One of the more interesting texts of Arabic Christian literature that has hitherto escaped a close philological study of the whole is the Gospel text of ʿAbdišoʿ bar Brikhā of Nisibis (d. 1318; see further Childers 2011). The work is interesting especially because of its form: it is a translation (or better, a paraphrase) of Gospel readings together with a general preface and some prologues to the four Gospels individually, but not in bare prose, but rather in saǧʿ, typically called “rhymed prose” in English (see the bibliography below for works touching saǧʿ). In at least four articles, Fr. Samir has focused on this particular work, including an edition and French translation of the prologues (1981) and the same for the general preface (1983). As far as I know, there is no translation of this very interesting, not to mention elegant, prefatory material in English, nor is there a complete edition of ʿAbdišoʿ’s Gospel text itself. Fr. Samir has laid excellent groundwork for this interesting text. My friend Salam Rassi has informed me about the edition from 2007 by Sami Khoury, but unfortunately I have not seen it and have no access to it. It is apparently fully vocalized, a welcome fact.
This work of ʿAbdišoʿ’s deserves to be more fully known by arabists, biblical scholars, and perhaps theologians. Students of Arabic can benefit from the aforementioned vocalized text of the work, if they have access to it; a dedicated lexicon would be an additional help. An English translation at least of the prefatory material if not the whole text would be appreciated by other readers.
Fr. Samir (1972: 176) says ten manuscripts (only seven in GCAL) of the work are known, but he does not list them there. Samir 1981 is based on USJBO 341, NEST AC-11, BnF arabe 204, and Vat. arab. 1354. The first two manuscripts are available for study from HMML. (We might also mention USJBO 432, a kind of revision of ʿAbdišoʿ’s work that has also put the Gospels in their biblical, as opposed to lectionary, order.) But thanks to HMML’s partner, the Centre numérique des manuscrits orientaux (CNMO), there is yet another manuscript of this work available. It is not a manuscript that has been unknown, but it is a manuscript that has for some time been difficult, if not impossible, to access otherwise: Diyarbakır 127 = Macomber 12.37 = (now) CCM 91. For the history of the Chaldean collections of Mardin and Diyarbakır, now joined together, see Scher 1907, Scher 1908, Vosté 1937 (only Syriac), Macomber 1969 (only Syriac), and Macomber N.d. As to this collection, which has a number of important manuscripts across several genres — again, not necessarily unknown, but hardly accessible in recent decades, with even its existence and whereabouts uncertain — about which you will hear more, I hope, in the coming months, it is now being cataloged anew as it presently stands. As to this manuscript itself, Scher (1907: 411-412) rightly notes that we may have here the autograph of ʿAbdišoʿ’s rhymed Gospel, and if not the autograph, an early copy. In any case, it is a very early witness to the work, and no one in the future who works on the text will want to neglect a close study of it.
Following the bibliography below are some images from the manuscript, so that readers may get an idea of the text, and I have included a few transliterated lines so that even readers without Arabic can see some examples of the line-ending rhymes.
(A glance at the index to Sidney H. Griffith’s recently published The Bible in Arabic [Princeton and Oxford, 2013] reveals no references to ʿAbdišoʿ.)
Beeston, A.F.L. 1983. “The Role of Parallelism in Arabic Prose”. In Beesont et al. 1983: 180-185 (esp. 185).
Beeston, A.F.L. et al., eds. 1983. Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period. Cambridge.
Childers, J.W. 2011. “ʿAbdishoʿ bar Brikha”. In GEDSH 3-4.
Fahd, T., W.P. Heinrichs, and Afif Ben Abdesselem. 1995. “Sadjʿ”. In Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed.: 732-738.
Graf, Georg. GCAL I 165-166.
Khoury, Sami. 2007. ʿAbdīshōʿ al-Ṣūbāwī. Anājīl ʿAbdīshūʿ al-Ṣūbāwī (d. 1318) al-musajjaʿa. 2 vols. Beirut: CEDRAC, 2007.
Latham, J.D. 1983. “The Beginnings of Arabic Prose Literature: The Epistolary Genre”. In Beeston et al. 1983: 154-179 (esp. 175-176).
Macomber, William F. 1969. “New Finds of Syriac Manuscripts in the Middle East”. ZDMG Suppl. I.2: 473-482 (esp. 479-482).
Macomber, William F. N.d. “A Checklist of the Manuscripts of the Combines Libraries of the Chaldean Cathedrals of Mardin and Diarbekir.” Not published.
Paret, R. 1983. “The Qurʾān — I”. In Beeson et al. 1983: 186-227 (esp. 196-198).
Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1972. “Date de composition de l’évangéliaire rimé de ʿAbdišuʿ”. Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 47: 175-181.
Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1981. “Les prologues de l’évangéliaire rimé de ʿAbdishuʿ de Nisibe”. Proche-orient chrétien 31: 43-70.
Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1983. “La Préface de l’évangéliaire rimé de ʿAbdishuʿ de Nisibe”. Proche-Orient chrétien 33: 19-33.
Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1985. “Une réponse implicite à l’iʿgâz du Coran”. Proche-orient chrétien 35: 225-237.
Scher, Addai. 1908. “Notice des mss. syriaques et arabes conservés dans la bibliothèque de l’évêché chaldéen de Mardin”. Revue des bibliothèques 18: 64–95.
El-Tayib, Abdulla. 1983. “Pre-Islamic Poetry”. In Beeston et al. 1983: 27-113 (esp. 33).
Vosté, J.-M. 1937. “Notes sur les manuscrits syriaques de Diyarbékir et autres localités d’Orient”. Le Muséon 50: 345-351.
“The translation of the sinner ʿAbdišoʿ…; he made the translation into Arabic in the year 699 AH and 1611 AG.” (= 1299/1300 CE; cf. Samir 1972)
Lines 6-10 from the page above:
ʔamma baʕdu fa-lammā kāna al-naqlu min luɣatin ilá luɣatin ʔuxrá
min ɣayri ʔifsādin wa-lā tabdīlin li-l-maʕná
wa-lā taxlīṭin li-ǧumali ‘l-kalāmi wa-maqāṭiʕih
wa-lā taḥrīfin li-l-qawli ʕan ʔīrādi mubdiʕih
maʕa muḥāwalati ’l-faṣāḥati fī ‘l-luɣati ‘l-manqūli ʔilayhā
wa-luzūmi ‘l-šurūṭi ‘l-muʕawwali fī ‘l-ʔiḥāṭati bi-ɣarībi ‘l-luɣatayni ʕalayhā
The last five lines on this page:
wa-ʔanā fa-maʕa ‘ʕtirāfī b-quṣūrī wa-ǧalālati ‘l-ʔamr
wa-taḍāʔulī ʕan xawḍi ðā ‘l-ɣamr
fa-ʔinnanī iǧtaðaytu ‘l-šarāʔiṭa ‘l-maðkūrata fī-mā tarǧamtuh
wa-ʔaxraǧtu ʔilá ‘l-arʕabiyyati ‘l-fuṣūla ’l-muqaddasata ‘l-ʔinǧīliyyata ʕalá mā qaddamtuh
wa-badaʔtu bi-ʔinšāʔi ‘l-muqaddimāti ‘l-θamān
(cont. on 12v: li-kulli mina ‘l-ʔarbaʕati ‘l-rusuli ‘θnatān)
The colophon essentially repeats the words of the title page (given above), but at the end it adds: “May God be pleased with whoever reads in [this book].” The year at the bottom is unfortunately illegible due to some holes in the paper, but we can see “the beginning of the blessed month Šaʕbān.”