Phlegon in Michael the Syrian

In the 10th century world Chronicle of Michael the Syrian, there is a quotation from Phlegon (see Ben C. Smith’s page).  This is quoted in French by Shlomo Pines from J.B.Chabot’s edition and translation.   I thought that it might be interesting to obtain the Syriac and transcribe and translate it directly myself. 

I was advised that the passage could be found in volume 1, pp.143-4.  This I obtained by ILL, to discover that the copy sent to me was a French-only volume.  (It should have had the Syriac at the back). But the passage is there in the translation, at the foot of p.143, as Ben gives it.  Chabot adds a note that rather than ‘cursed the Jews’ the text says literally “they said, ‘Woe to the Jews'”.  (It seems rather strange not to say that in the translation, then).

Of course I opened the volume and started reading the introduction.  This is apparently lost in Syriac, but an Armenian epitome exists of the Chronicle, and Chabot restored it from there.  Interestingly he lists his sources.  The preface reads:

Studious and devoted Brothers, when I was considering the facts which it was important to know from the great number of chronicles, I decided not to go into detail on those things which can be found in the great number of [existing] narratives.  I have compiled in summary form that which was useful and relevant, from ecclesiastical and profane writers; in order to reveal the fleeting mortality of many things and to disperse the shadows of ignorance, lifting your sights to the reward for my labours.  I shall leave this treasure to the church, and to the teachers of the children of the new Sion, to pass on when my days are done.

At the start we must place the first of the human race, Adam, so as to build the edifice from the foundation.  This is useful to those who speak and those who listen.  — But it is necessary first to give the names of the historians from whom we intend to take the material for our edifice.

[Julius] Africanus, Jesus, Hegesippus, Jews, wrote down to the coming of Christ.  Annianus, a monk of Alexandria, wrote from Adam to the time of Constantine.

Eusebius Pamphili composed his book with the help of their writings and called it Ecclesiastical [History].

Zosimus, Socrates and Theodoret the heretic began their works with Constantine and continued to Theodosius the Younger.

John of Antioch and of Djebel, Theodore the Lector, of Constantinople, and Zacharias, bishop of Melitene, wrote from Theodosius to Justinian the Elder.

John of Asia wrote from Anastasius to Maurice.

Gouria wrote from Justinian to Heraclius, and on the entrance of the Arabs into the lands of the Syrians, which took place in the time of Heraclius.

St. Jacob of Edessa made an epitome of them all.

Dionysius the patriarch wrote from Maurice to Theophilus, emperor of the Greeks, and Haroun, emir of the Arabs.

Ignatius, bishop of Melitene, Saliba the elder, of Melitene, John of Kaisoum and Dionysius (of Alexandria) Bar-Salibi, made many chronicles from Adam to their own times.

After listing the chroniclers in whose day listeners were of studious disposition and so who wrote in strong colours, we [who live today] in days of decay, in view of our indolence, [we have written] briefly passing quickly over each [of the narratives above].

But it is not just studious men who need to calculate greater or lesser numbers of years, because of the truth of the Lord’s word, “The Father has given him knowledge of moments and years”.  In fact there is a great divergence betwen the version of the Septuagint and that which the Syrians possess, that which king Abgar had translated, and which Jacob of Edessa revised, employing the artifice of pretending to convert to Judaism, so that the Jews wouldn’t hide the truth from him.

The text then starts on book 1, on p.3.  But by p.6 I find some familiar names; “After Aloros the Chaldaean, nine others ruled successively until the flood…” whereupon the familiar list of 10 rulers that we see in Eusebius’ Chronicle book 1 appears: “First was Aloros, a Chaldaean of Babylon, who reigned for 10 sars, that is 98 years and 230 days.  The second, Alaparos, his son, reigned for 3 sars, that is 29 years and 215 days…”  A sar here is a reasonable number of years, not the vast number listed in Eusebius.   But the text in Eusebius does not convert the sar into years; “that is, 98 years…” is not in Eusebius.

Jacob of Edessa was a very learned man, who introduced Greek vowels to Syriac, and would have got them written on the line with the consonants if his countrymen would have allowed it.  The Chronicle of Jacob of Edessa mentioned above is partly extant in a fragmentary British Library manuscript, and is a continuation of Eusebius.  It seems likely, therefore, that Jacob did indeed summarise all the earlier material, and that Michael is here relying on his translation and recension of whatever Greek text was then circulating. 

As I skim further on, I see references to the mysterious town of Pautibiblon, which appears in the Armenian text of Eusebius Chronicle.  In fact as I continue, the debt to Eusebius is immense, at least in these early books.

It seems clear, therefore, that the reference to Phlegon is derived from Eusebius, and has merely suffered the intrusion of explanatory glosses from other sources, just as the text above has.

[Revised after seeing another copy].


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