A Nestorian Syriac account of the life of Nestorius – translated by Anthony Alcock

In the late 19th century the Nestorians were still holed up in the mountains of what is today northern Iraq, and preserved a considerable amount of literature in Syriac giving their side of the dispute with Cyril of Alexandria that culminated in the Council of Ephesus in 433.

Anthony Alcock has kindly translated an abbreviated account of this, from that perspective.  I think most of us find Cyril difficult to like, and tend to be sympathetic to Nestorius.  So these texts are valuable.  Here it is:

Thank you so much!

A collection of sayings attributed to Ammonius/Amun

Dr Anthony Alcock has translated for us all a collection of sayings, some Syriac, some Greek, which are attributed to St Ammonius, or Amun, a disciple of the desert father St Anthony.  These take the form of short anecdotes.

It’s lovely to have these in English!  The PDF is here:

A short Syriac legend on the Emperor Maurice – in English

Anthony Alcock has emailed in an English translation of another Syriac text.  This one is a hagiographical text, perhaps of Nestorian origin, on the Emperor Maurice.  It’s here:

Thank you!

A useful list of Syriac and Arabic chroniclers

French blogger Albocicade writes to say that he has compiled a list of Syriac and Arabic chronicles on his blog.  I found this rather useful, to see it in a condensed form.  Better still, he has linked the entries to online versions of the text or translation.  Very useful, I think!

It’s here.

Eznik of Kolb: the Avesta was not transmitted in writing but orally

A tweet by @BLAsia_Africa led me to a neglected passage in Eznik of Kolb, the 5th century Armenian writer, and a quotation from Paul the Persian!  From it I learned that:

…the Avesta was transmitted orally and not written down!

The author drew this conclusion after reading some remarks by R. C. Zaehner in 1955[1]:

However, whatever our view on the evidence of Paulus Persa, we have two other testimonies which can leave us in little doubt as to the fluidity of Zoroastrian dogma in Sassanian times. These are supplied by the Armenians Eznik of Kolb and Elise Vardapet. Eznik, like the nameless heretic of the Denkart, was struck by their inconsistency. ‘Their foolishness’, he says, ‘is enough to refute them from their own words which are mutually exclusive and self-contradictory’;[7] and again, repeating the oft-made charge that they had no books, he says: ‘Since their laws are not in books, sometimes they say one thing with which they deceive, and sometimes another with which they seduce, the ignorant.’[1]

[7] Ed. Venice, 1926, bk. ii, §2, p.128; Langlois, ii, p.375; Schmid, p.94.
[1] Venice, 1926, ii, 9, p.156; Langlois, ii, p.381; Schmid, pp. 111-12.

(Langlois = V. Langlois, Collection des historiens anciens et modernes de l’Arménie, 2 vols, 1867: p.179-251; Schmid = J.M. Schmid, Wardapet Eznik von Kolb: Wider die Sekten. Aus den Armenischen ubersetzt…, Vienna, 1900. Online here.)

There is actually a complete English translation, and I used to have a copy but it was mislaid.  So let’s use Langlois, and just check the context of that quote.  It appears in column 1 on p.381, in about the middle of the page:

En second lieu, pour cacher cette honteuse action, [Zoroastre] publie que pour le besoin des jugements [Ormizt et Arhmèn] ont créé [le soleil].  Aussi comme les dogmes religieux ne sont pas écrits, tantôt ils disent une chose, et se trompent, tantôt ils en disent une autre, et ils trompent les ignorants. Cependant si Ormizt était Dieu, il pouvait tirer les autres du néant, comme il avait créé les cieux et la terre, et non pas au moyen d’un commerce infame, ou bieu en raison de l’absence d’un juge.

Secondly, in order to conceal this shameful act, [Zoroaster] set forth that [Ormazd and Ahriman] created [the sun] to perform judgements.  Also as the religious teachings are not written down, sometimes they say one thing, and are deceived, sometimes they say another about this, and deceive the ignorant.  However if Ormazd was god, he could brings the others out from nothing, like he created the heavens and the earth, and not by means of an infamous commerce, or because there was no judge.

That does seem like a pretty clear statement that the Avesta, the Zoroastrian scriptures, did not exist in written form at this date as far as Eznik knew; and that in consequence Zoroastrian teaching was pretty fluid.  I have seen popular claims that Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrian sources; but if there really are similarities, chronology would suggest that the borrowing is in the other direction.

  1. [1]Robert Charles Zaehner, Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1955; 128-9.  Google Books preview here.

Upcoming: translation (offline) of Bar Hebraeus’ “Chronicon Ecclesiasticum”

The 13th century Syriac writer Bar Hebraeus wrote before the Mongol invasions that devastated the Near East and reduced it to the backward condition in which it has languished ever since.  The same events also brought an end to the production of Syriac literature, and caused the loss of vast amounts of what already existed.

Among his works are two histories.  The second is the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, an encyclopedia of Syriac people, both Syrian Orthodox and Church of the East, with details of their lives and works.  This was printed with a Latin translation, but has never been translated into English.  Until now.

David Wilmshurst writes to tell me that he has translated it, and has now received the proof copy from Gorgias Press, who are issuing it.  I would imagine that it is an essential purchase.  Here’s the blurb:

The Ecclesiastical Chronicle of the Jacobite polymath Bar Hebraeus (†1286), an important Syriac text written in the last quarter of the 13th century, has long been recognised as a key source for the history of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Church of the East.  Bar Hebraeus describes the eventful history of the Jacobite and Nestorian Churches, as they were then called, from their earliest beginnings down to his own time, against the background of christological controversies, Roman‒Persian wars, the Arab Conquest, the Crusades and the 13th-century Mongol invasions.  Two continuators bring the story down to the end of the 15th century, shedding valuable light on a relatively obscure period in the history of both Churches.  The Ecclesiastical Chronicle was translated into Latin between 1872 and 1877, but has never before been fully translated into English.  Gorgias Press is proud to publish the first complete English translation of this influential text, by respected Syriac scholar David Wilmshurst.

This elegant translation of the Ecclesiastical Chronicle, six years in the making, captures the distinctive flavour of Bar Hebraeus’s style, and is complemented by a facing Syriac text.  Wilmshurst also provides a detailed introduction, setting the chronicle in its historical and literary context.  His translation is accompanied by five maps, showing the dioceses of the Jacobite and Nestorian Churches and the towns, villages and monasteries of Tur ‘Abdin and the Mosul Plain.  A helpful bibliography and index are also provided.

David Wilmshurst was educated at Worcester College, Oxford, where he took a D Phil degree in Oriental Studies (1998).  He has spent much of his life in Hong Kong, and is one of the few modern scholars of the Church of the East who can read Syriac, Arabic and Chinese.  He is the author of The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913 (Louvain, 2000), a study of the Christian topography of Iraq and Iran, and The Martyred Church (London, 2011), a general history of the Church of the East. Both books have been warmly praised by leading scholars.

I hope that the price is reasonable.

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 Archive.org, 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 Archive.org?  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 https://archive.org/details/CMB10-8, 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.

Translation of Bar Hebraeus “Chronicon Ecclesiasticum” to appear later this year

David Wilmshurst writes to tell me that he has reached agreement with Gorgias Press and that his translation of the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum of Bar Hebraeus will appear in print before the end of 2014.

This is excellent news.  All our knowledge of Syriac literature – who wrote what, and when – is based on this work.  It is a scandal that it has remained untranslated for so long.

What happened to the bindings of the Syriac manuscripts at the British Library

A very interesting post on this here:   The Syriac manuscripts in the British Library: what happened to the bindings? (Liv Ingeborg Lied).

Basically they were mostly discarded and rebound.

H/T Paleojudaica.

Welcome to Christophe Guignard’s “Marginalia” blog

The excellent Christophe Guignard has started his own blog (in French), on details of ancient Christian literature and its Graeco-Roman context.  It’s called Marginalia.

He’s just done a post in both English and French on a “new” uncial fragment of John’s Gospel (0323).

He’s also interested in Syriac mss. at Sinai.

I think I shall add it to my RSS feed.