HMML microfilmed manuscripts in Syriac and Christian Arabic

The Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, under Fr Columba Stewart, has been photographing manuscripts in the East for quite a few years now, and creating microfilms of them.  How necessary this work is, has been shown graphically in recent weeks by the barbaric destruction of Assyrian monuments in Iraq by Muslim thugs, apparently out of sheer savagery.

This evening I learned by accident that the microfilms are being uploaded to, as the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Texts, complete with catalogues.  For instance, the catalogue of microfilms of manuscripts from the Coptic Patriarchate is here:

Unfortunately the collection is very badly organised, at least to a newcomer.  Thus I know that manuscripts of the 13th century Christian Arabic writer al-Makin’s History are in this collection.  And indeed a search of the PDF – the online reader is unusable for black and white – reveals a mention of al-Makin, and some mysterious references:

Jirjis aI-Makin Ibn al-‘Amid:

Excerpts from the history of Agapius of Manbij falsely ascribed to him: CMA 7-13-12.
Kitab al-ta’rikh: CMB 8-15; 12-5; 13-3.
Ta’rikh al-Muslimin: CMB 12-16.

Erm, right.  I think we want the second one, the Kitab al-Tarikh.  So what is CMB 8-15?  More to the point, how do I find the microfilm of this on  Here I ran into difficulty.

I learned from the catalogue that CMB means volume B of some other catalogue of the mss of the Coptic Museum.  So far so good.  It looks as if this is connected to the name of the uploaded PDF.  CMD10-8 is, for instance.  So …  no luck with al-Makin, then.

But perhaps it will come.  In the mean time, look around.  There are also Slavonic texts up there.  It is a huge treasure chest – if we can find anything.


An interesting experiment at HMML by Adam McCollum

Adam McCollum is the dedicated cataloguer of manuscripts at the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library run by Fr. Columba Stewart.  The latter is doing an enormously valuable job; of getting copies of all the Syriac and Arabic manuscripts located in oriental monasteries in places like Syria and Iraq.  The urgency and importance of this task should be obvious to us all at the moment.

Adam’s task is seemingly more prosaic; to catalogue the results.  In practice this requires a wide familiarity with the literature and a great deal of dedication.  But it also gives him the chance to make original finds, and to publicise the texts.  

On his blog today is an interesting post, and a PDF download:

Among some manuscripts at the Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, that I have recently cataloged are some that deal with the hagiographic Qartmin trilogy of the stories of Samuel, Simeon, and Gabriel.

Some of this material has been published (and even partly translated), but the published texts are not easy to come by. While going through these texts I came across one episode in The Story of Šemʿon (Simeon) in Syriac and in Arabic that, not too short and not too long and of enough entertainment value and philological interest, called for greater readership than it currently has residing in manuscripts.

The text, in either or both languages, would be suitable for intermediate, perhaps even beginning, reading courses, and of course anyone interested in hagiography and the history of asceticism, and more generally scholars of Syriac and Arabic, would lose nothing by studying the passage. I stress that the file below is merely a beginning effort, and while I have proofread it, it still should be considered a draft! Here it is:


The ease of making texts available this way — from manuscript to electronic file to the internet in a matter of days, with the option of correction always there — has the potential to change greatly any academic field based on texts, and I hope that more such text presentation will appear. Comments especially on this general prospect are encouraged!

Emphasis mine.  He is quite right.  The PDF presents the text, in Syriac and in Arabic, in a perfectly serviceable form.  And … the world can see it and use it.

Well done, that man.


Armenian mss photographed in Syria by HMML

Via Paleojudaica I learn of an interesting article on the PanArmenian website.

PanARMENIAN.Net – Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University completed a manuscript preservation project in the Middle East shortly before the violence worsened in Syria, reports.

“This was our last current project in Syria, and we had done actually a series of projects – about six of them in Syria – in different locations,” said the Rev. Columba Stewart, executive director of the Collegeville-based library.

However, HMML-trained technicians in Aleppo, Syria, were able to complete the digitization of 225 Armenian manuscripts belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo – one of the largest Armenian collections in Syria.

“We began the work before the current turmoil in Syria, and this particular project was finished just as the situation started to get bad in Aleppo, which had been quiet until fairly recently,” Stewart said during a call from Bethlehem. …

“We also work on Islamic projects, so our interests transcend particular denominations or religious groups because all of this handwritten manuscript heritage is really the heritage of all humankind,” Stewart said.

HMML has now completed a series of projects in Aleppo that have included important collections belonging to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Greek-Catholic communities, for a total of 2,150 digitally preserved manuscripts. …

Adam McCollum is the lead cataloger of Eastern Christian manuscripts at HMML and will be responsible for getting the Armenian collection cataloged once it is at the HMML.

“Once the library has entered into a partnership with people who have collections of manuscripts, a studio is set up there with a digital camera, and entire manuscript collections are photographed and put onto hard drives and mailed back to us,” McCollum said.

One digital copy of the Armenian collection will stay with Bishop Shahan Sarkissian and the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo. HMML will keep an additional digital copy of the collection in a highly secure location.

“The general populace in these places is still pretty safe – at least at this point – but we have no idea what’s going to happen in the future,” he said of HMML’s continuing work in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, as well as in Ethiopia, southwest India and Malta.

I think that we must all wish this enterprise well.  HMML is doing a rescue job here, and a very necessary one. 

Before the first world war, scholars were very excited to discover that the “mountain Nestorians” in the Turkish empire, in what is now the north of modern Iraq and Iran, were still speaking Syriac.  It was discovered that they had preserved manuscripts of various important patristic works previously thought lost.  They were based in the mountains in order to resist Moslem attacks, mainly by Kurds.  American missionaries set up a base at Urmia and copied whatever they could access.  The Archbishop of Seert, Addai Scher, became a well-known scholar and collected a number of irreplaceable items, including a complete Syriac translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s lost work, De incarnatione, discovered in 1905 and unpublished.  

Then the war came, and the Turks orchestrated genocidal attacks on the Armenians in 1915, but also on Christians generally.  Scher was murdered and his library vanished, taking with it any chance that men could ever read De incarnatione.  The losses of manuscripts in that period were severe. 

Likewise the violence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein once again led to Moslem violence against Christians, and the loss of cultural treasures.

The revolutions going on at the moment — and I have no idea what is truly happening there, and I don’t believe our media reports — are very likely to involve the destruction of irreplaceable material. 

The work of HMML in making copies of manuscripts is undoubtedly a wise precaution.

Armenian literature itself is much better known than Old Slavic, but simply cataloguing those manuscript, as Adam McCollum is to do, will itself make material more accessible. 

I once wanted to learn if there was any catena material in Armenian.  I was defeated by the fact that all the titles, in the catalogues of manuscripts that I consulted, were in Armenian script and so unreadable!  A web catalogue will not have this problem.

Yesterday the Slavicists were talking about the need for a Clavis listing all works and authors known in the language, and assigning each a numeric reference.  Is there a Clavis for classical Armenian, I wonder?  If not, why not?