Catalogues of Syriac manuscripts online

In Syriac studies, even a beginner will find himself consulting lists of manuscripts, as so much has never been published.  William Wright’s Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum (1870) remains a fundamental reference.  From the Yahoo Hugoye-list I find that this is now online at vol. 1; vol. 2; vol. 3

The enormous BM (now British Library) collection mainly derives from the monastery of St. Mary Deipara (=Deir al-Suryani, Monastery of the Syrians) in the Nitrian desert.  An account of how Archdeacon Henry Tattam bought most of them is here.  Sadly the British Library is determined to keep its manuscripts offline; let’s hope a change of management will occur and we can see these treasures ourselves.

Kristian Heal has placed online further important catalogues:


E. Sachau, Verzeichniss der syrischen Handschriften der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin. 23) Berlin: A. Asher & co, 1899. 2 vols. xvi + viii + 943pp. + 3 pl.



S.E. Assemanus, Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae et Palatinae Codicum MMS. Orientalium catalogus … S.E. Assemanus recensuit, digessit, notis illustravit, Antonio Francisco Gorio curante. Florence, 1742. pp. lxxii. 492. pl. XXVI.


[LONDON British Museum]

G. Margoliouth, Descriptive List of Syriac and Karshunic Manuscripts in the British Museum acquired since 1873. London : British Museum [etc.], 1899 iv, 64 p.



J.S. Assemanus, Bibliotheca orientalis Clementino-Vaticana, in qua manuscriptos codices Syriacos, Arabicos, Persicos, Turcicos, Hebraicos, Samaritanos, Armenicos, AEthiopicos, Graecos, AEgyptiacos, Ibericos & Malabaricos … Bibliothecae Vaticanae addictos recensuit, digessit, et genuina  scripta a spuriis secrevit, addita singulorum auctorum vita, Joseph Simonius Assemanus.  3 tom. [t. 1. De scriptoribus syris orthodoxis — t. 2. De scriptoribus syris monophysitis — t. 3. pars prima. De scriptoribus syris Nestorianis — t. 3. pars secunda. De Syris Nestorianis] Rome, 1719-28.


J.S. Assemanus, Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae codicum manuscriptorum catalogus, in tres partes distributus, in quarum prima orientales, in altera Graeci, in tertia Latini, Italici aliorumque Europaeorum idiomatum codices Stephanus Evodius Assemanus … et Joseph Simonius Assemanus … recensuerunt digesserunt animadversionibusque illustrarunt. pt. 1. tom. 2-3. [vol. 2: Codices chaldaicos sive syriacos.–vol. 3: Reliquos codices chaldaicos sive syriacos.] Rome, 1758-59. xxiv + 556pp.; 587pp.


 A. Mai, Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e Vaticanis codicibus edita ab Angelo Maio, vol. 5. Rome 1831. pp.1-82, 243-248.


Let’s take the opportunity to thank him for this marvellous piece of work, and marvel at what the web is beginning to offer us all.


Archko forgery ‘fingerprint’

Stephen C. Carlson’s book on “Secret Mark” is a splendid achievement, not least for the way in which it builds up a convincing picture of how a literary faker works and thinks.  I was reminded of it when I received an email from James Irsay, who takes an interest in the Archko volume.  This is one of those curious works which E.J.Goodspeed called “modern apocrypha” — works that profess an ancient origin but are in reality of recent composition and made in order to promote some opinion or (more commonly) to make money.

The Archko volume professes to contain a number of documents from the Vatican library and Constantinople. 

Could I possibly be the only person to have figured out the origin of the elusive and learned professor Whydaman, who allegedly, as an ice bound visitor at the home of the Archko Volume’s author, Rev. W.D. Mahan, told him of the existence of the true “Acta Pilati” in the Vatican?

Even after Goodspeed wrote…

“There are obviously some grave difficulties with Mr. Mahan’s document and his story of how he secured it. To begin with, the name of Henry C. Whydaman does not have a German ring. As Professor Schmiedel, the distinguished scholar of Zurich, has since pointed out, Whydaman is no German name, and Westphalia is not a place but a province.”

How about this—- WHYDAMAN = WDMAHAN (Archko author W.D. Mahan) + “Y’ (as in “WHY” of WHYDAMAN).

This reminded me at least of some of the ‘fingerprints’ that Carlson believes that Morton Smith left in “Secret Mark” for the intelligent to find and be amused at. 

Share offline will be inaccessible for the remainder of the month. This is because on 30th August and 1st September my site was hit by massive overusage of the Additional Fathers url — apparently all the index page — with the result that my ISP intends to charge me $40 overusage fees unless the average drops. I can find no way to avoid this except by taking down the site and hoping for the best. My apologies to everyone.


Bodmer mss 14/15 (P75) sold to private collectors, bought by Vatican

There have been some posts in the PAPY-L list alluding to the fact that back in November the Bodmer Foundation in Geneva sold two of its priceless papyrus codexes in order to raise funds.  The two were mss. 14 and 15, which together are numbered p75 date from the early 3rd century, and contain the gospels of Luke and John.  They were sold to a ‘private collector’; a term that brings sweat to the brow of anyone who followed the Gospel of Judas saga.  Fortunately the Vatican Library stepped in and bought them in March with the assistance of some folks in Alabama.  Some details here

This sort of thing makes everyone nervous.  I infer from it that the Bodmer foundation is not financially stable, and therefore that this will happen again.  I would myself feel much less nervous if these manuscripts had been digitally photographed and were freely accessible online.  While they are not, this sort of thing is bad news.

This week also the National Library of Scotland suffered an accident with its sprinkler system, soaking various parts of the collection, although apparently without permanent loss. I don’t know the NLS policy on digital photography, but again this highlights how vulnerable our great collections are.


Pre-1800 Church library sold for almost nothing

The Times reports that Truro Cathedral have sold off all their pre-1800 books.  Charmingly they accepted a bid of only $72,000.  The dealer who bought them sold them on for more than $1m, and is now retiring from business.  Details of the historic library and the dispersal are here.


Libya and Leptis Magna

I’m off to Libya for a long weekend in a couple of weeks.  Actually I went 18 months ago, but didn’t see as much of Leptis Magna as I would have liked.  This time I hope to walk down to the quayside, and walk across the sandy beach that runs between the breakwaters of the silted-up harbour.  On the eastern wharf the warehouses are apparently pretty much intact, and a temple of Jupiter Dolichenus is somewhere beyond that. 

I’ve never been able to find out much about research and archaeology in Libya. Emails to people who might know have all been ignored. I wish that I knew more.


Vatican Library Syriac manuscripts — quoting and transcribing

Syriacologist Steven Ring tells me that he has asked the Vatican Library whether he needs their permission to quote from their manuscripts, or produce an edition of a text contained in one.  They responded:

We are pleased to inform you that you don’t need permission from the Vatican Library to quote a BAV siriac ms. on a web page.

I don’t think that any kind of copyright could apply, in fact.  But well done to the Biblioteca Apostolica for saying so.


More copyright and the web

I have a page on my website the finds of manuscripts at Kellis in the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt, with some photographs of pages of the books, which I found online. Today I had a kind email from Dr Colin Hope of Monash University in Australia. He asked me to remove them, as they were his copyright, and of course I have done so. No blame to him; he was polite about it, and is quite within his rights to ask this.  I would respect his wishes anyway, as the leader of the excavations. But this is a first for me, not least since I avoid copyright material like the plague.  There was a time online when images routinely wandered all over the web.

I wonder if there is a larger issue which perhaps should be considered. Most scholars are funded out of general taxation. Is it quite proper that the results should be copyright to a particular scholar, or university? Shouldn’t the copyright vest in the public? Does it benefit either the public or scholarship to prevent images of excavation finds being circulated? If so, how; if not, should we allow this to happen?

Perhaps this is another area where the law has yet to catch up with the existence of the internet and the consequent implications.