Among the very many contributions of Arthur Vööbus (born in 1909 in Estonia, died 1988), to Syriac studies, most of which touch manuscripts in some way or other, one of his most thorough and still most valuable is the four-volume Handschriftliche Überlieferung der Mēmrē-Dichtung des Jaʿqōb von Serūg (CSCO 344-345, 421-422/Subs. 39-40, 60-61; Louvain, 1973-1980). Jacob of Sarug (or Serugh; ca. 451-521), a prolific luminary of Syriac literature, is especially known for his numerous metrical homilies (mēmrē), the main published collection of which is that edited by the great Paul Bedjan and exquisitely published by Harrassowitz in a fully vocalized East Syriac font (as in Bedjan’s other editions). Still not all of Jacob’s surviving work has been edited, much less translated, but a translation project into English, the results published by Gorgias Press, is underway and hopefully also readers who do not read Syriac will begin to appreciate this author more (subseries Metrical Homilies of Mar Jacob of Sarug, series Texts from Christian Late Antiquity). There are now 304 records on Jacob in the Syriac bibliography of the Hebrew University; on Jacob generally see Brock in GEDSH, 433-435. The aforementioned books by Vööbus, indispensable for any close study of Jacob, present most of what is known concerning the manuscripts — those found in the well-known European collections and those in less accessible places in the Middle East — that have copies of Jacob’s works. Here, as in his other articles and books, we are impressed with the breadth of Vööbus’ manuscript experience and his record-keeping that is in such clear evidence. A perusal of the footnotes in almost any of his contributions reveals a mountain of work never published — how often does he refer to this or that piece “sous presse”, “im Druck”, or “in press” that never appeared? — but into these four volumes he poured years of close attention and study, and every student of Syriac literature is thus in his debt.
The work is a whole, but there are clear divisions in it, and not all of the volumes work the same way. There is, naturally, coverage of preliminary considerations at the beginning of vol. 1, and then he turns in that and the next volume to investigate manuscripts more or less particularly dedicated to preserving Jacob’s works (“Sammlungen”), and some of these are indeed hefty with line after line of that poetic bulk. Vols. 3 and 4 focus more on scattered witnesses to Jacob’s work (“Die zerstreuten Mēmrē”), that is, on manuscripts that are not really collections especially of Jacob, but that have one, two, or a few more mēmrē, amid works by other authors. Vols. 1 and 3 provide brief descriptions of the mss, while vols. 2 and 4 list the contents of the mss, with Syriac titles on the left pages, and the title in German translation on the right pages, but unfortunately he gives no incipits, for which, however, we now have Sebastian Brock’s list in vol. 6 of the augmented Gorgias Press reprint of Bedjan’s edition of Jacob’s mēmrē.
Vööbus’ Handschriftliche Überlieferung (HU), then, is obviously a great store of data for Jacob’s poetic œuvre, but it is not always easy to find the information you’re looking for, something I have discovered both while searching for details on a particular mēmrā and while hunting down the mss of particular collections. Something that can be done for each collection is to make a spreadsheet with the appropriate references in it. In its barest form, with shelfmarks and references to vol. and p. of HU, it would thus be useful for anyone with access to a particular collection, but of course the spreadsheet might be expanded to include date, codicological details, contents, bibliography, etc. A significant number of manuscripts for Jacob are present in Mardin in the collection of the Church of the Forty Martyrs (called CFMM at HMML), a massive collection, parts of which were earlier at nearby Dayr al-Zaʿfarān, and here I have made a simple spreadsheet for CFMM mss that Vööbus refers to. (Not all of CFMM has been cataloged at HMML, but much of it has; all of these Jacob mss are available for study at HMML, and copies may be ordered.) Collections of data like this for mss of Jacob’s works might eventually be brought into an open-access online database searchable by contents, date, collection, etc., but for now we must continue to have recourse to these four volumes of Vööbus’ helpful contribution.
Notwithstanding the attention hitherto given to Jacob’s homilies, there remains much work do be done: as mentioned above, not all of the mēmrē have been published, whether by Bedjan or someone else, and really only Vööbus has looked closely at the surviving mss, so that there is not yet a comprehensive picture of how the mss are related. I can say from my work cataloging and from my work in Bedjan’s edition that a new edition is needed, and the more accessible and clear manuscript data is for Jacob’s works, the better prepared the ground will be for that work.