Kudos to the Academia Belgica in Rome

I am mildly stunned and impressed! The Academia Belgica in Rome hold the papers of Franz Cumont. I wrote to them asking whether they had copies of an unpublished Italian translation of part of Ms. Mingana 142, and I got a very nice email back from Dr Pamela Anastasio, the librarian, confirming that they did, and offering options for photocopies (0.5 euros) or jpgs (1 euro) of the 6 pages. Of course they take money by bank-to-bank transfer, as European libraries tend to do. Being in the UK, it was going to cost me 21 euros to send 6 euros, and I asked if I could just send a 10 euro note by post. By return I got an email with the jpgs on, and agreement. It is astonishing to encounter such helpfulness, well beyond the path of duty. I certainly never expected the items before I had paid for them. Well done the Academia Belgica! Long may they flourish!

I wish that I could think of any means to repay their kindness.


Egyptian copyright law

I have online the first 800 years of the History of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria.  But more exists in various publications, and I keep getting emails from Copts about it.  However one version that I know of is of uncertain status, not least because I cannot find out what Egyptian copyright law actually is! 

Now I was able to find this poster issued by the software alliance in Cairo:

“The copyright law in Egypt No 354 of 1954, amended in 1968 and 1975, was amended for the third time by the law No 38 in 1992 to cover explicitly the protection of computer programs.  In 1994 it was amended for the fourth time to make the protection period applicable to computer software fifty years from the author’s date of decease, or from the publishing date if the author was a legal person.”

This is supported by this site which states:

“The Copyright Law No. 354 for 1954, which was modified by the Law No. 29 for 1994, allows for copyrightable work in general and computer software in particular. Egypt is also a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, ( PARIS Acts) and the TRIPS. Original works of literature, art and science, regardless of type, importance or purpose are protected. This includes works of art expressed in writing, sound, drawings, photography and motion pictures, such as books, writings, speeches, oral works, plays, dramatic works, musical compositions, films, phonographic works, applied art, 3-D works and computer programmes are protected for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years following his/her death.  In order for protection to be effective, the work of art is to be original and includes personal efforts, innovation and new arrangement.”

So for texts it seems to be life+50 years, as in Canada.

Update (29/08/07): This link confirms this, and includes the text of the 2002 law which indicates that where there are several authors, the last survivor’s date of death applies.  It still doesn’t make clear whether this applies retroactively, but I think that I will presume that it does.  http://www.agip.com/ clarifies that the older laws were cancelled and replaced by the 2002 one. My thanks to Dr Amir H. Khoury of Tel Aviv
University for clarifying some issues pertainig to Egyptian Copyright law.


Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik (ZPE) old issues online

From the PAPY-L list I learn of these, at


A number of the articles are in English. Papyrology resources are at



Death of the CCEL?

I have today received what is possibly one of the most depressing emails that I have seen in many years.  It’s a threatening email from someone I’ve never heard of. He says that he is the moderator of the CCEL site.  He wants to know why I’m “selling their work” (i.e. including an old public domain version of the Ante-Nicene Fathers files from their site on my CDROM of the Additional Fathers) and tells me that I’ll “be hearing from our business office”. 

What makes this depressing is the origin of it; the CCEL.  I suppose that this could be a hoax, but I have my doubts.  If genuine, it marks the passing of one of the champions and pioneers of open access online.

As far as I knew, the files and their contents are public domain in every jurisdiction in the world.  But who will feel able to use them freely — include them in CDROM’s, as I have done, or any other form of distribution — if they get threats when they do?

When I first came onto the internet in 1997, the presence at CCEL of the 38-volume collection of the fathers, freely copyable by anyone, was a shining example to us all.  It was all public domain, and everyone could do anything they wanted with it.  This led to a burst of imitative sites, and was the direct inspiration for everything that I have done online myself in the Tertullian Project and the Additional Fathers.

But times have changed.  If this email is right, it seems that it is dwindling into another commercial site, with emphasis on its ‘rights’, on control, on owning, licensing.   A look at the fresh new copyright notice on its site makes that clear.

I’ve written to Harry Plantinga, founder of the CCEL, to query this one. But whatever he replies, the direction in which the CCEL is going seems all too clear.  Stupidly enough, 10 years after a public domain version of the ANF appeared online, we may need to create one again, whose copyright status as public domain is clear and unassailable.  I think also of those who gave their time freely to help produce the current, version 3, of the ANF etc. 

One measure I have taken is to remove a couple of items from the Additional Fathers whose copyright status is profoundly unclear, since they were published in Egypt at a time when that country had no copyright law at all. After all, I don’t want to get a threatening letter in a few years time demanding money.   Who benefits from this, tho, I don’t know.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Update 21/8/7:Harry has intervened, and the threat has gone away for now. Only the version 3 files and their derivatives are claimed to be in copyright; and that only so that there is a revenue stream from commercial publishers to keep the site alive after he moves on or retires or whatever. I’m still discussing this with the CCEL.


Why there are no useful German internet sites and no German gallica or google books.

I heard an incredible story from a German scholar while I was at the patristics conference, which may explain why so little German material appears online, compared with the vast collections of English and French scholarship at Gallica.fr or Google books. 

Apparently German publishers have taken on teams of lawyers to scan the internet.  Any time that someone posts something on the internet, these send them a threatening letter, a demand to take it down and a bill for use of the material thus far (no doubt a massive and unreasonable one, of course).  Naturally whoever gets hit this way loses interest in putting stuff online fast.  And with German copyright law giving a dog-in-the-manger term of life-plus-70 years, one can easily see that most things will be caught.

Have I misunderstood?  Or do the Germans really not get the point of the internet this badly?


Problems with the Mingana manuscripts at Birmingham

While at the garden party at the Patristics conference in Oxford, I got talking with someone and the subject of the Mingana manuscripts at Birmingham came up.  This collection of Syriac, Arabic and other oriental manuscripts was the property of Alphone Mingana, who left it to the university.

My friend was complaining about difficulty getting a reproduction of one manuscript.  I myself have had the same experience.  It is nearly impossible to get a copy of any manuscript in that collection; and for a daft reason.  The university authorities have signed an exclusive deal with a continental firm to produce micro-fiche of them all.  This has been done — but now you can only obtain copies of the fiches from this company. 

And they price very, very high.  A complete set goes for tens of thousands of pounds.  There is no easy way to order individual manuscripts.  My own enquiry was ignored.  And… what on earth are most of us going to do with fiche anyway?  I don’t have a microfiche reader; does anyone?  In the age of PDF’s, why are we messing around with microfiche?

Some time back I made a vain attempt to obtain a copy of Thomas of Edessa On the epiphany from their collection.  I communicated with the library, who made sorrowful noises and expressed their inability to help me.  In the end I went without.  My friend at the conference likewise was trying to do without, since he could not afford the extraordinary fees for these low-quality inconvenient reproductions.

Birmingham university needs to get its act together.  I suspect that if I looked at the terms of the Mingana bequest, I would find that they are in breach of it.  I can’t believe for a moment that Mingana left his manuscipts so that copies could NOT be obtained.  After all, there is little practical difference between the current situation and an outright ban.  The catalogue of these manuscripts, needless to say, is out of print and impossible to find anyway.

Has anyone ever managed to get a copy of a manuscript in the Mingana collection?

Update: I’m now trying again for Ms. 142.  I’ve emailed IDC, who own the microfiche and want 19,000 euros for a complete set (!).  Let’s see if I get any reply.

Update 27th August: No reply from IDC.  Hmm.


XV International conference on patristics studies at Oxford (6-11 Aug. 2007)

Oxford was lovely in the summer sunshine as I drove across Folly Bridge and down to Merton, my old college, where I stayed in preference to the rather expensive accomodation at other colleges laid on by the organisers.  After getting my room, I went across to the Examination Schools, a magnificent gothic building where the majority of the conference events were held.  In the entrance hall I picked up a fat pack of materials in a woven cream bag provided by Peeters of Leuven.  These distinctive bags were conspicuous in the streets of Oxford that day!  In addition to the conference programme, the bag contained details of publishers and their discounts for the conference.  These were often as much as 50% on some items; including volumes of the Corpus Christianorum.  Sadly the Clavis Patrum Graecorum was not discounted and so remains beyond my means; but much else was.

After lunch on Monday I detoured to the Museum of Science, about which I will blog later, and then headed down St. Aldates Street towards Christ Church College, where a garden party was held in the Master’s garden.  Part way down the street a figure dressed in black with a bushy beard and a clerical collar popped out of a side road more or less alongside me; Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, also carrying one of the distinctive bags.  After a few pleasantries which revealed that he had no idea what the Tertullian Project website was (sic transit gloria mundi) we made our way through Christ Church to the garden, where Dr Williams was greeted at the entrance by a couple of people with cries of rapture, while I slipped off into the garden.

Quite a number of people were present.  I heard it suggested that at least 500 people were attending the conference.  I had the good fortune there to meet Byard Bennet, with whom I share an interest in Paul the Persian, as well as several other people that I had met before or who had bought my CDROM.  This of course was very pleasant.  Others whom I had hoped to see were not there, or I didn’t see them in the press of people! 

This and an evening sermon by Dr Williams (which I skipped) were the only events for Monday, and indeed were quite enough for the first day.  I spent the evening in my college library, searching copies of Muller’s Sacred Books of the East for material about Mithras, and stumbled on a copy of the new volume of Quasten’s Patrology.

On Tuesday the real programme began.  Each morning there were eight 15-minute communications in each of 14 rooms on a vast array of patristic subjects.  These ran from 9am to 12:40 Tuesday to Friday with an hour in the middle for tea.   This meant that even for someone with my rather anti-theological bias, there were items of interest.

The first paper for me was Patrick Gray, Disappearing Acts on the loss of the Greek text of the acts of the Second Council of Constantinople.  Frankly it was a joy!  Here is what I can remember:  

Dr Gray suggested that a piece of typically Byzantine intrigue at the Third Council of Constantinople was responsible for the loss of this text.  It seems that at the Second Council the then pope was brought to agree to some monothelite formulae, and letters from him were included in the long text of the Acts.  However politics thereafter meant that the pope’s accession was an embarassment, and texts of the Acts circulating in Italy were pruned of these items; indeed their existence was forgotten.  At the Third council, unusually the monothelites were invited to speak first, and encouraged to prove their case from previous concilia.  They read the long acts and papal letter, at which the papal representatives jumped to their feet and protested that the acts being read had been forged; they knew of no such letters.  The emperor and his officials and eunuchs ordered that a search for other copies be made, and a copy was produced from the Patriarchal library.  In this copy the disputed material appeared, but in a different hand and clumsily inserted; evidently added later.  This was proclaimed as clear evidence of monothelite forgery, and the evidence was sealed as proof.  But Dr Gray suggests that in fact this was a case of double forgery — the acts had been tampered with to look forged, and so to smear the monothelites; all the circumstances around this are suspicious.  As a result all the manuscripts of the acts disappear, since the Greeks believe them forged and the monothelites don’t want to see something with which they are reproached.  Versions exist now only in Latin and Syriac.

This paper was delivered with intelligence and imagination, and I look forward to seeing a printed version.

The next paper I recall is by Michael Penn, Piety and the pumice stone: erasure in Syriac manuscripts.  Dr Penn has done a study of erasures and rewritings.  These are mostly to do with change of ownership.  He suggested that, far from forgery being intended in most of these cases, the obviousness of the change meant that it was intended to be signalled to the reader that something had changed here.  The paper was generally very interesting, except the last few words which dropped into socio-babble.  Again I want to see this in print.

One paper that I had hoped to hear was Satoshi Toda on the Syriac version of Eusebius HE.  However this was cancelled.  Jonathan Loopstra delivered a rather confusing paper on the collected letters of Basil of Caesarea (whom he called ‘Baysil’) and Gregory Nazianzen in the Syriac version, from which I gleaned only that two translations were made, the first rather looser and the second very faithful to the Greek.  This was followed by Jackie Maxwell on The attitudes of the Cappadocian Fathers towards uneducated Christians which thankfully resisted the urge to trot out modern attitudes and discussed the ways in which these very upper-class people interacted with the simple, good, but easily led laity, and the variable effect that Christianity had on the contempt that their social class would otherwise feel for them.

In the middle of all this was tea.  In fact this was a chance to walk around the stalls of the publishers, upstairs in a great hall and out in a pavilion in the garden of the schools.  A vast array of books were available, including all the CSCO volumes, in a variety of languages.  I was glad to see George Kiraz manning the Gorgias Books stand.  I had hoped that the Sources Chrétiennes would be there, but they were not.  I found the stall offering copies of the Patrology and bought one then and there!

After this was lunch.  There were some afternoon sessions, rather longer, but I ended up skipping the one on Tuesday, as I walked up to the Oriental Institute and ended up photocopying a large volume of Severus Ibn Mukaffa’s History of the Coptic Church in English translation.

After this, sadly I had to go home.  So I only saw a fraction of what was available, and heard a fraction of the papers.  Nevertheless I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in patristics.  A week in Oxford in the summer, access to the Bodleian, social events, excellent papers — a nice way to spend a holiday, and best of all if you come with people you know.  It is perhaps fortunate that it is only once every four years, tho — I came back quite tired!


15′ statue of Hadrian found in SE Turkey

BBC News reports that Belgian archaeologists have discovered the parts of a statue of Hadrian at Sagalassos, in Pisidia in S.E. Turkey.  The report has a link to 5 pictures of the fragments.  Portions of another huge statue may be that of Sabina, his wife.  The two statues were about 12-15 foot high, and stood in a bath-house, which was ruined in an earthquake ca. 700 AD.

National Geographic have another picture.  A site with details of the excavation programme at Sagalassos is here; see also http://www.sagalassos.be/.


Quasten’s “Patrology” — new volume available!

Everyone knows that Quasten’s 4 volume handbook of the fathers of the church ends ca. 451.  Few know that the Italian edition has two further volumes.  I discovered on Monday that the first of these has been translated into English; I bought one on Tuesday while at the Oxford Patristics Conference, on seeing the publisher in a corner of a tent!  Get it from Amazon.com NOW!

The format is exactly as before; writers are introduced in chronological order, their life and works are summarised (with bibliography), their works are then discussed individually (editions and translations listed); finally for major writers their theology is discussed.

This volume covers Greek and oriental church fathers from 451 AD (Council of Chalcedon) to John Damascene in the 8th century, the last of the patristic writers.  It includes separate sections on Syriac and Coptic writers.

Frankly this is invaluable.  Prior to this one had to rely on scanty mentions in short works like Altaner’s “Patrology”, itself elderly.

It’s not as good as Quasten vol. 4, which was prepared by the same team.  The bibliographies are shallower.  Annoyingly instead of listing the edition, entries sometimes just refer to the entry no in the “Clavis Patrum Graecorum”.  No-one has that to hand, since none of us can afford it.  Likewise the translations are scanty.  It’s a bit odd that it is published separately, rather than as Quasten vol. 5 (which is what it is), but possibly commercial tussles are responsible.

But it’s still essential.  I’ve finally worked out who the Julianists were that Severus of Antioch denounces, for instance.  But then, I’ve only read around 60 pages so far.  It can be taken to bed and read sequentially, as an excellent way to access the story of those centuries.  And I will!  (Mind you, whatever will I do now with my copy of the Italian version?)

Sadly the translator, Adrian Walford, has died.  He did start on translating the other volume, on later Latin writers, but died of cancer before getting very far.  Let us hope that the Institutum Augustinianum find another English translator.