In the Vatican library there is a manuscript written in Syriac containing a world chronicle in four parts, ending in 775 AD. The shelfmark of the volume is Vatican Syriac manuscript number 162. The manuscript contains 173 leaves or ‘folios’ in manuscript-speak, each with two sides, the front (‘recto’) and the reverse (‘verso’). The manuscript seems to have been written in the early 9th century, if we look at the letter-forms in use.
On folio 66v at the bottom there is a scribal note or colophon. The leaf seems to have been lost and recopied. It reads:
Pray for the wretched Elisha of the monastery of Zuqnin, who copied this leaf, that he might obtain mercy like the robber on the right hand (of Jesus). Amen and amen. 1
Another British Library manuscript (Oriental ms. 5021) mentions a scribe, Elisha of Zuqnin. A colophon dated to 903 says that he lived in Egypt as an anchorite. Presumably he wrote the Vatican ms. while at Zuqnin, and moved to Egypt later.
The manuscript was found in Egypt at the monastery of Deir el-Suryani (Monastery of the Syrians) in the Nitrian desert in Egypt. This monastery acquired a very rich collection of Syriac manuscripts. In 926-932 AD the Archimandrite Moses of Nisibis collected manuscripts from monasteries in Syria and Iraq and transported them to Egypt, forming the basis of the collection.
One of the early Syriac scholars, J. S. Assemani, brought a bunch of Syriac manuscripts to the Vatican library in 1715. One of these was the manuscript of the chronicle. He didn’t get the whole manuscript, tho; a century later Henry Tattam bought nearly all the remaining manuscripts at the monastery and donated them to the British Museum, in 1842. Among the piles of parchment are some leaves missing from Vatican Syr. 162. These are today in the British Library, bound under the shelfmark Additional Ms. 14,665, folios 1-7.
The chronicle used old parchment. Underneath the Syriac text are Greek letters of the 7-8th century, containing excerpts from the Old Testament. 123 folios of the Vatican manuscript and all the London folios are from this old manuscript.
The text has deteriorated since the 18th century. A copy was made by Paulin Martin in 1867, which is in the French National Library (shelfmark Syr. Ms. 284 and 285). The copy contains errors, but is valuable since the original can no longer be read in various passages. Chabot, the editor of the text in the CSCO edition — the only one — was forced to rely on the copy at various points. It would be interesting to see what modern technology could do to improve this edition!
Partial publication of chronicles is the curse of Syriac studies. This chronicle is not immune. There were two partial editions in the 19th century. Fortunately the CSCO text is complete, but only the first half received a Latin translation! The second half was not translated until 1990, when R. Hespel translated it into French.
Earlier, the fourth part was also edited and translated into French by Chabot in 1895.2 This portion (from fol. 121 to the end) is of interest for Islamic history. Parts 3 and 4 were translated into English by Amir Harrak in 1999.
Would that this was online!
1. Incerti auctoris Chronicon Pseudo-Dionysianum vulgo dictum, ed. J.-B. Chabot, CSCO 91 and 104 (S.Syr. 43 and 53), Paris 1927, 1933. Vol. 1, p. 241, note 6.
2. Chronique de Denys de Tell-Mahre; quatrieme partie, publ. et trad. par J.-B. Chabot, Bibliotheque de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes: sciences philologiques et historiques 112), Paris, 1895. Online here and here.
3. Amir Harrak, Chronicle of Zuqnin: A.D. 488-775. Mediaeval sources in translation 36. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1999. A limited edition preview is in Google books here. Harrak also collated the whole CSCO text against the manuscript and gives critical apparatus omitted by Chabot.