic, which a few illiterates then wrote over and over again like vandals, which, added to the horrendous lines crossing at the top of the page, has completely smeared the page. Something similar on a smaller scale, has occurred in ff. 188v-189, which were almost completely blank between the gospels of Mark and Luke, and on ff. 368v-369, the end of the Gospel of John. Except for these cases and others of less importance, the manuscript has been preserved in good condition.

On ff. 1v-5v, after a preface, the Ammonian sections are arranged in the ten canon tables of Eusebius, and marked by Coptic numerals.
Ff. 6-135 contain the Gospel of St. Matthew with the patristic commentaries.
Ff. 136-188v: Gospel of Mark and their comments.
Ff. 189v-298: Gospel of St. Luke and comments.
Ff. 299-c68: Gospel of St. John and their comments.
Ff. 369v identifies the Coptic gospel lessons for the first part of the year, as I indicated above.

A little further on he adds:

The colophon to the Gospel of Mark says (f. 188v): ‘The text of the Gospel of Mark the Evangelist and the commentary on its meaning is finished with the help of God – may He be exalted! — and by the blessing of His grace, on Wednesday, 6 Tut of the year 921 of the pure Martyrs. May his blessing be with us. Amen’.

The date is 3rd September, 1204 – the same year as the sack of Constantinople by the renegade army hired for the Fourth Crusade, in which so much ancient literature perished.

Iturbe published his edition in two volumes, the first with a preface on the manuscripts and then the Arabic text, the second with a preface on the contents and a Spanish translation.  The introduction to the second volume begins as follows:

The patristic catena on the Gospel of St. Matthew in ms. Vatican ar. 452, the text published in Volume I, which we here give in translation, after almost all of the 68 sections into which it divides the Gospel text, has one or more pieces of commentary — scholia — each preceded by a very brief indication – lemma – written in red, which states, most of the time, who is the Father or interpreter who composed it. In total, there are 336 scholia with corresponding lemmas.

But there are 86 lemmas which are no more than the word ‘interpretation’, and we may wonder whether the compiler of the catena – or the copier – meant to assign the scholia which immediately follow to the named author of the preceding passage. That certainly agrees with the reading of the Coptic manuscript of Curzon and other similar Arabic manuscripts, and in a comparative study of them all we find that of the 86 scholia, 82 belong  to the author last named in a lemma; 3 to a different author than the one listed in B above, and only 1 of them is unknown.

Having clarified the previous difficulty, and incidentally shedding light on other such mss, Coptic and Arabic, we have 113 which are scholia by St. Cyril of Alexandria and 109 of St. John Chrysostom. The two great Eastern doctors thus cover two thirds of all the commentary of St. Matthew in the catena. Then comes Severus of Antioch, with 53 glosses. And then, with a much smaller number, the other contributors. The list of all those in B, with the number of scholia that each must be awarded is as follows:

Cyril of Alexandria = 113
John Chrysostom = 109
Severus of Antioch = 53
Hippolytus of Rome = 15
Gregory the Theologian = 8
Gregory Thaumaturgus = 6
Epiphanius = 5
Eusebius of Caesarea = 5
Clement (Alexandria) = 5
Athanasius = 4
Basil = 4
Severian of Gabala = 2
Simeon the Hermit = 2
Cyril of Jerusalem = 1
Titus (of Bostra ) = 1
Isaiah the Anchorite = 1
An elder of the Desert Fathers [the abbot Ammon] = 1

These, then, are the authors for which we may find textual witnesses in this Arabic catena.  Iturbe also states:

On the other hand there are various authors in Greek catenas who do not appear in Coptic-Arabic catenas: Apollinaris, Gregory of Nyssa, Irenaeus, Theodore of Heraclea, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, etc; and above all Origen, who in almost all Greek catena families has many scholia, such as in the third of type B, where Origen comprises 227 out of the total 874.

There is little point in looking for material by Origen in Coptic or Arabic, it seems.

Back in the first introduction, Iturbe discusses the Coptic catena published by De Lagarde, from which all the Arabic mss. derive.

The Curzon Coptic manuscript catena, siglum L.

In 1886 Paul de Lagarde (P. Boetticher) published the Bohairic text of a manuscript obtained by Robert Curzon in March 1838 in the Monastery of the Syrians, Wadi ‘l-Natrun. Never translated, little use has been made so far in the scholarly field of this good edition of De Lagarde.  But for the present study, however, we are particularly interested in this Coptic ms.

It contains a patristic catena on the four gospels – next to the Gospel text – divided into sections, as in B and other Arabic manuscripts. The text of the Gospels has only a short verse or verses, which are generally given before the lemmas and scholia: in this, then, it is similar to M and P. This codex was written in the year 605 of the holy martyrs (888/89 AD), more than three centuries before the oldest of our Arabic mss, codex B, which was written in the year 1214 AD as regards the part of Matthew. Because sixteen folios were lost, the comments on Matt. 2:1-5:5; 5:44-6:3; 7:24-29; 9:27-9:37; 12:48-13:10; 24:16-29 are missing; see the introduction.

All this detail  may swamp us; but we need to recall that almost no-one working on New Testament texts or on the patristic comments on them found in catenas — is there anyone working on the latter? — has any awareness of material that has made its way into Arabic.

When my Eusebius volume appears, at least those dealing with the Gospel problems and solutions will be aware that there is material that should be consulted in Christian Arabic.

Recent studies on the Coptic catena of de Lagarde?

Looking at the summary of information on catenas on the gospels in Di Berardino’s latest volume of Quasten’s Patrology, I notice an intriguing couple of entries:

E. J. Caubet Iturbe, La Cadena arabe del Evangelio de san Mateo,1 Texto; 2 Version, Vatican City 1969-1970.


E. J. Caubet Iturbe, “La Cadena copto-arabe de los Evangelios y Severo de Antioquia”, Homenaje a J. Prado. Miscelanea de estudios biblicos y hebraicos, ed. L.Alvarez Verdes, E.J. Alonso Hernandez, Madrid 1975,421-432.

Now I recall from Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur 1, p. 318, n.1 and p.481-2, that the Coptic catena on the gospels published by Paul de Lagarde also exists in an Arabic version in the Vatican.  I came across this reference while searching for material by Eusebius of Caesarea in Arabic.  He’s listed in Abu’l Barakat’s catalogue:

Eusebius of Caesarea: He has explanations on passages of the holy Gospels and other separate religious treatises.

which Graf discusses, referring to a catena with 6 passages from Eusebius on Matthew and material from Severus of Antioch on Luke.  Page 481f discusses an “anonymous gospel catena”, which turns out to be that of Paul de Lagarde.  I’m not sure I’ve read the entry before.  Written in Bohairic, and almost certainly based on a Greek catena now unknown, H. Achelis dates the catena before 888 AD.  The manuscript used by de Lagarde is incomplete, however.   The manuscript turns out to be Vatican Arab 452, and most of the scholia are at least under the name of Eusebius.  A long quotation from Luke, and five chunks on Matthew, are ascribed to Eusebius, or so Graf says.

It is an interesting sight, therefore, to see this in the modern bibliography, and no mention of de Lagarde’s publication.

Is it possible that Iturbe published a critical text of the Arabic version of the catena?  It looks very much like it.  I wish I could obtain the article and see what he says.

UPDATE: After typing those words, I started searching for the book in Google.  Slightly amazing to find my site listed, and this article listed, less than a minute after I pressed save.  Is Google really watching these words that intently!?

I find in COPAC more details of the book:

A compilation of patristic commentaries, with the text of the Gospel, in the Arabic of Codex Vaticanus ar. 452 and in a Spanish version.

which also aligns with my understanding.  Another states:

Studi e testi 254-5.  Half title: Cod. vat. ar. 452, ff. 6-135. Originally presented as the editor’s thesis, Pontificia Commissio Biblica. Based on a Coptic version entitled: Ermēnia n̄te pieuangelion ethouab kata Matheon. cf. the editor’s introd., v.1, p. [li]-liv; H. Achelis. Hippolytsudien. 1897. p. 163-169. Originally presented as the editor’s thesis, Pontificia Commissio Biblica. Arabic text; Spanish introduction, notes and translation.

So there we have it.  This is indeed a critical edition of the Arabic catena.  The next question is whether I obtain this and include it in the Eusebius!  For there is a copy available for sale online…

UPDATE 2: I cannot resist.  It would be cheaper to order the books by ILL, and copy them, etc; but it is far easier to just buy the things.