Guest post: Sebastian Brock on identifying an old Syriac leaf   Leave a comment

By Sebastian Brock
Oriental Institute, Oxford GB

In the course of cataloguing the Syriac manuscripts belonging to the collection of the former Chaldean Church in Mardin Adam McCollum discovered an old folio that had been re-used as an endpaper to strengthen the binding of Mardin Chald. 89, a much later manuscript. The folio contains two columns of text in a neat estrangelo hand that should probably be dated to the ninth century. He kindly sent an image of the folio to me in case I might be able to identify the contents.

CCM 56 (olim Mardin Chaldean 89), back endpaper

CCM 56 (olim Mardin Chaldean 89), back endpaper

It is not always easy to date estrangelo hands, especially those that are more conservative in character. After comparing the hand with the photographs of dated manuscripts in Hatch’s invaluable Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts, it became fairly clear that the script on the folio was likely to date from the ninth century. Having transcribed a certain amount of the text, in so far as it was legible, it turned out that it contained a number of place names, including ‘Byzantium’ and ‘Europe’. These names, and the general ‘feel’ of the text, strongly suggested that the work it contained was a translation from Greek.

The next clue was the presence of some marginal glosses in what was clearly a much later hand; this indicated that it was a work that still continued to be read and studied several centuries after the date of the original manuscript. It so happens that after about the ninth century many translations of Greek patristic authors fell out of fashion and were no longer copied or studied. One of the small number of Greek authors who did remain authoritative and studied was Gregory of Nazianzus, and so his writings, and in particular his Discourses, seemed a good place to start on the hunt for references to ‘Byzantium’ and (especially) ‘Europe’.

Fortunately most of the Sources chrétiennes volumes containing editions of the Greek text of the Discourses are provided with indexes of names, and it soon turned out that the folio did indeed belong to one of Gregory’s Discourses, namely his funeral oration on his brother Caesarius (Discourse 7 in the Greek numbering; the Syriac numbering is different). Actually the name ‘Caesarius’ turned out in fact to occur on the folio, but the writing was damaged at that point, with a key letter obscured.

Having located the passage (at the end of section 8 and beginning of section 9 of Discourse 7), it was now important to establish whether the translation belonged to the original translation of Gregory’s Discourses, or to the revision by Paul, bishop of Edessa, made in 623/4, where he had taken refuge from the Persian occupation of his see. Whereas several manuscripts of Paul’s revision survive, none of the original version are known. In order to establish to which version the folio’s text belonged it was necessary to pay a visit to the rich collection of Syriac manuscripts in the British Library, which fortunately includes a number of the relevant manuscripts. A comparison of the folio’s with two of the earliest manuscripts of Paul’s revision (Add. 14,548 of 790 and Add. 12,153 of 844/5) quickly established that the text on the folio must belong to the revision, and not to the lost original.

The Syriac version of Gregory of Nazianzus’ Discourses (in both forms where available) is currently gradually being published as part of the Corpus Nazianzenum by scholars at the Université catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, and so far (2001-) five volumes have appeared , covering eleven Discourses: Versio Syriaca I (J-C. Haelewyck) = Discourse 40; II (A.B. Schmidt) = 13 and 41; III (J-C. Haelwyck) = 37-39; IV (J-C. Haelewyck) = 28-31; V (J-C. Haelewyck) = 1-3.


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