Archive for the ‘Codicology’ Category

Aga Khan Museum: Highlights of the highlights   Leave a comment

This week were announced some highlights of the remarkable collection of the newly opened Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. From this long list, I’ve made a short list of my own favorites. You cannot view entire manuscripts, but the individual images presented are of very high quality, so those interested in paleography, codicology, &c. have plenty to feast their eyes and minds on. I’ve included a few non-manuscripts in the list, too.

Books & leaves



On Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem, № 181 (content, notes, & endpapers)   Leave a comment

Manuscript № 181 of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem (SMMJ) is an East Syriac manuscript, written, it seems, by a scribe named ʿAbdišoʿ of Ātēl. The main content of the manuscript is the First Part of Isaac of Bēt Qaṭrāyē, bishop of Nineveh’s famous monastic work (see GEDSH 213-214).

SMMJ 181, f. 1v

SMMJ 181, f. 1v

The text is complete, but between chapters 34 and 35 (acc. to Bedjan‘s numbering; the chapters are mostly unnumbered in this manuscript) there is another text, the beginning of which is unfortunately missing. After a little searching — thanks to Luk Van Rompay for the tip to check the Synodicon orientale! — I found that this intervening text is a Letter on Proper Conduct, especially on marriage, by Catholicos Aba I (d. 552; GEDSH 1), the text of which was published by Bedjan and Chabot; as it survives in this manuscript, the text corresponds to Bedjan, Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha, 282.3-287.12, and Chabot, Synodicon orientale, 83.6-85.9.

After the First Part, at the end of the manuscript, there are two more notes I would like to share. First, a note that seems to be in the same hand as the copied text of the manuscript:

SMMJ 181, f. 358v, scribal (?), note

SMMJ 181, f. 358v, scribal (?), note

Bless, sirs! Pray in the love of Christ for the sinner ʿAbdišoʿ of Ātēl, worn out, who came to Jerusalem in the year 1955 AG [=1643/4 CE].

He wrote these lines.

And again in the year 1962 AG [=1650/1 CE] the sinner came to Jerusalem. Pray for me. Amen.

Second, there is a short Syriac verse in the seven-syllable meter (with rhyme-end in -ṭē):

SMMJ 181, f. 358v

SMMJ 181, f. 358v

At the end of doomed times,

Let rulers be cursed,

Along with all idlers and slackers,

Foolish people and idiots!

Finally, the manuscript has pastedowns and endpapers in Syriac and Arabic. Here are two examples:

SMMJ 181, endpaper in Arabic

SMMJ 181, endpaper in Arabic

SMMJ 181, endpaper from a Syriac lectionary, here with Ex 34:34-35 and Isa 58:1

SMMJ 181, endpaper from a Syriac lectionary

I’ve not identified the Arabic text, but the Syriac endpaper above is from a lectionary, here with Ex 34:34-35 and Isa 58:1.

Two scribal notes (Garšūnī & Arabic) of a certain Rabbān Īsḥāq   Leave a comment

Marginal notes of any kind, whether by the original scribe or by a later owner or reader, are among the unique parts of a particular manuscript, no matter how many other copies of the main text may exist. Here, as a simple example of such notes, and for those that might like some easy practice reading Garšūnī and Arabic, are two images from SMMJ 168, a collection of homilies attributed to Ephrem, Jacob of Serugh, John Chrysostom, and others in Garšūnī. They are both written by a reader and secondary scribe named Isaac (here spelled Īsḥāq). The first one is in Arabic script:

SMMJ 168, f. 240r, margin

SMMJ 168, f. 240r, margin

iġfirū* li-rabbān Īsḥāq

Forgive Rabbān Īsḥāq!

*Missing the alif otiosum.

The second one, several folios later, is written around the outer and lower margin, all in Syriac script (but Arabic language) except for the last three words, which are in Arabic.

SMMJ 168, f. 270r

SMMJ 168, f. 270r

hāḏihi ‘l-waǧh katībat  al-ʕabd al-ḫāṭiʔ rabbān Īsḥāq bi-sm qass wa-rāhib. taraḥḥam ʕalay-hi wa-ʕalá wāliday-hi ayyuhā ‘l-qānī wa-‘l-qāriʔ. raḥimaka ‘llāhu āmīn.

This side [of the folio] is the writing of the sinful slave Rabbān Īsḥāq, [who is] in name a priest and monk. O owner and reader, plead for mercy for him and his parents! May God be merciful to you! Amen!

Some digitized Armenian manuscripts   Leave a comment

Readers of this blog are well aware of how the availability, greater or lesser, of digital images of manuscripts continues to make the study of manuscripts a much more likely possibility for students, scholars, and other readers. Thankfully, more and more libraries that are free to do so have made some or all of their own manuscripts freely available. Some recent searching led to these below for Armenian, and I thought others might appreciate having them listed together in one place. This is certainly not a complete list! If you know of others, please give a link in the comments.


From the Walters Art Museum:


Near East School of Theology no. 869 (I think): at the WDL here (NB the ms and the metadata do not correspond)



University of Chicago, Goodspeed collection (see here)


Gospels copied in Lviv, 1198/9 (Lemberg Gospels), images available here. Some basic info here.


  • BnF Arm. 65 (hymnbook) here
  • BnF Arm 291 (Ps.-Callisthenes, Hist. Alexander) here


Ma XIII 93 (Michael the Great, et varia) here

Washington, DC

LOC, Verin Noravank Gospels, 1487 at the WDL here

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.

An 18th-cent. trip to Jerusalem, and a colophon, in East Syriac Garšūnī by ʕabd-al-aḥad of ʕayn tannūr   Leave a comment

The cataloging of the CCM collection (about which see the end of this post) continues to reveal interesting items. Hardly all of the manuscripts currently in the collection were known to Scher, and Macomber only gives very bare mention of the contents of those he saw. There is a lot of East Syriac Garšūnī, which may be of interest to students of Arabic and graphemics, and as for the texts themselves, I hope to share some of my findings here. For today, I mention from CCM 12 a short narrative of a trip to Jerusalem from the the village of ʕayn tannūr (?) beginning in 1707 (in East Syriac Garšūnī); the trip was made by a certain ʕabd-al-aḥad the Priest and Mūsá b. Ibrāhīm the Deacon, and the narrative was written by the former (Rawāḥunā li-l-quds al-šarīf, anā l-ḥaqīr qissīs ʕabdalaḥad wa-šammās mūsá ibn brāhīm [sic]). There are other texts in the codex, and this ʕabd-al-aḥad was the scribe. We thus have the (or at least an) autograph of that work. Here is a colophon, complete with stock colophonic elements and language, at the end of one text (141r), which was apparently penned before the aforementioned journey to Jerusalem:

CCM 12, f. 141r

CCM 12, f. 141r

The finishing of it [the book] occurred on Tuesday, on the 22nd of the blessed month of Ayyār [May], in the year 1705 AD, and this was by the pen of the most wretched of God’s servants, and the most depraved of them, ʕabd-al-aḥad, in name a priest. He has demanded pardon and forgiveness from every brother who is an understanding reader!

Ownership note in Arabic for Patr. Yawsep II   1 comment

As an addendum to a previous post in which I shared two ownership notes in Syriac for Patr. Yawsep II, here from the same collection is another ownership note, this time in Arabic, and finely written. Like the others, this one also has a curse on any book-thieves. The manuscript is a Syriac Pentateuch — you can see the end of Deuteronomy in the image — in East Syriac script (CCM 40, dated 1651/2).

CCM 40, f. 203v

CCM 40, f. 203v

This book is the property of Mar Yawsep II, Patriarch of the Chaldeans. Whoever conceals it, he is excommunicated! Amen, yes, amen!

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