The manuscript of the Chronicle of Zuqnin (Ps.Dionysius of Tel-Mahre)

Amir Harrak, who published an English translation of parts 3 and 4 of this world chronicle, introduces the manuscript in the following, very interesting way.

The Chronicle of Zuqnin is a universal chronicle which begins with the creation of the world and ends with the time of writing, A.D. 775-776. The Chronicle is known from a single manuscript of 179 folios, 173 of which are now housed in the Vatican Library (Codex Zuqninensis, Vat. Syr. 162), and an additional six are currently in the possession of the British Library (formerly British Museum), labelled Add. 14.665 folios 2 to 7. Each folio is circa 235 to 255 mm high and 150 to 165 mm wide. The Vatican folios have been bound in 1881 into a single volume, protected by a hard red cover, whereas the six folios in the British Library have been included with fragments belonging to other manuscripts. According to Tisserant’s reconstruction of the Codex, it originally comprised at least 190 folios.

Of the folios of our manuscript 129 are palimpsest—one a double palimpsest (BM fol. 3), the originally inscribed text representing a number of books of the Old Testament in Greek (the Scptuagint). In fact, the folios once belonged to six distinct manuscripts with text from five biblical books (Judg, 1 Kgs, Ps, Ezek, Dan), which have been assigned dates ranging from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

In 1715 the famous Maronite bishop and scholar J. S. Assemani found the Vatican portion of the manuscript in the Syrian Monastery of Saint Mary in the Egyptian desert of Natrun, and purchased it for the Vatican Library. The other six folios were acquired by the British Museum between 1839 and 1842. That both were part of one and the same manuscript was confirmed on the basis of the Septuagint texts by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Tisserant, however, dated the manuscript to the 9th century in light of the Syriac script.

According to J. S. Assemani the manuscript was written in Egypt by a monk of the Desert of Scete (Wadi al-Natrun) at the beginning of the 10th century. By the time he wrote his Catalogue with his nephew S. E Assemani, however, he had changed his mind and believed that the manuscript had been brought, along with others, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, by the abbot Moses of Nisibis (died in 944) in 932. Although this statement is only an assumption, it makes sense, since the manuscript was the product of the monastery of Zuqnin, located near Amida now in south-east Turkey, judging from a note inserted by a monk of the same monastery. This monk, Elisha by name, was a contemporary of Moses of Nisibis (see below for more details). Tisserant further observed that since the sub-script was Greek and not Coptic, as Assemani had first asserted, Syria rather than Egypt must have been the place of origin, seeing that most of the manuscripts in the possession of the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians in Scete (of which Moses of Nisibis was the abbot) came from Syria.

As is often the case, the first and last folios of the manuscript of Zuqnin have been lost. The preface of the work, however, has survived, albeit in a very damaged condition. It was written in S(eleucid) 1087 (A.D. 775-776) “in which (year) Mahdi son of `Abd-Allah is ruling over Syria, Egypt. Armenia, Azarbayjan, all of Persia, Sind, Kho[rasan], as well as over the Arabs, and over the Greeks Leo son of Constantine, and over the Romans Pepin”. The addressees in the preface are the “spiritual fathers (of the writer), George, chorepiscopus of Amida. the abbot Euthalius, Lazarus the Visitor, the honourable Anastasius, and the rest of the monastic community (of Zuqnin)”. Unfortunately, the Chronicler’s name, and perhaps indications of his status and origin have not survived. Moreover, the manuscript per se is scarcely in a perfect state of preservation, since several folios—especially of its first half—have either suffered erasure or are damaged in varying degrees. For some reason, the second half of the manuscript, which contains Parts III and IV, fared better, even though here, too, many folios have suffered erasure and/or are fragmentary. Furthermore, the folios housed in the British Library are worm eaten, a fact which explains why the last account of the Chronicle—the martyrdom of Cyrus of Harran—is very fragmentary and comes to an abrupt end.

As I have remarked before, manuscripts are not static things.  In fact they lead a full and interesting life, and move around like bumble-bees.


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