Iturbe on Arabic Gospel Catenas

I had to scan the introduction to Francisco Javier Caubee Iturbe’s edition of a Christian Arabic catena on the gospel of Matthew.  I found myself wondering how well Google translate would handle Spanish.  After all, it gives Spanish as the default foreign language, so I hope it might be good!  So I experimented a bit. 

The following notes are abstracted from Iturbe’s comments.  Since both volumes of his work have a 50-page introduction, these are very much short notes!  Anyhow, he introduces his edition thus:

Studies and research on gospel catenas – comments by various fathers listed successively around the text of the Gospel – to date have been limited almost exclusively to those conveyed to us in Greek. As regards those preserved in Arabic, we can say that, nothing exists apart from some brief references in a few authors.  And yet there are several Arabic manuscript codices containing exegetical catenas on the Gospels, with markedly different characteristics from Greek catenas. The problems that these codices present with regard to their origin, their language, the patristic extracts used, the method and means by which they have been transmitted, and so on, are various, and often difficult. There are some differences, more or less marked, in the text of the comments found in the manuscripts, but fundamentally, at least for the Gospel of Matthew, they are all the same catena, conceived as an organic whole, with proper proportions, in this surpassing many of the Greek catenas, which sometimes comprise lengthy scholia joined with other tiny extracts by many different fathers juxtaposed against the same verse. The copies of almost all these manuscripts were made in Egypt, in the Coptic Monophysite church, and they were long in use, especially in the monasteries of Scetis.

 Of all the existing Arabic manuscripts, of which thirteen are known to contain gospel catenas, four are in the Vatican Library, three in Cairo, two in Paris and one in each of the following cities: Strasbourg, Oxford, Gottingen and Baghdad. All have the catena on the Gospel of Matthew, except for one in Cairo and another in Paris.

A description of the manuscripts containing the catena on Matthew is presented in this volume, beginning with the oldest of them, ms. Vatican Arab 452, which is the basis for the text published here; in the notes of the apparatus are the variants of the other manuscripts that rely on the same textual tradition.

He then lists the sigla for his edition.  It is interesting to learn of so many manuscripts.  M and P belong to a different family to the rest.

B  = Ms. Vatican Arab 452.
C = Ms. Arab Cairo 411.
D = Ms. Arab Cairo 195.
G = Ms. Gottingen ar. 103.
K = Ms. karsuni Vatican syr. 541.
L =  The catena in the coptic ms. of Curzon, as printed in the edition by P. de Lagarde, Catenae in evangelio aegyptiacae quae supersunt,  Gottingae 1886.
M = Ms. Vatican ar. 410.
O = Ms. Arab Bodleian Hunt. 262.
P = Ms. Paris ar. 55.
S = Ms. Arab Strasbourg or. 4315.

The copies all derive from the Coptic catena printed by De Lagarde, which is now sadly missing many of its leaves. 

Iturbe begins by describing the first of these.  Since Arabic catenas are probably almost unknown to anyone, I think it’s worth translating this as a sample of what the manuscript contains.

MS. VATICAN ARABIC 452 – Siglum B.

1214 AD. Paper, 250 x 165 mm., the written area is 175 x 110 mm., 376 folios, 17 lines per page.

The manuscript is divided now into two volumes, bound in white leather: one has 196 pages and the second 180. The missing folios at the end, probably about thirty-five, are more or less what is needed to complete a version of the Gospel lessons of the holidays, Sundays, Saturdays, and so on, for the whole year, introduced and started on f. 369v  at the end of the manuscript; as it currently is, it only goes as far as 4th Hatur, which is the third month of the Coptic calendar.

On the first page, in the center of a large rectangle, to whose sides are attached 16 identical circles, enclosing as many Coptic crosses – four circles with crosses, one on each of the horizontal sides, two on the vertical, four more identical at the corners of the rectangle all drawn in red and black –, the manuscript title is written in black ink, indicating its contents: Book of the Gospels, its explanation and calendar.

On most of the rest of the page, above and below the rectangle, there is a certificate of ownership of the book, dated 55 years after the composition. We will discuss this document later.

A few short sentences in Arabic, which can barely be read — some of which seems to be an essay written by an ignoramus — plus two seals of the Vatican Library and the indication “452 Arabic”, occupy the remaining free space on the page, which because of that, plus humidity and other stains, presents a sorry state, which is felt in part on the verso of the same folio. This folio 1 is the most deteriorated of the manuscript, except folio 135v. The latter was originally left blank, before the commentary on the Gospel of Mark.  But then four lines were written in Karshuni, also repeated in Arabic, which a few illiterates then wrote over and over again like vandals, which, added to the horrendous lines crossing at the top of the page, has completely smeared the page. Something similar on a smaller scale, has occurred in ff. 188v-189, which were almost completely blank between the gospels of Mark and Luke, and on ff. 368v-369, the end of the Gospel of John. Except for these cases and others of less importance, the manuscript has been preserved in good condition.

On ff. 1v-5v, after a preface, the Ammonian sections are arranged in the ten canon tables of Eusebius, and marked by Coptic numerals.
Ff. 6-135 contain the Gospel of St. Matthew with the patristic commentaries.
Ff. 136-188v: Gospel of Mark and their comments.
Ff. 189v-298: Gospel of St. Luke and comments.
Ff. 299-c68: Gospel of St. John and their comments.
Ff. 369v identifies the Coptic gospel lessons for the first part of the year, as I indicated above.

A little further on he adds:

The colophon to the Gospel of Mark says (f. 188v): ‘The text of the Gospel of Mark the Evangelist and the commentary on its meaning is finished with the help of God – may He be exalted! — and by the blessing of His grace, on Wednesday, 6 Tut of the year 921 of the pure Martyrs. May his blessing be with us. Amen’.

The date is 3rd September, 1204 – the same year as the sack of Constantinople by the renegade army hired for the Fourth Crusade, in which so much ancient literature perished.

Iturbe published his edition in two volumes, the first with a preface on the manuscripts and then the Arabic text, the second with a preface on the contents and a Spanish translation.  The introduction to the second volume begins as follows:

The patristic catena on the Gospel of St. Matthew in ms. Vatican ar. 452, the text published in Volume I, which we here give in translation, after almost all of the 68 sections into which it divides the Gospel text, has one or more pieces of commentary — scholia — each preceded by a very brief indication – lemma – written in red, which states, most of the time, who is the Father or interpreter who composed it. In total, there are 336 scholia with corresponding lemmas.

But there are 86 lemmas which are no more than the word ‘interpretation’, and we may wonder whether the compiler of the catena – or the copier – meant to assign the scholia which immediately follow to the named author of the preceding passage. That certainly agrees with the reading of the Coptic manuscript of Curzon and other similar Arabic manuscripts, and in a comparative study of them all we find that of the 86 scholia, 82 belong  to the author last named in a lemma; 3 to a different author than the one listed in B above, and only 1 of them is unknown.

Having clarified the previous difficulty, and incidentally shedding light on other such mss, Coptic and Arabic, we have 113 which are scholia by St. Cyril of Alexandria and 109 of St. John Chrysostom. The two great Eastern doctors thus cover two thirds of all the commentary of St. Matthew in the catena. Then comes Severus of Antioch, with 53 glosses. And then, with a much smaller number, the other contributors. The list of all those in B, with the number of scholia that each must be awarded is as follows:

Cyril of Alexandria = 113
John Chrysostom = 109
Severus of Antioch = 53
Hippolytus of Rome = 15
Gregory the Theologian = 8
Gregory Thaumaturgus = 6
Epiphanius = 5
Eusebius of Caesarea = 5
Clement (Alexandria) = 5
Athanasius = 4
Basil = 4
Severian of Gabala = 2
Simeon the Hermit = 2
Cyril of Jerusalem = 1
Titus (of Bostra ) = 1
Isaiah the Anchorite = 1
An elder of the Desert Fathers [the abbot Ammon] = 1

These, then, are the authors for which we may find textual witnesses in this Arabic catena.  Iturbe also states:

On the other hand there are various authors in Greek catenas who do not appear in Coptic-Arabic catenas: Apollinaris, Gregory of Nyssa, Irenaeus, Theodore of Heraclea, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, etc; and above all Origen, who in almost all Greek catena families has many scholia, such as in the third of type B, where Origen comprises 227 out of the total 874.

There is little point in looking for material by Origen in Coptic or Arabic, it seems.

Back in the first introduction, Iturbe discusses the Coptic catena published by De Lagarde, from which all the Arabic mss. derive.

The Curzon Coptic manuscript catena, siglum L.

In 1886 Paul de Lagarde (P. Boetticher) published the Bohairic text of a manuscript obtained by Robert Curzon in March 1838 in the Monastery of the Syrians, Wadi ‘l-Natrun. Never translated, little use has been made so far in the scholarly field of this good edition of De Lagarde.  But for the present study, however, we are particularly interested in this Coptic ms.

It contains a patristic catena on the four gospels – next to the Gospel text – divided into sections, as in B and other Arabic manuscripts. The text of the Gospels has only a short verse or verses, which are generally given before the lemmas and scholia: in this, then, it is similar to M and P. This codex was written in the year 605 of the holy martyrs (888/89 AD), more than three centuries before the oldest of our Arabic mss, codex B, which was written in the year 1214 AD as regards the part of Matthew. Because sixteen folios were lost, the comments on Matt. 2:1-5:5; 5:44-6:3; 7:24-29; 9:27-9:37; 12:48-13:10; 24:16-29 are missing; see the introduction.

All this detail  may swamp us; but we need to recall that almost no-one working on New Testament texts or on the patristic comments on them found in catenas — is there anyone working on the latter? — has any awareness of material that has made its way into Arabic.

When my Eusebius volume appears, at least those dealing with the Gospel problems and solutions will be aware that there is material that should be consulted in Christian Arabic.


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