Eusebius and Islam

There are some things which are obvious, once they have been invented.  It took the genius of Eusebius of Caesarea to digest down into a tabular form of dates and events all the information about dates and events for Greece and Assyria and Persia and Rome — and the Hebrews — contained in the literature available to him.  But once this Chronicle of World History existed, running up until the 20th year of Constantine, every copyist would feel the urge to add extra lines on the bottom, to bring it up to date.  It’s sort of obvious, isn’t it?

To this obviousness we owe a mass of chronicles, not just in Greek but in Latin and Syriac.  One such continuator was James of Edessa, the 8th century scholarly West Syriac bishop who attempted to introduce Greek vowels into the Syriac script, and partially succeeded.  His continuation was composed in 692 AD.  

The text is lost, but portions of it remain.  The text of the 10th century World History of Michael the Syrian makes use of it verbatim in places, although not in tabular form.  Better still, a 10th/11th century Syriac manuscript from the Nitrian Desert, now in the British Library (Ms. Additional 14685) contains a substantial chunk of it, albeit in an abbreviated form.  It starts where Eusebius left off, and begins with a preface in which James discusses an error in calculation which he has found in Eusebius.  Then it goes into a set of tables.  Like the Armenian version of Eusebius (but unlike the original, or the Latin version), the columns of year numbers are positioned in the centre of the page, and events for those years written on either side.

I was looking around the web today for the ancient texts which mention Mohammed, and came across this site.  To my surprise this chronicle by James is one of the earliest mentions of Mohammed.  This has given impetus to me to put it online.  But how to do so?

E. W. Brooks published the Chronicle in Zeitschrift fur deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 53 (1899), p. 261-327.  He didn’t publish the preface.  He published the Syriac text, laid out in tabular form.  He followed it with an English translation, not of all the text, but of the wording (events) against each year.  He then republished it, this time with the preface, in CSCO Syr. 5, with a Latin translation of the lot in CSCO Syr. 6.  Both text and translation contained the tabular layout.

I’m not going to transcribe the Syriac, or the Latin.  I have already OCR’d the English, but there is a problem.  The Islamic website above rightly quotes three chunks of relevant information.  But… two of these are embedded in the table in the middle of the page, so not present in the English translation.  Anyway… don’t we want to see the proper layout?  I certainly would!

I think the solution will be to take the Latin translation, lay it out in HTML, and then substitute the English where it is available, translating the trivial bits of Latin where it is not.  It will be fiddly; but it will work.  Considering its importance, tho, something must be done.


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