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.


Do Syriac historians care about getting their dates right?

A correspondent points out some very different attitudes towards chronological accuracy between Greek and Syriac historians.

In his monster-sized world chronicle, Michael the Syrian (12th c.) quoted frequently from earlier historians.  I will let my correspondent describe what he found.

“One of the sources Michael used was Ignatius of Melitene, whose preface he reproduced in full (iii. 115).

“Ignatius of Melitene was charmingly offhand about dates and their importance:

If anyone finds that some of the dates in my chronicle are either slightly high or slightly low, he should not blame me. Sometimes, when a king died, his successor had to wait around six months or a year before he ascended the throne. Similarly, when a patriarch died, a year or thereabouts might elapse before his successor was ordained. As a result, some events have become confused with others. As a matter of fact, this kind of thing does no great harm, as all scholars will readily admit.

“Ignatius demonstrates his insouciance later in Michael’s narrative by giving a date for the accession of one of the Syrian Orthodox patriarchs that is six or seven years out.

“Michael himself, though I think he did his best, knew that some of his dates would be questioned, and wisely covered his back in his own preface (i. 2):

In my opinion, scholars should not waste their energy in trying to calculate dates with a greater or lesser degree of accuracy. As the Saviour truly said, ‘The Father has kept for himself the knowledge of times and dates.’ For example, there are many divergences between the Septuagint and the translation possessed by the Syrians, which was first made by King Abgar and was later revised by Ya‘qob of Edessa, who pretended to convert to Judaism so that the Jews would not hide the truth from him.

“When one thinks of how much care Thucydides took to get his dates right, and the stress that he rightly laid on accuracy (akribeia), the sloppiness of the Syriac writers is all the more remarkable.”

Interesting indeed.


Ephraim the Syrian on the Borborites / Phibionites

A rather baffling reference to “Ephraem the Syrian, Contra Haereses 79″[1] turns out to be a reference to Hymns against Heresies 22, 4, which, by happy chance, was translated for us a while back here.  Here’s the relevant section:


The Arians, because they added and erred;
The Aetians, because they were subtle;
The Paulinians, because they acted perversely;
The Sabellians, because they acted with guile;
The Photinians, because they were cunning;
The Borborians, because they were defiled;
The Katharaites, because they kept themselves pure;
The Audians, because they were ensnared;
The Mesallians, because they were unrestrained.

Response: May the good one turn them to his fold!

(This stanza has no main verb: it seems to be a list of why these groups are considered heretics.)

This does not tell us much.  But it would seem that this was written before Epiphanius wrote the Panarion, as Ephraim died on 9th July 373 AD,[2] and the Panarion was written as a continuation of the Ancoratus (374 AD), and was in progress in 375 and completed in 377.[3]  If so, it must be independent of it.

The same source also refers to “Pseudo-Ephraim, Testament 58″.  I have not been able to discover what this text is, unfortunately.

  1. [1]Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of early Christianity, 2nd ed.
  2. [2]S. Brock, A brief outline of Syriac literature, Moran Etho 9, Kottayam:SEERI, 1997,  p.22.  One wonders how so precise a date is known.
  3. [3]Panarion 1, 2; Panarion 66, 20; Quasten, Patrology III, 386 and 388.  I do not know how the Anchoratus is dated, however.

Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur online!

A correspondant kindly drew my attention to an online resource for Islamic manuscripts.  The address is here:

The site includes all five volumes of Graf’s GCAL.  It may be 60 years old but it is still the only handbook of Christian Arabic literature.

The site also has a vast array of manuscript-related catalogues and resources.


Syriac and Manichaean-related materials on a British Library blog

Via MedievalEgypt on Twitter I learn of a valuable post on Manichaean-related materials in the British Library, here, by Ursula Sims-Williams:

One of the most important sources in the British Library is the Syriac manuscript Add.12150 which contains the treatise Against the Manicheans by Titus (d. 378) of Bostra (Bosra, now in Syria), translated from Greek. This codex is additionally important, being the oldest known dated Syriac manuscript, in near perfect condition, and copied in Edessa in the year 723 of the Seleucid era (AD 411).


The final page of Titus of Bostra’s treatise Against the Manicheans. Vellum, dated AD 411 (Add.12150, f.156r).

The article goes on to discuss the manuscript of the Prose Refutations by Ephraim the Syrian, and the efforts of Charles Mitchell to edit these.  I well remember digitising his translation and uploading it, years ago.  He was a casualty of WW1.

I hope that the BL Asian and African Studies blog will do more on Syriac materials!


Life of Mar Aba – final version now online in English

I have collected together all the pieces of the Life of the 6th century patriarch of Persia, Mar Aba, and revised them slightly and uploaded them to the Additional Fathers collection, with an introduction.  The translation is here.

I made the translation, not from the original Syriac, but from the BKV German translation.  It’s probably a bit shaky at points; but, hey, it exists!

As ever, I place the material in the public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.


Life of Mar Aba – chapter 41 (and end)

We may as well add today the conclusion of the Life of Mar Aba.

41.  In order to avoid wearying you, through hearing too much, let us pass over what God soon did through him and for his sake in many distant countries, through arbitrating disputes which Satan, the enemy of our nature, had aroused; then in the imprisonment, which he endured for seven years in Azerbaijan; then in the fetters which he wore for three years around his neck, hands and feet at the king’s court.

There is a lot of this, and in many parts; the mouth is unable to tell it all, and you already know much of it.

So we end our words with the words of the blessed David, and say: “Blessed is the people that has such a man, and blessed is the people at whose head stands such a man, to feed the flock of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”



Life of Mar Aba – chapter 40

Dead but not buried yet! (I have split up some of the monster sentences in this one).

40.  He was honoured for seven days in the cathedral, day and night, with scripture readings, hymns, sermons and spiritual songs, and all the hosts of believers from all the provinces took the blessings home, by means of small towels (ὠράριον) and garments, that they laid on his body.  Then the King of Kings and the Mobedan Mobed sent the Mobed (of the province?) and the judge and other magians to see whether it was the saint or not, because, out of fear and terror, they didn’t believe in his death.

After these delegates had seen him, the body of the saint was placed on another bier (λεκτίκιον) and buried with great honour while spiritual songs were sung.  Countless multitudes eagerly honoured him with perfumes and lamps all the way through the city to the monastery of Seleucia.  Likewise the judges and magians who had been sent went before the litter (? BISPK’), in which the saint’s body was, and after he had been honoured through God’s almighty power, the magians returned, amazed and astonished at what they had seen and heard, to those who had sent them.

Thus the multitude lauded and praised God because of the wonderful things that happened at the death of the saint.

The King and the chief priest, the Mobedan Mobed, clearly wanted to make sure that Mar Aba did not stage a fake funeral and pop up somewhere out of their reach!