Archive for August 2012

A decorated Gospel book from Gunda Gunde   7 comments

Manuscripts in Gǝʿǝz from Gunda Gunde (ጉንደ፡ጉንዴ) in the Tigray region of Ethiopia were photographed in 2006* and they are available for study on-site at HMML or for copies to be ordered. Unlike the lion’s share of HMML’s Ethiopian collection, which is on bitonal microfilm, the copies of Gunda Gunde manuscripts were born digital, like the rest of the collections photographed post-2003 by HMML. While full color obviously makes everything for manuscript study better (paleography, codicology), any artwork that manuscripts may have is rendered especially more strikingly than in microfilm. I am the furthest thing from an art historian, but I would nevertheless like to share a few images from a 15th/16th century Gospel book from Gunda Gunde (no. 440/C₃-IV-5). (By all means, any comments on these images from art historians or artistically interested codicologists are welcome!)

First, here are some of the Eusebian canons, similar in design to those of other language traditions.

Gunda Gunde 440, ff. 9v-10r

The interlocking strands of color are worth a close-up.

Gunda Gunde 440, f. 10r detail

Now here is Matthew the evangelist. Similar paintings precede the other three Gospels. Note his scribal instruments.

Gunda Gunde 440, f. 13v

Finally from this manuscript, here are the apostles Matthias and Thomas, then Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, and on the next page, as it says, “Image[s] of our holy prophet fathers” (śǝʿlä abäwinä qǝddusan näbiyyat) Enoch “the learned” (or “scribe,” ṣäḥafi), Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob, with the four on the bottom being Job “the righteous” (ṣadǝq), Moses “the archprophet” (liqä näbiyyat), Aaron “the priest” (kahǝn; note the censer), and Joshua “the chief” (sǝfun).

Gunda Gunde 440, ff. 15v-16r

I close with a fine description of the Gunda Gunde style of manuscript painting: “It introduced squat figures with extremely simplified bodies hidden under stylised garments in bright colours covered by geometrical, patchwork pattern. Their pear-formed heads with concave faces have characteristic elongated eyes, upward triangular eyebrows and small mouths.” (E. Balicka-Witakowska in Enc. Aeth. 2, 920).

In the next post I hope to show and discuss another decorated Ethiopian manuscript (one with a little more text) from a different monastery. For now, feast your mind on these bright juxtaposed colors!


Beylot, Robert, and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska. “Gundä Gunde.” In Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 2. Wiesbaden, 2005. 917-921.

Marx, Annegret, Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Marilyn E. Heldman. “Painting.” In Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4. Wiesbaden, 2010. 90-101.

*The project was handled by Michael Gervers and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska. Thanks to Wayne Torborg, HMML’s digital director, for touching up these photos for me.


How to search for manuscripts in Oliver   Leave a comment

Having something you want to share with others is pointless without the means whereby those others might find what you want to share. Hence the necessity of cataloging, and hence the importance of the catalog’s ease of use. In the previous post I highlighted that there are (digital) heaps and piles of manuscripts available at HMML that are still to be cataloged, and other catalogers and I are working to lessen their number, but in the meantime, especially since I have recently received some queries about how to use HMML’s online catalog to find manuscripts (enquirers, you know who you are!), here are a few tips about how to do it. (NB: The catalog name is written in all caps on HMML’s website, but I’ve just used “Oliver” here.)

If you go here (or click “Research / Search HMML Resources” from the banner of any HMML page), you will find three options for searching the catalog: Keyword Search, Traditional Search, and Text Search. I shall deal with each of these in turn, mainly with an eye toward eastern Christian manuscripts, but there are also on HMML’s site general remarks about using the catalog.

The Keyword Search is the newest way to get into Oliver. It’s a Google-like search that will go through all the text of the catalog database (yes, that’s a lot of data). First, note that there are a few guidelines: read them. It’s Unicode compliant, so try out some terms in Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, or Gǝʿǝz (but note that there is little in Fidäl in Oliver for now; see more on Ethiopian manuscripts below). The results appear as in the screen capture below, with individual manuscripts in their own clickable block. The search term appears in red on the results page and then with yellow highlighting once you click on a particular manuscript and come to the actual Oliver record. Don’t use the forward and back arrows on your browser to navigate between the search results and the individual records, but rather the navigation buttons at the top of the search page. I should point out, too, that the data available for this kind of search is somewhat behind the pace of the data available to the other searches.

The so-called Traditional Search, from the perspective of eastern Christian manuscripts, is probably most useful as a direct line to information about EMML manuscripts, which are generally cited and discussed by their EMML number, not by their location and shelfmark. So if I’m reading the latest issue of Aethiopica and see a reference to EMML 246, I can easily go here, enter 246 in the bottom section et voilà, there is the record. It should be pointed out that the Oliver records for EMML manuscripts are based on the printed catalogs by William Macomber and Getatchew Haile, but they often contain less information than is in those catalogs. (A desideratum is to re-enter the Gǝʿǝz names and titles in these EMML records in Fidäl, a mammoth undertaking very susceptible to typographic errors.)

This kind of search may also be used, however, to get a glimpse of all the manuscripts of a particular collection, if you know the city. For example, if we choose Istanbul from the City drop-down menu, and then choose Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Balat from the Library drop-down menu, and leave Shelfmark blank, we get the following:

All the items in the list are, of course, clickable to go to the individual manuscript.

The Text Search can be very useful for going directly to particular manuscripts (other than EMML) or for doing broader searches for author or title; but in the latter case, the Keyword Search may also serve well. One of my own frequent uses of the Text Search is to enter the HMML Project Number, which in the case of the eastern Christian material photographed since 2003 consists of an acronym (some more perspicuous than others) and a five-digit number; this number sometimes, but certainly not always, equals the shelfmark. (These acronyms are handy to use and, since HMML is where most of these manuscripts are the easiest to access, this means of reference will perhaps become standard in some cases, as it has for the EMML collection.) If I see a reference to Mardin 130, for example, perhaps in Vööbus’ Handschriftliche Überlieferung der Mēmrē-Dichtung des Jaʿqōb von Serūg, and if I know that the manuscripts he cites as “Mardin” are in the Church of the Forty Martyrs (= CFMM) collection, I can enter CFMM 00130 in the Project Number box of this search page and go straight to the appropriate catalog record.

As with most digital projects, Oliver is ever-evolving (nice alliteration in that phrase with the liquids and v’s!), hence the caveat about it on the main search page: “Oliver is a work in progress and new records are added frequently. HMML welcomes corrections from users. Include the source number and the name of the field that needs correction and send to HMML.”

I hope these tips for using Oliver are helpful and lead to easier searching and researching. On any of these things comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome, either below or in an email to me, especially after some hands-on use of the catalog. (Obviously, use good sense in determining what kind of remarks or questions should go below and what kind should be sent privately.)

Armenian, Syriac, and Arabic collections available at HMML (summer 2012)   1 comment

Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul (Patriarch’s collection) 109 (dated 1433 CE)

This PDF file was distributed in one of the sessions at the Symposium Syriacum on Malta a few weeks ago. Because it is (a) up-to-date, (b) concise, and (c) easily navigable, it is fitting to share it here, too, where it will hopefully be widely viewed and consulted. A few things to bear in mind:

  • Listed here are only collections of manuscripts photographed digitally (i.e. the European collections photographed by HMML in prior decades and preserved in bitonal microfilm — including a notable number of Armenian and Arabic manuscripts, much less in Syriac — are absent).
  • Manuscripts from these collections are immediately available to order (either for limited access viewing online or for your personal digital copy).
  • Cataloging can be time-consuming work, and this particular project has only been underway for two years. While these collections are preserved and available for study, only a small fraction of this great number of manuscripts has so far been cataloged. That means, of course, that there is far more here than is listed in the online catalog, Oliver.
  • Finally, as I said in the presentation at the Symposium, capable catalogers for many of these collections are needed. While the study of all of these languages and literatures has advanced over the past centuries, there are still very many texts that remain only in manuscripts, not to mention the fact that manuscripts will remain interesting in and of themselves for various reasons (paleography, codicology, historical notes, etc.) and the fact that even where printed editions exist recourse to manuscripts (whether used in the edition in question or not) is very often an illuminating (pun intended) exercise. All this and more means that the opportunity to catalog and otherwise study these manuscript collections will, I hope, be considered welcome to scholars in the field: հունձք բազո՛ւմ են՝ եւ մշակք սակա՛ւ; ḥṣādā saggi wǝ-pāʿlē zʿorin; al-ḥiṣād kaṯīr wa-l-faʿala qalīl! Please feel free to contact me about the details of this cataloging work, including remuneration.

Here are a few images from various collections at HMML.

Dominican Friars of Mosul 354: Jacques Rhetoré’s Grammaire de la langue Torâni

Pontifical Babel College Library, Habbi (Ankawa) 10, an early 18th cent. copy of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Book of Splendors, copied in Alqosh.

Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil 151, Yawsep II’s Book of the Magnet (see H. Teule in Samir FS, pp. 221-241)

Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem 43, f. 7v: A Garšūnī commentary to the Pentateuch.

Some issues of Aethiopica available online   Leave a comment

Among the links to journals on the left is one to the excellent journal Aethiopica, the latest issue of which arrived here at HMML not long ago. The articles of Aethiopica will be appreciated by éthiopisants, Semitists, scholars of eastern Christianity, and others. Alin Suciu has pointed out that some issues have now been made available online: here you will find vols. 10-13 (2007-2010).

A Syriac textual amulet from Diyarbakır   Leave a comment

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door… (Bilbo Baggins, in Fellowship of the Ring, ch. 3)

Diyarbakır 11/3; 225, p. 208

Diyarbakır, Meryem Ana 11/3; 225 (DIYR 206), pp. 208-211, contains a Syriac amulet of protection against arrows, swords, knives, and spears (gērē, saypē, sakkinē, nayzkē). Texts of this genre are relatively well known in various Aramaic dialects (neither exclusively Jewish nor Christian) and are cast as means to protect someone from certain expected dangers, such as injury or disease. One especially interesting related example is a Syriac charm to protect against cannons and guns (l-kēpay mangniq la-glolay tuppē; see Gollancz, Book of Protection, codex A § 16)! The manuscript in Diyarbakır, copied at the turn of the twentieth century, was recently cataloged for HMML by Grigory Kessel (Marburg University), and its other contents includes inter alia canons, prayers of various kinds, Psalms, poetry, and stories; the Syriac amulet discussed here is preceded immediately by some charms in Garšūnī, and there are still more on pp. 601-735 of the manuscript. The writing is generally legible, but there are a few places where the correct reading is not immediately obvious.

As commonly in such texts, biblical quotations figure here, and they include Pss 46:9, 144:6, and 37:15. The second half of the amulet is made up almost entirely of a litany of various intermediaries by which those weapons are bound from the person bearing those lines (ʿabdāk da-ṭʿin surṭē), including the three young children in the furnace (called acc. to their Heb. names), the “troops of the prophets” (guddē da-nbiyyē) and “bands of the apostles” (siʿātā da-šliḥē), “through the crowning of the martyrs and the supplications of the angels,” and, of course, the Virgin Mary, but also John the Baptist, St. George, Cyriacus and his mother Julitta, Behnam and his sister Sara, Asya the physician, Elijah the prophet, Thomas the apostle, Jacob of Serugh, and the Forty Martyrs.

The many Syriac, Babylonian Aramaic, and Mandaic amulets and magic bowls, have many similarities, and this text might now be added to the already large inventory of the genre for comparison.


See here and here for some bibliography and remarks on magic bowls. Specifically for Syriac amulets, see the Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity, s.v. “amulets”.

Posted August 6, 2012 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Bible, Cataloging, Syriac

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