In Mt 19:24, Mk 10:25, and Lk 18:25 Jesus famously paints the difficulty of a rich person’s ability to get into the kingdom of God with the picture of a camel going through the eye of a needle. The strangeness of the image has not been lost on Gospel-readers from early on. Origen, followed by Cyril, reports that some interpreters took the word κάμηλος ≈ κάμιλος not as the animal, but as some kind of thick rope. This interpretation from Cyril is known also in Syriac, both in the Syriac translation of the Luke commentary, and in Bar Bahlul, and probably elsewhere. I noticed recently in my Georgian Gospel reading that the early translations also bear witness to the reading “rope”, but the later translations — not surprisingly, given the predominant hellenizing tendencies of the period — line up with the standard Greek reading, “camel”, in most (but not all!) places. Below I list a few of the Greek exegetical places, followed by the three synoptic Gospel verses in Greek, Armenian, and Georgian; I have translated into English everything quoted below except for the Greek Gospel verses. The Syriac versions (Old Syriac, Peshitta, Harqlean), at least in Kiraz’s Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels, all have “camel” (gamlā), not “rope” (e.g. ḥablā). As usual, for Armenian and Georgian I provide a few lexical notes. I’ve used the following abbreviations:
- A89 = the xanmeti text A89/A844, ed. Lamara Kajaia (not extant for the whole of the Gospel of text), at TITUS here (given in both asomtavruli and mxedruli)
- Ad = Adishi, at TITUS here
- At = Athonite (Giorgi the Hagiorite), at TITUS here
- Künzle = B. Künzle, Das altarmenische Evangelium / L’évangile arménien ancien, 2 vols. [text + Armenian-German/French lexicon (Bern, 1984)
- Lampe = G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon
- PA = Pre-Athonite, see here at TITUS
- PG = Migne, Patrologia Graeca
As a side note, for the Qurʾān verse that cites the phrase in question, see the following:
- W. Montgomery Watt, “The Camel and the Needle’s Eye,” in C.J. Bleeker et al., eds., Ex Orbe Religionum: Studia Geo Widengren, vol. 2 (Leiden, 1972), pp. 155-158.
- Régis Blachère, “Regards sur un passage parallèle des Évangiles et du Coran,” in Pierre Salmon, ed., Mélanges d’Islamologie, volume dédié à la mémoire d’Armand Abel par ses collègues, ses élèves et ses amis (Leiden, 1974), pp. 69-73.
- M.B. Schub, “It Is Easier for a Cable to go through the Eye of a Needle than for a Rich Man to Enter God’s Kingdom,” Arabica 23 (1976): 311-312.
- Samir Khalil, “Note sur le fonds sémitique commun de l’expression ‘un chameau passant par le trou d’une aiguille’,” Arabica 25 (1978): 89-94.
- A. Rippin, “Qurʾān 7.40: ‘Until the Camel Passes through the Eye of the Needle'” Arabica 27 (1980): 107-113.
A similar phrase with “elephant” (pīlā) instead of “camel” appears in the Talmud: see Strack-Billerbeck, Kommentar, vol. 1, p. 828, and Sokoloff, Dict. of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, s.v. qwpʾ.
Some Greek and Syriac exegetical and lexical references
Origen, Fragment on Mt 19:24: οἱ μὲν τὸ σχοινίον τῆς μηχανῆς, οἱ δὲ τὸ ζῷον (cited in Lampe, 700a, s.v. κάμηλος)
Some [say the word means] the rope of some apparatus, others [say it means] the animal [the camel].
Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment on Mt 19:24 (PG 72: 429) Κάμηλον ἐνταῦθά φησιν, οὐ τὸ ζῶον τὸ ἀχθοφόρον, ἀλλὰ τὸ παχὺ σχοινίον ἐν ᾧ δεσμεύουσι τὰς ἀγκύρας οἱ ναῦται.
He says that kámēlos here is not the beast of burden, but rather the thick rope with which sailors tie their anchors.
Cyril, Comm. on Lk 18:23 (PG 72: 857) Κάμηλον, οὐ τὸ ζῶον, ἀλλὰ τὸ ἐν τοῖς πλοίοις παχὺ σχοινίον.
Kámēlos is not the animal, but rather the thick rope found in boats.
With this Greek line from the Luke commentary we can compare the Syriac version, ed. Payne Smith, p. 338.15-17: gamlā dēn āmar law l-hāy ḥayutā mālon ellā l-ḥablā ʿabyā. ʿyāda (h)w gēr l-hānon d-šappir yādʿin d-neplḥun b-yammā da-l-hālēn ḥablē d-yattir ʿbēn gamlē neqron.
He says gamlā, [meaning] not the animal, but rather a thick rope, for those who know well how to plow the sea are accustomed to call the very thick ropes that they use gamlē.
One more place in Syriac attributed to Cyril has this interpretation, a few lines in the fragmentarily preserved work Against Julian (CPG 5233), ed. E. Nestle in Karl Johannes Neumann, Iuliani imperatoris librorum contra Christianos quae supersunt (Leipzig, 1880), here p. 56, § 21: d-qaddišā Qurillos, men mēmrā d-16 d-luqbal Yuliyanos raššiʿā. mqabbel hākēl l-taḥwitā: ḥrurā da-mḥaṭṭā w-gamlā, w-law ḥayutā a(y)k d-asbar Yuliyanos raššiʿā wa-skal b-kul w-hedyoṭā, ellā mālon ḥablā ʿabyā da-b-kul ellpā, hākanā gēr it ʿyādā d-neqron ennon aylēn d-ilipin hālēn d-elpārē.
Cyril, from book 16 of [his work] Against Julian the Wicked. He accepts, then, the example: the eye of the needle and the gamlā, but not the animal, as the wicked, completely stupid, and ignorant Julian thought, but rather the thick rope that is on every ship, for thus those sailors who are expert are accustomed to call them.
Theophylact of Ohrid, Ennaratio on Mt (PG 123: 356): Τινὲς δὲ κάμηλον οὐ τὸ ζῷόν φασιν, ἀλλὰ τὸ παχὺ σχοινίον, ᾧ χρῷνται οἱ ναῦται πρὸς τὸ ῥίπτειν τὰς ἀγκύρας.
Some say that kámēlos is not the animal, but rather the thick rope that sailors use to cast their anchors.
Suda, Kappa № 282: Κάμηλος: τὸ ζῷον. … Κάμιλος δὲ τὸ παχὺ σχοινίον.
Kámēlos: the animal. … Kámilos a thick rope.
Ps.-Zonaras, Lexicon: Κάμηλος. τὸ ἀχθοφόρον ζῶον. κάμηλος καὶ τὸ παχὺ σχοινίον, ἐν ᾧ δεσμεύουσι τὰς ἀγκύρας οἱ ναῦται. ὡς τὸ ἐν εὐαγγελίοις· κάμηλον διὰ τρυπήματος ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν.
Kámēlos: the beast of burden. Kámēlos is also the thick rope with which sailors tie their anchors, as in the Gospels: “for a kámēlos to go through the eye of a needle.”
As mentioned above, Cyril’s report on the verse re-appears among other things in Bar Bahlul: ed. Duval, coll. 500-501, s.v. gamlā: gamlā tub maraš [sic! cf. maras]. ba-ṣḥāḥā Qurillos gamlā qārē l-ḥablā ʿabyā d-āsrin bēh spinātā. Moše bar Kēpā gišrā ʿabyā d-mettsim l-ʿel b-meṣʿat benyānē qārē gamlā, haw da-ʿlāw(hy) mettsimin qaysē (ʾ)ḥrānē men trayhon gabbāw(hy) w-taṭlilā d-a(y)k hākan gamlā metqrā. (ʾ)ḥrā[nē] dēn d-ʿal gamlā d-besrā w-da-kyānā rāmez wa-b-leššānā yawnāyā qamēlos metemar. (ʾ)ḥrā[nē] dēn āmrin d-gamlā haw d-emar māran b-ewangelyon sgidā — da-dlil (h)u l-gamlā l-meʿal ba-ḥrurā da-mḥaṭṭā — l-hānā gamlā d-ḥayy āmar, w-law d-a(y)k (ʾ)ḥrā[nē] šāṭrin l-gamlā. ba-ṣḥāḥā (ʾ)nāšin dēn āmrin d-šawšmāna (h)w arik reglē w-lā šarririn. w-gamlā b-meṣʿat ḥaywātā dakyātā w-ṭaʾmātā itāw(hy), b-hāy gēr d-metgawrar, men ḥaywātā dakyātā metḥšeb, wa-b-hāy d-lā ṣāryā parstēh, men ṭaʾmātā.
A gamlā is also a rope [Arabic]. In one copy: Cyril calls the thick rope with which people tie their ships a gamlā. Moše bar Kēpā calls the thick beam people place at the top of buildings in the middle a gamlā, the one on which other pieces of wood are placed from either side, and a ceiling like this is called a gamlā. Others [say] that it means the natural animal [? lit. of flesh and of nature] gamlā (camel), and in Greek it is called kámēlos. Others say that the gamlā that the Lord mentioned in the Gospel — i.e., “it is easier for a gamlā to enter the eye of a needle” — by this he means a living gamlā, and not, as some foolishly say, a [non-living] gamlā [i.e. a rope, as in the interp. above?]. In one copy: Some people say that it is an ant with long, unstable legs. A camel is midway between the categories of clean and unclean animals: since it chews the cud, it is counted among clean animals, and since it does not split the hoof, among unclean.
[NB with this ant mentioned here cf. Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 2d ed., 120b (s.v. gamlā mng. 2c), JBA gamlānāʾāh (Sokoloff, Dict. Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, 289-290); also Persian uštur mūr (camel-ant).]
The Gospel verses in Greek, Armenian, and Georgian
(English translations in the next section.)
πάλιν δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρυπήματος ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Դարձեալ ասեմ ձեզ· դիւրի́ն է մալխոյ մտանել ընդ ծակ ասղան. քան մեծատան յարքայութիւն ա՟յ մտանել։
դիւրին easy, light | մալուխ, -լխոյ rope (supposedly also “camel”; see note below) | ծակ, -ուց hole | ասեղն, ասղան, -ղունք, -ղանց needle | մեծատուն, մեծատան, -անց rich NB on մալուխ, see Lagarde, Armenische Studien, № 1404; Ačaṙean, 3.226-227; Künzle 2.437 says “Die Bedeutung ‘Kamel’ ist wohl durch diese NT-Stellen irrtümlich in die armen. Lexika eingegangen.” The proper Arm. word for camel is ուղտ, Lagarde, Arm. St., № 1760 (cf. MP uštar, NP uštur; Sanskrit उष्ट्र uṣṭra).
A89 ႾႭჃႠႣႥႨႪჁႱ ႠႰႱ ႬႠႥႨႱႠ ႫႠႬႵႠႬႨႱႠ ႱႠႡႤႪႨ ჄႭჃႰႤႪႱႠ ႬႤႫႱႨႱႠႱႠ ႢႠႬႱႪႥႠႣ Ⴅ~Ⴄ . . . . . . . ႸႤႱႪႥႠႣ ႱႠႱႭჃႴႤႥႤႪႱႠ Ⴖ~ႧႨႱႠႱႠ
ხოჳადვილჱს არს ნავისა მანქანისა საბელი ჴოჳრელსა ნემსისასა განსლვად ვ(იდრ)ე . . . . . . . შესლვ[ა]დ სასოჳფეველსა ღ(მრ)თისასა
ხ-ოჳ-ადვილ-ჱს easier (< ადვილი easy) | ნავი ship | მანქანაჲ mechanism, machine | საბელი cable, rope, cord | ჴურელი hole | ნემსი needle
Ad მერმე გეტყჳ თქუენ: უადვილესა ზომთსაბლისაჲ ჴურელსა ნემსისასა განსლვაჲ, ვიდრე მდიდრისაჲ შესლვად სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა.
უადვილეს easier (< ადვილი easy) | ზომთ(ა)-საბელი cable, thick rope (cf. Rayfield et al., 695a; ზომი measurement) | მდიდარი rich
PA და მერმე გეტყჳ თქუენ: უადვილეს არს მანქანისა საბელი განსლვად ჴურელსა ნემსისასა, ვიდრე მდიდარი შესლვად სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა.
At და მერმე გეტყჳ თქუენ: უადვილეს არს აქლემი განსლვად ჴურელსა ნემსისასა, ვიდრე მდიდარი შესლვად სასუფეველსა ცათასა.
εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ [τῆς] τρυμαλιᾶς [τῆς] ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν.
դիւրի́ն է մալխոյ ընդ ծակ ասղան անցանել. քան մեծատան յարքայութիւն ա՟յ մտանել։.
անցանեմ, անցի to pass, flow, run
Ad უადვილეს არს ზომსაბელისა განსლვაჲ ჴურელსა ნემსისა, ვიდრეღა <არა> [?] მდიდარი სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა შესულად.
PA უადვილჱს არს მანქანისა საბელი ჴურელსა ნემსისასა განსლვად, ვიდრე მდიდარი სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა შესლვად.
At უადვილეს არს აქლემი ჴურელსა ნემსისასა განსლვად, ვიდრე მდიდარი შესლვად სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა.
εὐκοπώτερον γάρ ἐστιν κάμηλον διὰ τρήματος βελόνης εἰσελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν.
դիւրագոյն իցէ մալխոյ ընդ ծակ ասղան անցանել. քան մեծատան յարքայութիւն ա՟յ մտանել։.
A89 ႾႭჃႠႣႥႨႪჁႱ ႠႰႱ ႫႠႬႵႠႬႨႱ ႱႠႡႤႪႨ ჄႭჃႰႤႪႱႠ ႬႤႫ ႱႨႱႠႱႠ ႢႠႬႱႪႥႠႣ Ⴅ~Ⴄ ႫႣႨႣႠႰႨ ႱႠႱႭჃႴႤႥႤႪႱႠ Ⴖ~ႧႨႱႠႱႠ
ხოჳადვილჱს არს მანქანის საბელი ჴოჳრელსა ნემსისასა განსლვად ვ(იდრ)ე მდიდარი სასოჳფეველსა ღ(მრ)თისასა
Ad უადვილეს არს მანქანისსაბელი ჴურელსა ნემსისასა განსლვად, ვიდრე მდიდარი სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა შესლვად.
PA = Ad
At უადვილეს არს მანქანისა საბელი ჴურელსა ნემსისასა განსლვად, ვიდრე მდიდარი შესლვად სასუფეველსა ღმრთისასა.
English translations of these verses
Arm Again I say to you: it is easier for a rope to enter the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
A89 It is easier for a rope from a ship’s apparatus to go through the eye of a needle than [for the rich] to enter the kingdom of God.
Ad Again I say to you: It is easier for a cable to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
PA And again I say to you: It is easier for the rope of an apparatus to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
At And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. [sic! Not “of God”]
Arm It is easier for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Ad It is easier for a cable to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
PA It is easier for the rope of an apparatus to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
At It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Arm It would be easier for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
A89 It is easier for the rope of an apparatus to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich [to enter] the kingdom of God.
Ad It is easier for the rope of an apparatus to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
PA = Ad
At ≈ Ad
So here is how the witnesses stand:
|Some Greek exeg.
|Geo early, PA
||✓ (Lk only)
For Greek, I wonder about the real existence of the word κάμιλος (with iota, not ēta, but both words pronounced the same at this period). I don’t know that it is attested anywhere that is certainly unrelated to the Gospel passages. More generally, is there an explanation for the two opposed readings “camel” and “rope”? There is in Arabic a similarity between ǧamal (camel) and ǧuml/ǧumla (“thick rope”, see Lane 460), but it is treading on thin ice to have recourse to this similarity as an explanation for earlier texts with no palpable connection to Arabic. It may simply be the case that, as Cyril says, in nautical argot ropes went by the name “camels”. (And we should remember that there were sailors in Jesus’ circle.)
The earliest reading may well have been “camel”, but a change to “rope” does not really make for an easier reading: one can put a thread through a needle’s eye, but a rope will go through it no more than a camel will! In any case, some traditions clearly side with “rope”, such that those traditions’ commonest readers and hearers of the Gospel passage would have known nothing of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, only a rope, and apparently one large enough to handle marine functions!
There is no early evidence among the sources above for “camel” in Georgian (or Armenian), while Greek knows both, as does Syriac (via Greek sources, to be sure). This variety of readings, attested without a doubt, adds to the richness of the textual witness of the Bible and the history of its interpretation. There are probably further exegetical and lexical places in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian that bear on this question of what we’re dealing with here, a camel or a rope, but this is, I hope, at least an initial basis for some future work on the question for anyone interested.
Readers of this blog are undoubtedly aware of the recent reports of the destruction of the Monastery of Mar Behnam and Sara (see here, here, and elsewhere). The fate of the monastery’s manuscripts is now unknown. Not long ago, at least, HMML and the CNMO (Centre numérique des manuscrits orientaux) digitized the collection. A short-form catalog of these 500+ manuscripts has been prepared for HMML by Joshua Falconer, and I have taken a more detailed look at a select number of manuscripts in the collection. From this latter group I would like to highlight a few and share them with you. The texts mentioned below are biblical, hagiographic, apocryphal/parabiblical, historical, poetic, theological, medical, lexicographic, and grammatical. Here I merely give a few rough notes, nothing comprehensive, along with some images, but in any case the value and variety of these endangered manuscripts will, I hope, be obvious.
These manuscripts, together with those of the whole collection, are available for viewing and study through HMML (details for access online and otherwise here).
Syriac Pentateuch. Pages of old endpapers in Syriac, Garšūnī, and Arabic. Very many marginal comments deserving of further study to see how they fit within Syriac exegetical tradition. The comments are anchored to specific words in the text by signs such as +, x, ~, ÷. According to the original foliation, the first 31 folios are missing.
- Gen 1r-58v (beg miss; starts at 20:10)
- Ex 59r-129v
- Lev 129v-180v
- Num 181r-241r
- Deut 241r-283v (end miss; ends at 28:44)
MBM 1, f. 105v, with marginal note to Ex 28:37, with the Greek letter form of the tetragrammaton.
MBM 1, f. 275v, with marginal note on Dt 25:5 explaining ybm as a Hebrew word.
Syriac texts on Mary and the young Jesus. Folio(s) missing, and the remaining text is somewhat disheveled. In addition, some pages are worn or otherwise damaged. Colophon on 79v, but incomplete.
- The Book of the Upbringing of Jesus, i.e. the Syriac Infancy Gospel, 1r-12v. Beg. miss. See the published text of Wright, Contributions to the Apocryphal Literature of the New Testament, pp. 11-16 (Syr), available here.
- The Six Books Dormition 13r-79r (beg and end miss?). See Wright, “The Departure of my Lady from this World,” Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record 6 (1865): 417–48; 7: 110–60. (See also his Contributions to the Apocryphal Literature) and Agnes Smith Lewis, Apocrypha Syriaca, pp. 22-115 (Syr), 12-69 (ET); Arabic version, with LT,by vailable here. In this copy, the end of the second book is marked at 24v, and that of the fifth book on 30v. As indicated above, there are apparently some missing folios and disarranged text.
MBM 20, f. 24v. End of bk 2, start of bk 3 of the Six Books.
Another copy of Eliya of Nisibis, Book of the Translator, on which see my article in JSS 58 (2013): 297-322 (available here).
Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Metrical Grammar. Colophon on 99r: copied in the monastery of Symeon the Stylite, Nisan (April) 22, at the ninth hour in the evening of Mar Gewargis in the year 1901 AG = 1590 CE.
Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Metrical Grammar, d. 1492/3 on 78v. Clear script, but not very pretty.
Bar ʿEbrāyā, Book of Rays. Lots of marginalia in Syriac, Arabic, and Garšūnī.
Bar Bahlul’s Lexicon, 18th cent. Beg. miss. Some folios numbered by original scribe in the outer margin with Syriac letters, often decorated. Nice writing. Beautiful marbled endpapers, impressed Syriac title on spine.
MBM 152, spine.
MBM 152, marbled endpapers.
The Six Books Dormition, Garšūnī, from books 5-6, 16th cent. (?).
Hagiography, &c., Garšūnī, 16th/17th cent. According to the original foliation, the first eleven folios are missing from the manuscript.
- 1r end of the Protoevangelium Jacobi (for the corresponding Syriac part, cf. pp. 21-22 in Smith Lewis’s ed. here). Here called “The Second Book, the Birth”.
- 1r-31v Vision of Theophilus, here called “The Third Book, on the Flight to Egypt…” Cf. GCAL I 229-232; Syriac and Arabic in M. Guidi, in Rendiconti della Accademia dei Lincei, Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, 26 (1917): 381-469 (here); Syriac, with ET, here.
- 31v-37v book 6, The Funeral Service (taǧnīz) of Mary
- 37v-39r Another ending, from another copy, of this book 6
- 39r-62r Miracle of Mary in the City of Euphemia
- 62r-72v Marina and Eugenius
- 72v-96r Behnam & Sara (new scribe at ff 83-84)
- 96r-104r Mart Shmoni and sons
- 104r-112v Euphemia (another scribe 112-114)
- 112v-124v Archellides
- 124v-131r Alexis, Man of God, son of Euphemianus
- 131v-141v John of the Golden Gospel
- 141v-147v Eugenia, Daughter of the King/Emperor (incom)
19th cent., Garšūnī, hagiography. Not very pretty writing, but includes some notable texts (not a complete list): Job the Righteous 3v, Jonah 14v, Story of the Three Friends 24r (?), Joseph 73r, Ahiqar 154v, Solomon 180v, and at the end, another Sindbad text 197v-end (see the previous posts here and here).
MBM 209, f. 197v. The Story of Hindbād and Sindbād the Sailor.
Medical, very nice ES Garšūnī. Includes Ḥunayn’s Arabic translation of the Summary of Galen’s On the Kinds of Urine (fī aṣnāf al-bawl), ff. 1v-8r; cf. here. For a longer Greek text, see Kuehn, Claudii Galeni Opera Omnia (Leipzig, 1821-33), vol. 19, pp. 574-601. These now separate folios seem originally to have been the eighth quire of another codex.
MBM 250, f. 1v. Beg. of Ḥunayn’s Arabic translation of the Summary of Galen’s On the Kinds of Urine.
John of Damascus, De fide Orthodoxa, Arabic (cf. Graf, GCAL II, p. 57, this ms not listed). Fine writing. 16th/17th cent.
MBM 270, f. 5v. John of Damascus, Arabic.
A late copy (19th cent.), but with a fine hand, of the Kitāb fiqh al-luġa, by Abū Manṣūr ʿAbd al-Malik b. Muḥammad al-Ṯaʿālibī, a classified dictionary: e.g. § 17 animals (82), § 23 clothing (155), § 24 food (173), § 28 plants (205), § 29 Arabic and Persian (207, fīmā yaǧrá maǧrá al-muwāzana bayna al-ʿarabīya wa-‘l-fārisīya).
Syriac, 15th cent. (?). F. 10v has quire marker for end of № 11. The manuscript has several notes in different hands:
- 29v, a note with the year 1542 (AG? = 1230/1 CE); Ascension and Easter are mentioned
- 31v, note: “I had a spiritual brother named Ṣlibā MDYYʾ. He gave me this book.” (cf. 90v)
- 66v, note: “Whoever reads this book, let him pray for Gerwargis and ʿIšoʿ, the insignificant monks.”
- 90v, note: Ownership-note and prayer-request for, it seems, the monk Ṣlibonā (cf. 31v)
- 132v, longish note similar to the note on 168v
- 157r, note: “Theodore. Please pray, for the Lord’s sake.”
- 168v, note: “I found this spiritual book among the books of the church of the Theotokos that is in Beth Kudida [see PS 1691], and I did not know [whether] it belonged to the church or not.”
For at least some of the contents, cf. the Syriac Palladius, as indicated below.
- Mamllā of Mark the Solitary, Admonition on the Spiritual Law 1r-17r
Second memra 17r
Third memra 41v
Fourth memra 48r
- Letters of Ammonius 67r-78v (see here; cf. with Kmosko in PO 10 and further CPG 2380)
- “From the Teaching of Evagrius” 78v-100r
- Confession of Evagrius 100v
- Abraham of Nathpar 101r-117v
2nd memra 105r
3rd memra 109v
4th memra 110v
5th memra 115v
- Teachings of Abba Macarius 117v
- Letter (apparently of Macarius) 130r-130v
- Letter of Basil to Gregory his Brother 131r-139v
- Letter from a solitary to the brothers 139v-142r
- Sayings of Evagrius 142r-146v
- Gluttony 147v
- The Vice of Whoring (ʿal ḥaššā d-zānyutā) 147v
- Greed 148r
- Anger 149r
- Grief 149v
- On the Interruption of Thought (ʿal quṭṭāʿ reʿyānā) 149v
- Pride 150r
- From the Tradition (mašlmānutā) of Evagrius 151r
- On the Blessed Capiton (here spelled qypyṭn) 151r (cf. Budge, Book of Paradise, vol. 2, Syr. text, p. 223)
- The Blessed Eustathius 151v
- Mark the Mourner 151v
- A student of a great elder in Scetis 152r
- A student of another elder who sat alone in his cell 155v
- A student of a desert elder 156r
- (more short saint texts) 157v-161r
- Tahsia 161r-164r (cf. Budge, Book of Paradise, vol. 2, Syr. text, p. 173)
- An Elder named Zakarya 164r
- Gregory 168r
- Daniel of Ṣalaḥ 180v
- Philemon 180v (cf. Budge, Book of Paradise, vol. 2, Syr. text, p. 427)
- One of the Blessed Brothers 181r
- Pachomius, with various subtexts and miracles 182v
- Didymus 188v-190v
Arabic, 15th century (?). Second, but probably contemporaneous with the first, scribe begins at 80r.
- 1r-34r Pss 38:17-150 (end)
- 34r-79v maqāla 11 by Saint Simʿān, maqāla 12 by Simʿān, … maqāla 16 by Simʿān on 67r. There is some apparent disarray and missing folios: the end of this group of texts seems really to be 78v, but 79r has “Sayings and Questions of Abū ‘l-qiddīs Simʿān”
- 80r-114r Jn 7:20-21:25 (i.e. end of the Gospel)
MBM 365, f. 79r, the beginning of the Saying and Questions of Saint Simʿān
Two loose folios of an Arabic tafsīr of the Gospels, one of which has the quire marker for the original thirty-first quire (so numbered with Syriac letters). Perhaps 16th cent. From Mt 10, with commentary (qāla ‘l-mufassir), on 1v (image below); Lk 6:20 ff. on f. 2r.
MBM 367, f. 1v. Mt 10:19-23 with the beginning of the commentary.
Garšūnī (very nice, clear script). Memre and other texts on theological, monastic, and spiritual subjects.
17th cent., Garšūnī, hagiography. Note the Qartmin trilogy beginning on 105v.
- The Book of the Ten Viziers / Arabic version of the Persian Baḫtīār Nāma 1r (beg miss). (On this work, see W.L. Hanaway, Jr., in EIr here.) It is a frame story spread over several days with a boy (ġulām) telling smaller stories (sg. ḥadīṯ) to a king. As it now stands in the manuscript, it begins in the eighth day, ending on the eleventh. (ET of the Persian here by William Ouseley; ET by John Payne of an Arabic version with Alf layla wa-layla here, eighth day beg. on p. 125). Here are the subdivisions:
The Story of [the city of] Īlān Šāh and Abū Tamām 1v
Ninth day 7r
King Ibrāhīm and his son (on 9r, marginalia in Arabic: “this is an impossible thing!”)
Tenth day 14r
Story of Sulaymān 15v
Eleventh day, 29v
- Infancy Gospel of Jesus 33v-55r
- John of Dailam 55r-68v
- Behnām and Sara 68v-73v
- Mar Zakkay 73v-105r (at 105r it says Mar Malke)
- Mar Gabriel 105v-132r (much of f. 111 torn away; partly f. 127, too)
- Mar Samuel 132v- (folios miss. after ff. 141, 157)
- Mar Symeon -163v (begins where?)
- Memra of Ephrem on Andrew when he entered the land of the dogs 163v
- Miracle of Mary 170v
- Miracle of Mark of Jabal Tarmaq 172v
17th cent., ES Garšūnī, mostly hagiography. Colophon on 135v.
- Story of Susanna
- Ephrem on Elijah 14r
- Story of a Jewish Boy and what happened to him with some Christian children 31v (hands change at 34r)
- Story of some royal children 40v (some Syriac, hands change at 47r)
- Story of Tatos the martyr (f.), martyred in Rome 51r
- Story of a Mistreated Monk 58v
- Story of Arsānīs, King of Egypt 66v
- John of the Golden Gospel 70v (folio(s) missing after 70v)
- Elijah the Zealous 88v
- Andrew the Apostle 100v
- Text by Eliya Catholicos, Patriarch 111r
- Zosimus and the Story of the Rechabites 116r
- Story of the Apple 131r (several other copies at HMML: CFMM 350, pp. 717-722; CFMM 109, ff. 179v-182r; CFMM 110, 182v-185v; ZFRN 73, pp. 382-390 and more)
17th cent., WS Garšūnī, some folios missing, hagiographic, homiletic, &c.
- Ahiqar 1r (on 27r dated 2006 AG in Arabic script)
- Merchant of Tagrit and his Believing Wife 27v
- Chrysostom, On Receiving the Divine Mysteries 34r
- Chrysostom, On Repentance and Receiving the Divine Mysteries 44v (s.t. miss. after 51v)
- Ephrem, (beg. miss.) 52r ? (s.t. miss. after 67v)
- Jacob of Serug, On Repentance 69v (s.t. miss after 69v)
- Ephrem ? 94r
- From the Fathers, That everyone has a guardian angel 102v (hands change just b/f this)
- Story of Petra of Africa 110r (no other Arabic/Garšūnī at HMML; for Syriac, see CFMM 270, pp. 291-302)
- Zosimus and the Story of the Rechabites, 119v-132r
- Life of John the Baptist 132r
- Five Miracles of John the Baptist 150r
- Story of Macarius (end miss) 152v-153v
Ecclesiasticus, Garšūnī, with some Turkish-Arabic/Garsh equivalents at beginning.
MBM 469, f. 1v. Turkish words with Arabic/Garšūnī equivalents.
Here are the forms on this page, first in Turkish, then Arabic:
- ıslattı naqaʿa [he soaked]
- aramış fattaša [he searched]
- aradın fattašta [you searched]
- aradım fattaštu [I searched]
- aramışlar fattašū [they searched]
- işitti samiʿa [he heard]
- içti šariba [he drank] *The Turkish root here is written with š for ç, as in Kazakh; on the previous page the verb also appears and is spelled ʾyǧty, i.e. içti (Garšūnī ǧīm = Turkish c or ç.)
Note that for the forms of aramak [to search], the third person forms are past indefinite, while the first and second person forms are past definite.
From a Gospel lectionary, Syriac, Estrangela. Here is f. 6v, with Mt 18:15-17, 20:1-3.
MBM 485, f. 6v. Mt 18:15-17, 20:1-3.
French drama translated into Syriac by Abraham ʿIso in Baghdad, 1972-1974.
- [5r] title page
- [6r-7v] introduction
- pp. 5-122 Athalie by Racine
- pp. 125-244 Le Cid by Corneille
- pp. 247-380 Polyeucte by Corneille
- pp. 381-463 Esther by Racine
MBM 489, f. 74r = p. 125. Title page to the Syriac translation of Corneille’s Le Cid.
With the first page of the Syriac Le Cid cf. the original text here. Note that the Syriac translation is in rhyming couplets like the French.
MBM 489, f. 77r = p. 131. The beginning of the Syriac Le Cid.
19th cent., Arabic. ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī. Starts with excerpt from Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa on him (cf. the end of the ms). On 14r begins the K. al-Ifāda wa-‘l-iʿtibār fī ‘l-umūr wa-‘l-mušāhada wa-‘l-ḥawādiṯ al-muʿāyana bi-arḍ Miṣr. See De Sacy’s annotated FT here.
Here is the part from ch. 4, on monuments (beg. 30r), about the burning of the library of Alexandria by ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ “with the permission of ʿUmar” and on the Pharos of Alex (bottom of 34v = de Sacy p. 183).
MBM 509, f. 34v.
Printed work. Mariano Ugolini. Vasco de Gama al Cabo das Tormentas, dodecasillabi siriaci con versione italiana. Rome, Tipografia Poliglotta, 1898. “Poesia letta in Roma nella solenne accademia per le feste centenarie della scoperta delle Indie, il giorno 21 Maggio 1898.” 6 pages. Bound with Rahmani’s Testamentum Domini.
Here are the first six lines:
MBM 514, p. 4.
And the same in Italian:
MBM 514, p. 5.
In a recent post, I mentioned Bar Bahlul’s source “the Proverbs [or tales] of the Arameans”. Among other entries in his lexicon where he cites that source, here is another:
Bar Bahlul, Lexicon, ed. Duval, col. 2072
Tmirā I found it in the Proverbs [or tales] of the Arameans. I think it is tatmīr, that is, seasoned, salted meat.
Here is an image from a manuscript of the Lexicon, SMMJ 229 (dated 2101 AG = 1789/90 CE), f. 311v:
SMMJ 229, f. 311v
This is not a particularly special copy of the Lexicon; it’s just one I had immediately at hand. It is, not surprisingly, slightly different from Duval’s text, including the variants he gives. Note that the Persian word at the end is misspelled in this copy.
Payne Smith (col. 4461) defines tmirā as caro dactylis condita (“meat seasoned with dates”), with Bar Bahlul cited, along with some variation in another manuscript, including alongside tatmīr the word تنجمير. I don’t know anything certain about this additional word (rel. to Persian tanjidan, “to twist together, squeeze, press”?).
The word tatmīr is a II maṣdar of the root t-m-r, which has to do with dates. The Arabic noun is tamr (dried) dates (do not confuse with ṯamar fruit), and probably from Arabic Gǝʿǝz has ተምር፡; cf. Heb. tāmār, JPA t(w)mrh, Syr. tmartā, pl. tamrē. (Another Aramaic word for date-palm is deqlā.) The Arabic D-stem/II verb tammara means “to dry” (dates, meat) (Lane 317). While the noun tamr means “dates”, the verb tammara does not necessarily have to do with drying dates, but can also refer to cutting meat into strips and drying it. Words for tatmīr in the dictionary Lisān al-ʿarab are taqdīd, taybīs, taǧfīf, tanšīf; we find the description taqṭīʿu ‘l-laḥmi ṣiġāran ka-‘l-tamri wa-taǧfīfuhu wa-tanšīfuhu (“cutting meat into small pieces like dates, drying it, and drying it out”) and further, an yaqṭaʿa al-laḥma ṣiġāran wa-yuǧaffifa (“he cuts meat into small pieces and dries it”). All this makes it doubtful that the word above in Bar Bahlul’s lexicon really has anything to do with dates. Why not simply “dried, seasoned meat”?
As for the passive participle mubazzar, b-z-r is often “to sow”, but may also be used for the “sowing” of seeds, spices, etc. in cooking, so: “to season” (Lane 199). Finally, the last word is Persian namak-sud “salted” (Persian [< Middle Persian] namak salt + sudan to rub [also in Mid.Pers.)
At some points in the history of lexicography, the acceptable fodder for lexicographers has been restricted, investigations into non-literary and purely colloquial words being eschewed. In the course of the last few centuries, at least, in more than one lexicographic arena, this custom has fortunately fallen into disuse, with the study of slang, etc. finding able word-hunters such as John S. Farmer (on whom see here, with numerous works here, with his French-English Vocabula Amatoria elsewhere), Allen Walker Read (Lexical Evidence from Folk Epigraphy in Western North America: A Glossarial Study of the Low Element in the English Vocabulary [Paris, 1935], reprinted by Maledicta Press in 1977 as Classical American Graffiti), and more recently Eric Partridge, Jonathon Green, and others. It is not only the vocabulary of languages of Europe that have been studied on this more earthy level. Yona Sabar’s Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary (Harrassowitz, 2002), for example, includes in its store euphemisms, taboo words, and metaphors as such, as well as the vocabulary of women’s speech and baby talk (see pp. 59-64).
The tenth-century scholar Ḥasan bar Bahlul (see GEDSH, p. 54) compiled a large Syriac lexicon, which contains many terms that are quite rare — indeed some words we know only thanks to his lexicon — and he also gives evidence of Aramaic dialects as spoken in his own time. One colloquial word, yet a word that he came across, he says, in reading, not necessarily in speech, is kušukušu:
Bar Bahlul’s lexicon, ed. Duval, col. 883
Kušukušu. I found it in the Proverbs [or tales] of the Arameans. [It is a term for] coaxing a dog, putting a dog at ease.
This is just the kind of dog-speech one might use with the animal as described by T.S. Eliot:
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He’s very easily taken in —
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He’s such an easy-going lout,
He’ll answer any hail or shout.
Perhaps especially a hail or shout “Kušukušu!” If we’re to believe the rest of Eliot’s poem (thanks to my children for keeping it so often in my ears), it’s not so with cats!
Bar Bahul’s complete lexicon, ed. R. Duval, is available online, and the CAL project provides links from individual lemmas to the appropriate pages. The work is hardly a mere glossary, with just close equivalents for Syriac-Syriac or Syriac-Arabic. Some entries are long and give much more than simple definitions (e.g. philosophy on cols. 1548-1554). A full-scale study of the work would yield us a fuller picture of intellectual work and knowledge around Baghdad in the tenth century, especially in Christian circles, so hopefully some able scholar will undertake such a project before long, and a complete digital edition, fully searchable, would be a good foundational start.