Archive for December 2012

2012 in review   Leave a comment


Thanks to you all, dear readers, for a fun year at hmmlorientalia! Let’s hope for and do what we can to effect safety, well-being, friendship, and enjoyment of life, as we look forward to more manuscripts, texts, and languages in the one to come!

In 2012, in terms of manuscripts, I and other catalogers described several hundred manuscripts and identified several thousand distinct texts (I don’t have the exact numbers here before me), and it is our hope that this work will continue to be of use to those at work on the languages, literature, and manuscripts of Arabic/Garšūnī, Armenian, Gǝʿǝz, and Syriac. We have some exciting developments (including within vHMML) and announcements to look forward to in the coming year, so stay tuned!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 18,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted December 31, 2012 by adamcmccollum in Uncategorized

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The commemoration of the angel Gabriel (Arabic)   Leave a comment

Today (according to some traditions) is the commemoration of the archangel Gabriel. Below the picture, which is from an Ethiopian manuscript dated 1280/1 CE, is an English translation of his commemoration from an Arabic synaxarion, known as the Synaxaire arabe jacobite, rédaction copte (text, ed. René Basset, in PO 3 (1909): 506-507).

The annunciation, from EMML 1832, 17v.

The annunciation, from EMML 1832, 17v.

On this day is the commemoration of the glorious angel, the archangel Gabriel, the announcer, of the building of his church in the city of Caesarea, of the appearance of marvels in it, and of its consecration on this day.

There was a man who had lived in a distant city a long time as a sick man and no rest came to him. Then he heard of the marvels and signs that took place in the Church of Gabriel the Angel. It happened to be the night of [the angel’s] feast, and [the man] made a vow, saying, “Mention me before God, that he might grant me health, and that I might get some rest!” At midnight, he perspired and was saved: God granted him health. He got up early very happy and he gave his son twenty-five dinars of gold and sent him to the church. While [the son] was traveling on the road, a lion came out of the forest and attacked him, and he cried out, saying, “Angel Gabriel! Mention me before God, that he might save me!” And right then Gabriel came down from heaven and grabbed the boy from the beast and put him atop the lion to ride and brought him to his church: [the boy] drove [the lion] as he would ride a riding animal until he arrived at the church. When the crowds saw him, they marveled, and he very happily presented the vow that was in his hand. As for the lion, he hitched it to the door of the church and left. Everyone was marveling and gazing at what had happened with wonder, as Archelaus, bishop of the aforementioned city, bore witness: “This is the glorious angel who was sent to the virgin and was entrusted with the good news apart from all the other angels, and when he came to the virgin, he said to her, ‘Peace to you, full of grace! The Lord is with you!’ He is also the one who gave Zechariah the good news of the birth of John the Baptist. Great are the honors of this angel, Gabriel the great, chosen, honored announcer, so let us gather together now for his feast with right intentions! Let us let go of enmity and be reconciled to each other. Let us put our hopes in God, the merciful, that he might look upon us. We ask him [Gabriel] with all our hearts, together with his companion in authority, Michael, to help us and to preserve us from all the traps of Satan, because without God’s help and the intercession of his saints no one is saved.”

The meaning of Gabriel is “Man of God” and it is he that announced the good news to the shepherds, saying, “Born to you today is a savior, who is Christ the Lord.” May the intercession of this great angel be with us, our shield!

SBL Call for papers: Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions   Leave a comment

The call for papers for the next annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (Baltimore, Nov 23-26, 2013) is now active, and I take the liberty to make special mention of the workshop session called Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions. Here is its description:

This Workshop provides a forum to familiarize students and scholars, especially those who have not worked with manuscripts before, with manuscript studies within the broader fields of eastern Christianity in any of its languages and literary traditions.

This will be the third year for it (a report on the first year is here), and in each of the previous two years there have been two sessions, and presentations have ranged across the languages and traditions of the Christian east, and I’m sure this will continue into the third year. In addition, a joint session is planned this year with the well-established unit on Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts. Let me also make clear here that anything “eastern” and “Christian” broadly considered is of possible interest for the workshop, not just the heavy-hitters (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). Papers on lesser-studied languages and manuscript traditions within eastern Christianity like Persian (see, for example, Anton Pritula’s book [in Russian, with English summary at the end] here) and Sogdian are welcome and encouraged.

The call for papers closes on March 1, 2013. I will be glad to answer any questions about the workshop or about possible presentations therein, so please be in touch with me.

Continuing manuscript culture   2 comments

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 2.14.46 PMThe word “manuscript” conjures images of monks, quills, parchment, candles, and the like, that is, a mostly pre-modern setting and seemingly antiquated accoutrements, but the advent and proliferation of the printing press was hardly a death knell to writing by hand, neither in the fifteenth century, nor in those following (keyboards, physical or on-screen, notwithstanding). We don’t have to go back as far as some pre-modern period in Europe or elsewhere to find manuscripts (which, remember, simply means anything written by hand) as a notable witness to scholarly, creative, or memorial activity, and we are not talking here only of texts in old (Greek, Sanskrit, etc.) or semi-old (e.g. Middle English, Ottoman Turkish) varieties of language. Consider the “papers” (in French, English, and other contemporary languages) of relatively recent authors, such as James Joyce and others, which are very often handwritten. (Following widespread use of the typewriter, typewritten pages and sometimes even electronically produced documents are sometimes misleadingly referred to as “manuscripts”!) True, these documents are typically not copied and recopied: for that, printing was employed, and sometimes — if the assumed circulation was (or, prior to efforts by publishers such as Barney Rosset of Grove Press, had to be) small — private printing, one catalog of which is here, and which on the first page has the titles Double Acrostic Enigmas, with Poetical Descriptions selected principally from British Poets and Feigned Insanity, how most usually simulated, and how best detected! From Syriac studies we may point to Gottheil’s (age 23 at the time) little book to the right. (Thankfully, many of these privately printed books are now easily available online for a wide audience.)

“Manuscript culture” in the fullest sense refers not to a specific time, place, or language, but to the production and re-production (i.e. copying) of manuscripts. Taken thus, it is certainly most predominant in pre-modern periods, at least in Europe, but in the Middle East and parts of Africa (Ethiopia) — what about China, India, elsewhere? — copying texts has remained, at least in some small circles, a real practice. HMML has copies of very many Gǝʿǝz manuscripts from the 20th century, and likewise for manuscripts in Syriac, Arabic, and Garšūnī. Just from Mardin, and just in Syriac, HMML has copies of more than 80 manuscripts from the 20th century. The 1960s, it seems, were a relatively active period, with some large manuscripts copied then. As my colleague Wayne Torborg pointed out, someone may have been copying the words of Genesis in Syriac while, perhaps unbeknownst to them, those words in English were being recited from Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968! While these late manuscripts may often — but hardly always! — be of limited value as textual witnesses, in terms of the manuscript as a physical product and in terms of examples of scribal activity, their worth is not at all negligible, not even to mention their colophons and readers’ notes, which are eminently unique. Also, I have talked before about the probable importance of reading handwriting (i.e. manuscripts) and practicing handwriting (copying manuscripts) in language learning (see here and here), and in the second place I pointed to certain nineteenth- and twentieth-century orientalists who seemingly used manuscript copying to good effect. So at least some manuscript copying was going on also among European scholars.

CFMM 550, dated 1945: Ibn Sīnā's Al-Išārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt in Garšūnī with Bar ʿEbrāyā's Syriac tr.

CFMM 550, dated 1945: Ibn Sīnā’s Al-Išārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt in Garšūnī with Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Syriac tr.

MGMT 81, dated 1968: Dionysios bar Ṣalibi's Commentaries on the Old Testament

MGMT 81, dated 1968: Dionysios bar Ṣalibi’s Commentaries on the Old Testament

Within this context and this definition of “manuscript culture”, I would like to highlight a very recently copied manuscript from the latest batch of files from Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem. I had seen manuscripts with notes written in Syriac dated as late as 2008, and a very interesting manuscript that I doubt I shall ever forget is a collection of three saints’ lives copied into a 1993 calendar book (ZFRN 385), but based on a manuscript on parchment from 1496 AG (= 1184/5 CE)!

ZFRN 385, here the end of the Story of Mar Awgen.

ZFRN 385, here the end of the Story of Mar Awgen.

As unique as that manuscript is, the great lateness of the Jerusalem manuscript (SMMJ 475) is also startlingly memorable. It has the date in three places, all from the present year, the last one being July 26, 2012! Copied by the monk, Shemun Can, at Saint Mark’s, it is a collection of Syriac poetry, mostly by later authors (but one by Jacob of Serugh and one by Ephrem), along with a few hymns in Garšūnī and the Lawij (in Kurdish with Syriac letters) of Basilios Šemʿon al-Ṭūrānī. The manuscript’s colophons are all in a style not unlike those written centuries before, and they, together with the manuscript as a whole, a physical, textual object, remind us well that manuscript culture, at least in some quarters, is alive and well.

SMMJ 475, p. 34, the beginning of Yaʿqob ʿUrdnsāyā, "On Himself".

SMMJ 475, p. 34, the beginning of Yaʿqob ʿUrdnsāyā, “On Himself”.

Two in-progress bibliographies: Old Georgian, Hagiography   Leave a comment

For a little while I’ve been compiling bibliographic material with Zotero on 1) Old Georgian and 2) Eastern hagiography. With the hope that they might be useful to others, I’ve made them publicly viewable (adding and editing is restricted). Please note: neither bibliography is even nearly comprehensive, and I add new items regularly! Of course, corrections, suggestions, and additions may be sent to me by email (but for additions, please note that an item’s current absence from the list does not necessarily indicate my ignorance of it; i.e. I have an ongoing mental list of things to include).

photo-3Why are these bibliographies needed? For Old Georgian, certainly one of the lesser studied among languages of the Christian east, having in one place a list of resources on the language itself and texts in that language (with translations) will provide access to the available materials for scholars across various disciplines. (There are very many resources on Old Georgian written in Georgian and Russian; for the time being, these are omitted, but I hope to rectify that lack in the future.) For eastern Christian hagiography, what do we have? The fundamental resource, BHO, is now over a century old. More recent bibliographical projects, some still currently underway, have focused on particular traditions or languages, but hagiography, perhaps more so than any other genre, is a perfect arena for cross-linguistic study, and having a way to see hagiographic material for this or that saint in all of the languages known is a definite boon. Obviously, indication of available manuscripts for the texts named would be very useful, but that kind of compilation and presentation is a beast of an effort; for now, the first focus is on published material, especially published material post-1910, the date of BHO.

Here they are: Old Georgian and Hagiographia orientalis. As you have need, check them by browsing, searching, or using the tags, and subscribe to the feed, if you like. Share freely!

These are humble beginnings, but I hope even these first steps will be useful to others!photo-2

St. Nikolaos in eastern hagiography   1 comment

Today many Christian traditions are celebrating the commemoration of Nikolaos/Nicolaus/Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Lycia in what is now part of southern Turkey. I had hoped today to offer complete translations of some hagiographic material on him in Greek, Syriac, Gǝʿǝz, and Arabic (I had already omitted Armenian, the language among these that I’m slowest at reading), but alas, other necessities won out and prevented me from finishing it all. All is not given up, however: I can at least here make a few remarks about the sources and offer some snippets in English translation.

On a general bibliographic note, we may point to the long article in Bibliotheca Sanctorum 9: 923-948. BHG 1347-1364 lists a great plethora of Greek forms of hagiographic material for him. BHO 808-810 includes only an Armenian (in two parts) and a Syriac version; nothing is given for Arabic, Coptic, Gǝʿǝz, or Georgian, and I can here only supplement that list partly. Of course, I welcome any additions to that which I mention here.

Arabic. The saint will be found in the so-called Synaxaire arabe jacobite (rédaction copte) as published in PO 3.3: 420-423; this text is very close to the longer Ethiopic version mentioned below. In addition, I know of a short text (not the same as the previous) from the synaxarion manuscript CFMM 251 (see here), pp. 142-143. From the former, here is an interesting anecdote (also in the longer Gǝʿǝz text):

This saint banished many demons (šayāṭīn) from people and from a large tree in which Satan (šayṭān) lived and frightened people.

Armenian. BHO gives Վարք եւ վկայաբանութիւնք սրբոց հատընտիր քաղեալք ի ճառընտրաց, vol. 2 (Venice, 1874), 165-188 (see here; nondum legi!). The section for Nicolaus, who performed miracles “on sea and on land, in cities and in provinces” (ի ծովու եւ ի ցամաքի, ի քաղաքս եւ ի գաւառս) in the Armenian synaxarion will be found in PO 16.1:168-173; it is close to the Syriac text published by Bedjan (see below).

Gǝʿǝz. The saint’s story is given in the synaxarion for the 10th of Taḥśaś; text in PO 15.5: 704-706, and in the longer version, 708-713. There is an English translation of the longer version by Budge, without the sälam hymn (on which see D. Nosnitsin in Enc. Aethiopica, vol. 4, 484) at its end in The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, vol. 2, 356-359. (As with all of Budge’s work on Gǝʿǝz, caveat lector.) I give here a translation of the short version, one notable miracle episode (my translation, not Budge’s) from the longer version (§ 7 acc. to PO), and the sälam.

The shorter version is as follows:

On this day, too, the father, the just saint Nicolaus (which means “the people’s victor”), bishop, died. This just father and saint was from the people of the city of Myra. The name of his father was Epiphanius, and the name of his mother Yona [“Tuna” in Syn. arab. jac.], and they were rich people in the city of Myra, and they were serious God-fearers. They had no child and for that reason they were very sad and they would continually pray and entreat God to give them a child, in whom they might rejoice and who might inherit their wealth. They were thus without a child until they had grown old and the time of childbirth had passed them by, and they despaired of desiring a child.

Nicolaus was thrown into prison, but God spared him, that he might be a great branch in the tree of the faith. He remained in prison until God destroyed Diocletian and installed Constantine, the just emperor. He released all the believers from the prisons, and this saint went out from their number and returned to his homeland and he stayed there teaching the people, so that they were strengthened in the orthodox faith, until the assembly of the gathering of the 318 bishops came together in the city of Nicaea, and this father was one of them, and he rebuked Arius, excommunicated him, cursed him, and banished him.

When this saint had completed his combat (gädlo) and had tended his flock, he departed to God, after having sat on the seat of the episcopate more than forty years. All the days of his life were eighty years.

From the longer version (cf. PG 116: 321-328 for this episode in Greek):

There was a certain rich man in his city. After a long time all of his wealth was spent, and he became so poor that he found for himself no daily nourishment. He had four daughters: they were grown and their time of marriage had passed, and he could not give them in marriage to anyone due to their poverty. Satan suggested to him an abominable thought: that he should build a whorehouse and put his four daughters in it for them to practice whoredom for payment, and he might find nourishment for himself and his children from whoredom. But God revealed to St. Nicolaus what that man was up to and he set out at night and took 100 gold dinars from his father’s wealth and tied it in a rag. Before it was morning, he threw it into the man’s house, and when the man woke up from his slumber, he found the gold, rejoiced greatly, and gave away his oldest daughter in marriage. Thus, too, a second time the saint threw him 100 gold dinars, and the man gave away his second daughter in marriage. A third time the saint threw him 100 gold dinars, but when he threw it, the man was already awake, and he didn’t take the gold, but instead went out of his house to see who it was that had thrown the gold. When he had gone out, he found St. Nicolaus and knew that he had thrown the gold to him three times. Immediately the man bowed down to him at his feet, thanked him greatly, and said to him, “Your reward in heaven is great, for you have saved me from the poverty of my wealth and from a fall into sin, which I thought I would do!” (And he gave away in marriage his fourth and his third daughters.)

The sälam (a poem, very frequent in the synaxarion, with each of its five lines ending in rhyme, in this case -u), refers to the saint’s distinction from his birth:

Greetings to Nicolaus, whose mention was praised
In Myra, his city!
The people were astonished and his fellow citizens amazed
On the day he was born, when they watched him
Stand for two hours on his feet.

Greek. The longer version of the saint’s life in the menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes will be found in PG 116: 317-356, and the short entry in that of Basil Porphyrogenitos in PG 117: 193 (these online scans are unfortunately not very easy to read). Several, but by no means all, of the texts indicated in BHG are in G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos: Der heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1913), which I do not have and which I cannot find online; if it is online, I will be glad to know of it! Here is a translation of the short menologion entry:

Commemoration of our holy father Nikolaos, archbishop of Myra in Lycia.

This great high priest and wonder-working bishop lived in Myra in Lycia during the reign of Constantine the Great. Having earlier become a monk and having struggled much for virtue, when he was ordained bishop, he performed many wonders. He freed three men from death, for they had been slandered and bound and were about to be beheaded, but the saint ran, grabbed the blade and took it from the executioner, and freed the men. At yet another time three different men were slandered before Constantine by Ablabios the prefect as treacherous and they were shut up in the Praetorium. When they were about to be beheaded, they appealed to St. Nikolaos, and he came to Constantinople in a dream and gave an announcement to the emperor and to the prefect, and they freed the men. Having performed many other wonders, he died peacefully.

Syriac. A Syriac version is found in the voluminous collection of the acts of saints and martyrs edited by the indefatigable Paul Bedjan (it should be obligatory to use that adjective at every mention of his name!): AMS IV, 290-302. Most of the story in the Syriac text and also that of the Armenian synaxarion centers on three officials sent to quell the Phrygian rebellion, who are then slandered before Constantine (see the translation of the short Greek text above; for the longer Greek version, see PG 116: 337-352), eventually to be released thanks to the dreamy intervention of the saint. Constantine sends them to Nicolaus with, inter alia, “a golden Gospel-book infixed with precious stones” (Syr., 299). They become the saint’s students and stay with him henceforth. The remainder of the Syriac text deals with the saint’s alleviating a famine and his foiling the plans of the goddess Artemis (“that deceiver, whom the pagans call their goddess”) — in the Greek of PG 116: 353-356, it is said to be a demon of Artemis’ temple: Πονηρὸν δὲ δαιμόνιον, ὃ τῷ βωμῷ πάλαι τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος ἐνοικοῦν — who wished to unleash a jar of magical oil (šṭiptā d-mešḥā d-ḥarāšutā, Syr., p. 301; when cast into the sea, it spread a fire on the water’s surface for 15 miles!) to destroy the inhabitants and churches of Myra. Like some of the other versions, the Syriac concludes with a general list of his miraculous deeds post mortem:

These wonders God performed by the hands of the saint while he was with us in life. Here are the wonders and signs that he did after his death: persecuting demons, healing the sick and weak, assisting and encouraging those falling in temptations and dangers, and also those who travel by sea, to whom he appears in clear sight. All these things there is no tongue sufficient to tell, and to the end he shall not cease to make supplication for God’s church.

I do plan before long (hopefully this month) to finish what I had first set out to do, and, if successful, I’ll post the translations here. In the meantime, ad fontes!

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