Matti Moosa, RIP

Armeniologist Robert Bedrosian writes:

On Tuesday, December 30, 2014, the great U.S. Syriac scholar and historian, Matti Moosa, passed away.

Although we never met in person, he and I became close friends via the Internet. He heard from somewhere that I was translating into English the medieval Armenian versions of Michael the Syrian’s Chronicle. Matti was translating the sole-surviving Syriac manuscript of this work, which was published in 2014. It was the crowning achievement of his long and scholarly life. We corresponded frequently, and I became more and more familiar with, and impressed by, his works.

He allowed me to put some of his important writings online, and the Internet became for us a new kind of printing press, lecture hall, and museum:

God rest his immortal soul.

I corresponded a number of times with Dr Moosa, and he was invariably a kind and courteous correspondent.

His work was invaluable.  He translated the Scattered Pearls, a history of Syriac literature by Aphram Barsoum, thereby making this Arabic handbook available to western scholars.  It is a fascinating read!  At one point he offered his translation of Michael to me to publish, but I was weighed down with Origen and unable to do so.  His church published it in the end; the institution that he intended to benefit by his work.  But he very kindly sent me a complimentary copy anyway.

It is fashionable at the moment to look down efforts of translation and handbook-compilation or translation in favour of “original research”.  But this work is the sinews of scholarship and far more valuable to far more people than yet another trivial paper to add to the litter of learning.  This is because such books open up the way.  I have today responded to a correspondent, wanting to know about an Arabic author, and baffled by accessing the information in Brockelmann’s appalling mess of a History of Arabic Literature (where every entry is scattered across 7 volumes, in German, highly abbreviated, with useless indexes).  A translation of Brockelmann ought to be the first thing any scholar of Arabic literature endeavours to bring into existence.  Instead … people struggle.

Well done Matti Moosa for a lifetime of quiet, virtuous effort to make material available to us all.


English translation of Michael the Syrian by Matti Moosa now available

A very large and unexpected parcel arrived today.  In it was … the first published English translation of the world history of Michael the Syrian, or Michael Rabo, to give him his proper name.  Matti Moosa, who has translated a number of important Syriac texts, is the translator, and he has kindly sent me a copy, since I learned of his work a couple of years ago.

moosa_michael_raboIt’s a monster volume, not far short of some lectern bibles in size, and 827 pages.  The quality of manufacture of the volume is very high.  Note that the hardback cover is actually black – the picture to the left doesn’t give the correct colour balance – and very, very impressive looking.  The Syrian Orthodox diocese of Antioch have published it, and made a very splendid job of it.

I’ve had no time to read through it.  It is, in the main, the translation, with limited but useful footnotes.

The publisher’s site is here.  You can purchase a copy online here.  The price is $75, and that is actually entirely reasonable for a volume of this size and quality.  (International buyers may need to pay some extra postage – obviously they’re not quite sure what this should be).

This is a very important work indeed.  For a long time scholars have been dependent on Chabot’s French translation, made from an illicit copy of the manuscript.

Michael the Syrian was the patriarch of the monophysite Syrian Orthodox in Syria at the time of the crusades.  His picture of the period is very interesting indeed.  One of the problems that Michael faced was treacherous intrigues by the Byzantines.  The crusader patriarch of Jerusalem had precisely the same problem.  In consequence the two got on extremely well.

But the work is even more valuable to patristics and Syriac scholars.  It begins with a Syriac translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea, then with the continuation by the scholar-bishop, James of Edessa.  It goes on to give verbatim accounts from any number of now lost Syriac histories.

I don’t suppose that the publishers have a lot of contacts with university libraries.  But this book should be in them.  If you do have such a contact, please ask your university library to obtain a copy.