The lost manuscripts of Seert – a clue?

The revival of interest in Syriac before the first world war led to the establishment of the American mission at Urmia, and also transformed some of the clergy in that region of the Turkish Empire into scholars, publishing previously unknown material in western journals.  Foremost among these was Addai Scher, Archbishop of Seert.  He gathered a considerable collection of manuscripts, a few of which he sent to Paris. 

Among his discoveries was a jewel; a Syriac translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s De incarnatione.  This work had been lost, but was a critical factor in the disputes in the 5th century.

Everyone knows of the massacres of Armenians by the Turkish forces — mostly Kurds — during WW1.  Less well known are the similar massacres of Syriac-speaking Christians during the same period of 1915.  Addai Scher was dragged out and shot by Turkish irregulars, and most of his library was lost, including De incarnatione.

But I have been reading an article by William Macomber SJ, in which an interesting footnote appears.  It seems that a servant of Dr Scher has told various people that a number of books were buried in cases and leather bags in the courtyard.  Travellers in 1966 confirmed that the courtyard level had risen quite a bit.  The episcopal residence had been turned into a school.

I wonder if anyone has gone and investigated? 

Here are Macomber’s words:

Two apparently independent witnesses, one at ‘Aqra that was interviewed by Jules Leroy, Les manuscrits syriaques a peintures conserves dans les bibliotheques d’Europe et d’Orient (Institut Francais d’Archeologie de Beyrouth, Bibliotheque Archeologique et Historique, t. LXXVII), Paris 1964, p. 212 n. 3, and the other in Beirut, a former servant of Archbishop Scher, whose witness has been related to me by friends in Baghdad, have reported that at least some of the manuscripts of this library were buried in wooden cases and leathern sacks in the courtyard of the residence. The servant indicates the precise location of the burial, before the door of the residence that led into the courtyard. Travellers to Seert (Siirt) report that the Turkish government has turned the residence into a school for children and that the original level of the eourtyard has been considerably raised. Even if the story of the servant be true, therefore, it is quite possible that the hiding place of the manuscripts has already been discovered. Nonetheless, the importance of the coUection was so great, containing, as it did, the only known copy of the De incarnatione of Theodore of Mopsuestia, that it would seem a great pity if steps were not taken to obtain permission from the Turkish authoritiers to excavate the site. The sight of the work of excavation, moreover, might persuade citizens of Seert who may happen to have acquired some of the manuscripts to declare themselves, at least secretly, in the hope of making a profitable sale.

6 thoughts on “The lost manuscripts of Seert – a clue?

  1. When the Greeks fled Kemal’s massacre in 1922 many of them buried treasure in their homes because they could not carry it and they believed that perhaps some day they would return. In 1988 after Turkey revoked the visa requirement for Greek tourists a family went in Apollonia in Bithynia and, with the permission of the current occupants (who were refugees of the population exchange, Venizelos tried to salvage what he could from the ethnic cleansing by legalizing it as a population exchange with the Turks of Greece) removed a bag with jewelery and money that their parent’s home. They did give some to their current occupants but smuggled the rest to Greece.

    Of course jewelry survives time must better than parchment or paper but yes, it is very possible that they are buried somewhere

  2. Hmm; someone should tell Dr. Dan Wallace about this, of the CSNTM. He probably has the resources to actually arrange a trip, and although he focuses on Greek MSS, this might be intriguing enough to justify an exception.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  3. Maybe so, although it is very far outside his area of interest. But it is possible — probable, even — that the lost Seert mss included lectionaries and bibles.

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