More on Ephraem Syrus’ “Hymni contra haereses”

The 56 Hymns against heresies of Ephraim the Syrian are not online in English, and it does not seem that any published English translation exists.  Sidney H. Griffith has published extracts in English.  The work was published by E. Beck in CSCO 169 (text) and 170 (Latin translation) in 1957, but of course none of us can access this.

Yet a German translation of the work appears in the old Bibliothek der Kirchenvater series, so this suggests that an older edition must exist, which might be online somewhere.  I can only suppose that it is buried in some complete edition of Ephraim’s works. Hmm.

The NPNF series includes some works by Ephraim, translated by John Gwynn, and the introduction refers to “the great Roman edition, S. Ephraemi Syri Opera Syriaca (Rome, 1743).”  The old Library of the Fathers series included a volume of Selected works, which includes a “rhythm against the Jews” which does not seem to be elsewhere and might profitably be placed online.

The “Roman edition” is not easy to find, unless you know that Brigham Young University has  a collection of Syriac books.  It is here.

UPDATE: Yes, well, it might be “here” but I can’t persuade the site to work, either in IE8 or in Chrome.  Why can’t I just download a PDF?!

UPDATE2: Looks as if another copy is here, at the Goussen library.    But it looks as if one can’t download whole volumes, which is very frustrating.  Looks as if there are two series, each of three volumes; series 1, the Greek and Latin works; series 2 the Syriac ones.

UPDATE3: Yay! Found one volume at Google books, here.  Wonder which one? Ah, it’s vol.2 of the Greek and Latin series.  Hit the “About this book” link, and somewhere down the bottom I’m getting other volumes (isn’t Google Books useless for multi-volume works?).  Here’s what I get, after much poking around:

OK, well, that’s something … indeed better than something! Now searching using “Sancti Ephraem Syri Opera omnia quae exstant, Graece” … and this gives me different results again, from what look like Spanish libraries.

Phew.  That was hard work.  But there we have it … all the volumes of this series.

Wonder if any of them contain the Hymni contra haereses?  I think that might be a question for tomorrow!

UPDATE4: vol. 1 of the Syriac is Old Testament commentaries.  Vol. 2 of the Syriac (TOC on p.35 of the PDF) continues this, Job-Malachi, and then has 11 “sermons” on various passages of scripture; then 13 on the Lord’s birthday; then 16 “sermones polemici adversus haereses”, on p.437 (p.472 of the PDF).  We have found our text!  Yay!


Whoopee!!! Pray-o-mat installed at Manchester University, UK! That’ll show ’em, man!

I thought this story must be a spoof.  But apparently it isn’t:

A multi-faith praying machine called the Pray-O-Mat has been installed at the University of Manchester.

The specially converted photo booth offers more than 300 pre-recorded prayers and incantations in 65 different languages via a touch screen.

The free-to-use machine, designed by German artist Oliver Sturm, is part of a three-year project on multi-faith spaces by the university. …

Project leader Ralf Brand, senior architecture lecturer, said: “Though the Pray-o-mat is a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is a serious message to what we’re doing.

“Successful multi-faith spaces do not need to be flashy or expensive.

Other than to the taxpayer, no doubt, who carried these clowns for three years.

I was under the impression that there was a real problem for young scholars in obtaining teaching posts in UK universities.  A young scholar with skills in Syriac and Coptic will still find himself on the dole, unless he emigrates.  Young archaeologists and classicists fight over a handful of opportunities, and the money spent educating the rest is wasted. 

Perhaps Manchester University might consider terminating the contract of Dr Ralf Brand and his merry pranksters, and using the money instead to fund some junior research fellowships in real academic disciplines.  That is, after all, what the education budget is supposed to be used for.

UPDATE: This rubbish cost you and me 452,000 pounds UK, or around $700,000.  It costs around 5,000 GBP — about $7,000 — to translate a 10,000 word ancient text into English.  That’s about the size of a “book” in most ancient texts, and perhaps relates to the size of a papyrus roll.  So for the same money we could have funded the translation of 100 texts which are unknown and inaccessible to everyone. 


From my diary

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Marcionism in Edessa.  The idea that being a Christian in Edessa meant that you were a Marcionite seems to originate (rightly or not) from Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy.  Thankfully Robert Kraft arranged to translate this into English, and — mirabile dictu — to place the translation online.  The Edessa portion is here, and I need to take the time to read it and see what is actually being said, and why.  It’s rather hard to read online tho.

The excellent Andrew Criddle added a comment pointing me to a very useful paper by Sidney Griffith in After Bardaisan.[1]  This contains excerpts of Ephraim the Syrian’s Hymns against Heresies in English, all of them most interesting.  Unfortunately the Google Books preview omits selected pages.  I’d really quite like to read this book — it is infuriating that it is inaccessible.

I have been asking around to see if an English translation of Hymns against Heresies exists.  No luck so far; but a correspondant suggested that Sidney Griffith (again) might have made one.  I have written to him to ask.  If there is no translation of hymns 22 and 23, I might see if I can commission one.

Meanwhile I have resumed work on the proofing of Theodoret’s Commentary on Romans.  I got rather discouraged when I couldn’t export the results from Finereader 11 in any sensible form.  But I have started to go through the second half of this work, italicising the gospel quotations (which is how they appear in the printed version).  It’s a bit slow, but this will go online eventually.

I have also been communicating with a gentleman named Mark Vermes, who made a number of translations of interesting works back in the day, including the ‘Halkin’ Life of Constantine — a Byzantine Saint’s life — and two works by St. Augustine against the Manichaean Secundinianus.  All this material is unpublished (although I have just learned that one of the Augustine works was published somewhere), and he is willing in principle to allow it to appear online.  The next stage is to get hold of copies of these items, and digitise them.

There is no more news on the in-progress translation of the Acts of ps.Linus

I’ve been invited to the launch of a book down in London, wine and nibbles.  That has never happened to me before, and probably never will again, so I think that I shall go.  The book is a collection of posts in one of the Times blogs, and I am invited because I wrote a rather sarcastic comment on one of them, which the publishers decided to include. 

Watching the TV one evening I found myself viewing a BBC4 documentary about Pompeii.  I had never known that, among the finds at Pompeii, was a statue from India.  The item was in exactly the style of sculpture we see today — no question as to where it came from!  Doubtless it was one of the items that came across the Indian Ocean on the ships on which Cosmas Indicopleustes was to travel, centuries later.

  1. [1]Sidney Griffith, The marks of the “true church” according to Ephraem’s ‘Hymns against heresies’, in G. J. Reinink (ed.), After Bardaisan, Orientalia Louvaniensia Analecta, Peeters, 1999, p.125-140

A quotation on ordinary people, from Simeon the New Theologian

From Mike Neglia via Trevin Wax:

Why Does Jesus Identify With Us? (Part 2)

Nearly all reject the weak and poor as objects of disgust; an earthly king cannot bear the sight of them, rulers turn away from them, while the rich ignore them and pass them by when they meet them as though they did not exist; nobody thinks it desirable to associate with them. 

But God, who is served by myriads of powers without number, who “upholds the universe by the word of His power,”[1] whose majesty is beyond anyone’s endurance, has not disdained to become the Father, the Friend, the Brother of those rejected ones. He willed to become incarnate so that He might become “like unto us in all things except for sin”[2] and make us to share in His glory and His kingdom.

What stupendous riches of His great goodness! What an ineffable condescension on the part of our master and our God. 

— Symeon the New Theologian, Discourse 2.4

Another version of this quotation may be found here, and I have added the biblical references from this.  The passage is quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series[3], in the volume on Hebrews, p.69, online at Google Books here.  This in turn refers to the modern translation of de Catanzaro.[4].  Rather to my surprise, there is a preview of this also here.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally class myself as one of the “weak” or “poor”.  Yet … this message is just as much for ordinary middle class people as for the working class.  We ought to consider that we too are included here.  We may not be dirt-poor.  But we have almost no power in modern society.  Our views are widely scorned, and our wishes ostentatiously mocked.  Petty bureaucrats feel obliged to treat us coldly when we come into contact with them, knowing that by rights we should be heard, but that the lords of our days wish to snub people like us and put us in our place.

These words are, therefore, for everyone who feels rejected, or excluded.  They are for all who find themselves growing older but no better or richer or more valued.

They are for you, and for me.  And God came down, and lived alongside us.

  1. [1]Hebrews 1:3.
  2. [2]Hebrews 4:15.
  3. [3]IVP, 2005.
  4. [4]Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, tr. C. J. de Catanzaro, in the series Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters, New York: Paulist Press, 1980, p.50.

The cost of copying books by hand

At the end of Ms. Vall. 2297, there is an interesting note by the owner, a 15th century chap named Sozomenus, about whom I know nothing except that he owned manuscripts:

Melius est emere libros iam scriptos quam scribi facere: nam pro membranis exposui grossos tredecim, scriptori dedi libros duodecim, et cartorario grossos quatuor.  Summa ergo in totum libras  sexdecim solidos tredecim denarios vi. Die primo mensis Martii MCCCCXXV.[1]

It is better to buy books already written than to have them written: now for parchments I am out 13 grossos, I gave 12 to the scribe of the boooks, and 4 grossos to the binder.  In total therefor in all books 16 solidi, 13 denarii and vi.  1st March, 1425.

The “grosso”, or “denaro grosso” — “heavy penny” — was an Italian silver coin, heavier than a silver penny.  The name is related to the medieval “groat”, I believe.  It cost the owner 29 of these to have these books copied.

  1. [1]Albert C. Clark, Sabbadini’s Finds of Greek and Latin MSS, The Classical Review 20 (1906), p.229, referencing the Valliere catalogue (cur. de Bure, 1783) vol. ii. p.26.

Aurispa and his 238 Greek manuscripts

We owe the preservation of a considerable portion of the Greek classics to the actions of a single man.  The Italian Giovanni Aurispa made a trip to Constantinople in the early fifteenth century.  On his return, in the winter of 1423, he came back with 238 Greek manuscripts.  Many of these are the only, the oldest or the best source that we have for the text they contain.

I’ve always been curious to know more of Aurispa, but the sources tend to be in Italian.  This is not one of my better languages.

Today however I learn of the source of the numeral “238”, which is often mentioned but never referenced:

In his famous letter to Traversari, dated 27 August (1424), Aurispa says he has 238 volumes of pagan Greek authors and gives the names of many of them, including the following: “Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.”

Traversari seems to have requested the Aristarchus, for on 23 February (1425) Aurispa says he cannot send it because it is in Venice with the others (he was in Bologna then).[1]

I had no idea that Aurispa’s letters exist!  It would be most interesting to see the list of authors in that letter.  But how?

Diller gives the following reference: R. Sabbadini, Carteggio di Giovanni Aurispa, Rome, 1931, pp.11f., 24, 159f.  But surely there must be an earlier publication?

If so, I was unable to locate it.

  1. [1]Aubrey Diller, Aurispa and Aristarchus, Classical Philology 55 (1960), p.35-36.

Law Society to sell Mendham collection – and my own experience of it

In the days when I was hunting for rare early editions of the works of Tertullian, in order to photograph them and place them online, I became aware that a copy of the 1493 Scinzinzeler incunable existed at Canterbury cathedral, in the Mendham collection.  This was the property of the UK Law Society — the solicitors’ trade union, essentially — but since they had no use for a collection of theological books, it was in the hands of the library at Canterbury cathedral.

I remember this volume.  The librarian at the time was some woman whose name I have forgotten.  For some reason, as I could tell from her emails, she took a dislike to me and my enquiry, even though we had never met, and decided to frustrate my wishes.    I wrote quite a number of emails to various people, both at the cathedral and at the Law Society, but in vain.  Someone at the cathedral decided to run a trial of user photography, with the idea that I might contribute; the woman made sure that I wasn’t told about it.  Eventually I gave up, and I believe she went off to Durham, there to cause trouble for others, no doubt.  There is, even now, no access to this edition online anywhere.

Yesterday I read that the Law Society has sent Sothebys down to Canterbury to remove 300 of the choicer items from the collection, in order to sell them.  Cash, cash, cash, apparently is the motive.   Of old lawyers were men of literature.  But since I was quite unable to interest the Law Society in the matter of access, I am not in the least surprised. 

Kent Online have the story:

Medieval documents taken from the Canterbury Cathedral library will be auctioned off unless academics can raise enough money to buy them back.

The University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral campaigned together to stop the removal of 300 books and manuscripts from the Mendham Collection by The Law Society. …

It has been in Canterbury since 1984, attracting academics and researchers from across the world.

The Law Society said they needed to sell the documents to raise much-needed cash and have given the university and cathedral until November to submit a bid to reclaim the collection.

Spokesman Emma Alatalo said: “In these challenging times, we can no longer justify the ongoing cost of maintaining the collection, which despite its great value to academics does not form part of an archive useful to our members.

“We owe it to our members in these hard-pressed times to get the very best price that the market can offer.”

Of course they do; and society as a whole can go hang.  What “on-going cost” there might be,  for a bunch of books maintained by someone else, is not explained. 

There is a petition here, and there are blogged comments at Infoism here and at the Rechtsgeschiedenis blog here and the Medievalists here.  The THES comments here.

So … how do I feel about the sale of the collection?  Well, I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand there is little doubt in my mind that the Law Society are acting improperly.  Lawyers, above all men, should understand the value of past times, and rely on stability in records and institutions.  They, like all of us, have a duty to be good citizens.  A historical collection should be preserved in its entirety, in nearly every case. 

It is doubtless the case that the Law Society has no interest in it, but they should simply transfer it to the cathedral or some suitable body.  Lawyers are very rich men, on the whole, and the idea that the Law Society needs the money so badly that it must destroy heritage need hardly be considered.  Any one of the richer members of that society could write a cheque for the sum that will be raised and not notice it.

Yet the fact is that the collection is inaccessible to researchers as it stands, unless they live in Canterbury.  The only person to express interest in a volume in the collection in the last 20 years — myself — was unable to make use of it, in its current location and ownership.  Even the catalogue of the collection is not online!  I can’t determine whether the Tertullian is one of the 300 volumes already removed by Sothebys.  They fought like demons to make sure that no copy was made of that Tertullian edition; and they are now watching it vanish into the hands of some rich collector, never to be seen again, perchance. 

Any library that holds a collection of rare books has a duty to make a copy of them, simply for security reasons.  Books burn.  Mice nibble.  And the losses of unique items during the last century have been terrible.  Something like 5% of all surviving medieval manuscripts perished in the events of the 20th century, it has been estimated; in the burning of Dresden, of Louvain, in the massacres of the Armenians and Nestorians in 1915, and so forth.  The real figure is probably higher. 

But this, as far as I know, Canterbury have not done.  Over 150 years after the invention of photography, their books remain at the mercy of fire, theft and the Law Society.  A school-leaver on minimum wage with a digital camera could photograph the lot in a year.  Why has this not been done?

Likewise any such photographs should appear online.  For very few people can make any use of books in a collection such as this.  A day trip might be possible, but real work tends to require real access.  The copies of early editions in our major libraries go almost unused, as Pierre Petitmengin discovered when he inspected a number, because scholars resort to buying copies on the art market so that they can have them where they can use them. No-one has ever been able to use that Scinzinzeler.

So … it is possible that the dispersal of the Mendham collection will actually serve the public interest, unlikely as this might seem.  A new owner might be more public spirited, although I fear this will not in fact happen.  But only because Canterbury have been asleep at the wheel.  Why, why is there no catalogue online?

But the failures at Canterbury — will they be remedied? — should not disguise the fact that the Law Society are doing something which is immoral.

The Law Society should cease this discreditable and sleazy-looking action and return the books at once.


Marcionism in Edessa

When did Marcionism arrive in Edessa, the home city of the Syriac language? What data do we have, concerning Marcionism in these parts?

The Chronicle of Edessa begins thus:

1. In the year 180 kings began to rule in Edessa.
2. In the year 266 Augustus Caesar was made emperor.
3. In the year 309 our Lord was born.
4. In the year 400 Abgar the king built a mausoleum for himself.
5. In the year 449 Marcion forsook the Catholic Church.
6. The year 465, in the month Tammuz, on the eleventh day (i.e., July 11th, 154 A.D.), Bardesanes was born.
7. Lucius Caesar, with his brother, subjugated the Parthians to the Romans in the fifth year of his reign.
8. In the year 513, in the reign of Severus, and in the reign of Abgar the king, son of Maano the king, in the month Tishrin the latter (i. e., November), the fountain of water which proceeds from the great palace of Abgar the great king increased, and it prevailed, and it went up according to its former manner, and overflowed and ran out on all sides, …

9. And in the year 517, Abgar built a palace in his own citadel (? town).
10. The year 551 Manes was born.
11. The year 614, were broken down the walls of Edessa the second time in the days of Diocletian the king.

Some argue from this that the mention of Marcion indicates a special interest in him in Edessa.[1]  Perhaps so; but no more than Bardesanes and Manes.

Eusebius, HE, book 4, chapter 30, tells us:

1. In the same reign, as heresies were abounding in the region between the rivers, a certain Bardesanes, a most able man and a most skillful disputant in the Syriac tongue, having composed dialogues against Marcion’s followers and against certain others who were authors of various opinions, committed them to writing in his own language, together with many other works. His pupils, of whom he had very many (for he was a powerful defender of the faith), translated these productions from the Syriac into Greek. …

3 He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy.

Did Greek versions of Bardaisan’s Dialogues against Marcion come into the library at Caesarea, one wonders?  Eusebius seems to have had connections with Edessa, as his mention of the story of the letter of Jesus to Abgar shows.

At all events, this places Marcionism in the region of Edessa in the time of Bardaisan, in perhaps the late second or early third century.

A very interesting statement is that the Christians in Edessa were supposedly called Palutians, after an early bishop Palut (192-209).[2]  This information is said to come from Hymns against heresies, 22.5, and is said to tell us that it was the Marcionites who were generalled called “Christians” there.[3] Indeed I am told that Ephraim’s Hymni contra haereses refer extensively to Marcionism, as well as Mani, Bardaisan, paganism and astrology.  I’m not sure how we might access these, however. 

The statement certainly needs to be verified.  I find that J. B. Segal gives a partial quotation:[4]

Their hands have let go of everything.  There are no handles to grasp.  They even called us Palutians, but we have spewed them out and cast away [the name].  May there be a curse on those who are called by the name of Palut, and not by the name of Christ . . . Palut too did not want men to be called by his name.  If he were alive, he would curse with all curses, for he was the disciple of the apostle [Paul] who suffered pain and bitterness over the Corinthians when they abandoned the name of the Messiah and  were called by the names of men.

Segal adds that Jacob of Edessa, in his 12th letter to John the Stylite, cites this passage and  states that the Palutians were not heretics, and that Palut was an orthodox and righteous man.  Again, I’m not sure how to check this.

What other sources do we have for Marcionism at Edessa?  Clearly there are Ephraim’s Prose Refutations.  There is also Yeznik of Kolb’s On God.  And … any others?

UPDATE: The old BKV translation of Ephrem into German includes the Hymns against Heresies here.  And … I am not finding in this a statement that the Christians were commonly called Palutians, and the Marcionites Christians, but rather than the heretics called the Christians “Palutians”.  This is, no doubt, similar to the way in which religious types a century ago, who wanted the name of Christian but not the teaching called themselves “liberal Christians” and the real Christians “evangelicals”; and, when they discovered that ‘Christian’ had lost its savour, then demanded to be called “liberal evangelicals”, and the real believers “conservative evangelicals”.  But if so, this would tend to suggest that the heretics in question, described by Ephrem, did indeed want to be called “Christians”.  I wish that I knew someone who would translate this hymn for us!

  1. [1]Steven K. Ross, Roman Edessa, 2001, p.121.
  2. [2]Ute Possekel, Evidence of Greek philosophical concepts in the writings of Ephrem the Syrian, p.22.  Note 78 gives W. Bauer, Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum, Beitrage zur historischen Theologie 10, 2nd ed., ed. G. Strecker, Tubingen, 1964, p.6-48, esp. 29, 33f.
  3. [3]Ephrem, Selected Prose works, p.35.
  4. [4]J. B. Segal, Edessa: the blessed city, p.81

How to give money anonymously to friends

Quite by accident today I came across a fascinating question.  If you know someone in the UK, who is struggling financially, just how, in practical terms, do you give them money? 

I’m not the first to ask this question.  The recession has kicked in, and some people are really struggling.  Others are doing OK.  And we all know what the bible has to say about giving.  But … how?

If I had a friend and offered him money, he’d almost certainly decline.  He wouldn’t want to be obligated.  If he accepted, it would probably change our relationship forever.  Or if I knew of a stranger who needed something, it would be even worse.

You can’t write a cheque, because your name will be on it.  These days  money-laundering legislation tends to make it impossible to obtain a cheque from a building society without a name on it.  And you wouldn’t want to post it anyway, because how do you get an acknowledgement that it has gone to the right place, and not been stolen by a postman?

Of course one could sneak up to their door, wearing a rubber Tony Blair mask, and stuff an envelope full of twenty pound notes through the door.  That would do it, for relatively small sums.  You could write on it something about “I don’t need this.  I believe that you do.  When the time comes, repay me by being generous to someone else.”  But of course this strategy is full of risks itself!

A google search reveals results entirely from the USA.  That is very creditable to the generosity of this nation; less so, to the generosity in the UK, or Australia, or wherever.

Anyone any ideas?


More manuscripts online at the British Library

At the British Library manuscripts blog, there is news.

Final Harley Science Manuscripts Published

We are delighted to announce that the remaining manuscripts in our Harley Science Project have now been published to the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. All 150 manuscripts in this project have been digitised and recatalogued thanks to the generosity of William and Judith Bollinger. We hope that this resource, part of our ongoing campaign to make our collection items more accessible, will promote new research into the books in question.

I hope so too.  It can’t do the slightest harm.  The cataloguing is pretty good too, I have to say.  But … I wish we could get PDF’s of the mss, rather than being at the mercy of slow broadband and a quirky interface.  I suspect it will come, once libraries recognise that it doesn’t harm them in any way.

Access to these texts was always the problem; only a tiny handful of geographically local scholars could do much.  Now … there are NO excuses for lazy scholarship.  Get publishing articles, gentlemen!

In the current tranche, the following items will be of interest to us.

  • Harley 2686  Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae (France, 9th century)
  • Harley 3748  Galen, Opera (France or Italy, 14th-15th century)
  • Harley 3892  Miscellaneous texts on rhetoric, grammar, geometry and divination (Italy, 1400-1454) — this actually also contains parts of Horace, Ars Poetica and Letters.
  • Harley 3915  Collection of chemical, alchemical and medical recipes, and texts on the techniques and technology of various arts (Germany, 1200-1444) — Includes an extract from Vitruvius, and an autograph note by Nicholas of Cusa, indicating that this book once belonged to him (and so ought to be in Berkastel-Kues with the rest of his books).
  • Harley 3969  Works on history, natural history and rhetoric (England, 14th century) — Actually includes extracts from: Cassiodorus, De orthographia, Censorinus de natali die, Apuleius, Dares Phrygius, Pliny the Elder, and Jerome’s Letter to Helvidius.
  • Harley 4241  Aristotle, Metaphysica (Germany, c. 1450-1464) — Another of St. Nicolas of Cusa’s books.

There are a number of other Latin translations, of Euclid and Aristotle.

Good to have these.