Clavis to the letters of James of Edessa

This is J. J. van Ginkel’s list of all the extant letters of James of Edessa.  Since he has drawn it up, and it is visible online in toto, I hope he will not mind if I post it here.  My purpose in doing so, of course, is to bring this numbering into general use.  The numbering as far as #17 is ancient; beyond that is modern.

I need to go back and retrofit the Ginkel letter number to material from the letters which I have online.  Note that there are certainly some scanner artefacts in this, so use with care.

1. To John of Litarba: on two homilies of Jacob of Serug, which are not by Jacob nor Ephrem (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 79a 81a).
2. To John of Litarba: on medicine and its spiritual interpretation (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 81a-81b).
3. To John of Litarba: on 2 Pet. 2:5 referring to Noah as the eighth person (BL Add. 12172(b). fols. 81b-83a).
4. To George the deacon: on Ephrem’s Madrasha 25 on the Nativity of our Lord (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 83a-85a).
5. To John of Litarba: on the feast of the Invention of the Cross and on Ephrein s Madrasha 44 on Faith (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 85a-87b).
6. To John of Litarba: on problematic passages in the Gospels, e.g. descent of Christ from David (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 87b-91a).
7. To John of Litarba: on calculating the age of the world (discrepancy between Eusebius and the calculation of Jewish Passover) and on why Jacob dated Christ’s birth in A.Gr. 309 (against Eusebius A.Gr. 312: BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 91a-91b).
8. To John of Litarba: on the number of books by Solomon (five or three): why the books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Esther, Judith, and (1-3) Maccabees are not canonical: on the additional year in the calculation of the Alexandrians (AM 5181 or 5180); chronological, theological, and exegetical topics: on earlier authors (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 94b-96b: followed by: Scholion on the book of Wisdom (fols. 96b-97b)).
9. To John of Litarba: on prayers, offerings, and alms on behalf of impious and sinful believers (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 97b-99a).
10. To John of Litarba: on Predestination (BL Add. 12172(b). fols. 99a-104a).
11. To John of Litarba: on Predestination (addition to previous letter; BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 104a-110a).
12. To John of Litarba: on Ephrem’s Madrasha 2 against false doctrines (Shabblaye, Quqaye. Palut) (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 110a-111b).
13. To John of Litarba. reply to eighteen questions: on Gen. 15:13, on literacy before Moses, on the Nubian woman in Num. 12:1, on the cause of Satan’s fall, on Job 2:6, on Behemoth, the bird in Job 30:13 and Leviathan, on Zachariah in Matt. 23:35/Luke 11:51, on Jonah, Tiglath-Pileser and Jonah 3:4 (40 or 3 days), on the wild gourds (2 Kgs. 4:39), on Obadiah. on the articles carried away from the temple by the Babylonians, on the rock spouting water, on the authors of the Psalms, on the Hebrews and the antiquity of their language, on 1 Kgs. 4:32-33. on Song of Songs 3:7-8, on 1 Sam. 17:55. on Gen. 18:32 (BL. Add. 12172(b), fols. 111b-121b).
14. To John of Litarba. reply to thirteen questions: on the composer of the Quqite hymns (Simeon the Potter): on the man in whose house our Lord celebrated the Passover: on 2 Cor. 12:7: on Philip, who baptised the eunuch of Candace: on John 19:25: on Peter the Fuller: on Timothy Ailouros; on the three people called Mar Isaac: on the Magi from Persia at the birth of Christ: on the direction of worship of Jews and Muslims: on Ezek. 37:1 14: on the distinction between XXX, XXX and XXX: and on the clause ‘to judge the living and the dead’ and Phil. 2:10 (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 121b-120b).
15. To John of Litarba: on Acts 10:34 35 and Rom. 2:10-11 (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 126b-129b).
16. To John of Litarba: on 1 Sam. 18:10; 15:35; 19:22-24: 28:3-20: 16:1-1-23; and 17:55 (BL Add. 12172(b), fols. 129b-134a).
17. To John of Litarba: on chronological, theological, and exegetical topics; on earlier authors (BL. Add. 12172(b): also Mingana 4: on the sinner and wicked: Mingana 9: Moses bar Kepa (quotations)).
18. To John of Litarba: introductory letter to a collection of canons (BL. Add. 14493: Harvard Syr. 93: Mardin Orth. 322: Damascus Patr. 8/11).
19. To George of Serug on Syriac orthography (BL. Add. 7183. Add. 12178, Add. 17134; Mingana 101: Berlin 174 (Sachau 70): Vat.sir. 118).
20. To an anonymous person: poetic exhortation to seek wisdom, not only in words, but also in deeds after reflecting on the three creative agencies: God. Nature, and Mind, and Jacob as a poet (seven-syllabic metre: fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 65a-70a).
21. To Eustatius of Dara: on Jacob as an ascetic or a man of the world (fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 70a-72b).
22. To Eustatius of Dara: reply to an invitation to visit (fragment: BL. Add. 12172(a), fols. 72b-73a).
23 To Eustatius of Dara: explanations to a previous poetic (twelve-syllable metre) letter (fragment: BL. Add. 12172(a), fols. 73a-73b).
24. To Eustatius of Dara: on two letters of the Greek alphabet (i and k: fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 73b-74b).
25. To Eustatius of Dara: on Gibeonites and Joshua bar Nun (fragment: BL Add. 12172(a), fol. 74b).
26. To Eustatius of Dara: on the pros and cons of ‘East’ and ‘West’ (i.e. Byzantine Empire) (fragment (?): twelve-syllable metre: BL Add. 12172(a). fols. 74b 77a).
27. To the priest Abraham: allegory on viticulture (BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 77a 77b).
28. To the sculptor Thomas: questions to be put to Nestorians (BL Add. 12172(a), fols. 77b-78a).
29. To Kyrisuna of Dara: (fragment, in twelve-syllable metre; BL Add. 12172(a), fol. 78a).
30. To Kyrisuna of Dara: contains references to philosophy (Aristotelian ὅρος) and contains Greek sayings (fragment: referred to in a letter by George of the Arabs).
31. To the priest Simeon the Stylite: on he who has doubts about his profession (BL Add. 17168).
32. To the deacon Barhadbshabba: on Chalcedonians (BL Add. 14631: compare George of the Arabs to Barhadbshahba).
33. To the priest Addai: baptism and blessing of water in the Night of Epiphany (BL Add. 14715).
34. To an anonymous person: brief sketch of history (BL Or. 2307).
35. To the priest Thomas: Syriac liturgy (BL Add. 14525. Vat. sir. 581. Mingana 3: also used by Dionysius bar Salibi (H. Labourt, Dionysius bar Salibi. Expositio Liturgiae (CSCO 13-14, Syr. 13 14; Paris 1903), ed. 6-12. trans. 36-40).
36. To Daniel (fragment: possibly a pupil of Jacob of Edessa and later (after Constantine) bishop of Emesa; Michael the Syrian. Chronicle 11.15, ed. Chabot, 2:472: 11.17. ed. Chabot, 2:480).
37. To Moses (fragment): Paul reaching the third heaven (possibly Moses of Tur Abdin: Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis 1, 607: also quotation in Mingana 4).
38. On the day of Nativity of Jesus (to Moses of Tur Abdin according to Dionysius bar Salibi. Expositio Liturgiae, ed. Labourt. 49, trans. 67).
39. To Bar Hadad, Bishop of Tella (BL Add. 14731: quotation by Moses bar Kepa).
40. Addressee unknown (ending of a letter: Berlin 201 (Sachau 165)).
41. To Constantine (quoted by Moses bar Kepa: cf. the Hexaemeron which is dedicated to Constantine; possibly a pupil of Jacob of Edessa and later bishop of Bithynia, Emesa. later Edessa: cf. Michael the Syrian. Chronicle 1 1.15, ed. Chabot, 2:472: 11.17, ed. Chabot. 2:480: 11.20. ed. Chabot, 2:496: Oxford Syr. 142 (Marsh 101)).
42. To George the Stylite (although possibly spurious: Jacob third person) (Berlin 188 (Sachau 218). Mingana 317).
43-5. Three letters to Stephen (Seert 81; now lost (?)).
46. To Lazarus: on the mysterium of the Incarnation (fragment: Mingana 4: Charfet Patr. 79. fol. 27a).
47. To Isho`yahb (fragment: BL Add. 7190).
48. To Harran (‘Malakites’) (Berlin 116 (Sachau 12). Cambridge Add. 2889).
49. On the Divine Economy (Oxford Syr. 142 (Marsh 101): Mingana 105. Mingana 152. Mingana 480 (1-13). Mingana 522: Vatican Borg. 147 and 108 (possibly related to Damascus Patr. 8/11).
50. To Paul of Antioch (fragment: Assemani. Bibliotheca Orientalis I. 477-478).


Problems with the CSCO edition of Jacob of Edessa’s Chronicle

The Chronicle of Eusebius may not be his best known work, but it is still fairly widely known.  The second half of this consisted of tables of dates, rulers, and events, in a form which has now been imitated and continued for some fifteen centuries (Jerome’s version here).

Among the continuators was the 7th century Syriac scholar, Jacob of Edessa.  His main claim to fame is that he realised that Syriac needed vowels, and was able to induce his Syrian Orthodox co-religionists to adopt Greek vowels, albeit written as tiny letters above the line.  Their rivals in the Church of the East dogged stuck with swarms of dots above and below the line to indicate vowels; a practise disastrously followed by Arabic.  Indeed Jacob even tried to get the vowels written on the line with the consonants, but here he failed.

His chronicle starts where Eusebius ends, in the 20th year of Constantine.  He begins with several pages discussing an error of calculation in Eusebius, and then a table of kings of Rome and Persia, years of their reign, “total years” (from the start of his chronicle) and events against each year makes up the rest of the Chronicle.  A badly damaged manuscript from the Nitrian desert in Egypt now in the British Library contains what survives of the text.  The work is of importance as one of the earliest mentions of Mohammed — as king of the Arabs — in a non-Moslem text.

The tabular portion of the work was printed in the ZDMG 1 early in the 20th century by E. W. Brooks, who appended a non-tabular translation in English of the events.  He revisited the text for the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium series; vol. 5 consists of the Syriac text in a volume of Chronica minora, while vol. 6 contains a Latin translation in tabular form, including the introduction. 

I have scanned the English translation from the ZDMG, with the intention of placing it online.  I obtained the CSCO volumes, and intended to format the text in tabular form, and simply replace the Latin translation with Brooks earlier English translation.  Simple?

I am encountering several problems doing so, which seem interesting themselves. 

Firstly, it is by no means as clear as it might be what the layout on the manuscript page actually is, when these seem to start in the middle of a page in the printed edition.  Are those running headers “PERSIANS: Sapor” really present half-way down the manuscript page, as Brooks suggests by printing them at the top of the page of the printed edition?  How is it that alternate pages seem to be non-tabular; is that a feature of the original; table and facing text?  Are any of those headings colour coded, as Eusebius coded his original text?   The only way to find out is to consult the original manuscript.

In addition, Brooks was unable to read the text in many places.  In some places he resorted to patching it from Michael the Syrian, who quotes extensively from Jacob, it is true.  But this is a risky thing to do.  We want Jacob’s text, as it exists.  We don’t want Michael here, except in a footnote.

As for the unreadable text, I wonder whether it would become readable under UV light?

Comparing the English translation with his Latin translation, the latter is longer, and words that were uncertain the first time are not so the second.  His use of Michael is probably the reason for this new certainty.  But there are worrying differences.  I have already come across one event which is labelled as one year in the English, and the following year in the Latin.  There is no indication of why the event is supposed to happen a line later in the text.  Which is right?  Did the printers do this?

Clearly we need a new edition of this work.  It’s not a long text, perhaps 20 pages.  We need an English translation of the discussion of Eusebius.  We need good pictures of the text, not the partial ones that Brooks had – perhaps using Multi-Spectral Imaging.  None of this should be beyond the skills of any Syriacist. 

Is anyone interested? 

1. Zeitschrift fur deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 53 (1899) 261-327


Eusebius and Islam

There are some things which are obvious, once they have been invented.  It took the genius of Eusebius of Caesarea to digest down into a tabular form of dates and events all the information about dates and events for Greece and Assyria and Persia and Rome — and the Hebrews — contained in the literature available to him.  But once this Chronicle of World History existed, running up until the 20th year of Constantine, every copyist would feel the urge to add extra lines on the bottom, to bring it up to date.  It’s sort of obvious, isn’t it?

To this obviousness we owe a mass of chronicles, not just in Greek but in Latin and Syriac.  One such continuator was James of Edessa, the 8th century scholarly West Syriac bishop who attempted to introduce Greek vowels into the Syriac script, and partially succeeded.  His continuation was composed in 692 AD.  

The text is lost, but portions of it remain.  The text of the 10th century World History of Michael the Syrian makes use of it verbatim in places, although not in tabular form.  Better still, a 10th/11th century Syriac manuscript from the Nitrian Desert, now in the British Library (Ms. Additional 14685) contains a substantial chunk of it, albeit in an abbreviated form.  It starts where Eusebius left off, and begins with a preface in which James discusses an error in calculation which he has found in Eusebius.  Then it goes into a set of tables.  Like the Armenian version of Eusebius (but unlike the original, or the Latin version), the columns of year numbers are positioned in the centre of the page, and events for those years written on either side.

I was looking around the web today for the ancient texts which mention Mohammed, and came across this site.  To my surprise this chronicle by James is one of the earliest mentions of Mohammed.  This has given impetus to me to put it online.  But how to do so?

E. W. Brooks published the Chronicle in Zeitschrift fur deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 53 (1899), p. 261-327.  He didn’t publish the preface.  He published the Syriac text, laid out in tabular form.  He followed it with an English translation, not of all the text, but of the wording (events) against each year.  He then republished it, this time with the preface, in CSCO Syr. 5, with a Latin translation of the lot in CSCO Syr. 6.  Both text and translation contained the tabular layout.

I’m not going to transcribe the Syriac, or the Latin.  I have already OCR’d the English, but there is a problem.  The Islamic website above rightly quotes three chunks of relevant information.  But… two of these are embedded in the table in the middle of the page, so not present in the English translation.  Anyway… don’t we want to see the proper layout?  I certainly would!

I think the solution will be to take the Latin translation, lay it out in HTML, and then substitute the English where it is available, translating the trivial bits of Latin where it is not.  It will be fiddly; but it will work.  Considering its importance, tho, something must be done.