Colour photos of Mingana collection manuscripts

People may recall that I’m working on a Garshuni text preserved in Mingana Syr. 142, and that I got a PDF of some microfiche printouts a while back, which I sent to a translator.

This was a bit hard to read, but I found that the Mingana (well, Birmingham university special collections) would allow me to go and photograph it myself; or else they would charge 1 GBP ($2) a page and send me a CD.

The CD arrived today, and the results were spectacular.  They aren’t publication grade, but then I didn’t want that kind of photo. They are simply wonderfully clear.  For the first time the text is red is visible!

Seriously, the people at the Mingana have been amazingly helpful, the price is right, and the turnaround very quick.  My total heroes!

Share and offline

I’m moving web hosts (to and so these sites are offline while the various DNS servers around the web update each other.  Email to me probably won’t work either, unless you send it to!  But is already available, however.


Back from Luxor

A week in Luxor leading up to Christmas — pure delight!  I stayed at the Maritim Jollie Ville (formerly the Movenpick), which consists of chalets in gardens of palm-trees, and ate a fillet steak every lunchtime on the terrace overlooking the Nile.  The steak, indeed, was only 6 GBP.   The hotel is on an island 3 miles from Luxor, and the management take every security precaution.  They also vet the taxi-drivers that are allowed to pick up passengers there, and have a price-list at the desk to which they must conform. 

Luxor is much more touristified than I remember.  The town has been cleaned up, and there has been massive investment, including traffic lights!  The west bank feels a little more like a theme park than it did.   

Tours remain expensive.  My operator (First Choice) wanted almost 40 GBP a head for a morning visit to the Valley of the Kings etc.  But it is still possible to take a taxi from your hotel to the Valley of the Kings for the morning.  4 hours cost 15 pounds sterling, for the taxi, not per person.  This was undoubtedly the way to do it. 

Unlike my former visit, it is now possible to visit Edfu and Kom Ombo; and Abydos and Dendera; as day-trips from Luxor.  However these must be done in convoys under police escort, although this is rather token.

On the other hand I had a taxi-driver that I hired at Karnak try to shanghai me and take me for a ride into the backstreets of Luxor, which was somewhat frightening.  Another that   Walking in Luxor, you are constantly accosted by taxi-drivers and Caleche drivers.  Indeed I went into Luxor Temple purely to avoid this hassle!  Returning to the resort was a relief.

Edfu temple is pretty splendid as the tops of the walls are intact.  I wish that I had more than an hour there.  Kom Ombo was interesting, but waiting for the escort for 3 hours was too long.

I don’t recommend First Choice Airlines.  The seat space was the smallest that I have ever experienced, and less still once the boor in front reclines his seat.  I spent some 5 hours in cramped discomfort, experiencing actual cramp at one point.  First Choice also encourages you to sign up at the start for expensive excursions which are non-refundable in the event of tummy upsets.  Naturally the most expensive are scheduled for the back of the week, when the bug is most likely to have struck.  I was a victim of this myself, having to cancel a trip to Abydos. 

One tip: wash your hands after handling Egyptian money.  The notes are filthy, and handling them is a prime cause of upset stomachs.  I am certain that I ate only with the greatest caution, and still had minor cramps.  On the positive side I did lose half a stone in weight — no chocolate, you see!

But a great way to spend a week in the dire run-up to Christmas.  The actual price of such a week is around 400 GBP; nothing much, in other words.  Recommended.


New papyrus codex found in Belgium

In the PAPY-L list today there was an announcement of a papyrus codex, found among the finds of a Belgian museum.  It’s been carbon dated to the 11th century, and is thought to be local, and probably containing a Latin text.  A number of other papyrus codices are known from the medieval period in that region, it seems.  Details of the find are here in various languages including English, with pictures.  It consists of about 100 pages and measures roughly 14 x 13 cm. No writing is visible, but maybe something can be seen after the book has been opened.  It is, of course, very fragile!


New English translations of untranslated ancient texts

As an experiment I have used my own heavily-taxed salary and commissioned a translation from Arabic of the Commentary on the Nicene Creed by the 9th century Melchite priest, al-Majdalus, using a commercial translator.  This is expensive, but I have read that this is how the Ante-Nicene Fathers translations were made.  It will be interesting to see what the quality is like.

Naturally I need to get the money back, if I am to do this again. So I will try to publish a printed version, and sell copies to institutions. Once the cost is covered, I’d want to get it online somehow in some manner that doesn’t preclude sales. But the markets are different; online is everyman, while the academic needs his page numbers and ISBN. 

If this could be made to work, then perhaps we might do some more.  Translators from Arabic seem fairly available.  None of the big histories in Arabic are in English; Agapius, Eutychius, Bar-Hebraeus, Al-Makin, etc, although French translations exist of most of them.  I estimate that Agapius is around 90,000 words, and it would cost about $10,000 dollars to have a translation made. Now that is more than most of us can spare (!). But it isn’t really such a huge sum of money, is it? It isn’t that long ago that a laptop cost $5,000, for instance. If one could sell the volume at $100 a go, and could sell 100 copies — I’ve no idea if one could! — the sum would come back there and then.

Is it possible?  Could we do an ANF for the new millennium?  Should I look for subscribers?  How do I market the volumes to the sort of institutions that might buy them?  Over what period do the sales come in?  There are a lot of questions here.  But I’m going to dip my toe in the water and see what happens.


Visiting Luxor

I first went to Luxor in March 1986 with a friend from college, and staying in the Hotel Philippe, where the air-con didn’t really work.  It was very scruffy, and we had to negotiate our own way to the Valley of the Kings.  But it was very special.

I seem to remember going again at Christmas time some time in the 90’s — my memory seems rather fuzzy, somehow — this time staying in the Hilton and taking a day-trip down to Dendera by boat to see the spectacular temple of Hathor.  What I remember best about Dendera is the temple compound, the mud-brick walls of which looked like a Hollywood set for The Mummy.  I also remember eating nothing on the boat — the plates are often washed in Nile water — and learning later that everyone else had been struck down with ‘gyppy tummy’.  I remember visiting Medinet Habu and being greatly impressed by it.

I’m going again soon, to get some sunshine and get away from the cold and dark.  I went out and bought some guidebooks, and learned to my astonishment that there are now armed guards everywhere.  I don’t know whether this will prevent me visiting Esna and Edfu, but I hope to do so.  I’d like to see KV5, the massive tomb excavated by Kent Weeks, which made quite a splash a few years ago.  They found two staircases in the tomb, but no-one ever said if they went down the second one.