Some notes on Ephraim the Syrian’s “Hymns against heresies”

I have been reading the prefatory material to E. Beck’s critical edition of this collection of hymns.[1]  The following is abstracted from these.

 Ephraim’s collection of hymns Contra Haereses was printed by Petrus Benedictus (Mubarak) in the 2nd volume (syr.-lat.) of the Editio Romana in 1740, based upon the only manuscript of this work contained in the Vatican library, codex vat. sir. 111.  He gave the hymns the title, Sermones polemici adversus haereses, since in this edition the Syriac terms madrâshâ and mēmrâ were both rendered as sermo.  The manuscripts have madrâshē (luqbal yulpâne).

Inevitably working from a single manuscript, which was not always legible, the Roman edition is unsatisfactory. 

The two oldest manuscripts also are the foundation for Ephraim’s hymns De Fide.  B is the basic witness, as A is missing more leaves.

  • B = Cod. vat. sir. 111.  6th century, from the Nitrian desert.  Described in CSCO 154 / Syr. 73, p.ii.  This is the only complete manuscript, but the writing is often very blurred, and becomes at times unreadable, as the manuscript fell into the Nile at one point.
  • A = British Library additional 12176.   6th century, from the Nitrian desert.  Also described in CSCO 154.  This was once complete, but is missing many leaves.  It is complete for the hymns De Fide.
  • E = British Library add. 17141.  A liturgical codex, of the 8-9th century, containing  hymns by Ephraim, Isaac of Antioch and Jacob of Serugh.  Contains extracts from the first 10 hymns against heresies, and selected verses from most of the others.
  • F = British Library add. 14574.  This is a few remaining leaves of a large codex containing collections of hymns by Ephraim: De ecclesia, de Virginitate, contra Haereses.  It is written in three columns.  The colophon refers to 56 hymns against heresies, but only a few pages remain.  It was probably written a bit later than B and A.

In B, A and F, we have the text of Ephraim as it was in the 6th century.

There are also two late manuscripts from the vaguely specified “patriarchal library of Homs”.  The first of these (H1) is 12-13th century, and contains a few pieces of the text.  The second (H2) is 15th century.

Beck’s text, despite his criticism of Petrus Benedictus, is also that of B, as this is the only complete manuscript where no pages have been lost.  But the codex fell into the Nile during its adventures, and so is damaged.  In hymns 22, 34, 35 and 38, where comparison with other codices is not possible, it is necessary to infer the readings, although I do not see large lacunae in Beck’s text.

I do wonder at this point, however, what modern multi-spectral imagining would make of this?  Could the text be recovered?

The work has been of interest to theologians ever since it was published, because of the valuable testimony that it bears to Marcion, Mani and Bardaisan.  Consequently it was translated into German by P. Zingerle from the Roman edition for the original Bibliothek der Kirchenvater series,[2] and again by A. Rücker for the new BKV series in 1928.

  1. [1]E. Beck, CSCO 169-170, 1957. The second volume is the German translation.
  2. [2]In the 1834 series, and in the 1873 series also.

3 thoughts on “Some notes on Ephraim the Syrian’s “Hymns against heresies”

  1. Roger- I cannot thank you enough for this wonderfully informative blog article! A few years ago I had borrowed via interlibrary loan and photocopied portions of Beck’s Syriac text and German translation, only to discover more recently that I overlooked to copy a few pages from the Syriac text. So I had searched in vain these past few months for the text online, till I came across your reference to vol. 2 of the Benedictine edition, which is posted at the archive dot org site! Thankfully the sections of text I needed had not fallen into the Nile! Thanks again, Roger, for the helpful info provided at your excellent blog!

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