Problems with the CSCO edition of Jacob of Edessa’s Chronicle

The Chronicle of Eusebius may not be his best known work, but it is still fairly widely known.  The second half of this consisted of tables of dates, rulers, and events, in a form which has now been imitated and continued for some fifteen centuries (Jerome’s version here).

Among the continuators was the 7th century Syriac scholar, Jacob of Edessa.  His main claim to fame is that he realised that Syriac needed vowels, and was able to induce his Syrian Orthodox co-religionists to adopt Greek vowels, albeit written as tiny letters above the line.  Their rivals in the Church of the East dogged stuck with swarms of dots above and below the line to indicate vowels; a practise disastrously followed by Arabic.  Indeed Jacob even tried to get the vowels written on the line with the consonants, but here he failed.

His chronicle starts where Eusebius ends, in the 20th year of Constantine.  He begins with several pages discussing an error of calculation in Eusebius, and then a table of kings of Rome and Persia, years of their reign, “total years” (from the start of his chronicle) and events against each year makes up the rest of the Chronicle.  A badly damaged manuscript from the Nitrian desert in Egypt now in the British Library contains what survives of the text.  The work is of importance as one of the earliest mentions of Mohammed — as king of the Arabs — in a non-Moslem text.

The tabular portion of the work was printed in the ZDMG 1 early in the 20th century by E. W. Brooks, who appended a non-tabular translation in English of the events.  He revisited the text for the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium series; vol. 5 consists of the Syriac text in a volume of Chronica minora, while vol. 6 contains a Latin translation in tabular form, including the introduction. 

I have scanned the English translation from the ZDMG, with the intention of placing it online.  I obtained the CSCO volumes, and intended to format the text in tabular form, and simply replace the Latin translation with Brooks earlier English translation.  Simple?

I am encountering several problems doing so, which seem interesting themselves. 

Firstly, it is by no means as clear as it might be what the layout on the manuscript page actually is, when these seem to start in the middle of a page in the printed edition.  Are those running headers “PERSIANS: Sapor” really present half-way down the manuscript page, as Brooks suggests by printing them at the top of the page of the printed edition?  How is it that alternate pages seem to be non-tabular; is that a feature of the original; table and facing text?  Are any of those headings colour coded, as Eusebius coded his original text?   The only way to find out is to consult the original manuscript.

In addition, Brooks was unable to read the text in many places.  In some places he resorted to patching it from Michael the Syrian, who quotes extensively from Jacob, it is true.  But this is a risky thing to do.  We want Jacob’s text, as it exists.  We don’t want Michael here, except in a footnote.

As for the unreadable text, I wonder whether it would become readable under UV light?

Comparing the English translation with his Latin translation, the latter is longer, and words that were uncertain the first time are not so the second.  His use of Michael is probably the reason for this new certainty.  But there are worrying differences.  I have already come across one event which is labelled as one year in the English, and the following year in the Latin.  There is no indication of why the event is supposed to happen a line later in the text.  Which is right?  Did the printers do this?

Clearly we need a new edition of this work.  It’s not a long text, perhaps 20 pages.  We need an English translation of the discussion of Eusebius.  We need good pictures of the text, not the partial ones that Brooks had – perhaps using Multi-Spectral Imaging.  None of this should be beyond the skills of any Syriacist. 

Is anyone interested? 

1. Zeitschrift fur deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 53 (1899) 261-327


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